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Story by W. H. Bourne
Photos by Steve Dietl, Hilary Bronwyn Gayle, Timothy Kuratek, and Patti Perret; courtesy of CBS
“I’m scouting for Zoo today and tomorrow, and then we start shooting episode 13 on Friday,” says Michael Katleman who will also be directing the Friday shoot for the new CBS series that’s based on the #1 bestselling novel by James Patterson that debuted Tuesday, June 30. “I am producer/director on the show so I’m directing three of these (episodes) this year. It’s James Patterson’s first television show, and the material lends itself to a great summer event series for CBS. Who doesn’t want to watch the animal apocalypse?”
“We were looking for a place where obviously we could move around to different areas (parts of the world) because this is a globetrotting show, but we wanted to find one central location where we could shoot a lot of these locations at and that was a big draw for Louisiana,” explains Katleman. “I’ve shot here before. I did a series here, Memphis Beat.”
Actor Billy Burke is also very familiar with shooting in Louisiana. In addition to shooting parts of Twilight: Breaking Dawn 1 & 2 in Baton Rouge, he also shot Drive Angry with Nicolas Cage and Amber Heard in Shreveport. Now, he’s in New Orleans working on Zoo with Katleman. Burke plays Mitch Morgan, an eccentric veterinarian.
“Mitch starts out as the somewhat jaded, smart-assy, know-it-all on the team,” explains Burke. “He’s a veterinary pathologist and college professor who’d much rather be in the company of animals than other human beings. As the task of identifying and hopefully rectifying the cause of the animal uprising gets more crazy and dire, Mitch grows a much stronger appreciation for the brother and sisterhood he’s surrounded by.”
“All our actors are fabulous,” raves Katleman. “It’s funny because in the first couple of episodes, they all worked separately; they didn’t really work as a group. The group didn’t really come together until episode three so when they finally did get to work together, it was like a bunch of long lost friends. They’re a great group of actors who take everything really seriously. They come in prepared, and they’ve put a lot of thought into what they’re doing, and they’re really invested in the material and the writing.”
“I’ve been very lucky to have shared the set with some phenomenal people over the years, and this cast and crew are certainly no exception,” says Burke.
If you haven’t seen an episode yet, Zoo lives up to its reputation where the animals are almost as much of a focus as the cast which includes James Wolk (Jackson Oz), Kristen Connolly (Jamie Campbell), Nonso Anozie (Abraham Kenyatta), Nora Arnezeder (Chloe Tousignant), and Billy Burke (Mitch Morgan).
“The animals are 90% real,” says Katleman. “This year we’ve shot real lions, tigers, leopards, and bears. We had a cute little lion cub and a Serval cub. We’ve had rats, bats, horses, dogs, cats, and camels. In this last episode that I’m about to start shooting, we have a baboon in it.”
“We always start with, ‘How can we block the scene with a real animal?’ We’re very, very careful with them; that’s a huge priority for us. If we’re dealing with a lion or a tiger or something like that, we’ll take all the precautions and shoot split screen,” continues Katleman. “We’re very safe with them. We’ll do motion control. We always want to have the actors in the frame with them (the animals), but we also take every precaution.”
“We don’t have the time to build CG animals for every episode. For something like that, you really need an extraordinary amount of time to pull that off. We get a big action sequence with a leopard, and we don’t even have a half a year to build the leopard so we bring the leopard on (location) and we work with the trainer. Our VFX (visual effects) team will be painting out the trainer or painting out the leash that they have the leopard on,” explains Katleman. “Then you may do a combination of things like in the pilot when we had the time so we built a CG lion to do some of the stuff, but, you know, you adapt it.”
“It’s a funny way you have to go about it,” comments Katleman. “You’ll plan the scene as much as you can, and you’ll storyboard it, but when it comes time to shoot it, you shoot the animal first, and the animal is going to do what the animal wants to do. I had a scene in the second episode which I directed. I had one lion that we were using to look like a sick lion, and I had someone up in the tree, and the lion was kind of circling. The lion did one pass, and then it did another, and it lied down. We were shooting outside at night and had issues with light, and I went to the trainer and said, ‘Can we just back up and redo a couple of the passes?’ and he turned to me and said, ‘The lion will get up when the lion wants to get up.’”
“It definitely has its challenges, but it always looks better,” adds Katleman. “You just have to adapt it. For example, if the animal is going to attack a human, you shoot the animal side first, and then whatever the animal does, you have the actor match the animal. It’s the only chance you have of pulling it off without CG.”
