Quint's third and final KING KONG set report! Darrow & Driscoll plus KONG in action!!!
Published at: Jan. 26, 2005, 7:51 p.m. CST by staff
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with my third and final report condensing my experiences on the set of Peter Jackson's KING KONG.
This one might seem a little more different as I didn't have much, if any, interaction with Adrien Brody or Naomi Watts. In the previous reports I focused on Jack Black and Colin Hanks, who I bugged quite a lot during my visit. It's not that Brody or Watts were stand-offish at all, I just never found myself in a situation to talk to them and I get really self-conscious about being intrusive when I visit sets, so I never approached them either. That happened when I visited ROTK last year. Although I saw Viggo Mortensen film a lot, I never met him, but I did get the opportunity to speak to Christopher Lee, Liv Tyler and Hugo Weaving who spent far less time shooting. Shit happens that way, sometimes.
So, I don't have so many funny little side stories this time out, but I did see some really cool stuff for every kind of person looking forward to this film. I saw a lot of the budding romance between Adrien and Naomi for the romantics out there, I saw the infiltration of the ship by a really creepy looking native for those intrigue lovers and I saw 6 minutes of the Kong Vs. 3 T-Rexes animatic for anybody who might find the idea of big monsters fighting exciting (aka anyone who would be reading this article).
Remember in the last column where I was talking about PJ coming up and talking Lasik to me on the day with the distribution of the tommy guns? Well, right before all that, they shot a scene of Adrien Brody that takes place during the time period I described in the first report where the seamen are trying to lighten the load of the ship by throwing everything they can afford to lose overboard. You following me? hehe
Anyway, this scene has a bunch of crusty seaman (not me, unfortunately) rushing through the interior of the Venture (also known as Stage B), their arms full of miscellaneous junk to throw overboard and like a salmon swimming upstream to fertilize him a new generation comes Adrien Brody looking around frantically calling out, "Ann?! Ann!?" I believe he has newly discovered her cabin in shambles and knows something's wrong.
This ties in with the very first shot I ever saw Adrien Brody do, which I talk about waaayyy back in my first report, where he's on the deck of the Venture during the storm with a lost look on his face. Apparently, Capt. Englehorn and Capt. Hayes finally get the boat off the rock, to great cheers from the crew only to be called out by Driscoll in mid-celebration.
"Stop! Turn the boat around! They got Ann!"
Englehorn's face drops and he looks back (presumably at Skull Island) and is silent.
"Did you hear me? They got Ann!"
The look on Thomas Kretschmann's face is best described as dread. He knows they must go back and face whatever's on that island, but he sure as hell doesn't want to.
Anyway, the day they shot Brody running against the tide of seamen was Naomi's first day back on-set since having to depart after the first week of shooting to do press and attend premieres for I HEART HUCKABEES. It was also her Birthday (Sept. 28th, if you're curious) and she got a cake and a chorus of grips, PAs, hair & make-up, set dressers, actors and a low rent visitor or two who don't deserve to gaze upon her picture, let alone her stunning face, singing her Happy Birthday during lunch. There were poppers, candles and much happiness.
Before dipping into that creepy native slinking onboard, let's delve into some of the happier flirty lovey-dovey stuff between Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll, shall we? Here's a nice pic:
Ain't that sweet? Before they get that touchy-feely, they start off on rougher terms. Imagine, if you will, two cameras set up, one almost on the ground looking around a corner down the hallway from its low angle, the other camera set up be a medium shot on Adrien Brody, who is standing in that very same hallway.
The lovely producer/Assistant Director Caro Cunningham (you don't get that slash much in this business, but once you've seen her AD you know why PJ didn't let her off her AD duties!) calls action and Brody walks down the narrow hallway toward camera, mimicking the motion of the ship in rough waters. He's shirtless, with a towel draped over his shoulders.
Now, out steps Ms. Watts (foot being caught by the low angle camera) from a room a half-dozen feet away from Brody. They both mimic a really big loll, Brody stabling himself against the hallway wall and Watts barely keeping her feet. The low angle camera pans up her well defined legs as they straighten up (the light shining through her silky thin dress revealing a tantalizing glimpse of her figure) and catches an awkward look between the two of them.
