"Flying rubber body parts! Be careful!"
This is yelled across the ABA BMX racetrack in Albuquerque, New Mexico. A shot is being called on the set of Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor's latest thrill-ride action bonanza. The two directors responsible for Crank have cooked up an all new movie starring 300's Gerard Butler, and it looks like it will be as unique and fun as their first cult outing.
The untitled project is set seven years in the future, a time when prisoners are implemented with brain microchips and played like a computer game. Mind-control is all the rage and the ultimate on-line experience finds humans being able to manipulate other humans in a first-person shooter type contest. 3:10 to Yuma's Logan Lerman is the rock star of this world, and his human avatar Kable (played by Butler) is the number one ranked warrior in a game called Slayerz. The twist of the story finds Kable attempting to regain his identity and destroy the system that has taken over his body for entertainment purposes.
In the movie, there are four games that Kable must complete and dominate. On this cold New Mexico night, we are watching them shoot game number 2. The BMX dirt track is littered with burning car wrecks and barbed wire turrets. Men in army fatigues roll down one dirt dune, and run up the next. A group of bikers blaze through the landscape, tormenting the players. The sides of the game area are covered in huge white sheets. These will later be CGI'd over with constantly moving advertisements.
Gerard Butler arrives on the scene. He stands on one of the dunes with his gun out like a rock hard cock. He surveys the landscape, and then jogs into the line of fire. He disappears from our eye line. A few seconds pass. An explosion sends a bloom of sparks and dirt our way. The ricochet is loud. It is all over within a couple of minutes. A stinky, electrical smoke fills the air. A moment passes.
Gerard runs out of the dirt track. His face is covered in grease. He looks tired, yet he will continue to go at this fast pace all night. He watches the playback on the monitor. Silent words are spoken, but he seems happy with his freshly captured action scene. A large group of people have slowly gathered around the monitors. We see previous footage of Butler running through these dirt ditches with his gun. In one quick clip, he stops to do Tai Chi. He then does the robot, kicking his tail across the landscape.
While checking out this latest batch of clips, we are told of the new cameras that are being used on the set of the film, "Jim Jannard, the guy that started the Oakley sunglass company, decided about eighteen months ago that he would build a still camera. He wanted it to be the best still camera in the world. He ended up coming up with a project that turned into a motion picture camera. The remarkable thing about this camera is that it shoots 4k. That is twice the resolution of anything out there in the world. It is a seventeen thousand dollar camera. This is a tenth of the price of most film cameras. The first thing it was used on was the Soderbergh picture that was shot in Spain this summer. But this is the first large movie that is really taking advantage of this technology. I think this is going to be the standard camera. It is digital. The really cool thing about it, is it has its own Kodak. It allows you to covert the 4k to a flashcard. Like you have in a still camera. You can put 4 minutes on an AK flashcard. I can carry the dailies with me. The dailies fit in a shirt pocket. It is a remarkable machine."
While we get a tutorial on the camera, an effects technician drags a big plastic bag full of blood down into the center of the racetrack. He hides it in a barrel. They are gearing up to run through another few seconds of action. This time, it will be shot from a different angle. "Quite on the set!" rings throughout the compound, which is lit up like the Manhattan Project. A group of Genericons sit, watching from the lit up bleachers. They are prison inmates with lesser sentences. They are reminiscent of the background folks you might find wandering around in Second Life.
Butler takes his place on one of the dirt mounds, gearing up to run across the wreckage of this racetrack yet again. A voice calls out form the loud speaker behind us, "One gun shot and one bloody explosion!" This is followed by, "Action!" Gerard runs into the center of the battlefield. Someone calls out, "Debris!" A set of hands goes up in the air, showering the sky with dirt. Two army men stop, drop and roll as two BMX bikes go whizzing by. And then comes the big hit.
And explosion of blood and body parts consumes the nature of the scene being shot. A severed arm hits the hood of a car. The take is good. Everyone seems happy with it. Butler crawls out of the wasted backdrop that has set the mood for this evening. He comes over to great us.
Interview: Gerard Butler
Gerard Butler: Put your pens away, I just came by to say, "Hello!" What I am actually going to do is turn around and show you my bum. There is nothing I'd rather do.
This seems pretty cool. You've got explosions and body parts flying through the air.
Gerard Butler: I didn't see the body parts until I got back to the car. There is plenty of that in this movie. You play real tough, then you see halves of bodies, and heads lying everywhere. Shit, it is pretty disgusting. But it is pretty intense.
Are you doing all of the action stuff first?
Gerard Butler: For the next eighteen months its all action, then there are a few days of drama. I'm joking. We've been mixing it up. There are a couple of drama scenes in-between the action stuff. Most of that stuff comes in January. It has been a pretty incredible week. The thing is, sometimes the stuff that you thing is going to be awesome is not quite awesome. But this, I have to say, is amazing. We've only been at it for eight days, and they have all been great. Every set has been incredible. There is something very open, yet intense and griping, and real about it. It is so open and expansive. That is the nature of the game. Everybody is having amazing days. Even the stunt men. They don't often get to do stuff this crazy. Dare I say, so haphazardly. It is always safe. But it is just fucking nuts. This is turning out to be really cool. And the railway station scene was mind blowing. There was so much incredible footage in that. We have four main games. Every single one is going to be different. Every one has so much character. On top of that, there are another four parts of the movie that have a lot of cool action going on as well. And there is this really cool story going on underneath it. This one is exciting. This is one of those movies where I'd rather be at work than not be at work. A few of the movies I say, "I want my time off." But this one has me saying, "Oh, good! Good! I am going to the BMX park today. I will be covered in shit time and time again.
