Archive for the ‘CREW’ Category
Simon Atherton, prop weapons maker for movies
The company designs swords, shields and other items for movies that have included ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Saving Private Ryan.’ ‘Clash of the Titans’ called for a lot of sword play.
Simon Atheron makes props. (Warner Bros. Pictures)By Cristy Lytal
April 4, 2010
Simon Atherton and his team crafted more than 900 swords, shields and other weaponry for “Clash of the Titans,” but he’s always been a pretty peaceful guy.
“I don’t really like shooting animals and things,” he said. “And even though weapons like firearms and swords are functional, there is a lot of artistic input that goes into the weapons as well. People decorate them and make them into things that are quite beautiful. So all of these crafts that come into it fascinate me — engraving, working with wood to make the stocks and the handles for swords.”
A native of the small fishing village of Coverack in Cornwall, England, Atherton undertook a six-year apprenticeship with a gun maker when he was 16.
“I made the tea, I got the biscuits from the shop, and I did all that,” he recalled. “And then I started to work on the guns, doing very small repairs, cleaning them. And then slowly, I was allowed to make things. My apprenticeship built that way until eventually I could build the whole weapon.”
Atherton joined a company in London that created weapons for the film industry, and wound up working on 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”
In 1997, he went out on his own, working on such films as 1998’s “Saving Private Ryan,” 2000’s “Gladiator” and the upcoming “John Carter of Mars.”
“It was just circumstances that I ended up not making guns that kill people for real,” he said.
Arachnophilia: In “Clash of the Titans,” the world’s lightest and strongest shield is made from a piece of a giant scorpion’s exoskeleton. “We created the shield before they had actually created the scorpion,” said Atherton. “We were looking at the concept drawings [of the creature], and trying to find a part of the scorpion that could be broken away and fashioned into a shield. We sculpted the shield in a Plasticine or a clay, we took a silicone mold off that and then we poured into that with high-density foam. . . . . On the back of the shield, there’s a mother of pearl effect.”
Different strokes: One sword does not fit all. “We use lots of different materials to create the sword that the person needs for the stunt or the effect that he’s going to do,” Atherton said. “If he wants to look pretty fast with the sword, it needs to be lightweight, so we’d make it from a bamboo construction. If he’s going to fall off a building, we would construct the sword in a foam or a rubber, so if he accidentally fell on it, he wouldn’t be damaged. And then sometimes, if he really has to go hell-for-leather, we’d make aluminum ones. If for some reason the sword has to cut through a prosthetic, we’d use a steel blade that’s sharpened up to do that. One sword that you see on the screen probably has six or seven different variations that are used throughout the scene.”
Olympus’ finest: Atherton had the challenge of creating one sword that, in the world of the film, was forged by Zeus. “The sword that’s given to Perseus by the gods, instead of having a double-sided blade, has a front-cutting, single-sided edge,” Atherton explained. “The shape of it evolved over lots of discussions with the director. Once we’d got the finished item, we then cast that in bronze, which looked very nice but was a bit too heavy. But for some of the hero shots and the close-ups on the sword, the bronze one was used.”
Weapons testing: Atherton works closely with the stunt department. “As we create a weapon, we start to think about how someone is going to fight with it,” he said. “The first thing we do when we build a weapon or start to get an idea of the size the director wants is we’ll run up and down stairs with it. We’ll see if we can climb on a horse with it. And that’s in its very primitive form, the shape or length that it is. And from that we can learn that we need to cut 2 inches off it, or every time we wield it, the pummel starts to hit us in the wrists. And we’ll develop it so that it functions. Then we’ll . . . . think, ‘Now it works, how can we make it look beautiful?’ “
Copyright © 2010, The Los Angeles Times
February 24, 2010 | 12:30 pm
Kevin Smith has a big mouth and he knows it. When he got bounced off a Southwest Airlines flight for allegedly being too fat earlier this month, he quickly spread the news, via Twitter, complaining about the unfair treatment he felt that he’d received from the airline. And when the media treated the story as something of a lighthearted farce, the beefy 39-year-old filmmaker was soon loudly assailing the media for its snarky take on the whole event.
