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February 2013

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director's chair Robert Zemeckis — Flight H By IAIN BLAIR He talks digital, liveaction, post and more. Flight's 300 VFX shots were done at Atomic Fiction and supervised by Kevin Baillie, who is featured in our November issue. 12 OLLYWOOD — It's been a long 12 years since Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis, who has focused his energy on animated projects over the past decade, has made a live-action film. So Flight, his most recent drama starring Denzel Washington as Capt. Whip Whitaker, an airline pilot who controversially crashlands a plane while under the influence, marks a welcome return to live action by the Forrest Gump and Cast Away auteur. Here, in a rare and exclusive Post interview, Zemeckis talks about making the film, his love of post and editing. POST: How would you describe this film, and what sort of film did you set out to make? ROBERT ZEMECKIS: "It's really a character study more than any sort of action movie, and that's what I set out to make. It was all in the screenplay, which I thought was magnificent and so well-written. I loved it and the character of Whip." POST: Were you looking to get back into live action films? ZEMECKIS: "Not really. I don't have any agenda, and I don't decide I'll try to make a certain type of film and then look for a screenplay. I basically always just look for a great story, and if it's animated then I'll go that way, and if it's live action like this, then I go that way." POST: But you did spend a long time doing nothing but animated projects. ZEMECKIS: "Right, and all those performance capture films were so much fun to do. It's a very intriguing art form and I seemed to find stories that just lent themselves to that form, so I just kept doing it." POST: What were the biggest challenges of making such an ambitious film? ZEMECKIS: "Technically, the big thing was shooting all the pieces we needed for the plane crash. It took about 10 days. We broke the scene into the main cabin and cockpit. We did five days of what we needed in the cabin, in the complete set, then we'd go away and shoot other stuff while they put the cockpit on the motion base. "Then we'd shoot all the cockpit stuff — this is up to where we had to turn people upside down. Then we shot all the cockpit pieces of them turning upside down. Then we'd go away, shoot other stuff, and they would put the main cabin on the rotisserie, the device that inverts it. Then we'd shoot all the stuff with the people inverted, go off and then finish with the cockpit on the rotisserie, Post • February 2013 Post0213_018-19-directors chairRAV4finalREAD.indd 12 so it was like a checker-board dance. "My DP Don Burgess, VFX supervisor Kevin Baillie and mechanical FX supervisor Michael Lantieri were key in putting it all together. We shot all that in Atlanta, Georgia, where the story is set, and about 75 percent of the shoot was on location, with the rest shot on stages and in warehouses down there. But the biggest overall challenge was having just 45 days for the total shoot and a budget of just $31 million. That's a big chal- Hollywood's been working in a sort of digital sandwich since the mid-'90s anyway, with the only time film being used in the camera magazine and in the theater. Now it's all digital, which I think is a wonderful thing." POST: So what guided your choice? ZEMECKIS: "My DP recommended that we go digital, and I thought, 'great.' " POST: Was there a bit of a learning curve for you? ZEMECKIS: "Not really. All the lenses are Robert Zemeckis on the Flight set: "I hate the shoot, and I love everything else! Post and editing is my favorite part of making any film, because it's cinema and you get to do the final rewrite." lenge when you're doing a character-driven piece like this, because you always want to give your actors as much time as you can, so they can really do the work. Fortunately, I had an amazing cast who were very prepared and ready to go, and one of the reasons I feel you can make a film that looks as elegant as this for so little money is because everyone involved is so experienced." POST: With this and Cast Away you seem to be obsessed with plane crashes? ZEMECKIS: (Laughs) "No, I'm not. It's all just a coincidence. In fact, I had a long conversation with my partners about this very subject, whether I should do another movie about a plane crash, but we all agreed that wouldn't have been a very smart reason not to do it." POST: It's been 10 years since your last liveaction film — a lifetime in Hollywood — and the digital revolution has completely changed the cinematic landscape. I assume the first big decision was, do we shoot it on film or digitally? ZEMECKIS: "That's very true, and all of the same, and all the terminology, and I just learned all the different procedures, which aren't that different from when you shoot film. Going digital gave me a lot more opportunities because the digital cameras now are so much smaller and more versatile, so I could shoot in a more dynamic and elaborate way in terms of moving the camera. "For instance, we were able to get the camera right in the cockpit with far more ease. We went with two Red Epics for most of the time, and then added a third or fourth camera as needed; I was very happy with the results." POST: You collaborated again with DP Don Burgess, who shot both Forrest Gump and Cast Away, and whose credits include such varied fare as Spider-Man and The Muppets. What did he bring to the mix? ZEMECKIS: "The thing that's great about Don is he always approaches the cinematography of the movie from the screenplay, which I think is really crucial. He's not looking to make the film feel or look different from what 1/23/13 6:47 PM

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