Behind The Scenes Interesting

Video tribute to Sally Menke

Jim Emerson has done a nice video tribute to the late editor Sally Menke by looking at her work on Inglourious Basterds.

Sally Menke, Editor (1953 – 2010) from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

Quentin Tarantino’s long time editor passed away last week after hiking during an extreme heatwave in Los Angeles.

> Sally Menke at the IMDb
> Jim Emerson’s Scanners Blog
> LA Times article on Menke’s death

Behind The Scenes

The Social Network in Henley and Windsor

Earlier this summer David Fincher was in the UK filming scenes at Henley and Windsor for The Social Network.

The film charts the origins of Facebook and the disputes that arose between founder Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg) and his co-founder and friend Eduardo Severin (Andrew Garfield).

Another key strand of the plot involves the Winklevoss twins (Armie Hammer, who plays both) and their business partner Divya Narendra (Max Minghella) who claimed Zuckerberg stole their idea and made it his own.

In 2004, the two twins rowed in the Final of The Grand Challenge Cup at Henley and Fincher was at the Regatta last summer to recreate the race for the film.

Someone with a camera spotted the director filming across the Thames (he’s the one with the hat on).

If you look at this location on Google Maps you can see the view Fincher was aiming for, with the marquees on the other side.

(I can’t be the only one to notice the irony of the director of Fight Club shooting at a place that almost defines English privilege)

What’s interesting about the scene is that it uses some unusual camera techniques to depict the boat race.

In a recent interview with /Film, Fincher described the effect he was going for:

/Film: The tilt/shift isolated focus you employed in the boating sequence. It is unlike anything I’ve ever seen on the big screen before and would love to learn what inspired it.

Fincher: We could only shoot 3 races at the Henley Royal Regatta; We had to shoot 4 days of boat inserts in Eton. The only way to make the date for release was to make the backgrounds as soft as humanly possible. I decided it might be more “subjective” if the world around the races fell away in focus, leaving the rowers to move into and out of planes of focus to accentuate their piston-like effort.

In addition his friend and fellow director Mark Romanek snapped a photo of him on the river at Windsor back in July as they filmed the inserts near Eton.

Earlier in his career Romanek was a contemporary of Fincher at Propaganda Films where they both cut their teeth on music videos and commercials.

Romanek recently spoke about this time:

I guess I was in the right place at the right time along with a bunch of other guys. (…) It’s like there was this exciting sense. David Fincher the other day was saying it was like “Dogtown and Z-Boys.” It was just this moment, particularly at Propaganda and Satellite Films, where you really felt you were part of something going on in the zeitgeist.

And people were culturally, on a global scale, they were paying attention to what you were doing. So if you were making this thing, it would be serviced to 17 countries the next day.

Back then, it’s only 10 years ago or something, they didn’t really do movies day-and-date globally. And TV commercials were usually pretty regional. But music videos, if you made a music video, it went out to 22 countries the day you finished the master. That’s pretty heady stuff. And to young people, by and large, who are going to have an effect on the culture.

And it was very exciting because I had an office. Spike Jonze had an office next to me, and David Fincher was down the hall, and David Lynch was walking around, and Michel Gondry would come over from France to do a video. And we’d all be at the coffee shop at Propaganda talking shop. It was pretty f–king cool.”

Both directors now have films coming out: Fincher’s The Social Network is out in the UK on October 15th whilst Romanek’s Never Let Me Go is out on January 11th over here.

* UPDATE 11/10/10: Effects house A52 have put the Henley sequence online

> David Fincher at the IMDb
>More photos of the filming at Henley
> Find out more about Henley at Wikipedia

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Douglas Trumbull on Blade Runner

Special effects guru Douglas Trumbull has posted a video on his official site about the visual effects behind the famous opening of Blade Runner (1982).

The first of a three part series, he talks about the “Hades Landscape”, the use of brass miniatures lit from below, the Tyrell Pyramid, how the explosions were created and the connection with Michelangelo Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point (1970).

It makes for fascinating viewing and some of the craftsmanship that went into this sequence is mind-boggling.

Watch the video by clicking here.

UPDATE: There are other videos on the SFX in Blade Runner here.

> Douglas Trumbull
> Blade Runner at Wikipedia

Behind The Scenes Interesting

The Sounds of Inception

One of the key features of any film is the sound design, a critical but sometimes overlooked aspect of the production process.

This video from the Soundworks Collection shows how the sounds of Christopher Nolan’s Inception were created, featuring interviews with supervising sound editor and sound designer Richard King, Re-recording Mixer Lora Hirschberg and Re-recording mixer Gary Rizzo.

“Inception” Sound for Film Profile from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

Another aspect of the soundscape of Inception was the use of Edith Piaf’s Non, je ne regrette rien.

Originally I thought this might be some kid of reference to Marillon Cotillard (as she played Piaf in a 2006 biopic) but it turns out composer Hans Zimmer and Nolan wanted to use the song as the basis for the whole score.

Zimmer explained the process to the New York Times:

“all the music in the score is subdivisions and multiplications of the tempo of the Edith Piaf track. [It was] always in the script …It was like huge foghorns over a city, and afterward you would maybe figure out that they were related.

I didn’t use the song; I only used one note. [I got] the original master out of the French national archives. And then [found] some crazy scientist in France who would actually go and take that one cell out of the DNA.”

Have a listen here:

> Inception at the IMDb
> Wired article on the sound of Inception

Behind The Scenes Interesting

The Making of Dune

Back in 1983 Sean Young filmed the making of David Lynch‘s Dune on a Super 8 camera.

> Find out more about Dune at Wikipedia
> Sean Young at the IMDb

Amusing Animation Behind The Scenes

Lee Unkrich editing Toy Story 3 at 36,000 feet

Toy Story 3 director Lee Unkrich recently tweeted that he was editing the new Pixar film at 36,000 feet.

He then posted the following picture to prove it.

