Set Visit: Watching Justin Timberlake rob a bank filming In Time!
There is something peculiar with the fifty or so extras I see casually hanging out alongside 7th street in Downtown Los Angeles this morning. It’s not their attire, which looks stylized and fashionably rich for a movie set in the not too distant future. To the passing eye, what particularly stands out with these street dwelling extras in a city that sees many productions on every corner is their youth. Every last one of them is beautiful and no older than twenty-five.
No, this isn’t an ensemble of Maxim eye candy dressing up a Michael Bay movie; this is actually an important detail with IN TIME, a science fiction thriller from director Andrew Niccol. In a genre fueled on high concepts, perhaps nobody stands quite as tall and Niccol, whose lavish ideas have brought us GATTACA, THE TRUMAN SHOW and the underrated LORD OF WAR.
I entered the back of a warehouse downtown where they are setting up a bank heist that, like the best of science fiction, fits familiarly in narrative placement yet offers something completely original in its execution. What the bank is storing behind its massive (and I mean huge) vault is unlike anything you’ve ever seen robbed in a movie before. Cue the lovely Amanda Seyfried to my left chatting with the crew, her visiting collie dog by her side, she’s sporting a hot red wig not too dissimilar in style from Olivia Wilde’s in TRON: LEGACY (incidentally, also starring in IN TIME) and Justin Timberlake to my right, sporting a bad-ass leather jacket and a pistol hanging out of his pants laughing with Andrew Niccol. These two are, as Andrew puts it, our Bonnie & Clyde. What they are robbing is time.
“I think of this as the bastard child of Gattaca...”
You heard that right. In the world of IN TIME, Time is not only a tangible currency, but the only currency. Scientists have eliminated the aging gene. Human beings have the capacity for everlasting life on earth. So naturally, what is now abundant must be distributed with “practical” limitations in mind. The commodities of life are now defined, and so is its price. A person is given the right to live their first twenty five years, every second after that must be purchased. Hens, nobody on earth looks a day over twenty-five, despite some being well over a hundred.
“In prison, they don’t give you time, they just take it away.” Producer Eric Newman explains, offering insight and detail into how this world is functioning while showing me storyboards of the impending robbery. “Here, you can go to a Casino and turn one hundred years into one thousand.” Eric has as much experience making alternative futures as Andrew has, having produced CHILDREN OF MEN which can accurately be described as the ying to IN TIMES yang. One clings on the last remnants of humanity in a world where youth is nearing extinction, the other… well, let’s bask in the possibilities, shall we? “The poor die and the rich don’t live”, he continues, in a mantra that seems to be the prevailing theme propelling the story in IN TIME.
I’m staring at two monitors in front of a wall protecting us from the Bank’s set. Everyone on set is in high spirits after a couple weeks of hiatus (due to an ankle injury Justin obtained during an interrogation scene). In a moment, a large truck will be crashing through the opposite end from 7th street into the Bank lobby. From my initial impression, the scenario can easily be compared to the opening Bank heist in THE DARK KNIGHT. Why fuss with parking problems like in BONNIE & CLYDE when you can make a grand entrance that will scare the crap out of everyone? While we are waiting for the final tests of the trucks rig to get sorted out, Andrew describes the inception of his new film,
“I think of it as the bastard child of GATTACA.” He explains with a smile, “The holy grail of genetic engineering is finding the aging gene and switching it off, but the implications are so huge I thought it would need another movie. As it turns out, it became another movie.” Given that this is a world where a recession would equal mass genocide; I asked Andrew if there is a benefit in it being told today. “At the moment the title is NOW [before being changed to IN TIME], given that it is a futuristic film, it’s kind of a beautiful contradiction.” Adding, “This is a literal demonstration of living in the moment. It should be timeless.”
“The poor die and the rich can’t live.”
Back to our heist, a wide angle has just been shot of pedestrians and Bank customers diving out of the way of the oncoming truck. Now we await the stunt. The truck driver gives the ready signal and everyone is prepared. I keep my eyes in between the monitor and the set as the truck blazes through the thick sheets of glass, metal and the heavy door frame into the lobby. Glorious destruction! We watch the monitors repeat the spectacular sequence a few more times and it looks gorgeous.