Jack Driscoll mutters, "Nice legs..." and gets a slightly offended "What!?!?" look from Darrow.
"I mean... I mean nice sea legs... not that you don't have nice legs..." The look he gets from Ann this time is more of an entertained "Oh, really?" cocked eyebrow look. She walks past him, shaking her head. Driscoll knows he's just dug himself into a hole, but calls after her.
"Ann. About what I said yesterday... I'm sorry."
Ann's at a door at the end of the hall (her bunk, I presume) and she turns around to look Driscoll in the eye. "Sorry you said it or sorry I heard it?"
Watts delivered this line a few different ways in about a dozen takes, ranging from pissed off, "Sorry you said it or sorry I HEARD IT?" to more softly, more vulnerably. I preferred the more vulnerable version and I think Pete did, too, since he kept leading her in that direction for the last handful of takes.
Jack Driscoll looks at her sheepishly. "It was stupid of me. I don't even know you..."
Ann drops her voice and almost whispers, "No. You don't." and walks into the room she was standing in front of, closing the door on Brody.
Now what did he say? What did she overhear? I have no earthly idea, but I quite liked this scene. You could feel the chemistry between the two, the attraction. Brody's nervous charm was on full blast in this scene and the more vulnerable Watts played Darrow, the more I just wanted to hug her and keep her safe.
Watts, Peter, Fran and Philippa know exactly how important it is that we love Ann Darrow. If we don't believe the attraction/romance between Darrow and Driscoll, then the rescue through the jungles of Skull Island won't be as pressing, as believable. We need to understand why Driscoll and the crew are risking their lives to get to her, pressing on while members are getting eaten by some godawful monsters the whole while. We also need to understand why Kong falls for her. We have to empathize with Kong feeling the need to protect Darrow. If we want to keep her safe we've got a connection with a big monkey already. Keep an eye out below to read a little bit about Kong's desire to protect Ms. Darrow.
Now the next scene I'm going to tell you about is a very famous scene from the original '33 KONG and strangely enough the first scene I thought of when I heard Naomi Watts was cast as Ann Darrow as she did a similar scene in David Lynch's fabulously and utterly fucked MULHOLLAND DRIVE. It was the scene that I saw at the Vancouver Film Festival in 2001, where the movie had a regional premiere, that made me think this blond chick has a level of talent that no one expected. Do you remember the audition scene with Naomi's character in MULHOLLAND DR.? The one where she has to act BETTER than she was acting throughout the rest of the movie to show how good of an actress her character is... and she does! Her layering of that character in MULHOLLAND DR. was blow me down impressive.
I thought of that scene and the scene in the original KONG where Fay Wray is being directed by Carl Denham on the deck of the Venture, and told to go through a playlist of emotions, ultimately ending in a build up to the first of many instantly recognizable screams of terror. I saw a piece of Peter Jackson's version of this scene filmed.
Again, there were two cameras, this time one was in a close up of Naomi's face and the other was a wide shot of her standing on the deck with Denham working the turn-crank on his camera giving her direction. Denham looks sharp in this scene, with a white fedora. Watts is wearing a dress that screams Fay Wray. Silk, form-fitting and very light. They had music pumping through the sound system on the stage. I don't know if it'll be on the soundtrack in the finished film or if it was just to help Naomi get to a certain emotional place, but it fit the scene perfectly. The song was BYE BYE BLACKBIRD and I'm 99% sure it was the Peggy Lee version. Haunting and lovely, more bluesy than jazzy. Great, great song and fits Watts' performance in this scene like a glove.
On the close-up camera they were rolling film at 32 frames per second (which when exposed at 24 fps will be very slightly slow-mo and dream-like). Darrow has tears in her eyes and, much like Wray in the original version of this scene, is very slightly over-acting to Denham's direction.
During this scene, Jack Driscoll walks up to Carl Denham with some script pages in his hand. Ann notices him and her acting is shifted up, much like in MULHOLLAND DR. Her teary eyes glow with attraction and budding love. Brody has a shy smile on his face as they lock eyes.