Smith’s propensity to shoot from the hip has also gotten him in hot water in Hollywood. Years before Warners Picture Group President Jeff Robinov hired Smith to direct “Cop Out,” the new Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan buddy comedy that opens Friday, Smith had gone out of his way to insult the studio chief after they’d had a disastrous pitch meeting.
“I don’t even remember why things went so horribly — it was just like a bad first date,” Smith told me Tuesday, punctuating virtually every anecdote in our hourlong conversation with bursts of colorfully profane language. “Afterwards, I wrote somewhere that he was a balding studio clock puncher, which kinda’ cooled our relationship for a while.”
It turns out that Robinov managed to get over the insult. When Smith was at Comic-Con a couple of years ago, promoting his film “Zak and Miri Make a Porno,” Robinov happened to see the filmmaker when he was on a panel with such hotshot directors as Judd Apatow and Zack Snyder. “They’d all made movies that had made tons more money than any of mine, but Comic-Con was my home ice,” Smith recalls. “When I came on, everyone went crazy. They were my peeps. I guess Robinov was impressed, ’cause afterward he called to set up a meeting.”
Smith was still a little nervous when he showed up on the Warners lot, but Robinov put him at ease by saying, as Smith recalls, “When I leave this job, what I really want to do is produce your talk show.” Not long afterward, Robinov sent Smith the “Cop Out” script, then known by its original title, “A Couple of Dicks.” Smith loved the script, written by the brothers Robb and Mark Cullen, which felt like a throwback to the kind of buddy pictures Smith’s dad had taken him to see as a kid in New Jersey.
“I called Robinov back and told him it was funny, but I still didn’t realize why he’d sent it to me. I said, ‘What’s the deal? Do you want me to do a cameo as Dave the fat guy? If you want me to rewrite it, I ain’t buying, because it’s already really good.’ Finally, Jeff said, ‘It’s funny that you’ve made six guesses and you haven’t guessed director yet.’ It really floored me, because I’d never read anyone else’s script with an eye on directing. I always do my own stuff.”
But Smith realized that the raucous, R-rated buddy comedy was right in his wheelhouse. “It finally clicked — this is ‘Clerks’ with cops. Just two dudes hanging around, talking to each other, with the tent-pole action sequences thrown in to make some more money. It really reminded me of ‘Fletch,’ one of my favorite Michael Ritchie movies, where it was just a funny guy talking, along with the car chases. I finally went, ‘Hey, if there’s one thing I am trained to do, it’s shoot people talking a lot.’ ”
Smith is one of the pillars of the indie film world, having written and directed such quirky (and yes, talky) low-budget films as “Clerks,” “Chasing Amy” and “Dogma.” But his career had been sputtering from a lack of inspiration in recent years, with “Jersey Girl” and “Zack and Miri” being disappointments, both with critics and at the box office. So he was ready to be a director for hire.
“A movie like ‘Fletch’ was a real role model for me,” he says. “It won’t cure brain cancer, but it goes down smooth, like a good milkshake. For years, I kept making movies that were like medicine. And finally, 15 years into my career, after ‘Zack and Miri’ collapsed at the box office, I realized I was spinning my wheels. I couldn’t write anything, I guess because I felt I didn’t have anything new to say. I mean, you have to write about your life, but what was I gonna write? That some fat guy’s movie tanked? I’m too happy now. If I’m not drawing from pain, and all I have is the rich man’s pain of privilege, then I had to find something new to do. I was staring at 40 and I was just ready to grow up.”
Smith also realized that it was getting more difficult than ever to find money for personal films. “The specialty film world is dead and dying like Krypton and I figured that I had to throw myself into the rocket and blast off the planet to survive. Steven Soderbergh had already done the hard work, showing the studio guys that these indie filmmakers could shoot good movies. And I have to say I was impressed by Robinov. I was only half right when I called him a bald clock puncher. He’s smart and really works his ass off.”