“It takes a lot longer for these (animal) sequences. We have two units working a lot. We may have an animal unit going where you’re doing the animals and those pieces. It takes an amazing amount of time when you bring a real lion out. The steps you have to take. You have to clear the set. They put up a fence around it. No one can be moving. Normally, when you go to shoot, you’ll light the set, and then the actors will come on before you finish, and everyone’s working so that by the time your lighting is finished, the actors are touched up, and everyone’s ready to go. But when you’re working with these animals, they can’t come out until the set is completely locked down so you have to be lit, everyone’s there, they’re all touched up and ready to go, and then you walk the lions out, and that can take time,” explains Katleman. “The first couple of episodes, we weren’t quite prepared for how long everything took, but it does take a ridiculous amount of time so you really have to plan for it.”
While Katleman did have time to plan and prepare for tackling Zoo, actor Billy Burke wasn’t as fortunate.
“In most cases, including this one, there isn’t a whole lot of time for preparing,” explains Burke. “By the time the gig is in your hands, you’re usually only days, or sometimes hours, away from getting on a plane and being thrown into wardrobe fittings. To be honest, I kinda like it that way. I don’t wanna be given too much time to over-think a bunch of stuff that probably won’t matter. I’m a big proponent of first instincts.”
“I sat down at a hotel bar in Culver City (a suburb of Los Angeles) with the writer/producers, and they gave me an overview of what the show was and what they were going for,” says Burke. “I remember trying to think of another show past or present that did what this show wanted to do. I couldn’t think of any. That and the people involved were enough for me so I just told them, ‘I’m available if you want me.’”
“Another one of the initial factors that went into me doing this gig was ‘And it shoots where? New Orleans?’ Yeah, I dig it here,” adds Burke. “The weather, especially this time of year, can be a bit of a cruel joke, but it’s a minimal price to pay for the food, music and overall culture you’re getting. Louisiana has been a very inviting and accommodating place for film and TV. I really hope that continues.”
“We use mostly local crew. Out of our crew, roughly 150-175 of them are local,” says Katleman. “I brought in my DPs and my production designer, but besides that, pretty much all my people are locals. There’s a great talent pool here. I’ll be honest. I’ve worked here before, and I know a lot of crew people, and there’s no shortage that’s for sure. I’m working with some of the same crew from Memphis Beat that I’m familiar with and liked a lot and some new people as well. We have a lot of people (working for us) from American Horror Story. There’s just a lot of good crews here.”
“We bring in all the animals from Los Angeles and Florida,” adds Katleman. “We have our animal trainer, who has his team. They will bring the animals in, and the trainers know what they can do.”
“We’re dealing with animals so a ton of the shooting is outdoors,” continues Katleman. “We really want to sell where we’re at with big, huge, beautiful shots so the scenes don’t feel claustrophobic. We’re really making this as cinematic as possible. We turned some warehouses, (the old) Mardi Gras World in Algiers, into stages, but to be honest with you, we rarely are on our stages. I can probably count on one hand the number of times we’ve shot there. We’re really a locations show. We’re bouncing around all over the place.”
“We don’t have a permanent set. A lot of television shows will have their ‘go to’ set, their permanent set, where you’ll be able to come back to certain offices or a squad room so you know you always have that ‘go to’ set where you can shoot if you have weather issues or other conflicts,” says Katleman. “We don’t have that at all. We are constantly on location.”
“The goal is it’s a summer series. We’re doing 13 episodes. If it’s successful, we’ll come back next summer and do it again. We’re leaving it open ended with a bit of a cliffhanger,” explains Katleman. “To be honest, 13 (episodes) is the perfect amount. The show is really challenging with the animals and with every episode trying to create a new and different country, another city, another state, or whatever we’re trying to do. It’s very labor intensive so I think 13 is the perfect amount. If it was 22 episodes, I don’t know if any of us could pull it off.”
Los Angeles, D.C., Africa, Brazil: Louisiana substitutes for all these locations in Zoo.
“It’s a global epic thriller,” comments Katleman. “I’m a huge fan of the writing and the writers. We have a great team. The scripts are complex. The dialogue is great, and there’s just a lot of good stuff in them (the scripts), and the actors feel that. It’s fun when they get to set, and they get the next script, and they’re all really excited to read it.”
“Recently, it’s been a challenge trying to keep a straight face much less busting out in giggle fits along with the rest of the cast,” confides Burke. “There comes a point for all of us when doing action/adventure fare that the absurdity of the moment just gets the best of you.”
“It’s just a fun show, and I hope everyone finds it thrilling and exciting and compelling,” adds Katleman.
