'Gravity': Alfonso Cuaron Talks Creating Space Epic (VIDEO)

Interviews
by Anne Thompson
October 4, 2013 10:51 AM
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Sandra Bullock in "Gravity"

THE PRODUCTION

How did you handle your sound rules?

AC: There is no sound in space. So the only effects that convey sounds are breath, dialogue, radios, and also interaction with characters hold something and grab something with a vibration that will transmit into your ears. There are no other sounds. We tried to experiment without sound, but silence becomes redundant. We wanted to express silence so have sound, but we have music, which is used as part of the emotional projection of our character.

On an immersive stage, something interesting we did with the film, is the whole score is composed for Surround Sound. In conventional music, it's to the right and left of the screen, here we did music that comes from different places in the room, moving from place to place, just to help aid disorientation, like it's spinning around you. Our composer [Steven Price] used pieces from German composer Stockhausen, with the orchestra sitting in the hall but not on stage, they were scattered around the room. When the music started the players were walking and moving around. You have an amazing dynamic sense of space and motion.

Who was most responsible for making the technology go where it had to go?

AC: Jonas was pushing, saying, "this is going to be cool." Chivo [Cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki] and VFX supervisor friends were pushing to make the technology work. David Heyman was helping to keep everything afloat. Chris DeFaria the VFX executive was enthusiastic. I have to say the whole Warner studio was supportive even if they were flying blind. 

DH: Two key creative collaborators were Chivo Lubezki, Tim Webber the VFX supervisor was instrumental in Alfonso realizing his vision. And VFX exec producer Nikki Penny, because with a show like this every shot has a VFX element. Alfonso, who has a clear vision of what he wants to do, finds different ways of expressing that vision. While the whole film was pre-visualized, Alfonso found ways to improvise with the material we had. That required real dexterity, on Tim and Nikki looking after the FX. Somebody at the studio, Chris DeFaria, deserves a lot of credit. He helped us, before we started shooting film, in the long R & D period, trying to figure out how to do the long shots. These shots take up 30 minutes of the film. You couldn't hide behind cuts which many other films create in CG with long shots. It was a very lengthy R & D to figure out how to do it. Chris and the studio allowed us to go on that journey and spent oodles of money before we saw a frame. 

The movie took a lot longer than you planned as you figured out the technology. Was the studio impatient? 

AC: The truth of the matter is at the same time that I am dealing with them, it was very clear that the budget was what it was. They never said, "Hey dude, this is a space movie with one character floating in space!" They were not going to spend more money, but at the same time, they were very patient. We were developing this for years and didn't know if it was going to work. The day before we started shooting, it was not working. We started shooting and during the shoot we didn't know if what was shooting was going to supply the next part of the pipeline for 5 or 6 months.

Last year we were supposed to release in November but we were not ready. These guys said, "ok we need a couple more months, we need a year." They were not happy, but they stood behind me. I wasn't too happy either really.

DH: There was an increased budget. but it wasn't a radical increase. Initially when Sandy came aboard, that has an effect on the budget, with two stars. The below the line were separate elements, the production and post production. We kept a bit in our back pocket. The studio didn't shy away from allowing us to use technology because they liked what they were seeing. In March we were pretty much done, waiting to do the Dolby Atmos mix. Alfonso looked at the film and had a new idea which involved flipping the first shot of the shuttle coming in so it was upside down instead of right way up, so there was more sense of being in space in zero G: "I can't believe I haven't thought of this before!" The studio were so excited by what they were seeing that they said "OK." We didn't quite realize that it would take 2  1/2 months. 

Was James Cameron helpful?

AC: A few months ago I showed Cameron stuff, and early on, when I was trying to figure out how to make the film. It was not achievable using conventional technology. I went to talk to him. I've known him throughout the years. I showed him some of the pre-vis I have done, he was a big fan of the script. He loves space exploration, and said, "You know what? You will make it happen. You will have to develop some tools." He made some tech suggestions that were relevant. "There is technology, the trick is how to figure out the tools." In many ways without his work on "Avatar" or "Life of Pi," "Gravity" would have been unthinkable. They opened the medium as as a tool. 

What did 3-D add to the equation?

AC: Our original title was "Gravity: A Space Suspense in 3-D," which we wrote when 3-D was still cool. I always wanted to do something in 3-D, for "Gravity" was a particularly immersive experience for all your senses. The problem is that it's misused and in many ways has been a commercial afterthought for films that have not been designed in 3-D, which is a tool. All films should not be in 3-D-- I'm not saying "Avatar," "Pi," "Pina" or "Cave of Forgotten Dreams."

When was the first 3-D film made? People tend to think it was in the 50s, "House of Wax." It was 1896, after Lumiere shot 3-D films, it was commercially not feasible to keep on doing it,  so they kept 2-D. In many ways Lumiere had this intense experience with 3-D, which is the way we see. The concept of 3-D is something more organic to film than what we give it credit for, using it for gimmicks not for the immersive experience. 

Interviews
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