This must be pretty exhausting. Just watching you is exhausting.
Gerard Butler: It is. It was hard for me to be training at this altitude. When I first got here, I had a chest infection. Just standing, I had trouble breathing. I thought, "How the fuck am I going to get through all of this?" I have been training really hard since I got here. When you are concentrating so hard on every part of your body, and you are running, and you are carrying these weapons...By the time I finish, I am exhausted. After each take. And I have to do it again and again. I have to get going. But you guys made 300. It was the internet sites that did it. So, I hope you can do the same with. Even if its not as good. (Laughs)
Gerard goes back into the trenches. We watch as he rehearses a scene that finds Logan Lerman sitting on a dolly, pretending to maneuver Butler through the playground. Director Brian Taylor describes the shot, "This is a 3-D shot, where we bring the game directly into the battlefield. When you see it on the screen, it will seem like he is controlling it at home. When the character runs, Logan moves with him. It will make sense when you see it."
The shot is run through twice. Logan's back is to the camera. He is pushed behind Butler as Butler runs into battle. The execution is flawless. The scenes are being knocked out in a quick procession. Executive Producer David Rubin comes over to tell us a little bit more about the film.
Interview: Executive Producer David Rubin
Executive Producer David Rubin: Did you guy get a chance to drive through downtown at all? We built this big structure down town, on the four corners. We are going to destroy it in the middle of one of the battles. This is right in the middle of downtown. Albuquerque had four corners that were vacant. Which is strange to see in the middle of a city. We took advantage of that, and we built a set. One of the major battles takes place in what we call "Container City". Zoe Bell's character gets killed in that environment. Its kind of exciting. We just shot the beginning of that battle last weekend.
How has the town handled you guys shooting down here?
Executive Producer David Rubin: I think the great thing about shooting this movie here, is that the coordination of Albuquerque is a major shooting city. It is great that we could shoot a movie of this size here. It is able to support it. It is one thing to do a small drama or a small comedy. Those are the things that have previously been shot here. But then, to bring a non-western big action movie is an important moment for the city. It couldn't have been easier.
Having to learn how to use these new cameras, has that affected the production at all?
Executive Producer David Rubin: Yeah, it has. We are sort of accustomed to it. We had production challenges using the Sony 9-50 system. The way we used that system, and how aggressive we were with it changed a lot. There is a learning curve to this camera system. But there is no question in my mind that this is the future of cinema. We forget that photochemical motion pictures are a hundred year process. And that all of the quirkiness of that technology is something we take for granite. Like a hair in the gate, or having to check the magazines for scratches. These are all part of our normal procedures that we do with film. And if you just picked up a film camera and began shooting, you'd have major glitches with it. We are on that learning curve with this new technology. But in the future, we will know how to deal with it.
How did you eventually come to shoot here, at the BMX track?
Executive Producer David Rubin: I actually live in Albuquerque. When we were scouting, we were looking at different cities to shoot in. We knew that Albuquerque was a contender. But we also looked at New Orleans. We were on our way to the airport, and we were at the football stadium. We were high up in the booths looking at the stadium, thinking maybe we should shoot there. Then we saw this structure. It was right across the street. We thought it was really interesting. We asked someone, "What's that?" They told us it was the BMX park. So we came here, and we fell in love with it. We thought it was so cool and unusual that a city had a state of the art BMX park. We thought it would be could to have a battle here. And it just evolved.
So you added the BMX bikes into the battle after you chose the location?
Executive Producer David Rubin: Yeah. A little bit. Finding this place inspired us to form a battle in this environment.
Does Gerard Butler have his natural accent in this movie? Or does he speak with an American accent?
Executive Producer David Rubin: Am I allowed to say that? Does anybody want to hear that? He is speaking in an American accent for this movie. That is, when he speaks. There is a lot of action. There isn't a lot of dialogue.
So, he is the strong silent type?
Executive Producer David Rubin: He is very strong and silent.
Did Gerard come onto this movie after his success with 300?
Executive Producer David Rubin: Neveldine and Taylor have known him for a long time, and they have always wanted to work with him. This just seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Who does John Leguizamo play in the movie?
Executive Producer David Rubin: He is in the prison that Gerard's character is in. They have a little bit of a relationship. They are both trying to understand what is going on. They don't know why they can't control their bodies.
Do the players know that there is someone playing them?
Executive Producer David Rubin: They have no idea. You see them trying to figure it out while they are being played in the game.
How does Alison Lohman fit into the film?
Executive Producer David Rubin: She is tied into a group that is trying to free the players trapped in this game. They see themselves as a technological resistance group. It is kind of neat. Ludacris is in the movie, too. He is a part of that group. Maybe this is the first time this news is getting out. Ludacris is part of this resistance group. He is very cool. He is the intellectual heavy of the film in many ways.
Is he contributing anything to the soundtrack?
Executive Producer David Rubin: You know, lets let him get here and get into the movie.
David heads back to the monitors, and we watch the mayhem go on for a couple of more minutes. It truly is exciting stuff. The film is scheduled to hit theaters in the later half of 2009. Look for it to get an official title very soon. We will have more from the set in the near future.
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