“I reckon if you can’t have a good time making a show called Zoo, you’re in the wrong business,” says Burke.
Be sure to check out Zoo on Tuesday nights at 8 PM CST on CBS.
Story by W. H. Bourne
Photos by Alan Markfield and Hilary Bronwyn Gayle courtesy of Gramercy Pictures
“I think every viewer gets drawn in when a wish-fulfillment aspect is a key part of a movie,” says Actor Ryan Reynolds who stars in Tarsem Singh’s Self/less. “Extending life, cheating death—if and when the right resources are poured in, this kind of science doesn’t seem that far off.”
“I was looking for a grounded thriller, something that didn’t require fantastical things,” says Director Tarsem Singh whose new movie Self/less explores the consequences of taking a life to live forever. “I didn’t mind a thematic approach, but I was looking for something that had the grounded-ness and the physicality that was along the (Director Roman) Polanski lines.”
“I love playing characters who are given specific moral choices, and the character of Damian is particularly interesting because he is morally flexible,” says Reynolds. “The audience will themselves wonder, ‘Would I do that?’ Self/less is very thought-provoking; there’s an element of narcissism to why (my new character/self) Damian commits to the ‘shedding’ process, but I also believe that he has internally struggled with some of what he’s done in life—and a second shot at it is compelling to him for that reason.”
Approached by the filmmakers to play Damian Hale in his original form, Oscar winner Ben Kingsley says, “I think that Damian has always had a magnificent ego. He is highly creative and imaginative, but this powerful man does not judge himself harshly. He may not have long to live, yet he will every day have his hands manicured, have a massage, have his beard trimmed by his barber, go to his tailor, and remain in denial (thinking), ‘I’m not dying.’ I had to display his vulnerabilities so the audience will say, ‘He’s just like my uncle,’ or, ‘That’s my Dad.’”
Kingsley adds, “We had the perfect director for this story in Tarsem Singh. His roots are in the Indian subcontinent, and one aspect of that immensely rich culture that he and I discussed is the place that reincarnation holds in people’s imaginations—and as a principle, a belief. It’s something that can be alien to us in the West. Damian needs to reincarnate himself, and he finds this genius, Albright, who will help him dodge death—even if it costs a fortune. In Tarsem’s poetry and this story’s mythology, Damian is the king who dies and then becomes a prince.”
“Damian is a man who has everything but age on his side,” offers Singh, “but he’s been a selfish person who could never sort out his personal life and will never be able to erase his past. I believe that the brain is everything and the heart is just a pump. In Self/less, Damian gets to take a second bite of the apple and is faced with the decision of being a different person.”
“If you’re going to come back, Ryan Reynolds is a pretty f—king great idea,” says Actor Matthew Goode who plays Albright, the scientist who has invented the “shedding” process. “Now, my character is on the wrong side, but there’s still a good guy in there musing on, ‘If only Einstein could have lived a little bit longer and continued his theories.’”
“Ryan was the first person we went to (attach for Self/less) because I thought if you were looking for a body to go to, you’d go to the perfect male specimen which is Ryan,” says Singh, “and you’d go yeah, ‘I’d buy that for a dollar!’”
“These are great conceits that Self/less is looking at because who doesn’t wonder about living forever? A lot of things stacked up for me to take this job, and another one of them was Tarsem Singh; I remember watching The Cell and thinking, ‘Who is this guy? I’ve never seen shots like this before,’” says Goode. “He’s brilliant to work with!”
“I never saw Albright as a villain,” explains Singh. “He plays by the rules until Damian goes rogue, and Albright has no other alternative. Emotion enters into an equation that doesn’t allow for it as calculated by Albright.”
Reynolds praises Goode for, “the challenge of delivering all the scientific details that Albright has to disclose and doing that so effortlessly that you buy into what Albright is selling—and you even understand his convictions and how he sees the world a certain way; but there is also tragedy in Albright’s own story, which feeds into how the arguments he advances become ones I tend to agree with.”
“The only time any of the exposition threw me was when I had to remember my lines with Sir Ben,” says Goode. “He was generous, but I was having a slightly out-of-body experience of, ‘You’re doing a scene with Ben Kingsley!’”
Reynolds says that it was, “a privilege to say that I was in the same film as Sir Ben. We did meet and discussed our personal thoughts on making the most out of the time we’re given, which is one of the film’s main themes.”
In the story Self/less, Sir Ben Kingsley’s character Damian takes over Ryan Reynolds’ character’s body through this process of “shedding” that Albright (Goode) has created. The way the shooting schedule was structured, Reynolds and Kingsley would never have a scene together.