How did Smith get along with the notoriously prickly Bruce Willis? And what really bugs him about the media coverage of his dust-up with Southwest? Keep reading:
It is Robinov who has masterminded the Warners creative formula of pairing cutting-edge filmmakers with mainstream material, resulting in such successes as Chris Nolan’s “The Dark Knight” and Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” as well as clunkers like the Wachowski brothers’ “Speed Racer.” It turns out that “Cop Out” had a complicated history. The script had originally been set up at another company with Robin Williams and James Gandolfini attached to star. When that combination fell apart, Warners picked up the script, hoping to team Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, with “The Wedding Crashers” director David Dobkin at the helm.
But salary disputes and debates over the R rating caused a split, with the actors heading off to make an entirely different buddy picture called “The Other Guys,” scheduled to come out this summer from Sony. When Smith came on board, he inherited a movie budgeted at $75 million without any stars. One day the film’s producer, Mark Platt, called to ask what he thought of Bruce Willis. Smith responded with a string of unprintable expletives that he says represented a sign of great joy. Soon afterward, Tracy Morgan hopped on board. Once Smith persuaded the studio to let him make what he calls “his parents’ kind” of R-rated movie, which he describes as “one with some bad language, but not a lot of tasteless [oral sex] jokes,” the project had a new head of steam.
“We all took pay cuts to keep it R-rated, which with me meant I gave up 80% of my salary, but it was worth it,” he says, explaining that, thanks to some tax rebates, the movie cost roughly $37 million to make. He certainly wasn’t worried about his actors having good chemistry, always a key ingredient with a buddy picture. “Tracy just oozes chemistry,” he says with a hearty laugh. “He could have chemistry with a ceramic ashtray. Bruce loved him. He kept calling him kid, even though Tracy’s over 40, so there’s not really that big an age difference. But I think calling him kid meant Bruce liked him.”
Smith insists that he didn’t have any problems communicating with Willis, at least once he realized that Willis wasn’t going to do anything that he felt was out of his comfort zone. Smith illustrates the issue with an unbelievably raunchy metaphor involving a detailed description of oral sex, then teasingly said, “Try and get that into your old-media story.” I asked him if he could offer a PG-13 version of the story.
“Put it this way,” he said. “On the first day of shooting, I started to mess with Bruce, trying to get him to do something crazy, and he took out his gun and went bang — and shot me in the head. His point was pretty obvious. He’s done this part so many times that he knows what works and what doesn’t. He’s the caretaker of the Bruce Willis persona. He’s been a star for 25 years while most of his peers have fallen by the wayside, so he knows what works for his image. Basically, we all tried to make him laugh, figuring if we got Bruce just to smile once we’ve have something to tell our kids about.”
It would probably be fair to say that, judging from the rough, sometimes insulting treatment Smith got in the media after the Southwest Airlines debacle, that the filmmaker has a lot to learn about the care and feeding of his own image. Most people who were bumped from a flight for supposedly being too fat would’ve kept the incident to themselves. But not Smith, who went after Southwest with a vengeance, first on Twitter, then on his website, which has been filled with a host of heated diatribes directed at the airline.
Smith basically makes two points about the whole imbroglio: He was treated unfairly and he had every right to shout about it from the rooftops. “Look at the pictures of me at the ‘Cop Out’ premiere last night and tell me — is that dude really too fat to fly?” he says, though I’ve excised a couple of choice profanities. “Does that dude really need two seats? Southwest just messed up and then they sold the lie that I was too fat to fly to support a policy that’s unfair in a million different ways.”
What really ticked Smith off was the media reaction, which he thought was snarky, self-righteous and lazy, in the sense that nearly every story simply went for the jokes and the outrage, but only offered the most cursory examination of the airline’s actual policies. Having read all too many of the stories myself, I can’t say it was the media’s finest hour, though I suspect that most reporters felt that if Smith was treating the whole affair with broad humor, why shouldn’t they do the same.
