Set Visit: The Fountain
Believe it or not, 7 years after founding this site and being invited (and covering) over 20 set visits, this was the first time that I, JoBlo (aka Berge Garabedian) actually went on a movie set myself. Id prefer to let many of our more qualified personnel travel the world and check out the many cool film sets, and since I dont really like to know much about movies before I see them, it had all worked out pretty well so far.
That said, when Warner Bros called and asked if wed want to visit Darren Aronofsky on the Montreal-based set of his sci-fi, epic, romance (yeah, theyre not sure how to describe it at this point either), entitled THE FOUNTAIN, I couldnt help but be swayed since:
Im a huge fan of REQUIEM FOR A DREAM
Im a huge fan of Darren Aronofsky, a man whom I believe will grow to become one of the greater filmmakers of his generation, if he keeps playing his cards correctly
The film stars Hugh Jackman and Rachel Weisz, both of I appreciate and
It was right around the corner from my place
For those who dont know what the background on this project has been, allow me to break it down to you in a very quick fashion by saying that Aronofsky has essentially been working on this project for the past 5-6 years, and actually had the film ready to start shooting with a budget of close to $90 million a couple of years ago (with Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett attached as the leads), with sets already built in Australia, but stuff happened, Pitt eventually dropped out and the entire project had to be re-imagined.
This time around, the budget is closer to about $35 million, the script has been re-written a little to cut out of some of the unnecessary sequences that would only balloon the films cost and Jackman, Weisz and Montreal are the replacements (oh, and for all who adored her in REQUIEM and thought that she got robbed of an Oscarme includedEllen Burstyn is also in the film).
SO WHAT'S THE MOVIE ABOUT?
Officially, the film has been kept purposely hush-hush so far, and not much else was given up during our day on set, but we did manage to finagle 2 plot outlines to the film below, which should give you a good idea of what to expect. I like that! The less you know about projects as ambitious as this one the better, I say! The day that we visited the set was its 56th day of filming, on a 66-day shoot. The film will likely be released at the tail-end of 2005 (late fall-winter). Below are two basic synopses to the film:
THE FOUNTAIN crisscrosses through three distinct time periods in 1535, during an ancient Mayan war; the present day, following one doctors desperate search for the cure for cancel, and the far future through the vast exotic reaches of space. Interweaving these three periods, THE FOUNTAIN follows Tommy (Jackman) warrior, doctor, explorer as the feverishly tries to beat death and prolong the life of the woman he loves.
THE FOUNTAIN is an odyssey about one mans thousand-year struggle to save the woman he loves. As a 16th century Conquistador, a modern-day scientist, and a 26th century astronaut, he searches for the secret to eternal life.
WHAT'S THIS ABOUT A GRAPHIC NOVEL?
Thats right, the early screenplay, which was co-written by both Aronofsky and friend Ari Handel (oh, hes not just a friend, the man has a degree in Biology from HarvardAronofskys also a Harvard gradas well as a PhD in Neuroscience from New York Universitys Center for Neural Sciencehis thesis explored the role of the basal ganglia in the generation of eye movements and led to the publication of 3 papers in the journal of Neurophysiology show-off!), was also handed over to stylized graphic artist Kent Williams (Wolverine: Havoc and Blood), who has recently finished painting it up (yeah, his artwork is actually a lot more like a painters work, rather than a comic-book artistcheck out some of his works).
Anyway, the graphic novel, which was being created as the film was still in pre-production, will also be released later on this year by Vertigo/DC Comics, before the films own release. Both mediums will be essentially be covering the same story, but the visions from each man (Aronofsky on the big screen and Williams on the page) will definitely be unique. According to our press notes, the novel will be gorgeously painted, oversized and all about the timeless truths of life, love and loss.
WHAT DID WE SEE ON THE SET?
