The production designer recreated the harshness of the frontier for There Will Be Blood. Patrick Z McGavin reports.
On delivery of Paul Thomas Anderson's script for There Will Be Blood, production designer Jack Fisk also received an accompanying portfolio of around 150 black-and-white period photographs to begin filling out the film's physical detail. Adapted from Upton Sinclair's novel Oil!, the epic story takes place from 1898-1927 and explores the opening of the Western frontier, told from the perspective of an oil wildcatter named Daniel Plainview (Daniel Day-Lewis).
The film shot for six weeks on location around Marfa, Texas, and for four weeks in Los Angeles. In the rugged Texan landscape, Fisk constructed the film's three main locations: a Pentecostal church, an oil derrick and the small town.
There was neither time nor money for Fisk to make elaborate drawings, but this suited his preference for working intuitively. "We were looking for the harshness of the landscape," Fisk says. "We gave the people no luxuries."
Blood's conflict pitches the go-for-broke entrepreneurial tenacity of Plainview against the pious young minister, played by Paul Dano. This was emphasised in the spare, nearly medieval construction of the church. It was constructed like a barn - dirt floor, gothic shapes of the windows - so that it was very primitive," says Fisk, who was awarded the best production design prize by the Los Angeles Film Critics Association.
The remarkable set piece at the centre of Blood is the striking of oil that ends in the burning down of the derrick. "I found a blueprint for a derrick built in 1914," Fisk says. "We only had one (opportunity) to get the whole scene. Paul had everything very well choreographed. It was a mad scramble, but we got it."
The star of Juno talks to John Anderson about finding similarities with the characters she portrays.
No matter what role she plays, Ellen Page says she always hears the same things: "How much is she like you'" "You hardly have to act!" "Are you really that person you're playing'" She's not, she says. "But when you find a well-written, honest character, you find a way to get into it. Because we're all made up of the same stuff."
Juno, which sees the 20-year-old actress playing the 16-year-old pregnant title character, seems tailor-made for Page, who delivers an arresting, smart-alecky but disarming performance. Much of the credit, Page says, should go to debut screenwriter Diablo Cody. "It was one of the best scripts I've ever read, and we shot it pretty much as written. Diablo and I only met the night before we started shooting and I was scared shitless. I didn't want to screw it up."
When Juno finds herself with child by the thoroughly unassuming Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera), she decides to have the baby but give it up for adoption. The prospective adopters, played by Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner, have their own problems and that - plus the fact the movie deals with teen pregnancy - more or less guarantees some kind of outcry in the US.
"It's funny," Page says, "but it wasn't something I thought about. I was so taken with the script, and then people would say, 'Are you ready for the controversy'' It never crossed my mind."
Although their contexts are completely different, Juno shares something with another teen-oriented film, Clueless: namely, a pitch-perfect take on the vernacular of a cultural moment - in Juno's case, the internet-influenced jargon of adolescents.
"One of the things I liked most about the script," says Page, "was the dialogue, which is really rhythmic and organic and fluid. I know when I was 16 I had my own language. Although it certainly wasn't the same as Juno's."
The Waitress star tells Jeremy Kay how taking the role of a brilliant pie-maker helped her enjoy acting again.
Appropriately enough, Keri Russell met Waitress director Adrienne Shelly to discuss her lead role as the unhappily married pie-maker Jenna at a diner in New York City. "I loved how funny it was," Russell says of the screenplay. "It was really fresh, but I also thought there was this soul, this sadness that I found quite beautiful.
"Adrienne did a really nice job of being involved in choosing the cast and going for the people she wanted. These women's friendships come through. Cheryl (Hines) was one of those people I instantly liked. She's not a typical actress because she got her start a little later and she's very happy about where she's at and that's nice to be around.
"For me it's been a great year. For a couple of years I wasn't really enjoying acting and it feels good to be enjoying it. My character isn't joyful necessarily, but when I watched the film it reminded me that it was a hopeful and funny story. It was very much Adrienne's tone."
After two weeks of rehearsals, the film was shot over 20 days in December 2005 in the southern California town of Lancaster. "We filmed at a real diner on a dusty road and there were so many emotional scenes where I'd have to hold my line while a truck barrelled through."
Shelly's murder in November 2006 robbed her and The Waitress cast of the chance to celebrate the film's world premiere at Sundance 2007. "It's so upsetting that as hard as it is for a woman to get her film made, let alone to be the toast of Sundance, she managed it and yet she wasn't there to enjoy it," Russell says. "Every theme of this movie is hers - any success this movie has is her success."