Tech savvy readers might like to note that he appears to be using Avid Media Composer on a MacBook Pro.

[Via Matt]

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Visual Effects in Avatar

James Cameron’s Avatar is currently dominating the world wide box office and one of the stand out features is the visual effects.

Here are some behind the scenes videos which explain how they were created.

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Visual Effects in 2012

2012 was the cheesy, expensive disaster movie that came out last year (and has since been a huge international hit) but if you ever wondered how the visual effects wizards created the end of the world so convincingly, then check out these videos.

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Avatar: Behind the Scenes Featurette

Avatar Movie Video – Exclusive Featurette: Human Hardware

A behind the scenes look at the upcoming James Cameron film Avatar.

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Maurice Sendak and Spike Jonze discuss Where The Wild Things Are

Author Maurice Sendak and director Spike Jonze discuss the upcoming adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are which opens in UK cinemas on Friday 11th December.

Awards Season Behind The Scenes

Benjamin Button Visual Effects

Digital Domain show how the visual effects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button were done.

Behind The Scenes Interesting

New Yorker article on Movie Marketing

The New Yorker on Lionsgate and movie marketingThe latest issue of The New Yorker has an interesting article by Tad Friend on movie marketing with a focus on Lionsgate’s resident guru Tim Palen.

If you have ever wondered how film marketing works in Hollywood then this is required reading. 

One section of particular interest is when Friend mentions five ‘unofficial rules’ that studio marketers have in order to make their films seem broadly ‘relatable’:

  1. Can’t we all get along? In “Stomp the Yard,” which was about an urban street dancer who goes to college, the poster showed the African-American hero with his back turned, leaving his race indeterminate. The campaign for “Bring It On” portrayed the story as a rivalry between white and black cheerleading squads, even though more than eighty per cent of the film was about the white squad. The first marketing materials for Fox’s X-Men franchise showed only an “X.” Why exclude half your audience?
  2. If the poster shows a poster child, the movie is for kids. Posters are intended to tell you the film’s genre at a glance, then make you look more closely. Horror posters, for instance, have dark backgrounds; comedies have white backgrounds with the title and copy line in red. Because stars are supposed to open the film, and because they have contractual approval of how they appear on the poster, the final image is often a so-called “big head” or “floating head” of the star. Every poster for a Will Smith movie features his head, and for good reason: he is the only true movie star left, the only one who could open even a film about beekeeping monks.
  3. Everybody’s a comedian. Any drama with at least three funny moments in it will be portrayed, in the trailer and TV spots, as a comedy. The trailer for the 2005 film “The Squid and the Whale” conveyed a measure of the film’s delicate unease, but it was basically a series of wry exchanges. A joke, particularly a pratfall, is self-contained, whereas a sad or anxious moment is hard to convey briefly and out of context.
  4. If it’s called “The Squid and the Whale,” it’s somebody else’s problem. That movie was produced by Samuel Goldwyn Films, an independent studio, and grossed seven million dollars—quite good for a small film, but not for a studio release. If a movie’s title and stars don’t tell you almost everything you need to know about a film—“Get Smart,” starring Steve Carell, say—marketers worry. Fox had to spend a little extra to sell “The Devil Wears Prada,” because casual moviegoers wondered what Meryl Streep was doing in a horror film. When a movie under performs, an awkward title is often seen as the culprit.
  5. Always cheat death. People die in movies; they almost never die in trailers. They are courageous (“The Express”) or missing (“Changeling”) or profoundly alive (“Revolutionary Road”). “If a movie is completely, one hundred per cent about death, then it’s also about life, right?” Fox’s co-head of marketing, Tony Sella, told me. The only thing marketers can’t pull off, Sella acknowledged, is “selling old to young”—persuading kids to see a movie like “Driving Miss Daisy.” “You can try with”—he adopted a baritone voice-over—“ ‘You don’t know where you’re going, but here’s what it’s going to look like when you arrive.’ But they usually say, ‘Screw you, I’ll wait.’ ” 

There is also an observation about how marketing dictates what kind of movies get made:

Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who’s in them—gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 “Gandhi.”

Such considerations account for a big role being written for Shia LaBeouf in the most recent “Indiana Jones” (to attract youthful viewers as well as Harrison Ford’s aging fans).

They also account for the virtual absence from the screen of children between the ages of newborn (when they appear briefly, to puke on the star for the trailer) and that of the Macauley Culkin character in “Home Alone.”

It explains the arc of a campaign for an average movie:

Modern campaigns have three acts:

  1. A year or more before the film debuts, you introduce it with ninety-second teaser trailers and viral Internet “leaks” of gossip or early footage, in preparation for the main trailer, which appears four months before the release; 
  2. Five weeks before the film opens, you start saturating with a “flight” of thirty-second TV spots
  3. At the end, you remind with fifteen-second spots, newspaper ads, and billboards.

Plus, we also get a breakdown of the average costs: 

Studios typically spend about ten million dollars on the “basics” (cutting trailers and designing posters, conducting market research, flying the film’s talent to the junket and the premiere, and the premiere itself) and thirty million on the media buy.

Between seventy and eighty per cent of that is spent on television advertising (enough so that viewers should see the ads an average of fifteen times), eight or nine per cent on Internet ads, and the remainder on newspaper and outdoor advertising.

The hope is that a potential viewer will be prodded just enough to make him decide to see what all the fuss is about.

Read the rest of the article at The New Yorker’s website.

> Find out more about Lionsgate at Wikipedia
> Tim Palen’s official site

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Benjamin Button Makeup Effects

David Fincher, Brad Pitt and Greg Cannom discuss the makeup effects in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

This CBS News piece also describes how Brad Pitt performed alongside the visual effects:


The film opens in the UK on Friday 6th February.

> Official site
> Read reviews of the film at Metacritic

Behind The Scenes Cinema

Behind the Release: Body of Lies

A couple of weeks ago I though it would be an interesting idea to write a bit more in depth about how films are made and released at UK cinemas.

