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Moriarty Interviews Wolfgang Petersen and John Seale On The Set Of POSEIDON!!

Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...

By now, you may or may not have read the set reports that have been run on other websites since the beginning of production on POSEIDON, the giant-budget summer film currently shooting in Burbank for Warner Bros. If not, let’s do a quick recap:

Chapter 1

Emmy Rossum Interview




Chapter 2

Mike Vogel Interview


Chapter 3

Kevin Dillon Interview


Chapter 4

Bill Sandell and RJ Mino Interviews


Chapter 5

Richard Dreyfuss Interview


Chapter 6

Josh Lucas Interview


Chapter 7

Jacinda Barrett Interview


Chapter 8

Kurt Russell Interview


Warner Bros had an intriguing idea with the way they’ve handled online publicity for this film. Every site got unique content, and anyone who read all the set visits got a pretty comprehensive overview of the entire production. It’s not a radical reinvention of what or are doing, but it’s an interesting variation. After reading the other articles though, I still found myself with one question as I took Barham into Burbank to the Warner Bros. lot last Thursday morning:

Why remake THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE at all? Especially when NBC’s own remake of the film airs in just a few weeks?

Each outlet that visited the set was given different access as far as interviews are concerned. Devin Faraci over at CHUD, for example, was famously punched by Richard Dreyfuss. When we first discussed my coverage, I was offered the chance to interview Wolfgang Petersen. No matter what he’s shooting, the chance to talk to him was reason enough to participate. He’s a fascinating filmmaker, a guy who started his career in the late ‘60s making short films before graduating to occasional theatrical genre films (like the thriller ONE OR THE OTHER OF US) and lots and lots of TV movies. DAS BOOT was the film that broke him out of the TV market when he took his TV mini-series version and edited it into a feature film for international release. That’s the film that really put him on the map, and even now, I remember the experience of seeing it in a theater in 1981. It was like virtual reality. It was like being on a submarine. It was thrilling and terrifying and totally immersive. When it came out, I remember the sensation it caused. Critics like Siskel & Ebert championed it tirelessly, and it was a rare crossover hit with subtitles.

POSEIDON is only his ninth film in the 24 years since then, but he’s had more than his fair share of hits. THE NEVER ENDING STORY, ENEMY MINE, OUTBREAK, THE PERFECT STORM, IN THE LINE OF FIRE, AIR FORCE ONE, and TROY. The only other film in that time, SHATTERED, goes pretty much forgotten, but everything else he’s made has been high profile, and even the underperforming ENEMY MINE has some interesting ideas, some remarkable production value, and some nice performances. Petersen’s hopped from genre to genre with ease, and I’ll admit... my curiosity about him was the primary motivation for me driving out to Burbank in the first place.

Tiffany Duersch, the Warner publicist who invited me, walked me onto the lot after I got checked in with security. As we headed over to the stages, she explained that many of the largest sets had already been struck since they’re approaching the second-unit portion of the shoot. Frankly, I’m just amazed they did this all here in Los Angeles and not in Australia or London or New Zealand. Turns out, that was one of the things that Petersen insisted on before he would agree to make the film. The production took over five full soundstages, including the enormous water tank stage, and shot the entire film right there, except for the opening shot of the movie, which we’ll discuss more later in this piece. Considering the scale of the film, it’s a fairly tight schedule, with 90 days of principal photography and another 45 days of second unit under the supervision of Doug Coleman, a stuntman with 25 years experience who first worked for Petersen on AIR FORCE ONE. This is his first film as Petersen’s second-unit director, though, and it’s a huge task.

Tiffany and I met Rob Harris, the Unit Publicist on the film, and we talked for a few moments about the film. Finally, we walked into the tank stage, where they were rehearsing a fairly major underwater stunt. It was canny timing to invite me for this particular set-up, since one of the things they’re going to want to emphasize in selling this film is that, in this age of digital effects being used for everything, I watched them shoot a real stunt using the real actors, and I get the feeling it’s not uncommon for that to be the case during the making of this film. If you’ve ever seen the making of THE ABYSS, one of the most dangerous and thrilling moments in that film shows Ed Harris and Leo Burmester making a long uninterrupted swim, breath held the whole time.