To be honest, we didnt really get to see a whole damn much. We basically showed up near the end of the films production and were shown a set on which they were shooting part of the last section of the movie, which takes place on a Tree of Life space-ship. Yeah, you read that right. The actual tree/set was huge and covered by a massive green-screen backdrop, on which they would obviously be adding effects later on (see the CGI? No thanks!! section below for more on that). As soon as I walked in and saw this massively gothic tree, I thought SLEEPY HOLLOW and the tree from which the headless horseman would keep coming out (not in size, but in shape and feel). Anyway, the idea behind the Tree of Life spaceship is that the tree would apparently turn into a spaceship (in the third story of the movie) and be taking Jackmans astronaut character through space. Should make for a very interesting chapter.
TELL US ABOUT THE TEASER THEY SHOWED YOU!
Most of our day on the set was spent in a room interviewing many of the people involved in the production of the film (see What interviews will be forthcoming on the site? section below for more on that), but at some point, we were all wrangled up and taken to another building in which they showed us an actual 2-3 minute clip from the films shoot so far. It wasnt an actual teaser per se (in fact, it wasnt they told us that it was basically something Aronofsky just put together to show the cast/crew so that they can see how things were shaping up so far, and wouldnt really explain the narrative much), but it was polished enough to see what we needed to see, and in my case to get damn excited about!
The clip started off with Jackman leaning close into Weiszs ear and whispering Dont worry were almost there., which I liked. From there, it went into a variety of many very cool and dark shots from various parts of the film, some of which featured a Conquistador-styled Jackman with a beard that made him look like Don Quixote, swashbuckling his way through an ancient time vis-à-vis those damn Mayans (who carry with them fire-swords!), a more contemporary looking Jackman working as a physician attempting to find the cure for cancer and a third incarnation of Jackman as a man with a pretty bushy beard in space (remember when Brad Pitt was growing his beard out and looked like Grizzly Adams at some point?). By the way, it might have been a coincidence or maybe a tradition or superstition of some sort, but Aronofsky himself had left his own beard grow out quite a bit, and looks like Grizzly Adams younger brother on the set.
But I digress.
Anyway, the rest of the clips were all very dark, featured lots of dark yellows and oranges, and had an obvious emphasis on style, overhead shots, and a couple of very cool transitional type scenes, whereby the camera would start showing the shot coming in upside down and then transitioning into right side up as it hit the camera. Hard to describe, but very cool and a nifty way to transition matters, which Aronofsky elaborated on to me in the section entitled My brushes with Aronofsky below.
When the clip finished, I attempted to start a slow clap and who knew but it stuck! We all had a little laugh, as we applauded to ourselves in a room that featured only us, the two WB reps, producer Eric Watson and a couple of tech dudes. That done with, we asked Eric a few questions and he tosses us the answers, including:
Rachel Weiszs character is actually writing a book called The Fountain ( of youth) in the film we are shown the title of the book in the film
Watson said that the Spanish Mayan scene are likely to be the most stylized section the entire picture
Hugh Jackman apparently adjusted, not only, his look for the three different characters that he plays in the film, but also his demeanor, as he would be hunched over as one o the characters, looked gaunt as another, etc
Jackman apparently lost about 15 pounds during the actual production (ultimately, to look more gaunt as his last character in the film)
Watson said that many people has noted that the characters played by Jackman and Weisz certainly look like theyre related, but dont necessarily look like the same person
When asked about the total number of transitions in the movie (they would be switching from one story to another), Watson couldnt say with certainty, particularly since that process would likely be better evaluated in the editing phase of the films post-production. He said they would obviously be attempting to make the transitions as seamless as possible, but that they story was definitely more on the complex side of the tracks.
MY BRUSHES WITH ARONOSFKY
Im not really a gushing fanboy of anyone anymore, but I do truly appreciate many, many actors, directors and producers in the biz, and Darren Aronofsky was one of those dudes. So as I arrived a little later than the others on set (there was a Montreal snow-storm and there had been a miscommunication in the time of our meet earlier in the morning), I was whisked right onto the Tree of Life spaceship set, and introduced to the man himself, Darren Aronofsky, who was just walking around like your regular JoBlo, Saints cap on his head and bushy beard on his face.