Hopefully, this series of posts will give you more insight into the development, production and release of films in this country, ranging from big budget Hollywood productions to more arthouse fare.

First up for consideration is Body of Lies which is the big release this week from a major Hollywood studio, in this case Warner Bros.

Based on the novel of the same name by David Ignatius, the story is about a CIA operative (Leonardo DiCaprio) who goes to Jordan to track an elusive terrorist leader behind a wave of attacks in mainland Europe.

Directed by Ridley Scott, written by William Monahan and also stars Russell Crowe and Mark Strong in key supporting roles.

It is quite an interesting mainstream film in that it is a major release filled with A-list talent (all things big studios love) but at the same time deals explicitly with a dark, contemporary subject (something they are less keen on, especially as films about the war on terror have tanked at the box office).

So, how did this come about?


Over two years ago in March 2006, Warner Bros. hired screenwriter William Monahan to adapt a novel called ‘Penetration’ by David Ignatius, which would be directed by Ridley Scott.

Possibly due to the fact that the original title of the book sounded a bit like a porn movie, it was retitled in 2007 to ‘Body of Lies’, as was the film.

Variety reported in May 2006 that an item called ‘Warner sets spy team‘:

Warner Bros. has set William Monahan to adapt David Ignatius’ Middle East espionage novel “Penetration,” with Ridley Scott to direct. De Line Pictures is producing with Scott Free.While Monahan most recently drafted the Hong Kong hit “Infernal Affairs” into Martin Scorsese-directed drama “The Departed,” he got his start as a screenwriter by scripting the Middle East-set pics “Tripoli” and “Kingdom of Heaven”‘ for Scott.

With “Penetration,” they reteam on a thriller that sends a CIA operative to Jordan to track a high-ranking terrorist. The spy is aided by the head of Jordan’s covert operations in an uneasy alliance that leads to cultural and moral clashes between the men. WB exec veep Lynn Harris will shepherd the drama along with Scott Free’s Michael Costigan.

What’s interesting about this story is that it shows that the desire amongst creatives to do Iraq themed movies.

In the years following 9/11 the big studios stayed clear of the war on terror for fear of alienating the US public or being deemed ‘unpatriotic’ (which they are anyway, but never mind).

However by 2006, clearly the stars, agents and directors were willing to tackle what is one of the defining news stories of this decade.

But who would star in it? If you are Warner Bros and already have an A-list director on board, you also need a big star in order to help recoup the budget at the box office.

Step forward Leonardo DiCaprio. In April 2007 Variety again reported:

DiCaprio’s deal has to be negotiated, but he already has worked the picture into his busy schedule.

He’ll make it this fall after first reteaming with“Titanic” co-star Kate Winslet on “Revolutionary Road,” the Sam Mendes-directed DreamWorks drama that shoots in April.

Scott already is scouting venues in Morocco for a film that will shoot in Washington, D.C., Europe and the Middle East.

After DiCaprio was on board, Russell Crowe also joined for a supporting role.

Interestingly, Crowe anticipated back then that the film might not be popular, saying to MTV:

I think the perspective of ‘Body of Lies’ is ongoing,” he said of the script.

It’s machinations and creations of the American government, in terms of its foreign policy.

I don’t think it’s so responsive to what’s happening now — because what’s happening now is actually the fruit of seeds planted two or three decades ago, if not more.

But I think it’s timely to do a movie like that … it’s important, and Ridley is up for [portraying] the true negatives of this web of intrigue that’s been created.”

I don’t think it will be very popular,” Crowe insisted. “But that’s never been part of my project choice process.”

At this stage it might seem odd that a major studio (especially as one as keen on popcorn movies as Warner Bros) would be green-lighting this type of material.

But I’n guessing that a combination of star power (studios always want to please A-listers) and the hope that Scott could do what he did with Black Hawk Down (i.e. turn military themed material into an accessible hit) made Alan Horn and the suits at Burbank feel this could be a smart and accessible thriller that touched on modern issues.

So, with the cast set and locations scouted, production was all set to begin.


Now, how much does a film like Body of Lies cost to produce?

Actual budgets for films are very hard to come by as studios (for various different reasons) want to keep that information secret, but various pundits and organisations come up with estimates.

The IMDb reckons $70 million, as do Box Office Mojo. That though is just the production budget, which doesn’t include the marketing of the film once it is completed.

The film was shot on location in Washington D.C., Europe and various locations in the Middle East.

However, Dubai in the United Arab Emirates was dropped after the National Media Council there took exception to content of the script.

Ali Jafaar of Variety reported in August 2007 that:

Pic was set to shoot in Dubai toward the end of the year.

“After receiving approval, it was later rejected as Dubai does not want to do any scripts that are of a political nature,” says Tim Smythe, CEO ofFilmworks, the Dubai-based shingle that was repping the production for Warners in the region.

Mideast-set portions of the film will likely all be shot in Morocco now.

The decision has already meant that two other Dubai-set shoots, a big-budget studio pic as well as a smaller budget East European feature, have subsequently pulled out of filming there.

Variety understands that the decision to nix the Scott project was based on U.A.E authorities’ reluctance to have Dubai associated with film subjects related to terrorism, Al Qaeda and Islamic fundamentalism.

This meant Scott had to relocate the Jordan sequences to his old stomping ground of Morocco, where he shot Black Hawk Down and Kingdom of Heaven.

Because of his history in shooting in the country, Scott has become friends with King Mohamed VI of Morocco, which helped the production gain access to government buildings and locations such as the Ministry of Finance and Casablanca airport (which doubled as Jordanian locations in the film).

However, principal photography began on September 5th 2007 in the US at the Eastern Market, Washington, D.C. where part of the Capitol Hill neighbourhood was converted to resemble a wintry Amsterdam in order to film a car bombing.

