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HomeColumnsDirector SeriesDirector Series: Andy Tennant (Hitch)

Director Series: Andy Tennant (Hitch)

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Andy Tennant’s biggest hitch in making the Will Smith starrer Hitch was that the story wasn’t close to being finished when shooting began in November 2003. “We were prepping and rewriting all at the same time,” recalls the director, whose previous credits include Sweet Home Alabama, Anna and the King and Fools Rush In. “That’s where my production team was incredibly patient, as they were often left to their own devices.”Tennant believes the “director’s vision” is an over-inflated concept. He’s truly a director who believes in collaboration and trusts his crew to make the best decisions, leaving them to do what they do best. He credits his key department heads on Hitch, particularly his core team of cinematographer Andrew Dunn, production designer Jane Musky and costume designer Marlene Stewart, as well as editors Troy Takaki and Tracey Wadmore-Smith, with creating magic with their unique combination of skills. “I delegate very well,” says Tennant, playing down his own role to spread the word about his hard-working team.Shot entirely in New York over a period of 70 days, the movie tells the story of professional matchmaker Alex “Hitch” Hitchens (Will Smith) whose methods leave a lot to be desired, particularly when applied to his own life. Tennant, who spent much of his single and early married life in New York, chose to shoot mainly in the areas he was familiar with, in downtown New York and around the meat-packing district. “We didn’t think we could make a movie that’s based in New York anywhere but New York,” he explains.Below the Line: What appealed to you about the storyline of Hitch?Andy Tennant: I think a lot was to do with doing a movie with Will Smith, and doing a romantic comedy from a guy’s point of view. Coming off a romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon [Sweet Home Alabama], the design for Hitch was more of a comedy with a little bit of romance. So going into it we knew we had a bit of a challenge to create that nuance.BTL: How did you go about picking your crew? Who had you worked with before?Tennant: Andrew Dunn I’ve done a ton of movies with. I first met him on Ever After and would have used him on Anna and the King if his wife hadn’t been having a baby. He shot Sweet Home Alabama with me. He’s been my DP of choice ever since we met, and it’s a wonderful relationship. Jane Musky, my production designer, I’d never worked with before. But I’d heard raves about her and they turned out to be true. Marlene Stewart, the same thing. She’s done several of Will’s movies and one of her strengths is she dresses men beautifully.BTL: Talk about your collaboration with your cinematographer Andrew Dunn—how you worked together and what were you going for in terms of shooting style.Tennant: Andrew knows I like to shoot two cameras and he knows we never have enough time to do the homework we need to do and we never have enough time to shoot it. You hope for a little bit of osmosis with your DP and because we’ve worked together a lot, our shorthand is good. He’s one of the great mumblers of all time. I’m never sure what he says to me but it’s usually genius and I just nod and smile. One of the great things about him is he’s not a whiner, he just deals. We’re all doing the best we can. He knew I was under water with the script and writing every day, so you hire the department head to be the leaders for the crew. A lot of shooting in New York can be a challenge, but a lot of that is logistical, once you’re on the set and you’re trying to work it out, you shoot it like anything else.BTL: How many locations did you shoot, and what were the criteria you used to find them?Tennant: We shot in 78 locations, focusing below 14th Street. We tried to stay a little bit away from the iconographic. Jane started looking in the dead of winter, even though it was a spring movie, pulling images of clubs, restaurants, street scenes, clothing styles, etc. to create a language of a common bond of being in your thirties and single in New York City. Through that a lot of things became clear, and it informed the writing as much as anything else. There was a little bit of inductive logic going on, we weren’t sure what we were scouting for and we’d find something and go, “That’s cool, why don’t we write that in?” The whole movie became like that. We had scenes that weren’t written until June, and we started filming in March.BTL: Tell us about the contribution of your design team: Jane Musky, art director Patricia Woodbridge and set decorator Ellen Christiansen.Tennant: For the most part what happens with a movie like this when we’re stuck in a trailer writing on a daily basis is the art department is a day or two, or even a week ahead of you. In this case they were their own little surgical strike team. A lot of it was dressing. They had taste and style, and I let them do their thing. I love the process where they show you Polaroids of lamps and furniture and fabrics; I have no problem saying I don’t understand this, then you walk on the set and go ‘Wow that’s great!’ We have one scene, the club, where we shot for nine days. It was a fantastic set, loosely based on the Soho House in New York.BTL: The makeup for the scene where Will Smith is afflicted by a food allergy is riotous. Whose work was that?Tennant: That was our special effects makeup guy Todd Kleitsch. We did a couple of test runs to see how much we could get away with. On the day, Will had such fun putting it on. There’s some good funny stuff in the movie, and the food allergy scene is definitely one of them.BTL: Why do you have two film editors, Troy Takaki and Tracey Wadmore-Smith?Tennant: After Anna and the King I was in director hell, and I did two pilots and each of them were my editors. They did such great jobs that when I got out of director jail and got to do another movie I couldn’t pick between them, and I asked them if they would like to go into features and work together. So they both did Sweet Home Alabama with me. The way they collaborate right now is quite wonderful. They’re really, really talented. It’s a party in the editing room; we have a great time. I refuse to allow them to do another movie with anyone else.BTL: You have also worked in the past with your composer George Fenton. Tennant: George has done all my movies. He is brilliant. We struggled trying to find a balance between the tracks and the score, because the tracks were so good and we used quite a bit of them in the temp and everybody fell in love with them. But George found a distinct enough sound that the score works very well in and around the music.BTL: After your success with Sweet Home Alabama were you able to get what you wanted in terms of budget for Hitch?Tennant: There’s never enough time and never enough money, but ultimately at the end of the day you make do with what you have. Columbia was generous with their time and their money. We were in the high 60s or $70 million. Ultimately it’s a good laugh movie and I’m happy with the way it turned out. And I’m not in director jail anymore.

Written by Sam Molineaux

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