I’ve always loved that stunt, and that’s what I flashed on when I saw Josh Lucas, Mike Vogel, Jacinda Barrett, Freddy Rodriguez, and Jimmy Bennett (who was in both HOSTAGE and THE AMITYVILLE HORROR lately) all swimming through a totally flooded corridor, looking through doors and trying to find any exit. Even more importantly, looking for air.

We walked in during a rehearsal. As we entered, we walked past director of photography John Seale. We’ve all got our fetishes as film fans. Personally, I’m a huge nerd for cinematographers. The great DPs are like magicians, and John Seale has been pulling off minor miracles for quite some time now. He started out making quickie action flicks with Brian Trenchard-Smith like BMX BANDITS and DEATHCHEATERS, but even early on, he worked on some special films like CAREFUL HE MIGHT HEAR YOU and SILVER CITY. He made his debut in the American film scene with WITNESS, for which he was Oscar-nominated, and since then, he’s had a fairly awesome resume. THE HITCHER, CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD, THE MOSQUITO COAST, RAIN MAN (another nomination), GORILLAS IN THE MIST, DEAD POETS SOCIETY, LORENZO’S OIL, THE FIRM, THE ENGLISH PATIENT (for which he finally won an Oscar), CITY OF ANGELS, COLD MOUNTAIN (yet another nomination)... no matter what you think of those movies as movies, you’ve got to admit, they are all stunningly photographed, great-looking Hollywood movies. Earlier, I had asked Tiffany if she could get me some time with Seale, knowing full well that it’s almost always impossible to find even five minutes where a DP isn’t busy on a set.

Somehow, we found about twenty.

Seale is a tall, solid Australian guy in his 60s, with not even a hint of an attitude about him. He talks incredibly fast, with a clipped accent, and we found an out of the way spot where we could stand and talk:

”Moriarty”: First of all, it’s a real pleasure to meet you. I love your work. I love the sheer artistry of cinematography. You guys are the real rock stars on film sets.

JOHN SEALE: [laughs]

”M”: Your early background was in films that were shot on real locations, films that captured a particular time and place. I’m crazy about THE MOSQUITO COAST, for example. That’s such an earthy movie. When you shoot something like POSEIDON or THE PERFECT STORM, films that use a lot of greenscreens, do you approach the shoot differently? Is it a radical shift of technique?

JS: Yes and no. It’s a bit of a different state of mind, but honestly, every film starts with the script.

You sit and you read that, and you have to imagine turning it into a film that people are going to sit and watch. And you have an awful lot of input from a lot of other people. That’s the way I work. The director has a vision. Production designers have a vision. I have a vision. Everybody has a vision about how they feel the end result should look, and how that should affect the audience, emotionally or otherwise.

I’m an unashamed realist, and actually, I try to make whatever that script is the reality of that situation, even though it’s fictional. MOSQUITO COAST in particular was shot very simply. Not many lights because it’s set in the jungle, and I didn’t want to overlight it. So I used a minimal amount of lights, just enough to be at a photographic level. Otherwise, I sort of let everything slide, really, and shot only available light in a lot of the places, and then, of course, doing interiors, you try to make those look as though the available light’s doing that as well. That family didn’t have electric resources. And so whatever light they had in the hosue was just what came in through the windows. All of those thoughts, all of that combines to make the type of photography that a film deserves. Then you move on to the next one, and it might be a completely different type of photography, by the virtue of the script and the film it’s going to make.

”M”: You really are a chameleon from film to film. You don’t have a signature style. THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY is another gorgeous film of yours. It’s so warm. You get such a great sense of place. With this film, you have to first create the Poseidon, this dream version of a resort cruise ship, and then you have to flip it and create the nightmare version of it. Where did you start?

JS: Very similar to what I’ve said on every film, which is... see, on this one, I got a good three months prep. The designer [Bill Sandell] had already started building sets, so I had a good idea what he was thinking with the director, as a team. When I joined that team, I had to pick up as quickly as I could where they’d already gotten to in their visual minds. Then I’d start to work on that and try to make it happen.