Shooting also took place in Gaithersburg, Maryland to stand in for Northern Virginia, whilst the opening sequence (which is actually set in Manchester) was filmed in Baltimore.

After filming in the US was complete the production moved to Morocco where they shot for a nine-week period at CLA Studios in Ouarzazate.

This is a video from the set in Morocco of a chase sequence early in the film:

The film saw Scott reunite with previous collaborators, including production designer Arthur Max and cinematographer Alexander Witt, who made his got his first credit as director of photography on the film after a long career as second unit director and camera operator.

Witt and Scott have worked on five other films: Thelma & Louise, Black Hawk DownGladiatorHannibal and American Gangster.

The film was shot in Super 35mm 2.40:1. As Witt told American Cinematographer:

“Ridley likes ’Scope and the way it frames things, and using spherical lenses gives you more flexibility on interiors and nights [than anamorphic lenses],” notes Witt. “It also makes it easier for the focus puller because there’s a little more depth of field.”

In the same interview Witt and gaffer Richard Cronn describe how Scott likes to shoot with three cameras:

As is typical on a Scott film, at least three cameras were always rolling; the operating team comprised Mark Schmidt, Daniele Massaccesi, Marco Sacerdoti and Witt.

“Actors like multiple cameras because they’re always on-camera, so they’re always in character and not wasting time off-camera,” says Witt.

Gaffer Richard Cronn adds, “Sometimes multiple cameras can slow you down, but Ridley has been doing it so long he’s really mastered it. There were times we actually wrapped early because of that!”

Filming eventually wrapped in December 2007.


Once a shoot is complete the director gathers all the footage he has shot and then embarks on the task of putting it together, which will include editing, special effects and music.

Although a contemporary and realistic thriller, the film has over 200 visual effects shots.

According to VFX World, three effects houses were involved: Sony Imageworks worked on about 50 effects shots, Invisible Effects accounted for another 150 and Imageworks India also was involved.

Apart from explosions one of the key visual aspects to the film is the predator drones the CIA use to keep track of action on the ground.

This promotional video shows how they incorporated this into the shoot:

Another of Scott’s previous collaborators on this film was editor Pietro Scalia, who talks in this video about his approach to editing:

The score for the film was composed by Marc Streitenfeld at the Eastwood Scoring Stage at Warner Bros in Burbank. (For images of this session check out these photos at Scoring Session.)

So whilst Scott and his post-production team raced to get the film ready for an October release, the gears of the Warner Bros marketing department started slotting into place.


Marketing of a film can begin much earlier than you might expect – once the basic script is nailed down and the stars are in place, the team assigned to the campaign can get a rough idea of the direction they might go in.

On the face of it, Body of Lies had a lot of key selling points – big stars, famous director and action sequences.

But a large elephant in the room for everyone at Warner Bros was the failure of many movies related to the War on Terror that came out in 2007.

Lions For Lambs grossed a paltry $15 million in the US and that was with a cast including Tom Cruise, Robert Redford and Meryl Streep.

Rendition also had a very solid cast (Jake GyllenhaalReese Witherspoon and Meryl Streep) but managed to do even worse with an abysmal US gross $9.7 million.

Even fine films like In the Valley of Elah ($6.7 million US gross) and The Kingdom ($47.4 million gross) all seemed to be unable to break the War-on-Terror voodoo. (The latter film did do better than the others but still had a relatively big budget to recoup.)

What was the reason for all this public aversion to films about Iraq and the war on terror? Maybe, these movies were too depressing for those who hated the Bush administration and too offensively unpatriotic for those that supported his attempts to invade countries and install new regimes.

Whatever the reason, the marketing department at Warner Bros must have been having sleepless nights becuase Body of Lies is explicitly about the war on terror – the plot involves the CIA trying to catch a terrorist leader and is set in countries like Iraq and Jordan, with sequences featuring bombs going off in England and Holland.

Their solution to this problem appears to have been two-fold:

  1. Emphasise the stars
  2. Concentrate on the action

The first US one-sheet poster is usually an important plank of the marketing strategy as it sets the tone for what will follow.

Not only does Crowe have top billing with DiCaprio (emphasising the star power) but the central image suggests this is a film about a relationship between two characters and indeed two approaches to the war on terror.

The colour scheme is also slick and distinctive, with the red of the title contrasting against the blacks, blues and greys.

DiCaprio’s pose with the gun also hints that his character is going to kick some ass.

However, for a film that is largely set in the Middle East, it is noticeable that this isn’t referenced in any way on the poster – it’s almost as if its saying ‘here are two big stars in an action film by Ridley Scott’.

Notice that they credit Scott as the director of American Gangster and Black Hawk Down, presumably to emphasise both his last hit and the last film he did about modern warfare.

Increasingly online advertising is important as more eyeballs migrate to the web. What’s interesting about a lot of the banners for Body of Lies is how they keep with the imagery of the one-sheet poster.

Check out a variety of flash banners and online ads for the film here.

It is almost as if they wanted to keep hammering home that this was an action film with DiCaprio and Crowe and not some depressing drama about the contemporary Middle East.

A lot of the flash banners also seem to push the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (or Predator) technology used by the CIA to keep track on their agents and terrorist suspects.

It is almost as if they are referencing Enemy of the State – funnily enough, a film directed by Ridley’s bother Tony Scott – that dealt with the issue of surveillance by the CIA, albeit in a different context.

The trailers for mainstream films have now become increasingly important given how they are viewed all over the web, rather than just in cinemas.

There are usually teaser trailers, followed by more substantial ones lasting over two minutes and they can vary across territory.

Here is the final US trailer:

Again, the team cutting this appeared to be keen to ramp up the action elements (count the number of explosions) but also gave it a more accessible vibe with the rocky music bed.

The overall vibe seems to be saying, ‘this is a smart thrill ride you can enjoy on a Saturday night’ and not some kind of dark meditation on Middle East politics.