Perfecting a working-class Boston accent was key to Amy Ryan's performance as a drug-addicted mother in Gone Baby Gone. Jeremy Kay reports.
Nailing the patois of Boston's blue-collar Dorchester neighbourhood was crucial for Amy Ryan in order to pull off the role of Helene McCready, the feisty, foul-mouthed mother of an abducted girl in Ben Affleck's feature directing debut Gone Baby Gone.
"It was the thing I was most afraid of in the movie because Ben and I wanted to fool people along the way that he'd found me and I wasn't really an actress," Ryan says. "There were all these real people on set and I watched them like a hawk and observed the body language. I spent a lot of time with Jill Quigg (who plays McCready's friend Dottie), which was the first time she'd ever acted."
A theatre actress of considerable repute from Queens, New York, Ryan steals every scene and benefited from the Affleck brothers' helpful spirit. "Ben's very generous and smart and doesn't have a big ego, while Casey (who plays the private investigator hired to find McCready's daughter) is so cool and playful. Film is about going with your instincts first time, rather than something you have rehearsed for four weeks.
"It was fun to play Helene," Ryan continues. "She doesn't seem like a very bright woman but she has a different set of smarts. She does have maternal instincts but they aren't of the Hallmark kind. It's easy to make her a villain and it would be easy for people to walk away and dislike her. I do believe she's remorseful and promises to clean up her act, but that's the mind of an addict - the next day there are new problems."
Ryan, who picked up the best supporting actress prize at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association for her work in Gone Baby Gone and Sidney Lumet's Before The Devil Knows You're Dead, is preparing to report back to the set of Clint Eastwood's mystery remake The Changeling. "He's amazing," she says. "My first day I stood in front of him with a shit-eating grin as we were about to film a serious scene. It's funny what happens when you meet your idols."
The editor of Into The Wild tells Patrick Z McGavin about creating the film's ambitious storytelling rhythm.
Into The Wild, Sean Penn's fourth feature as a director, is a distinctly immersive experience about solitude and nature. The story of one enigmatic young man's perilous quest to find a pure existence by renouncing all material possessions, the film's dramatic power is created through a complex storytelling rhythm that collapses time and jumps forwards and backwards.
"Sean wrote the script as a linear story," says Jay Cassidy, the film's editor. "He said, 'I bet we're going to be intercutting things but I don't want to waste time trying to anticipate that now.'" Penn, who adapted the film from the non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer, wanted the editing to be as spontaneous and unpredictable as the movie's eight-month shooting schedule, which encompassed locations in Alaska, Northern California, Arizona, Mexico and the Dakotas.
During breaks in shooting, Cassidy showed Penn his first rough assembly of the footage, and that helped shape the director's choices. The editor, who has worked on Penn's three previous features, says that he classified the finished work as the final rewrite.
The film-makers occasionally use timelines or datelines to situate the viewer. Cassidy, who says the key was to show, not tell, created time and space through rhyming use of water, fire and snow or ice imagery. "In Alaska, there were four weather motifs," he says. "It began in the snow, and there's the fall, the mid-summer and the very end of summer. The attempt to go for authenticity brought a certain texture to the film and I think that helps you get from place to place."
JUAN ANTONIO BAYONA
A festival encounter with Guillermo del Toro proved instrumental in getting Spanish Oscar contender The Orphanage made. Jeremy Kay reports.
The director of Spain's hit supernatural drama and foreign-language Oscar submission The Orphanage (El Orfanato), Juan Antonio Bayona was a youngster when he had his first encounter with Guillermo del Toro.
Bayona was posing as a journalist at a festival and made an impression on the older film-maker. They kept in touch and 15 years later, when Bayona was looking to raise money for his friend Sergio G Sanchez's screenplay about a woman who returns to an orphanage that has haunted her since childhood, del Toro stepped in.
"Guillermo is truly a friend of film-makers and was so important in this process," Bayona says. "He made this film happen and gave me such good advice. He knew I was worried because many of my crew were first-timers and he told me they wouldn't complain because they were inexperienced. He was right!"
The $4m story shot last year over 10 weeks in north-west Spain and on a soundstage in Barcelona. Belen Rueda (The Sea Inside) plays the lead. "We wanted a refreshing cast," Bayona says. "It was her first leading role and we wanted to have all these actors do things differently to what we were used to seeing them do. We tried to combine horror and emotion and use silence and darkness to create tension. Nothing happens in the first 30 minutes or so and then it kicks off. We wanted to create an experience for the audience."