What I gleaned out of it were little comments from the director, things like, “Once the ship’s upside down, it will start to die. And in its death throes, it will desperately try to kill everyone onboard.” That’s the battle that our heroes have trying to get out of that sinking ship. So at the start, you’re lighting that with a very lubrigious warm light, like a seven-star hotel, exciting and welcoming. When it goes upside down, it’s still the same lighting, because of the reality of the ship, but it’s got a harsher edge to it. Now everything comes from the floor. As they move through the ship and up through the bowels of it to stay in the air bubble in the sinking ship, it slowly turns into what Wolfgang said should look “industrial.” That’s easy, y’know. You can just switch across to florescent lighting from the floor, keeping everything in blues and greens. And then we start taking the color out. All the color comes out of, say, the junk in the corridor, or the little rooms, or wherever they went. We took primary colors out so slowly, and it all becomes very monochromatic and cold.

Now the chill of the Atlantic in winter is starting to seep through the whole ship. As it dies, the warmth goes out of it. By the time they get to the end, and they do get out of it, they jump into a moonlit cold sea into a liferaft where it’s still very cold and blue. And then the last shot of the film is this glorious dawn that comes up, and all the colors and all the warmth and all the life comes rushing back in. That’s the last shot of the film, this beautiful golden dawn, warming them, enabling their survival.

All of that became brushstrokes that I’ve had to, over five months of shooting, always had to keep in mind. As we move through the ship, along the way, new things come in, but it follows that broad brushstrokes pattern. There are some of the same cheats you see in all movies... things working underwater, generators that keep running while they’re upside-down. You end up having to cheat like that because you couldn’t just have eight people running around in pitch black with five torches.

”M”: What special challenges arise... and you’ve done it now both in THE PERFECT STORM and in this... when you’re primarily working with water. When you’re lighting it or simulating it or just dealing with it on this truly massive scale...

JS: Well, it’s difficult, it’s wet, and it’s time-consuming. You get someone like John Frazier, our physical effects supervisor, and he’s got all the machinery in the world. He just builds these giant dump tanks one right after another. So if you want a certain amount of water... say, 5,000 gallons... to wash across the desk, he’ll build it. It’s one of the lovely things about big-budget movies. If that’s what we need, that’s what we get. Then, of course, there’s CGI... blue-screen, green-screen, whatever we use...

”M”: How’s that been, adapting to that, considering the background you came out of? Going from small indie films in Australia to these giant special effects movies? That technology all emerged as a tool after you were already established.

JS: Exactly. I hate it.

”M”: Really?

JS: I do. I dislike it. You can’t play off it, and as a realist cameraman, I always look for nature or natural lighting within buildings and within rooms that has been done by somebody else to suit their needs. I look at it very closely as a photographic thing, then enhance it to do what we need to do.

”M”: That must be so different when you’re dealing with greenscreens. I know you shot out at the Sepulveda Dam for the start of the film...

JS: Yep.

”M”: ... and you had to simulate [Josh Lucas] running on the deck of the ship. Obviously, you shoot it outside so you can get the natural light on him...

JS: That’s what you’d hope.

”M”: ... but then he’s surrounded by giant green reflective screens. How do you handle that?

JS: Oh, it’s... it’s awful, but you just have to learn the limitations, learn what you have to do to make it work, and do it.

You have to accept that is is a big part of filmmaking now, and it will continue to be so until they develop tracking software that doesn’t need a blue screen, and that’s happening all the time as well, and we’re finding we’re able to use less bluescreen for certain scenes now than we did a year ago.

”M”: I’m going later today to visit the set of MONSTER HOUSE, the thing that Zemeckis is producing for Sony... another of his all mo-cap films...

JS: Oh, yeah, right.

”M”: ... and I look at the credits for the film, and they’ve got a director of photography listed, and a costume designer, and stunt people... and it seems like everyone’s having to learn to adapt their craft to these new technologies.

JS: It is, yeah, and I’ve found that with pictures like, say, HARRY POTTER, with the blue screens there and the kids flying around during the Quidditch match, you have to always know where the sun is in your head. Even though it’s not actually there on that stage, you have to put the sun in where it should be for any of the players at any point in the game, and there has to be continuity. It’s so easy to spin an actor and say, “Oh, we’ll just shoot him from the other way,” but wait a minute... I’ve got to move the sun ‘round, ‘cause we can’t have the sun coming from the same side all the time. It’s going to look silly.