Added to all this, a lot of money would be spent on print ads, outdoor posters, TV spots in order to just raise awareness of the film.

Like political campaigns a large chunk of the ad budget is spent on TV spots in the final two weeks before the opening date.

But how did all this work when it opened at the US box office last month?


The release in the US is always crucial as it sets the tone for how it will do around the world. A major studio desperately wants a hit, not just because they want a big domestic gross but so they can build on it by marketing the film as a ‘US success’ the rest of the world simply has to see.

After all, the ‘Number 1 US film’ sounds a lot more enticing than the ‘Number 6 film’ doesn’t it?

When the final print of a film is ready the studio then makes thousands of prints which are then shipped to cinemas all across the nation.

On Friday 10th October Body of Lies opened on 2,710 screens across the US. But it isn’t just a case of sending them out and hoping for the best.

The big studios all use a research firm called NRG, which conducts extensive research into how a film is going to do.

It doesn’t just give the studios valauble data – it also helps studios co-ordinate their openings so that similar films don’t go head-to-head and cannibalise one another’s potential box office.

For example, an animated family film like Kung Fu Panda is never going to open on the same weekend as Wall-E because they are essentially appealing to the same type of audience.

How do NRG get this data? Like political polling before an election they conduct phone polls amongst a sample of likely moviegoers and ask them specific questions based on these lines:

  • Awareness: How much do they know about a specific movie opening soon? If they have heard of ‘Body of Lies’ or ‘the new Leonardo DiCaprio movie’, then the ads, posters and trailers have paid off. If not then there is clearly a problem with the marketing.
  • Will you go and see it?: Then the key question is “Are you going to see Body of Lies?”. Then it is what is the likelihood of seeing it, if you are just thinking about it. The pollster will also take into account the age and gender of the respondents, which brings us on to…
  • Quadrants: The NRG analysts then break down the polling data from these ‘tracking polls’ into four distinct groups, or “quadrants”:
    • 1) Men under 25
    • 2) Men over 25
    • 3) Women under 25
    • 4) Women over 25.

Nearly every studio movie is looking to appeal to these groups or – even better – a combination of them.

From these results, NRG will then project how well an upcoming film is ‘tracking’ and how it is likely to fare against other movies out that week.

According to various industry sources, tracking for Body of Lies was worse than Warner Bros was expecting, which probably meant the ‘war on terror’ theme was a turn off.

Even though the ads skirted around it, given the nature of the story it was almost impossible to hide.

Or – as was indeed the case – there were other films people wanted to see more.

Its main rivals that week were:

  • The Express (Universal): A period sports film directed by Gary Fleder that opened on 2,808 screens
  • Quarantine (Sony / Screen Gems): A horror film opening on 2,461 screens
  • City of Ember (Fox): A family fantasy opening on 2,022

Plus, there was also the other films already out at the box office, which included: Beverly Hills Chihuahua, Eagle Eye, Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Nights in Rodanthe, Appaloosa and The Duchess.

Another factor we should work in here is reviews. For nearly every release, the studios – and sometimes the specialist PR firms they hire – put on screenings for critics.

These can be held a couple of months in advance (if they are confident of building up good word of mouth) or much closer to the release date if they are concerned that negative reviews and bad buzz might harm the opening weekend.

Critical reaction on the film was mixed – it scored 57 on Metacritic and 50% on Rotten Tomatoes.

But given the marketing and talent behind the film, Warner Bros could have expected a much more respectable opening.

Over the course of the weekend execs would have monitored how the film did with updates on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

However, when the box office numbers came through the top 10 films were:

1. Beverly Hills Chihuahua (Disney) — $17.5 million ($52.5 million total)
2. NEW Quarantine (Sony) — $14.2 million ($14.2 million total)
3. NEW Body of Lies (Warner Bros.) — $12.8 million ($12.8 million total)
4. Eagle Eye (DreamWorks/Paramount) — $11.01 million ($70.4 million total)
5. Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist (Sony) — $6.5 million ($20.7 million total)
6. NEW The Express (Universal) — $4.6 million ($4.6 million total)
7. Nights in Rodanthe (Warner Bros.) — $4.5 million ($32.4 million total)
8. Appaloosa (Warner Bros.) — $3.3 million ($10.9 million total)
9. The Duchess (Paramount Vantage) — $3.32 million ($5.6 million total)
10. NEW Fireproof (IDP Films/Samuel Goldwyn) — $3.1 million, ($16.9 million total)

Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua topped the box office for the 2nd week in a row by beating all four opening movies, mainly down to the fact that talking dogs appear to be popular with all four quadrants.

In 2nd place was the low-budget horror Quarantine which grossed an impressive $14.2 million over the weekend which showing again that the popularity of horror films has yet to wane.

But the big news was that Body of Lies could only manage 3rd place, which was a crushing disappointment for Warner Bros given how much they had spent on it and the high profile nature of the production.

According to some sources the studio was expecting an opening of $20M rather than the $13.1 million it ended up grossing.

Given that the marketing costs could have been about $20 million (maybe more), it was a bitter pill for everyone concerned.

Obviously it has the chance to make some serious money in foreign and ancillary markets (DVD, cable and TV) but without the ‘lift off’ from topping the US box office it is harder to make a decent profit.


All of this brings us to the UK release which is this Friday.

As in the US, money is spent on marketing the film, holding a premiere (which was a couple of weeks ago), a press junket (where different media outlets interview the talent) and screenings for folks like me.

The press screenings I go to are held in London – although there are also regional press screenings too – and in this case it was held in a West End cinema.

As in the US they can stagger these screenings. Often long lead press (e.g. monthly magazines like Empire and Sight and Sound) get a first look at the film and then there are follow up ones for TV, radio and online outlets.

I was much more impressed with the film than I was expecting, given the mixed critical reaction and negative buzz after the disappointing US opening.