Now, a strange trick they do with the film speed here is they begin shooting slightly slow at 32 fps, but when Ann notices Jack Driscoll and there's that shift in character I mentioned above, the frame rate is dropped down into the real-time speed of 24 fps. So, in the scene, she'll be acting in a slightly dreamlike state until she sees Driscoll and then the dream-speed will become real time. It should be really subtle since they're only going to 32 fps (in comparison, to make the scene half the speed of normal, they'd overcrank the the camera to 48 fps, double the normal 24 fps). Pretty nifty, eh?
Denham notices Ann looking off-camera and sees the connection between her and Driscoll. He quickly snags the script pages out of Driscoll's hands and shoos him away, almost vying for Ann's attention.
On another musical note, my second to last day on-set had me seeing the crew putting on a musical number! Seriously! It was a night scene on the deck of the Venture with Choy, the Chinese cook played by Lobo Chan, leading some of the crew members in a sea shanty. One of the seaman is Jed Brophy (also recognizable as PJ regular in BRAINDEAD, where he played the biker whose lungs and intestines end up strangling our hapless hero and an orc or two in LOTR) who is playing fiddle. There's also a percussion back-up, with a pair of primitive looking drums... Primitive and RECOGNIZABLE. I told you I spotted the other original KONG prop, hehe. The drums are more native goodies from the '33 KONG that found their way into the '05 Jackson version!
Anyway, this song that Choy sings is actually very catchy. Imagine if you mix an Irish Jig with an old time "Whale of a Tale" type sea shanty and some period Chinese singing. It's odd, but it works and is very upbeat and energizing.
The crew surrounds Choy and his band as they play. I should note here that most of the Venture Crew are stunties, given broader roles in order to make their stunts on Skull Island more powerful. You'll actually see these crew members jump off cliffs, stomped underfoot, eaten, drowned and bashed around. Since they're already stunties, they won't need stunt people. That'll give Pete more options with where he puts the camera and a wider range of harshness he can put his characters through! Good times!
During the old time chinese/irish sea shanty, Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) pushes Ann in front of the band, egging her on and she begins to dance (well), much to the enjoyment of the crew. She isn't alone for long, though, as Hayes (Evan Parke) pushes Jimmy (Jamie Bell) in with Ms. Darrow. Jimmy needs a little more urging than Darrow did, but he ultimately ends up dancing his heart out with her, showing off all his BILLY ELLIOT skills.
Now before you start calling bullshit on this, the dancing is very much in time with the period. This isn't WEST SIDE STORY stuff, more just natural '30s and earlier stuff. It's very well done, but it doesn't come off as being very staged or showy.
At one point, Watts grabs Andy Serkis' hat and puts it on for part of the dance. This little moment makes me laugh because Andy does this face scrunch-up thing that makes him look momentarily like Popeye and then does a little jig that really just kind of makes him look like he's suffering a seizure. It had me cracking up, but it strangely didn't seem out of character.
The whole time this dance is going on, Adrien Brody is watching Ann with a smile on his face. He's got it bad and you can read his face like a newspaper.
You know what I think this scene really is? It's the celebration before the dark times. You've seen it in a thousand movies, mostly westerns. I remember Paul Verhoeven doing a nod to this formula in STARSHIP TROOPERS, but it's really a staple of the films of the '50s and earlier. Everybody's enjoying themselves, having a party. There's dancing, drinking, kissing and lots of music playing. This always happen the day before the shit hits the fan, and it usually is the last time a group of people are together. If someone breaks out a violin and people are having fun it usually means a good amount of them are about to go to the big bye-bye in the sky.
I bet that's what's going on here. Throughout this whole scene Colin Hanks stands out from rest. He's not enjoying himself, but rather looking worriedly behind him where Denham and Englehorn are standing watch. Jack Black has a pair of binoculars in his hands and he's searching the horizon, looking for Skull Island, I reckon.
