Entertainment Industry

Category: Scene Stealer

Scene stealer: 'Max Payne's' shadowy creatures

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For the feature film version of "Max Payne," director John Moore wanted to explicitly depict the shadowy drug-induced visions of the winged Valkyries that the video game only hinted at. But the visual effects crew, led by supervisor Everett Burrell, had to stay nimble when, three weeks before shooting, the director decided to add live-action Valkyries to the previously planned all-CGI effects. "We had a Czechoslovakian dancer named Mako Hindy on set as a reference" for the actors, Burrell said. "We did cool makeup on him and built some wings. We didn't think we'd use it that much, but John loved it so much, he put it in the movie." Plans changed again when the movement of the creatures, filmed in a herky-jerky style created by Hindy, was changed to become more graceful after Moore fell in love with one shot, a balletic slow-motion image of the Valkyrie pulling a man through a window. "We had to reanimate some of the shots, but changes are always made at the last minute. We've spoiled the studios nowadays because we can crank out things so fast."

-- Patrick Kevin Day

Scene Stealer: 'Happy-Go Lucky'

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Flying blind, costumer designer relies on creative vision

"Happy-Go-Lucky" writer-director Mike Leigh's unique filmmaking process, in which he works with the actors scene by scene to create the script as they shoot, extended to other creative aspects of this production.

Even costume designer Jacqueline Durran had to stay on her toes to clothe the actors, having only a bare outline of the plot to work from. She had to interview the actors about their characters to get a feel for each of them.

"They would tell us what kinds of clothes the character liked to wear, where they liked to shop, etc." After working up a wardrobe selection for each character, Durran just had to cross her fingers and hope for the best. "If the process is working well, I wouldn't hear anything until . . . the crew shows up to begin filming," Durran said.

Despite flying virtually blind, that process had its share of rewards. "I was so pleased when Poppy [Sally Hawkins] went to the flamenco lesson and wore that red-and-white striped top and she made those strange bird wings. I just thought, 'What a perfect thing.' Had I known she would make bird wings, I would have chosen something that had that exact shape. But I had no idea."

--Patrick Kevin Day

MOOD LIFTER: Sally Hawkins plays good-humored Poppy in “Happy-Go-Lucky.” Miramax.

Scene stealer: 'Blindness'

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Achieving 'Blindness' ' washed-out look: Cinematographer Cesar Charlone's efforts to get the right look.

The inspiration for the washed-out look in "Blindness" came directly from the source material -- José Saramago's novel -- which described the onset of sudden blindness as an excess of light, looking like a sea of milk.

Cinematographer César Charlone figured out what that might look like by filling a photo developing tray with milk, white paint and water. Then he took images displayed on his laptop and reflected them onto the mixture. There was his look, but re-creating that on set took some coordination.

"It was a whole concept we worked on between the art departments," Charlone says.

Because the film images would be washed out, the reality of the world had to be heightened.

"If you want clothes to look dirty, filming with normal exposure, you put a certain amount of dirt. If you're going to wash it out, that amount is going to disappear. So the level of dirt was much greater." It all took heavy planning, with the costume department showing its work to Charlone two months before shooting. The work continued into post-production. "After Cannes, [director Fernando Meirelles] wanted the cinematography toned down. He thought it was a little bit too stylish. We made it look more human."

-Patrick Kevin Day

VISION: Julianne Moore and Mark Ruffalo amid the washed-out look of “Blindness.” Miramax.

Scene Stealer: 'Eagle Eye's' exploding truck

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The makers of "Eagle Eye" wanted to keep the computer-generated imagery in their high-tech action thriller to a minimum; so for a sequence in which a Predator spy plane chases stars Billy Bob Thornton and Shia LaBeouf into a tunnel, shoots a missile at a semi and causes the semi's trailer to come rolling and bouncing after our heroes' car, the spy plane was CGI but everything else was real. Special-effects coordinator Peter Chesney had to become skilled in the art of blowing up real 60,000-pound shipping containers and get them to roll properly in just six weeks' time. "You spend all of your time with a broom trying to brush Murphy out of the equation," Chesney says. After creating detailed pre-visualized drawings using complicated physics equations and many days of testing, the crew shot the truck explosions on a runway at the former El Toro Marine Base. "This was beyond the realm of stuntmen," Chesney says. "Because we just couldn't protect them." Everything in the shot, from the seven cameras to the cars to the giant rolling sea container, was pulled by cables timed within seconds of each other. Luckily, the results came out just as predicted by the drawing.

-- Patrick Kevin Day

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(Photos courtesy Peter Chesney / DreamWorks)

Scene stealer: How 'Ghost Town' gained a mummy

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In "Ghost Town," stars Ricky Gervais and Téa Leoni bond over the mummified remains of the Egyptian pharaoh Pepi II. But production designer Howard Cummings had no idea just how much of an undertaking creating that single mummy body would turn out to be. Cummings and prop master Vinny Mazzarella spent days scouring the Internet, collecting books and subscribing to Egyptology magazines to find information on mummies, particularly the body of Ramses II, who served as Pepi's model. They then had to have an authentic-looking body built from scratch, even though director David Koepp had just written the mummy-heavy "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull." "I tried to go through their art department to find out who their mummy sources were," says Cummings, "but I didn't have much luck. I don't think Spielberg wanted us copying their mummy." The delivery of the resin-and-latex mummy, which ended up costing about $15,000 and had the texture of an old leather shoe, wasn't the end of their work. Cummings was also tasked with creating a 4 1/2 -minute lecture on the mummy, complete with a 50-photo slide show, for Leoni's character to deliver. "My crew was getting mad at me," Cummings says of the time-consuming research. "But the lecture had to make sense. I didn't realize how much the mummy wove through the story."