“The caterpillar doesn’t know the butterfly,” offers Kingsley.
Shooting order was important to determine what character traits Reynolds would have to mimic from Sir Ben to key the audience into the fact that these two people were indeed the same person, but things didn’t quite work out as planned.
“Things were supposed to be reversed, but schedules changed things around (shooting order) so it was Ryan first and then Sir Ben. So like the accent, we just didn’t know (what Sir Ben was going to do). That’s why I came up with a few particular things like the tick with the glasses or when you come home and you throw your keys in back of you onto a chair. Those types of habits I kept and focused on instead of the accents,” explains Singh.
“Our movie’s title is interpreted differently by each of the main characters in the story,” explains Reynolds. “Each member of the audience will decide what it means to them, too.”
“When I saw the script, it was based in New York and upstate New York. They (the producers) said New Orleans is a better place to shoot, and I said I will not try to make it (New Orleans) look like any other place. It is what it is, and that’s what I love about it. So we just moved the story down to New Orleans and shot it like that,” says Singh. “It just required a couple of key plot things to change. We did New York as bookends with most everything happening in New Orleans.”
One of the scenes that’s naturally New Orleans in Self/less is an abandoned warehouse that appears to be close to (or may be) Mardi Gras Worlds’ old location on the Westbank. In the film you see pieces of Mardi Gras sculptures in an old abandoned warehouse.
“We needed to give Damian a hint (about his new body). There’s lots of abandoned warehouses in New Orleans, but very few that are abandoned and would house these sorts of things (sculptures). We wanted to use the location (Mardi Gras World), but too many people know the real one and know that it’s not something you could house an operation like this in (Albright’s lab) even though it’s a mobile lab,” explains Singh.
“I did not enjoy New Orleans, I love it! I keep thinking I’ll get a place there, but it’s got such a great rental culture that if you are going in or out, it just helps to rent the place. I shot there before, the Levi’s commercial campaign a couple of years ago. I love it …everything … and good food,” continues Singh.
One of the other iconic New Orleans scenes is a party montage that will probably become a textbook case study for all aspiring filmmakers.
“When I saw that we had a montage scene, and I thought, ‘Well, you basically had a few months to live but now everything has changed, and, so of course, you’re going to party, but you can’t tell anyone who you are. So where do you want to go? If you’re hedonistic, you’d go to New Orleans, and if you’re completely crazy, you’d go to Vegas. I picked New Orleans,” says Singh.
“I didn’t have an actual shot list, I just knew exactly what was going to happen,” continues Singh about the montage. “I shot it with a particular rhythm in mind because there was this piece of music that I really liked. It was definitely going to be in that style with tap dancing mixed with other things. That’s why I went looking for street dancers because I moved there a couple of months earlier (before the film started shooting). I used those tap dancers, and then I went with a couple of musicians and put a track on top of that and knew that I was going to literally cut to it.”
“I don’t do shot lists and I don’t do storyboards,” explains Singh. “I prefer to get the actors in there and find out where and how they want to move. They’re free to move and the cameras can follow them from point A to point B to point C and then we can commit to it.”
In a similar vein, Singh comments, “After a film is done, I throw out all the camera information from my head so on the next shoot I can start out fresh and test everything (for the next project). If you know what you’re doing with digital right now, nothing beats it.”
“It was really easy (to shoot) once we had everything down on paper,” says Singh. “I brought the family down (to New Orleans). The actors were great. It was a wonderful shoot. The assembly, the director’s cut, was 23 seconds longer than what ended up (in the film) so everything I wanted inside was in direct proportion to the film that I thought we wanted to make.”
“(Producer) Ram (Bergman) was wonderful. He had done a film there before, and his style and the way he produces and what I do is quite different so it was a steep learning curve but brilliant,” explains Singh. “I think he is really one of those people that has no ego, and he is surrounded by a great group of people. He shot Looper there the year before, so when we went into shoot, he was wonderful to have. For him, I was a completely different style of director to have. He told me the director’s cut for Looper was one hour longer (than the theatrically released cut), and they took about a year to cut it and bring it down. I said, ‘That’s not going to happen with the way I shoot,’ and he said, ‘Oh you don’t know. Directors always say that,’ and I said, ‘Okay, let’s give it a whack,’ and, as I said, my cut was off by 23 seconds. You know I just hate when you shoot incredible stuff, and it just doesn’t end up in the film.”
“What’s good is that we build up to the action,” adds Singh. “We don’t desensitize people with shootouts in the first act. The action here has a reason for being after the characters have been established.”