He shook my hand and when I told him what site I was from (JoBlo.com), nodded and asked if that was the one with the logo at which point, I put up my logos thumbs up and we both smiled (or maybe I was just smiling by myself who knows the man was a relaxed dude, is all I know). For the rest of the day (we stayed there for about 8 hours total), we ran into Darren all over the place, particularly on the Tree of Life spaceship set, and each time, he was cool, courteous and accommodating. He even pulled us over to a few computer screens every now and again, and showed us some shots from the space shots that theyd come up with so far.
During the early evening, they were getting ready to shoot a complicated camera shot from the top of the Tree of Life spaceship, at which point I just happened to be standing near Aronofsky. He approached me and started explaining the shot to me. Were basically going to be shooting that camera down real fast, etc . I told him that I noticed that many of the shots from the teaser were overhead shots and he said that was done on purpose, a thematic tie in the story. I also noted that the shots of the camera starting upside-down and then switching over to right-side-up were also very well-handled and cool-looking in the teaser (thats all I got, folks Im just a movie-nerd, what can I say?) and he explained that was done to keep in sync with the spaceship transitions, since he didnt think those worked on a horizontal sweep, since the spaceship was spinning round and round, and that he wanted the other stories transitions, to keep that same motif. Very cool idea, my friend.
I then looked over at him and asked how happy he was that this thing was finally coming to a close (the project has been with him for 5-6 years and went through many trials and tribulations), and he smiled and said that he was so very glad that it was almost done. He said that he only had about 10 days left, after which he would be taking about 10 days off to relax, and then back into the editing room for more fun.
He seemed genuinely happy and relieved to be so far into the project, and I was genuinely happy for the man, who was very relaxed and unpretentious during all of his interactions with us. And yes, as a movie-nerd that I am, I did ask the Unit Publicist if I can take a picture with the man right before we left (I know its a faux-pas, but I had to try), to which she replied: Its probably not something we want to do. Pretty funny. She was right. And when all was said and done, as we like to say in the JoBlo.com side of things: Darren Aronofsky = one class act.
CGI? NO THANKS!!!
One of the very odd things that we were told during out meetings with folks on the production of this film was that Aronofsky was very adamant about his proclivity to use as little CGI as possible, as he believed that using too much of it would take away from the timeliness of the film. Its to note that films like THE MATRIX might be seen as riding the wave of technology as much as others like 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY, since one films technology might be seen to be outdated by future generations (can you say bullet-time?), while the others look and feel still holds up as a science-fiction classic (how much CGI did Kubrick use for 2001?).
That said, they utilized a manual technique performed by a man named Peter Parks, who used these tiny petrie dishes, chemicals and a solution dropper, to create some really eye-catching effects that looked damn cool on the screen (they showed us a slew of them on their Apple computers and they were quite impressive). Im talking black holes, space lights, fiery skies, meteors, lots of cool looking shit that might have been do-able as CGI, but honestly would likely not look as cool or organic. Yeah, I said it. Anyway, I guess well all have to wait and see how it will look on the bigger screens (the ones that count).
For my first ever set visit, I had a pretty good time, despite not seeing anything being filmed or meeting either of the two stars -- I apparently missed Hugh Jackman earlier in the morning, although he apparently just passed by for a meet and greet rather than a sit-down interview, and Rachel Weisz was simply not filming on the day we dropped into town.
That said, everyone who we did meet was cool as heck, the set we did see was pretty damn impressive, the teaser we were shown was very, very slick and made me want to see the movie like tomorrow (!!) and Darren Aronofsky, the master of the cinematic ceremony entitled THE FOUNTAIN, was very outgoing and provided me with enough about the film, to whet my appetite for a lot more and then some! Hopefully, my report has given you a nice overview of what to expect as well, and hopefully the upcoming interviews will further inform you on what else the film has to offer. Thanks to everyone at Warner Bros for the invitation, everyone on the set for being so nice and Cara Leibovitz, the Unit Publicist, for providing us with a nice, packed day of movie coolness.
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