”M”: So I guess that’s one more discipline you’ve got to get good at.

JS: Exactly.

”M”: ... wow... that’s...

JS: It’s a whole different way of thinking about it. Most of your work now is done in pre-production.

”M”: What you do is, by definition, chemical, and now you’re mixing that with something that is completely digital.

JS: Well, we’re combining it heavily now. We’re shooting on film negative...

”M”: Would you ever shoot all-digital, like with the Genesis Cameras that Singer’s using on SUPERMAN? Have you looked at any of the HD or the 24p systems?

JS; Most of the time, those decisions are economic and it’s the producers or the studio who are calling the shots. Cameramen aren’t having a say in it particularly, on the average. Some do. Some say, “I’m not shooting in HD, and that’s all there is to it. I’m out of here.”

”M”: Wouldn’t you almost have to retrain yourself?

JS: Well, it’s all visual now. In some ways, it’s much easier. The magician wandering around with the light meter saying “Spot that, flood that,” is gone. Used to be, nobody knows what you’re doing. Your little light meter’s needle is going up and down. You put it where you think it should be. Nobody knows. They just ignore you until they see the dailies and say, “Oh, that looks pretty good.” [laughs]

”M”: It used to be a magic trick. They used to have to wait and see.

JS: Sure. 24 hours later. But digitally now, you’re lighting off a monitor, and everybody can see the monitor. So there are no surprises anymore. What you’re seeing on the monitor is what you’re going to get.

”M”: It’s a mistake for people to think that negates the role of the DP, though. You spoke about your overall plan for the film...

JS: Exactly.

”M”: I love to show people VISIONS OF LIGHT to give them an idea of what artistry is involved in cinematography. So often, people tell me, “Oh, I don’t notice that stuff. I never hear the score. I don’t notice how it’s photographed”...

JS: It doesn’t just happen on its own.

”M”: Does it help when you’ve worked with a director before? Do you and Wolfgang have a shorthand?

JS: It shouldn’t affect you if you haven’t worked with a man before, if you’re attitude’s right. Sometimes it can be a little harder, though, to work with a new guy. You tend to be sort of laid back a little. Watching. Thinking. When it’s your second time in, you sort of know each other’s jokes and attitudes...

At this point, we were approached by John’s assistant, who offered us our choice of one of the soups of the day. Pumpkin or oxtail were the choices. Evidently, soup is a really big deal on the POSEIDON set.

JS: Anyway, you do tend to be more familiar. You build up a relationship. It helps because there are always tensions. There was tension building up all the way to shooting, because we had to back up a bit, had a little difficulty finding actors. It’s fairly tension-building, pre-production, and then suddenly the cameras are rolling. And that’s when you learn how ready you are, and the film’s coming into the can, and you’re pretty much on-schedule...

”M”: On a film like this, you know you’ve got a release date. When you guys start, there it is. It’s on the calendar. Do you ever bring that pressure to the set with you, or do you just have to leave that at the door and focus on the task at hand?

JS: Having been brought up in Australia in low-budget productions, going over-schedule simply did not happen. I’m very conscious of the schedule. I try to work fast enough to keep us on-schedule. If they say we’ve got an 85-day shoot, it sounds like, “Ah, we’ve got plenty of time,” but you have to work fast from day one, otherwise it catches you at the end of the production. Wolfgang’s very focused, very positive, knows exactly what he wants. That’s all we have to get. Some other directors might be more indecisive, might say, “Let’s do it all again from the other side. Let’s do close-ups. Let’s get more coverage.” I’ve worked with directors who have done as many as thirty takes for performance. Wolfgang’s very economical, very positive and decisive. He’ll do it once or twice and then say, “We’ve got it. We’re out of here.” We’ve had short days, surprisingly. We’re out of here by 6:00 most days.

With that, Seale had to take his soup (“It’s very good today”) and get back to work. The Warner Bros. publicists led me down to the edge of the tank, where video village was set up. Wolfgang was seated in front of one of the monitors, watching the actors prepare for another rehearsal. When he saw us standing nearby, he jumped up and walked over.

”Wolfgang, this is...”