“The film turned out great,” continues Singh. “It’s such a good story. It has all the moral issues I wanted to address, and everything got addressed correctly, and that was it. It has to click. It either works, or it doesn’t, and it did. That was the greatest reward, the finished film.”
“The energy Tarsem brings to the set is palpable. He wields a little bit of magic, and you cannot exhaust this man. I would follow him anywhere,” concludes Reynolds.
Be sure to catch Ryan Reynolds, Sir Ben Kingsley and Matthew Goode in Tarsem Singh’s Self/less which released at theaters nationwide on July 10, 2015.
Want to learn more about Self/less? Check out Louisiana Film & Video’s production story on the film from Issue 6, 2013.
Story by W. H. Bourne
Photos by Melinda Sue Gordon courtesy of MPC / Paramount Pictures
When Arnold Schwarzenegger iconically says, “I’ll be back,” he means it. He returned to New Orleans last year to shoot Terminator: Genisys. Schwarzenegger is no stranger to Louisiana; since his departure as governor of California and his return to acting, he’s shot multiple projects here including The Expendables 2, Escape Plan, and Maggie.
While everyone in New Orleans easily recognized Schwarzenegger around town last summer while shooting Terminator, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke was able to enjoy anonymity without her dragons and her blonde Targaryen tresses; however, her lead as Sarah Connor in Genisys could change all that.
“Probably what I love the most about this script is the relationship between the Guardian (Schwarzenegger) and Sarah. It’s the heart. It’s beautiful. We get to see his character in this whole other gorgeous light. Watching her all this time has kind of softened him, except, of course, when people have tried to kill her. That hasn’t softened him at all,” says Sarah Connor actress Emilia Clarke. “Arnold is the first thing that comes to mind when you say Terminator, and you can’t do it without him!”
“I protect Sarah Connor, and anything that is coming close to her, or is threatening her I terminate. So I’m the Terminator in some ways, and I’m the Protector in another way so you have to be very careful in how you play that in each moment,” explains Schwarzenegger.
“I don’t think you can make a Terminator movie without Arnold,” suggests director Alan Taylor. “Certainly, I couldn’t imagine it without him. There’s something about the way he and Cameron built that character and then within the two movies explored such different sides of that character that he basically set the parameters for that world; that mythology means it would be really hard for me to think of a Terminator movie that let go of him.”
“I was very happy to be involved,” admits Schwarzenegger. “I got a phone call telling me that David and Megan Ellison had acquired the rights and the first thing I thought was, ‘Finally they are doing another one! And finally I am again in the movie!’ Also, I was very happy when I heard who was writing the script. I just liked the direction it was taking from the beginning.”
Terminator: Genisys writer/producer Laeta Kalogridis remembers early meetings with Skydance Productions, “David (Ellison) and Dana (Goldberg) approached us (Kalogridis and writing partner Patrick Lussier) around Christmas 2012, and our first response was ‘No,’ as was our second and third response. We said no because of respect for James Cameron’s universe. I had worked with him for years; he’s an inspiration to me personally and cinematically, and I did not want in any way, shape or form to do anything that would not be respectful of what he had created. It’s some of the most amazing science fiction ever, and he is certainly an inspiration to me, and not just me; he’s one of the greatest living filmmakers, and possibly, ever.”
Writer/producer Patrick Lussier remembers that Skydance was persistent, so his partner Kalogridis checked with Cameron himself, who not only granted his permission and gave his blessing, but started the ‘idea bouncing’ chain reaction inevitable in any great pre-production phase, advising Kalogridis, “Make sure you write a good part for Arnold! Laeta became infected with the idea, and once we started thinking of the story possibilities and re-watching the first two Terminator films, we could see how to revisit that world and those characters in a present day setting… and not in a present day setting.”
“Time travel is embedded in the DNA of the material, which gives rise to the possibility of alternate universes and different timelines without affecting the original material at all,” adds Kalogridis. “Those stories exist and continue to exist; they still have happened, but you can tell a different story that branches off in a different direction using the characters that all of us love.”
“The Terminator franchise, and really James Cameron, is a seminal part of why I got into filmmaking in the first place,” says Skydance CEO and producer David Ellison. “To me, he’s simply one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. I think Terminator 2 reinvented the modern day tent pole. So, for me to get to work on a franchise that is literally something I fell in love with as a kid, and which led to my wanting to become a filmmaker, is just a dream come true.”