Our driver is of course Justin Timberlake playing Will Salas, the protagonist of IN TIME. Will is a poor kid accused of murder when he inherits a fortune from someone who had a hell of a lot of time left (i.e. a rich bastard). Accompanying him is Sylvia, portrayed by Amanda Seyfried. The two are on the run from the Timekeepers, a police force for the new generation. Specifically, they are on the run from Cillian Murphy’s Raymond Leon, Chief Timekeeper. I’ve always loved Cillian Murphy and he looks especially bad ass here wearing a long black leather jacket. In true genre fashion, Sylvia leaves her extremely privileged life in favor of the thrill running with Will, though it could be argued that their relationship begins more like a kidnapping than a partnership.
“It’s boring. It’s a boring life to sit around, trying not to die basically-this society, having so much time and so much money, everybody has a body guard and everybody leads a very mundane existence, they just eat egg whites and try to stay healthy.” Amanda describes of her character. This particular sequence must be especially thrilling for Sylvia, given that the bank they are robbing is owned by her own father, Philippe (Vincent Kartheiser of MAD MEN fame). Philippe is so wealthy he and his family seem set for eternity and (as Justin points out to me) at the time of the movie Philippe is around seventy five years old!
At this point the crew is rearranging the blue and grey Bank lobby now that a two ton truck has nearly demolished it. They replace some of the glass with safety glass that has a rubbery feel to it, despite looking identical to the real thing. I was exceedingly giddy when Eric ushered me to the lobby for a front seat view of the next set up- Justin and Amanda running into the Bank vault, guns in the air, grabbing what they can. It is right about now I determine that the execution of Andrew’s world matches the richness of his concept. The Bank vault is huge. You may wonder how exactly they are stealing time. Eric passed a prop of what the vault stores; a metallic hard drive of sorts that had a L.E.D. monitor on it. Everyone carries a watch they can’t remove that tracks the time they have left in life, an unnerving prospect for sure. Payday comes in the form of hard drives that updates each watch.
Now it gets really thrilling… Legendary cinematographer Roger Deakins, fresh off of his Academy Award Nomination for TRUE GRIT stands in the corner of the lobby, lining up the next shot with Andrew. To my amazement, in between them was an Arriflex Digital Camera [a popular model also being used by Martin Scorsese for HUGO and used beautifully in Nicolas Winding-Refn's DRIVE]. This is the first project for either man not to be shot on a tradition 35mm camera. As they deliberated the sequence, I asked Eric how the two were adapting to the new format. He assured that they were handling it great and that the footage looks stunning. In my head though were the ramblings of a cynical purist… Sure it does Eric, what else would you say? With mounds of debris and glass around me in a demolished futuristic Bank lobby with Roger Deakins and Andrew Niccol two feet away all I could think of was ‘how in the world will this look as stunning as Deakins usual brilliant work? How will Andrew bring out humanity in a cold, lifeless world without the organic quality of film?’ Despite a number of beautifully made films shot digitally recently, I still haven’t shed all of my skepticism when it comes to the format, especially when digital attempts to look like film.
Andrew yells action…
“Timefree [the bank] now offers interest free loans with no payments!” Justin sarcastically shouts in character to dozens of onlookers, shoving as many units as he and Amanda can into bags. At this point a mob of pedestrians rush into Vault. Our Will has started a riot. The two race back to the truck.
Even with the talent in front of me I wasn’t fully prepared for how beautifully composed this sequence was. We gazed at the monitor as the scene was replayed. Eric was dead on, it was stunning; the symmetry of the angle- the circular vault filling up the edges of the screen, the camera pulling back slowly as the vaults parallel shelves line up alongside the frame, smoke billowing behind Justin and Amanda as curious silhouetted figures emerge through the mist of destruction behind them. The accentuated contrast of the dark vault, the shadowed figures and the bright smoke is cinematic AS HELL. This evokes the best of what Andrew Niccol and Roger Deakins are capable of. It felt like GATTACA and looked like THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD.
With my jaw down and my eyes still peeled to monitor, I hear a voice to my right, “Told Ya.”
This is certainly not a movie to miss, and there is much more of the story to be revealed on set with Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried in PART 2 of our coverage of Andrew Niccol’s IN TIME.
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|Extra Tidbit:||The titles for for movie went from I'M.MORTAL to just NOW (which was the tentative title while I was on set) to finally IN TIME.|