It passes one of my key informal tests for watching a film which is ‘how many times did you look at your watch?’

If you are constantly checking the time then the film isn’t engaging you and is therefore not working. But Bodyof Lies had me absorbed for much of its 128-minute running time.

As you might expect for a Ridley Scott film the technical aspects are first rate and it explores some interestingly grey zones for a major Hollywood production.

The two leads are fine and Mark Strong is particularly good in the key supporting role.

There are some nagging flaws such as the addition of a token love interest and the climax leaves a lot to be desired when you actually think about it afterwards.

But that said, it is an unusually entertaining mix of action film and drama, which is not as easy as some people might think.

The highbrow British critics will almost certainly give it mixed reviews and I can envisage some itching to complain about the ‘gung-ho’ nature of the action, the political aspects of the film and maybe even some sneery gags about DiCaprio’s facial hair.

(UPDATE 20/11/08: Xan Brooks of The Guardian is the first critic to make a snide observation about DiCaprio’s facial hair. Not quite as original as his colleague David Cox, who recently fantasised about torturing Irish prisoners, but predictable nonetheless.)

But how will it do at the box office? I think a large part of it depends on how much Quantum of Solace has left in its box office tank.

The Bond film has dominated UK cinemas over the last 3 weeks and has already broken records. Last week it earned £5.1 million to top the box office, whilst the number two film – Max Payne – only just scraped past the £1 million mark.

However, given that word of mouth on 007’s latest outing wasn’t great (from my experience talking to people at least) there could be an appetite for a different type of action film.

The new films out this Friday don’t exactly offer fierce competition either:

None of these are box office heavy hitters (although some are excellent) and the awareness of Body of Lies – combined with a more receptive climate over here to war on terror films – means that it stands a good chance of getting into the top two, maybe even topping it.

But the downside is that although awareness is there, is the desire to actually go and see it that strong?

Cinema advertisers Pearl and Dean estimate that it will gross around £10 million in total, with 32% of the audience coming from the 15-24 age group, 31% from 15-34, 11% from 35-44 and 25% from the 45+ group.

They also think that the audience will be 62% males against 38% female.

I’ll update this post over the next week, with links to reviews and box office date to see how it does.

Are you planning on seeing it this weekend?

If you do go and see it or have any questions or thoughts about its release then leave a comment below.

> Body of Lies at the IMDb
> Reviews of the film at Metacritic
> Find local show times at Google Movies

Behind The Scenes

Quantum of Solace – Behind the scenes featurette

A behind the scenes featurette for the new Bond film Quantum of Solace.

It is released later this year on October 31st

> Official site for James Bond
> Quantum of Solace at the IMDb
> More details about the plot and photos from the press conference launch at Pinewood

Behind The Scenes News

A tribute to Stan Winston

I’ve been off ill for a couple of days so apologies for the delay in posting this but last night I saw the very sad news that Stan Winston had passed away at the age of 62.

Even if you aren’t a huge film fan you probably know some of his work: the robots in the Terminator series, the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park and the alien colony in Aliens – all were created by Stan Winston studios.

In his career he won a total of four Oscars and set a new standard in make-up, puppets and visual effects.

Director and longtime collaborator James Cameron issued this tribute:

He ran at full throttle, in both work and play, and was a man of kindness, wisdom and great humour.

He was a kid that never grew up, whose dreams were writ large on the screens of the world.

I am proud to have been his friend, and I will miss him very deeply.

Iron Man director Jon Favreau has said:

He was experienced and helped guide me while never losing his childlike enthusiasm.

He was the king of integrating practical effects with CGI, never losing his relevance in an ever-changing industry.

California governor and former Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger said:

The entertainment industry has lost a genius, and I lost one of my best friends.

Here is a look back at the highlights of his career.


Although his company was founded in the 70s and achieved a level of recognition in the industry it was in 1984 that his work broke through globally with The Terminator.

A surprise sci-fi hit, it was the tale of a merciless cyborg assassin sent back in time to kill the mother of a future rebel leader.

It propelled director James Cameron and star Arnold Schwarzenegger to fame and still stands as a landmark action film of the 80s.

One of the enduring images from the film is the T-101 cyborg, which we see in the future sequences and in the later stages of the film as the Terminator loses his outer skin.

This video is from a making of film shot in 1984, showing how Winston’s team operated the robot in a  chase sequence:

After the success of that film, a sequel was inevitable and in 1991 came Terminator 2: Judgment Day which took visual effects to another level with the now famous T-1000 liquid metal android.

On this film Cameron married groundbreaking CGI by ILM with make up and mechanical work from Winston’s team – the combination redefined visual effects in cinema.

Check out this segment of a 2002 documentary about the film – Stan makes an interesting point about art and technology at 5.01:

Although Cameron didn’t return for Terminator 3, Winston did and made the T-1 robots that feature near the end.


When James Cameron made Aliens, the 1986 the sequel to Ridley Scott’s Alien, the story called for colony of creatures rather than just the single beast of the first film.

Given that this was made in the mid-80s before the CGI revolution heralded by The Abyss and T2, it is a testament to Winston’s work that the alien creatures still look so damn good.

Here is a video of Winston, Cameron and their team talking about the re-creating H.R. Giger’s original monster for the sequel:


In 1987 Winston helped create another a memorable movie monster in Predator.

Like Aliens it was a beast from another world and like Terminator it also starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, only this time he was the good guy.

The visual camoflaugue effects and the costume were highly impressive, in some ways a foretaste of the T-1000 in Terminator 2.

The actor who played the Predator was Kevin Peter Hall – someone also now sadly no longer with us. Check out Stan’s warm tribute to him in this video:



After Terminator 2, visual effects went into a new era with morphing and digital CGI becoming common place.

But in 1993 Steven Spielberg‘s bockbuster Jurassic Park took it even further.

The recreation of dinosaurs was a triumph, with remarkable work from ILM and Winston’s team in making the prehistoric creatures seem believable.

