Filed in: Contender Portfolios, Direction, Director Series, Featured, Film, News

Contender – Director J.C. Chandor, All is Lost

November 26, 2013 | By
Robert Redford (left) and J.C. Chandor on the set of All is Lost (Photo by Andrew Illson).

Robert Redford (left) and J.C. Chandor on the set of All is Lost (Photo by Andrew Illson).

It’s hard to not put yourself in the place of Robert Redford’s character in J.C. Chandor’s All is Lost. Trying to imagine how you would behave in the situation of being lost at sea. I would have been cursing early and often. I also think I would be talking to myself the entire time.

But Redford’s character, in the script written by Chandor as well, says very little out loud. There is even a scene where he’s pulling his hair and seems to be screaming inside his head. It amazed me, because even his anger was restrained.

From the moment the film begins, the audience watches Redford’s character calmly and precisely go through a mental checklist of what needs to be done next, and mentally checking them off one by one. But as Chandor points out, he’s actually making little mistakes along the way.

“His precision in the beginning is a bit false. He is making mistakes during all that period, and he’s panicking inside; it’s almost a facade he’s putting on,” explained Chandor. “I tend to do that, and I actually stole that from my own life when I was writing. If you start to panic in a situation like that, it’s very hard to stop. You can become unhinged pretty quickly. So while he’s trying to be very methodical and think things through, he’s making mistakes, and as the film progresses he starts to confront his mortality and stops caring so much, which is what the whole thing is about.”

Robert Redford stars in All is Lost. (Photo by Richard-Foreman).

Robert Redford stars in All is Lost. (Photo by Richard-Foreman).

Chandor, whose last feature film Margin Call (2011) features a large and chatty all-star cast, including Kevin Spacey, Jeremy Irons and Stanley Tucci, explained that making a film with so little dialogue was emotionally exhausting as a director.

“No one scene feels like it’s done. When you have people talking with normal interaction, like Kevin Spacey and Jeremy Irons in a room, they are talking, talking, talking. One guy makes a point, and the other guy makes a point, and so on, and then the conversation is over and you move on. So, at the end of the day, as a director — whether it’s shooting or in editing — you feel like you’re done. This movie just feels like one big scene.”

While Chandor admits All is Lost was much more difficult to direct than a film with dialogue, he does love what he learned about action and non-verbal storytelling while working on this film.

Illson-DSC02913.tifAll is Lost was shot with two ARRI Alexas, which Chandor called “an amazing piece of equipment,” and it was chosen in large part due to the incredible amount of underwater shots and shots in and around water. Pete Zuccarini, the underwater cinematographer on the film, developed special housing for the Alexa, which helped save the production a lot of time and, therefore, money.

“Anytime you change a lens on one of those camera housings, it’s about a 25-minute process because it has to be absolutely dry inside,” explained Chandor. “If even an ounce of water gets in there it heats up and the lens housing fogs. When shooting film you would have to do that every time you had to change a reel. It would take three or four cameras and a whole team of people because you would always be switching in new cameras. Here we had two, and it was amazing.”

While almost every shot in the film was Alexa, there were a couple of scenes where the Canon 5D was called on; one was the shot when Redford is up on the mast and the audience is seeing his POV looking down below his feet, actually a stuntman’s feet. The rest of the mast shots were Alexa, with Chandor and the cameraman hanging from a crane about 50 feet up in a shooting cage with two cameras.

Photo by Daniel Daza.

Photo by Daniel Daza.

The other time the 5D was called on was for a couple of the interior shots when Redford’s raft was flipping upside down. “That was for safety reasons, just having a smaller camera in there with him,” said Chandor.

All is Lost features a number of shots from underneath Redford’s raft, many show gorgeous marine life, including a school of fish and sharks circling. It’s all so beautiful and perfect; you’d just assume it’s a visual effect. But it’s not. According to Chandor, any living creature in the movie is completely real.