“The Cameron films to me were really Cold War era films,” says Ellison, “where the analogy that was being laid on top of the story was very much the threats felt during that time period. The advancements in AI give us the ability to really update the franchise to today, to where Skynet no longer has to break free; we’re actually lining ourselves up and giving away our privacy, our freedoms, our information. We’re standing in line for the latest in technology and software. The canon lends itself to comment on what is actually going on today in a way that’s new and fun and exciting; it comes across in a big entertaining way. To me, science fiction is at its most effective when it’s actually taking real world events and placing them in a fictional setting.”
“We knew we had to have a director who cared about character, and the love story of this family,” continues Ellison. “Yes, there’s a lot of action in Terminator movies, and we definitely plan to live up to that promise. There are a lot of people who are great at shooting action, but only a handful or so that we thought could get true character-driven performances in the midst of it all. We all pray at the altar of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and we thought Thor: the Dark World was phenomenal. And, sure enough, when Alan (Taylor) came in, he said that we could talk about what the Terminators are going to look like, and how many of them there are, and the different types, and how the third act fight is going to look, but the love story and relationships have to work. He said that in our first meeting, and we thought, ‘Okay, this is the right guy.’”
“I was looking at various potential projects but this was the first one that felt like I couldn’t at the beginning tell exactly how to do it,” says Terminator: Genisys director Alan Taylor. “It was a puzzle to solve it, and that made it exciting and interesting. There’s so much to love in the Cameron mythology, and so much that the audience we’re hoping to reach is already in love with. At the same time the story’s moving forward; it’s got to get bigger and go into new directions, and unlike other sequels, this felt like a whole new ballgame, and I wanted to see how we could pull that off.”
“Alan manages to get a beautiful marriage of old meets new, but also puts a very sensitive, intelligent spin on it,” says Emilia Clarke who has worked with Taylor on Game of Thrones. “I think one of his goals with this movie is to ask, ‘What it is to be truly free as a human being?’ and the choices these characters have to make in deciding that. I think we are paying a lot of respect to the Terminator that has been before, and bringing it to this new audience today.”
“What we’ve tried to do is to begin in timelines that we know from the mythology and then take them in new directions,” explains Taylor, “and do it in a way that makes sense so we see a future that we saw glimpses of in the previous movies, and then we dive to a past that we’ve seen glimpses of in the past movies, but this film tries to take us into new territory beyond that while not contradicting any of the things we already know about this mythology.”
“One of the things that really made me want to be in this project was to work with (director) Alan Taylor,” says John Connor actor Jason Clarke. “He’s a very smart man; he knows story, and he knows actors, and he’s done some of the greatest TV ever done: The Sopranos, Game of Thrones, Mad Men. He’s got a wonderful doggedness but also a gentleness. Going in, you know a film like this will be a long, big tough shoot, and it requires a director that’s going to support you and keep you going, and also just keep an eye on everything and know that it’s done properly. He never moved until we got it, and it’s been a pleasure to work with him.”
“We knew John Connor was going to be one of the hardest roles to cast, because he has to be charismatic,” explains Goldberg. “Here’s the guy people who have no hope choose to be their hope. These are people who’ve had everything taken away from them, and yet, when this man stands up and says that it’s time to fight, they’ll go to the ends of the earth for him.”
“The thing about John Connor is he’s tortured,” adds Ellison. “For some, he’s a prophet, but he says in our movie that he cheats, that his mother raised him and told him everything that was going to happen. That’s a huge burden, and something we’ve found fascinating about John Connor’s character; he will lead all of these people and, in reality, he knows that a great deal of them are going to die.”
“There’s a moment in the film where John wishes a soldier good luck, and the soldier says that he doesn’t need luck; he has John Connor,” says Goldberg. “When we shot it, David and I traded smiles, because we knew that Jason would just fill that moment with everything going on inside: appreciating what the soldier said, but also wishing that there was another world in which this was not his position to fulfill.”
“We’d done the movie Jack Reacher with Jai Courtney and loved him as a person, and thought he was a wonderful actor,” remarks Goldberg, “but we weren’t sure he was Kyle Reese. He came in and he tested with Emilia, and I remember standing on the stage watching his audition, and I emailed someone and said, ‘We just found our Kyle Reese.’ It was clear their first read together.”