Still, Smith remained incensed. “They’re really pathetic,” he says, punctuating his rant with even more expletives. “It really sickened me that after all the years I’ve been so open with the press that they didn’t bother to dig at all. I was unfairly bounced and discriminated against, but they never bothered to tell that story. They just went with the easy fat jokes. Every TV show imaginable asked me to go on, from Oprah to Larry King, but I turned them all down because I didn’t want to turn into Octomom. I told the Warners marketers — don’t put me in front of the cameras at the junket because you’re just gonna get four minutes of a guy screaming about an … airline.”
Smith is especially peeved at all the media people who believe that he brought this whole thing down on himself by incessantly tweeting about it instead of keeping his mouth shut. “That shows you how much the old media knows about today’s universe,” he says. “In the world of social media, where everyone has a cellphone camera, this was gonna get out whether I wanted it to or not. So I’m not letting anyone tell the story but me. Once the airline started lying, I did what any good comedian would do — use comedy to soothe my pain.”
Smith paused for a rare moment of reflection amid his no-stop rants. “I grew up fat, so I know that you have to stick up for yourself because I know that you’re gonna get called a fat guy whether you like it or not. So when you’ve been wronged, you have to speak out. It’s like asking someone whose been assaulted or raped — why’d you say something about it? It’s basically self-defense. I have to say that the whole situation sickened me. All I saw was hatred and snarkiness and cynicism.”
Fortunately, he’s had a happy experience making his first studio movie. “I’d do another one in a heartbeat,” he says. “It’s just a popcorner. I mean, no one’s gonna ask, ‘What’s the message of ‘Cop Out’? But we had a lot of fun. The studio gave us the box and all the dimensions and we found a way to fit all the good stuff in the box without breaking it, Who could ask for more?”
Photo of Kevin Smith by Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times.
February 24, 2010 | 9:00 am
Hollywood has never been shy about self-promotion, except when it comes to touting its own backyard.
New York touts a “Made in N.Y.” program featuring local film and TV production crew members who share their work experience in the city.
Los Angeles, however, has been low key — some would say complacent — when it comes to singing the praises of filming close to home at a time when rivals beyond California’s borders are grabbing a bigger share of the production pie.
Now, a coalition of industry, labor and city officials wants to remedy the situation by launching a broad-based public education campaign that would herald the economic benefits of the film industry to Los Angeles — while thanking local residents for putting up with the occasional inconvenience of crews in their neighborhoods.
The details are still being worked out, but the marketing blitz, expected to be unveiled by April, would likely feature ads on billboards and bus benches, as well as public service announcements on radio and TV, and even in local movie theaters. Expect to see production trucks plastered with banners trumpeting how many jobs were created on a given show.
“With so much competition, L.A. and the region has to really step up and make the community aware of the value of our industry, and how many people earn their living from it,” said Pamm Fair, who chairs FilmL.A. Inc., the nonprofit film permitting clearinghouse that is spearheading the campaign. “We need to do everything we can to keep jobs here.”
The idea of selling L.A. as a filming destination isn’t new. In fact, city officials and film promoters have talked for several years about launching such a campaign, but it never took off.
Pressure to do something, however, has mounted as the region has lost thousands of production jobs to other locales, sapping an industry that still generates an estimated 250,000 jobs in Los Angeles County.
Although California’s new film incentives have helped to slow the decline, on-location filming last year suffered its steepest drop since tracking began in 1993, reflecting a long-term flight of filming not only to international rivals such as Toronto and Vancouver, but also to Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico.
The state’s share of U.S. feature film production plunged to 31% in 2008, down from 66% in 2003, according to the California Film Commission. And only 57% of all TV pilots were shot in L.A. in 2009, down from 81% in 2004, according to FilmL.A.
Cinematographer Ed Gutentag, who recently launched a website called shootmoviesincalifornia.com devoted to keeping film projects in-state, says a campaign to promote local production is critical.
“People need to be made aware of this before it’s too late,” said Gutentag, who is filming a documentary about the effects of runaway production on local crews. “This is a critical issue, not just for grips, electricians and camera operators, but all the businesses that service the industry.”