”Oh, I know,” he said. “The infamous Moriarty.” He smiled as we shook hands, so jovial that I immediately started wracking my brain to try and remember if I’ve ever bagged Peterson for anything. Another attempt was made to foist soup off on me, and then Peterson and I walked away so we could chat for a few minutes.

”M”: When I just spoke with John Seale...

WP: Lovely, isn’t he?

”M”: ... we talked a lot about how things have evolved in the business since he began. You got your start in German television, and in some ways, you’re a totally different filmmaker now. Still, if you look back at DAS BOOT, that’s a physically demanding production. You’ve always loved to test your characters, put them in these extreme conditions and situations...

WP: Oh, definitely.

”M”: ... which leads me to my main question: why remake THE POSEIDON ADVENTURE?

WP: It has to do with what you just said about people being tested. I like that. I think it’s so dramatic. I think an audience responds so well to that. They love seeing how people react in something that is not the normal situation, in a very, very extreme sort of situation. In a disaster, whatever kind it is, you see how people really are when you scrape away their normal experiences in life, and then you get to extremes, and that’s when you see how they react. I love to peel the skin away to see what they’re really made of. I like that very much, and I thought I had a great opportunity for that here. Not only do I have a lot of people here, but this is not a submarine or a little fishing boat like PERFECT STORM.

”M”: I love the fact that this is a giant physical production with so much of this being done for real.

WP: Yeah, it’s nice.

”M”: In an age where more and more people push toward exclusively shooting things on greenscreen, I love when people build something tangible.

WP: We have marvelous sets. It’s just like being a boy in a toy shop. With POSEIDON, I saw a chance... and originally, I only wanted to produce it. But then I thought about it more and more, and it made me think about BOAT [which is what WP calls DAS BOOT in conversation – “M”] as well. What is it I like so much about BOAT? It was about young people... professional, yes, but young people going off on a trip in the submarine. They are supposed to do a job, but then they get out there, and it becomes a journey into madness, a Hell they cannot imagine.

”M”: It’s an environmental film, especially the longer film. You get pulled into this world, and it’s so immersive. It becomes very claustrophobic, very contained.

WP: And then you really see what these people do when the world goes insane.

”M”: Is the Poseidon a character in your film?

WP: Well, it’s a similar situation, only in THE PERFECT STORM, they were also professionals. Fishermen. People who were trained, even though they end up in an absurdly dramatic situation of this big storm. But in POSEIDON, these people are not professionals. The audience will have a much greater connection, because these people are us. And, yes, there are three or four thousand of them, but still, they are trapped into a big place where they cannot escape. They start out happy. It’s New Year’s Eve. They want to celebrate. They are beautifully dressed. They want to get laid. They want to have all the fun in the world. Everybody has plans for the future.

And then... WHAMMO! The wave comes and flips the boat. Within seconds, the whole world is upside-down. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or if you’re poor, or if you’re young or if you’re old. You cannot escape. There is no way out. You are trapped. The claustrophobia sets in, even though it’s an enormous boat. And again, it’s a journey now. It’s a journey for a group of people who try to do differently than the others and navigate their way out. This gives us great drama, great characters. We get to see what they’re made of.

”M”: You’ve got a big cast here. It looks like you put them together just to have some fun.

WP: Most of the films I’ve made have been big star movies. Here, I’m dealing with great character actors. It’s sort of an all-star situation. I get to play them against each other, and you get all this great interaction, and big emotional things happen between them. The group is a character. The group is a fascinating thing to watch. Then there’s a smaller group within, made up of ten or twelve people, within this big, big environment of this disastrous ship situation. And they just stagger along from adventure to adventure. The possibilities they have for excitement are like in BOAT or PERFECT STORM, but here we’re not dealing with larger-than-life characters. These aren’t highly-trained soldiers or commercial fishermen. These aren’t experts in some field who have learned to prepare for the worst. Who are these people? They’re just going to a party. They paid $20,000 a head to be there, and now they have to get out. They are called on to survive this disastrous thing, so commonplace in today’s world with tsunamis and floods and Katrinas...

”M”: Has that been surreal to witness while you’ve been shooting this?

WP: Absolutely.

”M”: It seems like audiences will always have an appetite for destruction in a movie theater, but did any of the recent news ever give you guys pause?