-- Patrick Kevin Day

Scene Stealer: 'Sukiyaki's' hot opening scene

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Japanese director Takashi Miike’s “Sukiyaki Western Django,” an homage to the spaghetti westerns of Sergio Leone and Sergio Corbucci, opens with a super-stylized flashback featuring a cameo appearance by the homage-loving Quentin Tarantino. But due to a conflict with Tarantino’s schedule, they were forced to move the shoot from a wide open field to a very small soundstage at Daiet studios in Tokyo. According to cinematographer Toyomichi Kurita, this was both a blessing and a curse.

“We were forced into the situation, but we ended up being happy because we came up with the look when we knew we were shooting in the studio,” Kurita said. Inspired by an exhibit of 200-year-old woodblock prints by the artist Hokusai, the filmmakers created a backdrop for the flashbacks showing a Fuji-like mountain and a blood-red setting sun that calls attention to the artifice of the setting. Kurita selected a reversal stock film that created great contrast in colors.

And that’s where the location became a curse. Because of the film stock’s low sensitivity to light, Kurita’s team had to crowd the small soundstage with roughly 10 times the number of lights normally used, driving the temperature up to 104 degrees. “It felt like a desert,” Kurita said. “We had air conditioning, but it didn’t matter. Tarantino was sweating. We didn’t realize it would get that hot.”

--Patrick Kevin Day

Scene Stealer: How 'Ping Pong Playa' got its moves

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The makers of "Ping Pong Playa," the comedy about a wannabe basketball star turned pingpong champion, hoped to have star Jimmy Tsai whipped into tournament-level pingpong-playing shape for filming -- even though Tsai had only two months to prepare. But he could not have found better teachers than Diego Schaff and his wife, Olympic and Hall of Fame pingpong player Wei Wang, who own two table tennis clubs in Los Angeles.  So, did they whip Tsai into top shape? Not quite, but Schaff could also improve the actor's game as visual effects supervisor. "I choreographed their moves without a ball. Then I drew the trajectory of the ball, made sure it had the correct speed, and they sent it to a special effects house," Schaff said. For scenes that required bad guy Gerald, played by Peter Paige, to play pingpong on camera, Schaff stepped in as a body double. Schaff even wore Paige's costume -- the small-budget production had just the one. "We had to swap clothes several times that day, and they got pretty sweaty," Schaff says. "There was a lot of cringing and apologizing."

-- Patrick Kevin Day

Scene Stealer: 'Traitor'

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Early in "Traitor," writer-director Jeffrey Nachmanoff's sprawling, international terrorist thriller, the main character, a rogue ex-U.S. special operations officer played by Don Cheadle, finds himself in a confrontation with a Middle Eastern tough guy in a Yemeni prison yard.

As the two men exchange threats, they slip casually between Arabic and English. Nachmanoff swears this isn't purely a conceit designed for the ease of American movie audiences. "It was convenient for dramatic purposes, but it's also very common. English is used as the common language when you have people from different countries, even if they're from different Middle Eastern countries."

The scene may have been authentic, but in reality, these two actors only understood half of what they were saying to each other. "Don learned Arabic phonetically," Nachmanoff said. "He knew what the lines meant, but he listened to tapes of them being spoken to get the accent. He didn't learn Arabic."

Farid Regragui, who played the tough guy, speaks Arabic fluently but little English. Nachmanoff says the lack of language comprehension works well for the scene. "The audience knows it's a showdown, and the words are much less important than what's going on with their faces."

-Patrick Kevin Day

TOUGH TALK: Don Cheadle, left, with Said Taghmaoui, listened to Arabic tapes to get his accent right for a bilingual scene in a prison yard. Overture Films.

Scene Stealer: How 'The Mummy' got its army

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The terra cotta warriors uncovered in China's Shaanxi province number in the thousands. The replica army created for "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor" by production designer Nigel Phelps, head set decorator Anne Kuljian and sculptor Lucie Fournier was significantly smaller: 500 warriors divided into five types, 12 cavalry horses, 16 chariot horses and four emperor's horses. And while every warrior in China was carved with a unique face, the "Mummy" production settled for 20 different head styles. A crew of 20 spent 3 1/2  months building hard plaster warriors using cement re-creations from China. "They had to be light enough to move," Kuljian said. But even still, the warriors weighed around 70 pounds apiece and each had to be screwed into the ground when placed in formation. "If we didn't have them screwed in, it would be like the domino effect. . . . When we dressed the set, someone knocked one and four fell down. That's when we added the screws."

-- Patrick Kevin Day

Where 'Step Brothers' got its wacky T's

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For costume designer Susan Matheson, finding inspiration for the vintage T-shirts Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly wear throughout "Step Brothers" wasn't hard; the challenge was picking the right ones. "We wanted to distinguish their characters as being 40 years old stuck in childhood without making them look insane." Luckily, she had a wide selection to choose from -- the South African-born Matheson has long harbored an obsession with Americana, collecting enough vintage T-shirts over the years to fill a 400-square-foot private storage space. For many of her selections, it was a matter of digging into the archives and hand-making several copies. To find the 15 T-shirts seen throughout the movie, she started out with somewhere between 100 and 200 T-shirts and whittled it down from there. One personal favorite -- Reilly's black T with Converse sneakers hanging around the neck -- was not a favorite of the filmmakers. "The director thought it was too childish. Everyone thought it was hideous. But I was like a tenacious dog with a bone with that T-shirt." It was debated for months. Finally, she won. "From the screenings I've gone to, people tell me that's the T-shirt they want."

--Patrick Kevin Day

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