FilmL.A. will contribute about $25,000 to help the campaign get set up with a slogan and logo, but the goal is for much of the overall cost — estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars — to be borne through donated services provided by film editors, producers, local talent and vendors. A theater chain has agreed to provide free use of its trailers at local theaters. Hollywood’s major unions also will be asked to pitch in, while the city is expected to offer use of its space for ads.
The city is considering expanding FilmL.A.’s marketing role, among other steps to help the film industry, such as offering free parking on city properties to film crews.
The nonprofit group handles film permits on behalf of the city and unincorporated areas of the county. Its predecessor, the Entertainment Industry Development Corp., previously played a larger role in marketing and promotion of the local industry, but that function was scaled back after a scandal forced the ouster of former chief Cody Cluff in 2004.
The fallout prompted a series of changes to improve oversight and management, including establishing independent audits and a board run by industry, labor and neighborhood representatives, rather than politicians.
…the vocabulary of cinemas past and the nature of Gothic literature that opened the door. It was enticing, I didn’t know how to tell the story without utilizing that vocabulary.
The references are noticeable, the site of Gothic mansions, abandoned churches and graveyards, foreboding trees and forests, deep dark caves and cliffs, the twists and turns of a very complex thriller, the use of brooding music to emphasize the overall tone of the film and dealing with psychological fears of the leading character.
The mood and tone of the picture and the atmosphere was in my head, it’s in my blood in a way. Once I decided to make the film, I have to find my way into that mood to choose, select, emphasize moments and sound and ultimately thats when I call in my collaborators.
This is one of the very few films that Scorsese has very used an original score, as most of his scores consist of Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” or music from a particular period. Scorsese brought in composer Robbie Robertson to help create the moody score, which most consists of modern symphonic music he still did it in his own way. The score for this film “turned into an experiment and [Robertson] would send me Cd’s of different sounds” and then Scorsese was able to sync in the music to the film.
As much as I admired film scores, you know how much I have collected each film score, Bernard Herrmann who I was lucky to work with, I was extremely lucky to work with Elmer Bernstein and Howard Shore. But I always imagined films with my own score because I didn’t come from that world or period of film making.
Much like Jimmy Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Leonardo DiCaprio’s takes on the role of a tortured detective who will do anything to solve a murder. There are many echoes back to Hitchcock’s classic, both films show their leading character’s battling their own demons and haunted past, in order to solve a mystery. Both films embrace the psychological horror and violence, which makes his characters so compelling to watch. Vertigo has a special place in the director’s heart, as “it’s a film that I am obsessed with, it was a film I didn’t understand when I was 15, but it was one I kept revisiting“. He even has his own 35mm technicolor print of the film, which he screens regularly and is involved in its restoration.
Stewart’s performance in that film is an ultimate performance, as he realizes in the last 15 minutes of the picture, that gesture of his, as he loses her for the second time. You know, it is just an extraordinary thing.
Any cinephiles, film geek or critic will tell you when you’re watching a Martin Scorsese film, his films are always filmed with various references from the Golden Age of Hollywood. There are a number of influences on this film, Shock Corridor, Crossfire, Laura, I Walked With A Zombie, Out Of The Past, Let There Be Light and The Battle. but Scorsese never lets his influences take over the film.
Sam Fuller’s Shock Corridor can only be conjured as a mantra because Shock Corridor is a classic work of art. It comes for the unique experience of Sam Fuller. There is always an element of Shock Corridor hovering over the picture, but never specifically because it’s in me, so it’s a part of me.
Shutter Island is a film that is so full of life, it’s truly like watching masters at work. The use of the steadicam, tracking shots, close-ups etc are used to full effect, to enhance the overall visual impact of the film. His boyish enthusiasm directing this film is so infectious and we are swept along for a very complex ride, giving no easy solutions, and introducing complex characters that do not give way to general conventions. He is the gatekeeper to mature and intelligent film making.
If you have not seen any of Martin Scorsese’s films, then shame on you. But if you want to start, Shutter Island, is a great introduction to the immense Scorsese back catalogue and will show you want it takes to make a film great.
Check out our interview with Leonardo DiCaprio where he talks about his acting career and working with the great Scorsese.