WP: Oh, of course we were discussing it, sure. And we have no idea what will happen, but what can I do? I have to just finish the movie. And maybe there will be more disasters. Or maybe not. I don’t know. Some instinct tells me that what you said is right. I think an audience might be really interested in going through this in a theater.

”M”: Entertainment can be catharsis. Besides, this isn’t a fact-based movie. There’s no real life Poseidon tragedy that we’re all still mourning.

WP: I think so. Instinct tells me that people will be able to enjoy this. It’s fun because it’s warm in the theater and you are safe. So there’s something fun about watching really bad things happen on a movie screen. What we came up with here... you can imagine that nowadays, after 1972 when they made the old film, and now, almost 35 years later, what we can do now with visual effects... I can tell you that you will not believe what we have done. My editor told me, “People will crawl up the walls or leave the theater, it’s so terrorizing.” What our people go through, from the smallest places that they have to crawl through in an eight-minute sequence of almost pure claustrophia terror. When we were shooting it, we said, “Oh my god, when that is put together, I don’t know if people really can sit through it.” People are going to be shocked by the drama of these characters and the way it’s shot and what they’re going through. It’s quite mind-blowing. But that one scene is very small. There’s also the very large disaster that they’re going through. For example, what can happen in an upside-down lobby of ten stories? We built it here for real, upside-down,a nd on the other stage, right-side-up. You can imagine what falls through the ceiling of the lobby, what used to be the floor. Things are not meant to be all the time hanging instead of resting on the floor. A lot of things break loose and fall. Like you have these giant air-conditioning units that crash through the ceiling and they fall all the way down and create, in addition to the fact that this ship is slowly sinking, an episode of unbelievable danger and destruction. These are only two of the many scenes we have, so...

”M”: At what stage did you get involved with the development of the script?

WP: I developed the script from day one.

”M”: Oh, okay.

WP: When I had a conversation with the studio saying, “Why should we do POSEIDON?”, there were just a few ideas, and actually the producer, Mike Fleiss, came to me and said, “What do you think?”

[In the interest of full disclosure, Mike Fleiss is one of the two producers on my next project, the untitled home invasion horror film. When I was first invited to do this set visit, we were not yet involved professionally. – “M”]

WP: The studio was still checking the rights. So I said, “Great idea. Let’s do it.” Warner Bros. gave us the go-ahead. At first, I was just going to produce it, but I got more and more involved, and I realized we couldn’t use anything from the film in the ‘70s. We had to just start from scratch and only use the basic idea of the luxury liner with thousands of people onboard on New Year’s Eve that gets swallowed up by a huge rogue wave, then ends up upside-down. That’s all we used. The real story is in these characters, what their stories are, what they go through, what the ending is. All of that feels like a completely new story. The original is the umbrella we work under.

”M”: That’s the best way to approach a remake. The original is fun for the time. It’s certainly not CITIZEN KANE. It’s an upside-down boat movie, and it did what it did well enough for when it was made.

WP: First of all, there’s the whole visual effects situation. It’s light years from what they could do in 1970. So that will be a whole big thing, and I can tell you, the beginning of this movie is one two-and-a-half-minute shot, all CG. ILM is doing that.

”M”: Is that the one with Josh running at the Sepulveda Dam?

WP: [smiles enigmatically]

”M”: I was talking to John about that.

WP: It’s two-and-a-half minutes. It starts underwater, then goes around the entire ship, and ends on a close-up of Josh’s face as he’s jogging on the deck. The only thing that’s real in the whole shot is Josh. It is the boldest, most insane shot ever done in the history of CG. And at ILM, these guys are... you know these guys. They are very excited.

”M”: Well, sure. The kick for them is always about pushing the envelope, inching ever closer to photo-realism.

WP: When you see the two-and-a-half minutes at the start of the film, you have to believe every single tiny moment of this shot in a photorealistic way. I think you will. I have seen already a little bit of it. They are working on it now. All told, that shot will take a full year.

”M”: That’s amazing. One year for two-and-a-half minutes of film. That’s a remarkable level of craft.

WP: This shot will be magnificent. It’s never been done before. ILM is so excited. We’re all very excited. Then there’s the issue of the water and what we can do now versus five years ago with PERFECT STORM.

”M”: You must have learned so much there about what you want to do and how you want to do it better in this film.