“To me, great science fiction is always more than just the bells and whistles of things blowing up,” continues Goldberg. “I still remember watching The Terminator and thinking, way back then, ‘Oh wow, this is a love story.’ It’s this amazing science fiction movie, and Arnold Schwarzenegger is this killer robot; it’s all incredibly cool, but to me, it all boiled down to the line, ‘I came across time for you, Sarah.’ Somehow, (James) Cameron figured out a way to present this love story to mass audiences as this unbelievable science fiction movie. In Terminator 2 one of my favorite parts of the movie was in a Sarah Connor voiceover, where she talks about how the Terminator that she hated so much (in the first movie) would be the perfect father for her son. He’d never abandoned him; he’d never hurt him; he would always be there for him. In Cameron’s movies, you have both the incredible visuals and the grounded-ness in reality, the emotional story at the center of it all.”
“We wanted to be incredibly respectful to the characters Gale (Anne Hurd) and James Cameron created,” continues Goldberg, “so we finally arrived at the place of whatever timeline you’re talking about. When you’re talking about the Terminator world, there’s always going to be a Sarah Connor, a Kyle Reese, a John Connor, a Terminator; they just might not be the identical people they were in the prior films. That’s the attitude we started and stayed with going into the development of the script. They are all here; just not exactly the people that have been represented in films previously.”
“The 1984 that our characters travel back to has been altered since the original movie,” explains Ellison. “Events have transpired that have driven it in a completely different direction. Also those films were always set in present day, not in the future, not in the past. Ours bends that set-up. And so, through a series of events, our characters find themselves traveling forward to 2017 in an attempt to stop Judgment Day from ever happening.”
“I considered Arnold’s character the ultimate Tin Man,” says screenwriter Kalogridis. “How does he become the cornerstone and the heart of the story, for a character that essentially has no heart? There was something really tantalizing about the idea of Arnold playing a Terminator who has aged, of not trying to do any crazy CG stuff, but to respect the change in the actor. The Terminator was always very much of its time so to be able to tell the story in the moment and the age that Arnold is, it interested us all. The human tissue surrounding the cyborg ages, but he’s also aged on the inside through his very long experience with humans all this time.”
“It’s like riding a bicycle,” adds Schwarzenegger. “You fall right back into it. I remember when I read the script, and I started practicing the lines. I started talking like a machine again. It was kind of like you slip into that character.”
“If you’re going to have Arnold, you’ve got to use him in a brand new way,” explains Taylor. “You can’t just do the same thing again, so in our approach, it was very important to me that we see a whole different take on this character. That we take him in places that he never was able to go before. You know, he’s evolving, growing, maturing and that led to a brand new version of his character.”
According to Skydance’s David Ellison, “Terminator: Genisys is not a remake, it’s not a reboot, it’s not a sequel; it’s really a re-imagining based on the Cameron source material. Viewers don’t have to be familiar with any of the previous films at all; this is definitely a stand-alone. But that being said, for the fans who have seen the first couple of films, there are some great Easter eggs in there. Exploiting the inherent nature of time travel, we go off on a divergent timeline to take these characters that audiences and I grew up with in a completely new direction.”
“It’s a big, big movie. We shot from April through to mid-August, with a lot of six-day weeks,” says Goldberg. “We had a phenomenal crew who just killed themselves to bring this thing to the screen. No one ever quite understands how much work goes into everything you see on the screen: from hair and makeup, to stunts, to visual effects, to special effects, to rigging, to grips, to lighting, and on and on. It’s a giant undertaking, a movie of this size, and you need all of those pieces working in unison to get it right, and we were beyond fortunate to have a crew that did it right.”
“It’s just epic,” adds Emilia Clarke who is no stranger to elaborate sets, CG filmmaking, and fantastic crews on Game of Thrones. “For every three minutes of footage onscreen, it has taken something like two weeks of shooting. Every minute detail has been thought through and beautifully executed. Every member of the crew is incredible; the sets are insane; the costumes are amazing. There is just so much, and I also have to keep reminding myself, while I’m in the middle of this epic scene and I think it couldn’t get any better, that these are totally without special effects, that we’re only filming about 60%; it’s going to look that much cooler, with lots of crazy stuff happening…and no tennis balls on sticks, either!”
“We all worked very hard to be true to the story’s heritage, but also keep it imaginative,” says Jason Clarke. “It’s some of the most enjoyable action I’ve ever done: great fighting moves, spinning around, pile driver maneuvers; it has just been so cool.”
“There was training every day with guns, lots of guns, and then some more guns, and then a few more guns thrown in,” adds Emilia Clarke. “I didn’t know anything about guns before this film, and now, well, I know a lot about guns! Since I had done some stunt work before, they also had me preparing to get a physical understanding of what was going to be needed. This Sarah was brought up by a Terminator to be a warrior, so she has a huge body of knowledge when it comes to fighting and survival. So a lot of what was done was to help me feel comfortable embodying that part of Sarah, always being prepared. I worked with an amazing military advisor, and a weapons specialist, and then stunts and just physical training.”