Earlier in my visit they shot a scene on the half-built life-size Venture outside on the backlot where Adrien Brody and Naomi Watts are standing at the rail looking out at giant stone faces materializing out of the mist surrounding Skull Island. I talked about it briefly in my last report, you may remember.
Anyway, this scene has Darrow and Driscoll standing shoulder to shoulder with a slightly fearful look of wonder on their faces. Nothing too overt. Driscoll looks over to Darrow's face, then his gaze drops (and so does the camera) and sees her hands clutching the rail in a death grip. She's squeezing so tight that her knuckles are bright white. Brody looks back up to her face and she doesn't seem to notice any of this, her eyes and attention fixated on the statue in the water.
I'm going to break from Ann and Jack for a moment to talk about the native I've seen. Ooooohhhh, does this guy look freaky. For starters, imagine his body... He's lean, but very strong. I was told the actor that played the native I saw filming was a dancer. It's that kind of body. Not bulky, but strong and tight. His skin was ink black. I have no idea what ethnicity the actor was. I'd imagine he was black, but for all I know he could have been Honkey McCracker. That could have been his natural skin tone or it could have been make-up. No one told me and I honestly couldn't tell.
His hair was long and stringy, reaching down to his shoulders-area if I remember correctly. No big bush afros on the one I saw. His face was filled with sharp bone piercings horizontally arranged through his soft tissue. The bones were pencil thick at the biggest and slivers at their smallest. Each end came to a sharp point. There was a row of them going up the bridge of his nose, some in his eyebrows and one through his chin. He was dressed in a loin-cloth only.
His eyes were creepy. There are contacts that cover his full eye that have an almost milky translucent quality, like a very, very dim cataract, but that's not the creepy part. There's a webwork of red veins that run across the whole eye, giving it a pinkish quality. It's very off putting.
The scene that this native appears in is a chaotic one. It's night, rain's pouring down and seamen are running all over the place trying to survive the storm and/or get off the rock. Not exactly sure, but whatever it is they're frantic. I'd imagine they're still beached since Driscoll figures out Darrow is missing just before they get off the rock.
With the help of a handmade viney rope, the native pulls himself onboard. In the rain his skin is as deeply black as a pool of oil, his stringy hair clinging to his head. He ducks behind a barrel as a couple crew members rush by. He then crouch-runs to the main bulkhead and, back to the wall, arms press flat on its surface, he starts slinking around the curve of the wall. He's constantly looking around, making sure he doesn't get spotted. He slinks down the narrow walkway between the main bulkhead and the rail, heading for a door that leads to the interior of the ship. Suddenly, he jumps behind a stack of wooden mini-crates as a crew member slams open the door and hurries past the native to the deck.
The native makes his way to the door and sneaks inside. This part felt a lot like a puzzle based video game scenario, with the slinking and avoiding your adversaries. They actually had to do many, many, many takes because the bone going through his chin area kept jabbing his shoulder as he went through the door into the belly of the ship. Of course it's not real bone, so when it hit his shoulder it would bend dramatically in a way bones don't bend. And then the glue started dissolving and it had to be reapplied two or three times during this scene.
Alright, now let's get back to our lovers... the scene is Ann Darrow and Jack Driscoll's reaction to hitting the rocks in the waters off of Skull Island that I talked a little about in the last article. Lumpy yells something and Watts climbs up to the top of the deck, hurrying to Driscoll's side. Peter yells, "You hit the rocks in 3... 2... 1... HIT!" Ann falls back and Driscoll catches her, holding her to him.
Since I haven't had any Kongisking.net video diaries in this report, let me link to this one where you can see an animatic as well as a scene performed a la the animatic by Watts and Brody. Get a good look at that animatic? Good, 'cause now it's time for me to get into that little KONG animatic I've been teasing you folks with with since the first article.
Picture this... it's our second to last day in Wellington. We're onset, shooting wraps... the next day we're flying out of Wellington to Auckland then back home. Since it was mid-October and Peter's birthday is on Halloween, I wanted to present him with a gift. It might seem tacky to give a director a poster of his own movie, but I had tracked down an Italian poster for BAD TASTE that has artwork unlike any that's known. I got this for my collection originally. I knew from talking to Dravitzki and Fran that Peter didn't have this poster, so I figured what the hell? It'd certainly be cooler up in his house or in the Wingnut offices than it would be on my wall.