WP: Absolutely. That whole world of special effects and what we can do now means we can give the audience an experience they never could have before. I think that if you have a great basic concept, you can do it over and over as long as you use different characters and new situations. The concept is strong. The world turns upside-down, and your whole life is changed in a matter of seconds. What was good is bad now. And if you were rich, it doesn’t mean anything. The world is upside-down, and now you deal with it. In this symbolic world, everything is not where it should be. You are totally disoriented, and you have to orient yourself and navigate this new landscape. It’s a parable for life. It’s about how to deal with the unthinkable. That’s what I like about it. IT’s always good for characters. You cannot make a straightforward action film from it. Maybe you could, but that’s not interesting.

What’s interesting is that our movie starts with 4,000 people in this situation in the first half-hour. Then it goes whom! And it gets much more focused. Our twelve people... well, in the end, there are not twelve... but our twelve people decide they cannot stay in the ballroom with those hundreds of other peole in this so-called safety. So they go out and make their very dangerous way up through this upside-down boat to find their way out. It starts with 4000 people. It ends with a little bit more than a handful. I love that. The film goes tighter and tighter and more intimate... it’s, it’s, it’s... it’s wonderful. It’s going to get very claustrophobic at some points. If everything works out fine... and I have to tell you, I have a pretty good feeling here. The actors, as you said, I put these actors together to have a lot of fun with them. If you work with Richard Dreyfuss and Kurt Russell and this little boy Jimmy and Emmy Rossum and Mia Maestro and Josh Lucas... Josh Lucas will be soon a big star. He’s like a young Paul Newman. The dynamics between all of these is great if they understand one thing, and they all understood it perfectly. Create total reality. Throw everything overboard that has to do with posturing or movie star behavior. Just be who you are. Just present yourself as a human being. I want to shoot your sweat, your fear, everything. Just be. And they were so great in it. And we were constantly also working on the script to make it less movieish. We cut a lot of dialogue. We can tell the story much better with just body language and just he expression in your eyes, and it is very, very visual storytelling.

”M”: Sounds like it must have been a good experience for the actors.

WP: They loved it.

”M”: On a film like this, that can make a difference. Spectacle is one thing, but if they engage, then the audience will, too.

WP: They know... I took really good care of every single one of them. I always said, “This is about you guys. This is not about things exploding around you or big tanks of water. It’s about how you handle it and how you behave.” And I love when you see a character realize “I am able to move mountains. I had no idea I could do that.” Or there are these very tough decisions that they have to make right away. That’s the essence of drama. One thing we drew from real life... we saw it, and we had to put it in... is when you make decisions and you have to hold on to somebody and hang there, and if you hang on longer, you will go with him and get pulled down, or if you let go, you will save yourself. And it’s terrible to let go, but our guy decides to let go, and one of the other people dies. So it’s very, very shocking as a moment. But also a story like this gives you wonderful moments that are true. They’re not sappy, but true emotions. It’s about what people do for one another in a great way. They support each other. I just love these kinds of stories.

At that point, Peterson got called back to the set, and I was left to wander a bit and check out everything that was going on. I spotted Richard Dreyfuss and Mia Maestro walking around the tank, watching as they shot the scene. I also got a peek inside the corpse shack, where KNB had all of the dead bodies stacked up that they’ve either made or customized for this film. The sets that were standing on the other stages were fascinating, particularly the ones that represent upside-down stages. There’s a sort of dizzying vertigo that sets in when you step into one of them, and if the film manages to convey that, then I think it’ll be a pretty thrilling experience next summer. Here’s a glimpse at the storyboards from the sequence where the Poseidon flips, and then some video of John Seale speaking that should give you a good idea what the sets looked like:


Thanks to Tiffany Duersch from Warner Bros. for all her work in making the set visit happen, and to all the other sites that participated in this round-robin of peeks inside the film. It’s an interesting experiment, and I’ll be curious to see if anyone tries this sort of coverage again. They’ll have all nine of these production journals archived on the official site for POSEIDON very soon. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for POSEIDON in theaters in May 2006.

I’ve got to go now and finish transcribing one last set visit and interview for you guys, something that happened the same day as the POSEIDON visit. I’ll have that for you very soon. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.

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