For four years (until Titanic in 1997) it was the highest grossing movie of all time and was another blockbuster in which Winston had a key role.

Here is a segment from the making of the film with Stan and Spielberg discussing the challenges of how to make dinosaurs look real on screen:


Winston also worked  on films such as Edward Scissorhands (1991), Small Soldiers (1998) A.I. (2001), the Jurassic Park sequels, Big Fish (2003), Wrong Turn (2003), Constantine (2005) and most recently Iron Man.

For the first blockbuster of this summer his team worked on the creation of the different Iron Man suits.

Here is a video of him signing autographs and joking around with fans from Comic Con last year:

Stan had been battling multiple myeloma (a plasma cell cancer) for for seven years and on Sunday he died at home in California surrounded by his family.

> BBC News, New York Times, LA Times and report on his death
> Stan Winston at the IMDb
> Official site for Stan Winston Studios
> Check out a series of fine tributes to Stan at Aint It Cool News with contributions from James Cameron, Joe Dante, Jon Favreau, Jonathan Liebesman and Frank Darabont.
> Green Cine Daily has many useful links to other tributes
> Cinematical with a list of Winston’s greatest creations
> Check out The Winston Effect: The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio – a book by Jody Duncan about Stan’s career that was published by Titan in 2006 (you can buy it Amazon here)

Behind The Scenes Interesting

Interview with the inventor of R2-D2

Grant McCunePopular Mechanics have a short interview with Grant McCune – the man who designed R2-D2 and the Millenium Falcon.

Here is an excerpt:

What’s the secret to making a good model?

For motion picture miniatures and production miniatures, I’ve always told people to get a good background in photography first.

The most important thing is what you see with your eye. Movies are a lot different from reality. This is because you’ve isolated the viewer’s eye to a certain spot—you can’t look anywhere else.

If you’re a photographer, you get the idea of what you need to do by analyzing what it is that needs to be set and where it is and how much detail it should have. All the best people who ever worked for me were first good with the eye. 

Check out the full interview at the website of Popular Mechanics.

[Link via Digg]

> Grant McCune at the IMDb
> The website for Grant McCune Design

Behind The Scenes Interesting

How they did the Crocodile scene in Live and Let Die

If you are a fan of the Bond film Live and Let Die and want to know how they did the sequence where 007 escapes from a bunch of hungry crocodiles check this out:

Director Guy Hamilton was so taken with the stunt he even named the villain Kananga after the stuntman who performed it, Ross Kananga.

Behind The Scenes In Production Interesting

The Dark Knight – IMAX Featurette

Here is a short IMAX featurette about the upcoming Batman sequel The Dark Knight.

Director Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Wally Pfister discuss how they shot four sequences with hi-res IMAX cameras.

The film opens in the US and UK next July.


Behind The Scenes Cinema

Beowulf Featurette


An inside look at the story behind Beowulf which opens this weekend.

Behind The Scenes Interviews

Behind the Scenes: Peter Carlton of Film4 Productions

For a British TV channel, Channel 4 have had a long and distinguished history of film production.

Since the channel’s creation in 1982, it has produced some of the key British films over the last 25 years. From My Beautiful Launderette in the 1980s, to Trainspotting in the 1990s, and more recent productions like The Last King of Scotland and Venus, it has long been a place where British talent has found an important creative outlet.

Now known as Film4 Productions it remains an important part of the British film industry, not least because of its digital TV channel that launched on Freeview last year. The BAFTA and Oscar recognition for Venus and The Last King of Scotland also demonstrated that it can still spot interesting projects that break into the mainstream.

But how does a film like The Last King of Scotland get made? And what other projects have Film4 got in the pipeline? I asked these and some other questions to Peter Carlton, the Senior Commissioning Executive at Film4.

You can listen to the interview in two parts below.

In Part 1 we discuss: his role at Film4; producing The Last King of Scotland; how long it takes a film to get made; Me and You and Everyone We Know; recovering from the problems in 2002; Touching the Void; how much Film4 productions cost; making The Lovely Bones with Peter Jackson; future plans for different films.

Listen to Part 1:


In Part 2 we talk about: getting the Film4 channel on Freeview; the My Movie Mashup project with MySpace; involving the audience in Film4 films; forthcoming productions such as This is England and Joe Strummer: The Future is Unwritten.

Listen to Part 2:


> Official Site for Film4
> Find out more about Film4 at Screen Online
> Check out what is on the Film4 channel this week
> Take a look at My Movie Mashup – the Film4 collaboration with MySpace

Behind The Scenes Interviews

Behind the Scenes: Military Advice

John Adams of Universal CombatWhenever you see military action on screen the production has probably hired a military advisor to make sure things look accurate.

But what are the usual mistakes filmmakers make when portraying the military on screen? How does one become a military advisor? And why do action heroes always pull back the chamber of their pistol?

In order to find the answers to these questions and few more we spoke to John Adams from Universal Combat.

He has worked on projects as diverse as The Four Feathers, The Queen and the forthcoming The Mark of Cain. In the following interview he tells us about the world of military advice for films.

Ambrose Heron: What exactly do you do?
John Adams: I run Universal Combat Ltd., an agency which represents ex-military personnel and provides tri-service military advice and support to the entertainment industry. Universal Combat was formed in the year 2000 by former Commissioned Officers and NCOs representing Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine units from around the world.

Our primary goal was initially to provide the right military advisor to every specific project, but we quickly built up an extensive database of ex-military personnel and found that we could also provide small calls of trained background artists to perform specialist military action in front of camera. Basically, if a project features military action, we are there to advise the key production team and cast to ensure that it is as realistic as possible.

AH: Where are you based?
JA: Universal Combat is based in Chelmsford, Essex but I am also a partner in production company Cowboys & Indians plc and have an office at Shepperton Studios. The Shepperton office has proved vital because I am constantly aware of forthcoming productions and can ensure that we contact them at the earliest possible stage.

