Introduction: OK, I’ve been doing some reading online about The Polar Express. It’s the new film from Robert Zemeckis, who gave us Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Contact, and the Back to the Future trilogy. This new film is a family fantasy about some kids on a train bound for the North Pole to meet Santa Claus. Tom Hanks plays the conductor of this train. Now, Zemeckis, he likes to push the limits of moviemaking technology. As I’m sure you’re aware, George Lucas has really pioneered the technique of filming in front of a blue screen, with the sets to be filled in later. Zemeckis is taking this to the next level. He, too, is going to be filming this film completely in front of blue screen, with the sets to be filled in later. But, to assist the animators making the sets, all of the actors will be wearing motion capture suits. The costumes themselves will also be added later with computers. So, Zemeckis will be filming people in blue suits in front of blue screens, with the rest to be filled in later by computer. This just strikes me as odd, somewhat. So, please, come with me as I try to paint the future of Hollywood….
Welcome to this week’s edition of the Fudge Report. I’m Patrick Fudge, and now I’m going to bring you all the news you need to know from Hollywood.
The Hollywood community was rocked today when Oscar-winning actress Samantha Christensen stormed off of the set of James Crane’s latest film, Beneath the House, swearing never to work with the director again. What has upset Christensen, however, was not Crane’s personality. She still describes him as a “visionary.” What has upset her is Crane’s directorial techniques.
Everyone now knows the name of James Crane. This revolutionary director has been garnering noticed with his sci-fi films, Warning from Above and Off to the Sides. He is well known for his dedication to brining realism to his films, often pushing the limits of computer technology today to bring grittiness to all his sets and characters that most other films lack.
People raised their eyebrows last year when Crane set out to film, “an old-fashioned thriller, using the old-fashioned methods.” At first, people thought this just meant giving up digital cameras for film, something that is still routinely done for artistic purposes. But then, after negotiating with his renowned design team, Crane began doing things oddly. Instead of turning the designs of the film’s sets over to the computer animators, he turned them over to a skilled team of carpenters. This people, whom Crane designated “set builders,” began realizing the film’s sets in a real environment. Of course, the only space large enough to accommodate this were some old warehouses outside of Hollywood, which Crane dubbed, “The Studio.”
“In my research,” Crane said, “I learned that there used to be many ‘studios’ all over Hollywood, as they needed some place to build these sets in the time before the digital revolution. Of course, most of these studios have since been bulldozed and turned into the offices for the movie corporations.”
Despite the budget having risen to $20 million (making it the most expensive film currently in production), Crane trudged forward. He began to hire several fashion designers to create the costumes that his actors would wear, tossing out the blue suits that have since become the standard. “I’m certain that this will bring a certain degree of realism to the film,” Crane continued to say in his defense. “If what the actors wear is something that the average person can also physically touch; if it is a fabric and design that the audience themselves might wear to the film, then that brings a realism that has been lacking in the past few years.” In keeping with this concept, the call was even put out for “props;” the items that the actors would hold throughout the actual course of the film. These are things like flashlights, guns, cellular phones and so on.
People, however, thought that Crane had lost it when he started calling some of the original make-up designers out of retirement. When the average Hollywood production calls for a monster, an actor wearing a blue suit and blue face mask enters the stage, with the actual monster to be filled in later. This has proven so effective that many actors themselves now wear the blue masks, with digitally perfect, color corrected versions of their faces superimposed later. Crane would have no part of this in his new production. He wanted to see the actor’s real faces. He wanted the monster to be an actor wearing prosthetics on his face. Rather than the mask be added in later, he wanted the actor to actually wear the mask. Make-up artists were glad to once again by plying their trade, but many felt that Crane was going too far. Some, like Crane’s leading lady, Samantha Christensen.
Christensen is a 2-time Academy Award winning actress, and allegedly leapt at the chance to be in Beneath the House. Her attitude began to change at the first costume fitting, however, when Crane first showed her her wardrobe for the film. Rather than a tailored blue suit, Christensen was presented with a tailored suit. She “threw a tantrum,” according to close sources, when she first saw the various props to be used for the film. She declared the sets “monstrosities,” but was still willing to go along with this project.
She quit one week into filming.
“I’m sorry,” she said in a later interview, “but Crane’s way of doing things was just…wrong. The art of acting is about brining to life what doesn’t exist. And where I wore those costumes…saw those sets…I saw he didn’t want an actor for the lead. He just wanted another prop for his collection. I mean, there was this one scene, where my character had to walk into a darkened cellar with a flashlight. In a normal film, I’d be in my blue suit, walking in front of the screen, holding my hand in the proper position for the animators to place the flashlight in. But, in this film, I would have actually walked down the stairs. I would have actually been holding the flashlight. How can I approximate the feel of a flashlight when I’m actually holding one? He didn’t want me to act, he wanted me to react, and that’s just a bastardization of the craft.”
Crane, however, defended his choices. “I find that Hollywood films of the last few years have lacked a certain realism. I just wanted to bring back what has been lacking. This is how they used to do things, and it worked just fine. Without having to worry about hand positions and how the animators would animate their faces, the actors could lose themselves in the characters; focus on their performances. I’m certain this would have helped Christensen win another Oscar.”
But Christensen remained firm. “When I wear that blue suit…when I don that mask…I do lose myself in the character. I cease to exist and the character takes form. Granted, the character doesn’t have a physical form. Acting isn’t so much about creating a person as it is creating a soul.”
Despites all attempts at patching up their differences, Christensen doesn’t want to return to the set, until Crane promises to be more “conventional.” Crane has begun actively searching for a new lead.
And that concludes this week’s edition of the Fudge Report. Please, come back next time, when we have an interview with Rick Berman about the creation of the 10th Star Trek series. “This time,” Berman says, “We have created a series using fan input, and we’ve taken the aspects of Star Trek that people have always enjoyed. Plus, we’ve finally made it fully accessible to those who aren’t fans.” So come back next week as we go behind the scenes of Star Trek: Hot Chicks in Tight Uniforms.