“We all love Game of Thrones, and there is a strength, and a sense of honor and nobility to Emilia; those are things that can’t be taught,” says Ellison. “You either have them or you don’t. I think those attributes work perfectly for Sarah Connor, whom I consider a seminal female heroine in cinema.”
“The dynamics of this film are real and urgent and intimate,” explains Taylor. “Fortunately, we have the actors who can pull it off. Kyle and Sarah are played by young actors who are just starting to become massively recognized and then the ‘middle generation’, our John Connor is Jason Clarke who is a masterful actor, as is of course J.K. Simmons (who plays Inspector O’Brien). And then you’ve got Arnold who sort of keeps everybody else in line because he just nails it every time. It’s funny, we’d be doing a scene, and he’s got this character so down that he kind of forced everybody else to get their characters down too.”
“Cameron’s first movie uses Arnold’s character in one way, and then he completely inverted for the second (movie), and nobody saw it coming. You can go into new territory with characters that you already have a feeling for, but they take you somewhere that you never saw coming,” muses Taylor. “That’s something that goes deep into the DNA of the Terminator movies.”
Check out Arnold, Emilia, Jason, and Jai in Terminator: Genisys in theaters now.
Story by W. H. Bourne
Photos by Ben Rothstein, Alan Markfield and Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox and Liz Coulon
Recently, Louisiana Film & Video Magazine had the opportunity to speak with Liz Coulon of Coulon Casting about her work on Fantastic Four which shot last summer in Baton Rouge. Even though Coulon’s company is located in New Orleans, Coulon cast approximately 40 local and regional actors for speaking roles in the upcoming comic book movie adaptation.
“Typically a project comes to Louisiana with the major ‘names’ attached,” explains Coulon. “Then, I work closely with the Los Angeles casting director, producers, and director to fill out the remainder of the cast. On Fantastic Four, the top 15 or so roles were cast out of Los Angeles and New York, and the remaining 40 or so speaking roles were cast locally and regionally. Some of the local actors booked nice, meaty supporting roles, and several others booked day player speaking roles.”
Giving us the run down of the casting process, Coulon says, “I create and release a breakdown to local and regional talent agents. A breakdown is a list of character descriptions. Agents submit talent they think are right for a role. I sort through those submissions and decide who to bring in for an audition.”
“If I cannot find what I am looking for through talent agents, I may release the breakdown to ActorsAccess.com and let talent submit themselves for a role,” continues Coulon. “If I am searching for something very specific, maybe a unique special skill or look, I might release an open call or do a search in MyCastingFile.com, the database of stand-ins and background extras.”
“On a large studio production such as Fantastic Four, there are several levels of approval that an actor must pass before booking even the smallest speaking role,” adds Coulon.
The secrecy surrounding large tentpole films is incredible. Fantastic Four was no exception.
“With Fantastic Four, we had to be very careful to not give away any important plot points. Sometimes we changed names on the script pages that we released to actors. Other times, we used fake scenes,” notes Coulon.
“I love providing opportunities for good actors to do great work and book roles. Any actor who’s auditioned for me knows how much I love the audition process and that I enjoy working with actors in the room, playing with the scenes and finding something great,” says Coulon, “so, for me, the most rewarding experience on Fantastic Four was being able to place so many actors into the film. Several local actors worked upwards of 10 weeks on Fantastic Four. Some worked a week or two, and many others worked a couple of days.”
Coulon started her career as an agent in the casting business shortly after Louisiana first introduced the tax credits. After casting background for more than 25 films, Coulon began casting local speaking roles for indies and eventually graduated to larger films such as 21 and 22 Jump Street, Terminator: Genisys, and the TV series Scream. Recently, Coulon has done casting work for Geostorm and The Magnificent Seven. With all of her experience in the industry, she has some great advice for actors interested in being a part of Hollywood South.
“If you are new to acting, you must learn audition technique, get professional head shots and take classes. Get your hands on a scene, find an actor to read the scene with you, and film yourself auditioning. Do not read the scene alone in a mirror! That will not help you. Take acting classes, lots of classes (quantity) and lots of different classes (variety). Learn how to dissect a script, and how to analyze every single word on the page. Once you have absorbed that information, then you can play, make choices, and try new things with the scene,” suggests Coulon. “As for seasoned actors, practice, practice, practice your craft and never stop learning!”
You can catch Miles Teller, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Michael B. Jordan and some great local actors when Fantastic Four debuts in theaters nationwide on August 7th.