AH: How long have films had official military advice?
JA: To my knowledge, we were the first exclusively military agency in the UK and especially the first to set up with our aim to provide the correct military advisor with the relevant experience and qualifications specific to each project. However, military advisors have been commonplace in Hollywood for much longer. During the 1940s and 50s it was not uncommon for military support to be provided to productions by the Ministry of Defence as propaganda and to aid public relations.

More recently though, perhaps because modern films tend to be more politically and socially challenging, the MoD has tended not to become involved. Bear in mind that until 1960 we had National Service in the UK so it is a fair assumption that at that time most production team members and cast had a basic military training!

AH: How did you start out in the industry?
JA: Because of my military experience as a Commissioned Officer in the British Army, I was offered a nine month contract as a specialist background artist on Steven Spielberg’s Band of Brothers. It was during my time on Band of Brothers that I met my future partners in Universal Combat and developed my love for the industry and determination that my future was in film and TV. Band of Brothers was completed in November 2000.

We set up Universal Combat the following month and by mid 2001 we had provided a 76 year old former prisoner of war as an advisor to Hart’s War (starring Bruce Willis and Colin Farrell) and worked on The Four Feathers and submarine horror movie Below.

AH: What films have you worked on recently?
JA: Over the course of the last seven years, we have not only been employed on films but also on TV programmes, commercials, video games, live shows and even security contracts. Recent projects include providing advice and personnel to the Oscar nominated feature The Queen and a TV movie remake of The Shellseekers; training animators and designers from Electonic Arts developing the PS2 and X-Box video game Black in basic military skills relevant to the game; helping the writers of Eastenders to develop a new character for the series; and taking over the military advice role for the post production of the feature film Doom including providing US Marine voice artists for ADR work and writing additional dialogue.

AH: What did you do on The Queen?
JA: As far as possible, The Queen used original archive footage of the events surrounding the death of Princess Diana. However, one event for which they didn’t get the rights to use archive footage was the arrival of Princess Diana’s remains back in the UK at RAF Northolt on August 31st 1997. We were asked to recreate this as accurately as possible.

Initially, our intention was to use ex-soldiers from our database to perform the ceremonial coffin drills but because the RAF Regiment picked the youngest members of the Queen’s Colour Squadron to bear the coffin from the BAe 146 aircraft of the Royal Squadron to a waiting hearse we found that we didn’t have any ex-servicemen young enough for the roles. As a result, I trained a group of background artists in the correct drills and ended up in front of camera to whisper the commands and timings!

AH: What was the toughest challenge you had on a film set?
JA: Without mentioning any specific projects, providing military advice is always a compromise between the reality of a situation and the Director’s artistic vision for the film. Our job is to ensure that as much realism as possible is kept within the constraints of the project but in a way which compliments and helps the Director to achieve their vision without destroying the artistic integrity.

AH: What battle would you love to see re-enacted on screen that is yet to be done?
JA: Perhaps because of my military allegiances, I would love to see a film version of the battle of Salamanca. Salamanca was fought between the Anglo-Portuguese army of Lord Wellington and the French under Marshal Marmont on 22nd July 1812 as part of the Peninsular War. When Wellington observed that Marmont had made the tactical error of separating his left flank from the main body of his force, he allegedly threw the chicken leg he was eating over his shoulder and shouted, “By God, that will do!”.

During the course of the battle a young Officer from the 44th East Essex Regiment of Foot named Lieutenant Pearce captured the Salamanca Eagle from the French 62nd Regiment of Line. The 44th became part of The Essex Regiment which was subsequently amalgamated by stages into my unit The Royal Anglian Regiment in 1964. As an Army Cadet I was proud to bugle The Last Post and Reveille for veterans at the Essex Regiment reunion.

AH: What is the biggest mistake filmmakers tend to make when portraying the military?
JA: Strangely, it’s the little errors which stand out for me much more than the glaring ones. Most mistakes stem from a lack of knowledge which is understandable, but there are occasions when filmmakers show a complete lack of common sense! Again, I don’t want to cite specific projects we have worked on but my favourites are sentries smoking cigarettes at night and soldiers silhouetted against the skyline. For years military units around the world have been developing monocular vision goggles – a modern equivalent for the red dot you see in sniper movies at the intended point of impact except only visible to the sniper because the laser is at a frequency which can only be seen through the specific goggle he is wearing… All of this becomes irrelevant if a sentry is smoking at night because the heat of the cigarette creates an orange dot on his face! No professional soldier would risk his life for a smoke!

I’ve had conversations about soldiers on the horizon with directors on several occasions. Yes, it looks great on camera to have a silhouette of a soldier on the skyline at dusk, but he is breaking a fundamental rule of camouflage and concealment! The outline of a human shape lit from behind on a skyline is visible for miles. This may look artistic on film but it also means that the enemy can see him and his life expectancy just plummeted to about three seconds!

AH: In action films, characters often pull back the chamber of their pistol when preparing for a gunfight. Is this accurate or just Hollywood nonsense?
JA: It depends on the scenario. The weapon would almost certainly have been readied in advance and if silence is important then obviously a serious soldier would be confident enough not to check the chamber. However, once a firefight begins, it can be reassuring to check that a round is definitely loaded into the chamber and the weapon is ready to fire before exposing your position… and it does make a great noise!

AH: What other projects do you have coming up?
JA: We recently provided a military advisor to a feature titled Mark of Cain which is set during the most recent Iraq conflict and which is due for release early this year. Without giving too much away, we’ve also been asked to become involved in a film about the origins of the SAS; my production company Cowboys & Indians has two projects in development set in World War II; and as ever I will be attending the Berlin Film Festival next month and Cannes later in the year so hopefully this might be another busy year!

If you want to find out more about Universal Combat (or even hire them) just go to their website at

Universal Combat logo