“We flew a couple of rafts down to the Bahamas and shot for a little over a week – we moved the raft to different locations where there was different marine life. In some cases we propped it a bit – we brought in 500 beautiful bait fish for that shark scene. We literally dumped a school of fish into the water next to our raft, but it’s all real.”

The film’s A unit shot for 30 days, with the B Unit on for another 10-15 capturing the underwater stuff and the ship sequencing.

Photo by Richard Foreman.

Photo by Richard Foreman.

The majority of the film was shot in Rosarito, Mexico, in the tanks at Baja Studios, where Titanic was shot. Some of the sailing scenes were completed off shore in Mexico, the shipping shots were filmed in the Pacific Ocean off of L.A., and then seven or so days of shooting in the Bahamas. All of these different locations made for some interesting editing challenges.

Since Chandor knew this film was going to be a real jigsaw puzzle to put together, he kept his editor, Pete Beaudreau, close, editing dailies, on an Avid Media Composer 6, as they were coming in. “He was right on site, so I was checking in constantly, seeing how things were coming together.”

Chandor believes the edit on this movie will probably be the hardest edit he’ll ever do. “There are no traditional transitions because it’s only one person. You never have a cut to cut. There is never anything else to be reacting to as a point counterpoint… other than his surrounding, but that’s sort of untraditional in its structure to have not had anything to play off of.”

The original cut was three-and-a-half to four hours long, so Chandor and Beaudreau decided to cut time by not showing any complete actions. “It’s designed to feel like it’s contiguous, but nothing is,” he explained. “It’s almost all jump cuts, but hopefully the audience doesn’t notice. If you think about it, just the act of a guy putting on a jacket, no one wants to see that. It takes a minute!”

Photo by Richard Foreman.

Photo by Richard Foreman.

All is Lost is nothing but action, but Chandor needed the film to feel honest as well, showing a certain level of the day-to-day boredom of being lost at sea, without boring the audience. “So the challenge was to relate constant action and mix in these moments when the character is reflecting, with the goal to get down to about 100 minutes. It was a whittling down process that was sort of brutal,” he admits.

All is Lost features about 400 shots, all accomplished by one house, Spin in Toronto. Most of the shots are invisible, or what Chandor calls erasing or blushing. And most involve removing tons of birds that were hovering above when shooting near the shore. When you get about three or four miles offshore, there are no birds. The director estimates that 100 of the VFX shots involved bird removal.

Then there was a blending processing, combining shots featuring water from all those different shoot locations, and getting them to match perfectly.

The storm is where Spin really pulled its weight. “There is a lot of compositing of storm footage – real footage of storms or manipulated computer storms designed to have a wave pattern that matched the wave pattern we were forming,” said Chandor. “There is a lot of feathering of real footage of a storm and the fake storm we created, or a CG background, but most is based on footage of a storm that I chose, and Spin had this algorithm that followed that wave pattern and brought it into the reality that I created.”

While necessary, Chandor never wanted All is Lost to be a visual effects movie: “The effects were always in the background and Redford the foreground.”

The DI and color grading was done at Deluxe in Toronto. The audio mix was at Skywalker Sound in Nicasio, Calif. with re-recording mixers Steve Boeddeker and Brandon Proctor. The supervising sound editors were Boeddeker and Richard Hymns; Boeddeker was also the sound designer. André Fenley was the assistant supervising sound editor.

Chandor emphasized how important the below-the-line crew was on this film. “Everyone was working below their rates. We had such experienced people in our marine/underwater department – a lot of them are in their 40s and 50s and grew up watching Redford and his work. They knew this could be a good film for him, and a lot of them came on board and did this as a tribute to him. It was a pretty cool coming together for this crazy idea and I’m glad that for the audience, it seems to be working.”

Randi Altman is the former editor-in-chief of Post Magazine. She currently runs the newsblog and industry resource www.postPerspective.com. She can be reached at randi@postperspective.com. Follow her on Twitter, @postPerspective.

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