So, I give Peter the poster and he really seemed to dig it, telling me how he's surprised he'd never seen the poster before as he was really in to collecting foreign posters of his films in his early career. He did point at the Italian artist's interpretation of Derek and said, "Is that supposed to be me?"
Anyway, we bade him farewell and he was generally puzzled that we were leaving already, thinking we'd only been there for a couple of weeks. After I assured him we had been there a solid month, Peter insisted I come by before my flight the next day to see the Christening of "Kong Stage," a huge concrete monster of a building that had been under construction when I got there... also where they built the first bit of Skull Island... and he also wanted me to see the animatic of Kong fighting the 3 T-Rexes.
You can't turn that down. So, about 3 1/2 hours before my flight left Wellington, I showed up on-set. Skull Island was a big bunch of rocks and plants when I saw it. It might not have been as massive as those outdoor sets, but after watching 4 weeks of cramped boat Venture shooting it was still a shock to see the stage open up with foliage and scary rocks. I passed by a table with a bunch of tommy guns and rifles carefully arranged on its top. I had to resist every geek urge I could not to pick up that tommy gun and start shouting Edward G. Robinson lines.
Peter was busy feeling out the new stage for the next shot, so I ended up talking at length with Julia, the lovely young woman who is Naomi Watts' stand-in. She is very pretty and my friend, Rav, who joined me for the first couple weeks of shooting, wants to marry her. Of course, he never had the nerve to go up to her, but once he saw her reading FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, she had his geeky heart in her hand, even if she never knew it. Anyway, she turned out to be super nice and kept me company while Peter was doing his thing.
Peter ended up setting up a time for me to see the animatic. He wanted to watch it with me, to get my reaction, but his presence was needed onset, so with the condition that I come back and tell him what I thought of the animatic before fleeing his country he let me go. I was led into Peter's Stone Street Offices and introduced to Richard Francis-Moore (who you saw running the Venture boat animatic in the above production diary) who ran the animatic for us.
What I saw in that 6 minutes... More than seeing Jack Black create his Carl Denham, more than seeing Naomi Watts radiate beauty and showing great vulnerability, more than seeing giant ships and even more than seeing creature models, this animatic proved to me that this film is everything it can and needs to be. I swiped a couple of pics from TORn's website that were originally published in an LA Weekly article on KONG for the below! Thanks, TORn and Kongisking.net!!!
Ann Darrow starts off alone, somewhere on Skull Island. She stumbles across a few grazing carnivores (they looked like raptors in the animatic, but they had already been changed to this sort of prehistoric giant crocodile, which is a good thing). They don't notice her, so she hides behind a tree, watching them... Of course, there's one standing right beside the tree watching her the whole time. There's a mad chase where she barely eludes the creatures. Just as they're about to break into her hiding spot, they are suddenly pulled out of frame, screeching in pain and anger.
Enter the first T-Rex, munching down on these bad-boys. You can see why the decision to change them from anything that even resembled a raptor came from now, eh?
She breaks for it and is immediately chased by the Rex, with its last meal still hanging limply from its jaws. As she's running, the creature in the Rex's mouth starts falling apart. Ann is literally having to dodge dino body part as the Rex gains ground.
After some close scrapes (I won't give everything away), she looks to be totally screwed. Rex behind her, giant chasm in front. Like a knight coming the rescue, Kong appears over a ridge and jumps in to save Ann, picking her up with one hand and holding off the Rex with the other. As he's doing that, a 2nd Rex appears behind Kong, who is holding Ann out away from the Rex he's currently fighting off. Ann watches in horror as the 2nd Rex saunters up, getting very close to nipping distance. She screams and Kong turns to see the 2nd Rex lunging in for the bite.
With his left arm still holding off the first Rex, the only option he has to keep Ann from being eaten is to move his bicep into her spot. He does and takes a nasty bite to his arm. Kong roars in pain as the Rex gnaws on his arm. Suddenly, he drops Ann. She falls, screaming, only to be caught by Kong's foot. With both hands free, he now tussles with the Rexes and runs.
I flipped out when I saw Kong take that hit for Ann. He's already sacrificing, taking great injury to protect her. I love these small additions to Kong's fights on Skull Island that give him so much more depth of character than was possible to achieve with the original. I believe Willis O'Brien could have achieved this sort of character depth, but the style of filmmaking at the point was radically different than it is today, still coming off the theater-based silent films.
Anyway, there are a few more times when Kong puts his own safety in jeopardy to keep Ann out of harm's way, especially with the addition of a 3rd T-Rex. He's still giving them a heavy beating, but at some point he and Ann get separated. That's good for him because he can now full on fight and the Rexes are no match for the King, but it's bad for Ann. She's vulnerable and there's a scene involving vines in the chasm and her swinging closer and closer to the snapping jaws of a Rex that'll have you squirming. I squirmed and I was just watching an animatic!
Eventually, Kong gets the better of 2 of the Rexes and then comes the iconic scene... The one that gave me goosebumps when watching even in this rough animated form.
On one end you have a very pissed off T-Rex. On the other you have Kong, knuckles on the ground standing very statuesque and steady, eyeballin' that bastard dinosaur. In between them is Ann Darrow.
She's frantically looking in both directions. T-Rex in one direction and giant ape in the other. After a moment's panic, followed by a moment's thought, she turns, facing the Rex and walks slowly backwards. She walks backwards between Kong's arms, coming to a stop under his chest and completely in his protection. She chose him and he realizes it. He stands taller and lets out a roar as he beats his chest. Kong and the Rex have at it, but it's absolutely no contest. In the previous fights with the Rexes there was a little back and forth. Here Kong just takes this sucker out, snapping its jaw in an homage to the original '33 Kong Vs. Rex fight. He even jiggles the jaw once the Rex is dead, just like in the original.
I was purposefully vague on a lot of the detail... There's a lot of stuff I would have loved to describe during the Rex fight, but I worry that by giving too much away it'll hamper your discovery of this scene in December. I might have given too much away as it stands, but hopefully you got a taste of what this film is going to be. I swear to God, that 6 minute animatic could have been slapped onto a DVD and packaged and it'd sell 50 million copies. I know this is saying a lot, but this fight was on the same level as the Mines of Moria from FELLOWSHIP. The editing was tight, the angles dynamic and the amount of character that showed through in such a rough animated form was amazing. If that was the rough draft, the final draft is going to be ungodly.
People aren't prepared for this movie, thinking it's going to be Peter's "Post LOTR movie." The passion Peter has for this story is massive and from what I've seen with my own two eyes I can tell you this is going to be spectacular.
Well, the end has come. After how many unknown thousands of words and a month's worth of material, these reports are about to come to their end. I have to thank Matthew Dravitzki for being so kind in putting up with a group of American geeks making his life that much harder. I have to thank Peter Jackson and Fran Walsh for allowing me to watch them work and for being the most genuinely nice people I've ever met in my life. Thanks to Philippa, the Queen of the Geeks, and Matt Ward for being the only people who showed up to our Fajita Night and saw what boring party hosts my friends and I are. Thanks to Richard Taylor and the rest of the Weta crew for the tour. I have to thank Skot Thomas, Melissa Booth, Hammond Peek and the rest of the crew on KONG for putting up with me. Thanks to medic Andy Buckley for keeping Kraken's lungs from exploding on our last day. Big thanks go to Pierre Vinet for being too cool for school and for those amazing shots... you know what I'm talking about!
I'd like to single out Jan Blenkin, Jack Black, Colin Hanks, Lobo Chan, Carter Nixon and Todd for drawing in my Kong book. Thanks to Universal for the pics and a very special thanks to all of you, the readers, for following along with me on my adventures. It's been a pleasure sharing them with you. But I'm getting tired and it's about time for this chapter to end. Farewell and adieu, squirts! 'Til next time...