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HomeCraftsArt DirectionBelow The Line Screening Series Presents The Theory of Everything

Below The Line Screening Series Presents The Theory of Everything

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From left: Jan Sewell, Steven Noble, Anthony McCarten, Benoit Delhomme, Jóhann Jóhannsson, John Paul Kelly.
From left: Jan Sewell, Steven Noble, Anthony McCarten, Benoit Delhomme, Jóhann Jóhannsson, John Paul Kelly.
Below The Line Screening Series presented a screening of Focus Features’s The Theory of Everything on Sunday at the Pacific Design Center.

Immediately after the film was a Q&A session, moderated by Pete Hammond, with the film’s screenwriter and producer Anthony McCarten, director of photography Benoit Delhomme, composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, production designer John Paul Kelly, costume designer Steven Noble and hair, makeup and prosthetic designer Jan Sewell.

The Theory of Everything was adapted from the memoir Traveling to Infinity: My Life with Stephen by Jane Hawking. The film, starring Eddie Redmayne in the portrayal of Stephen Hawking and Felicity Jones as Jane Hawking, explores the life of the brilliant astrophysicist, beginning with his years at Cambridge, before being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig‘s disease, through the writing of his first book and beyond. Quickly, the film ventures deep into his relationship with Jane and their endeavor to persist amidst the gradual progression of ALS.

Immediately explored in the Q&A was the commissioning of the film’s collective design departments to present an honest depiction of Hawking’s painful struggle with ALS. Kelly explained strategies used to give character and weight to Hawking’s various wheel chairs, including the intended illusion of a gradually shrinking Hawking. “We made the wheel chair gradually bigger, so by the time we get to the end, he’s in a 40% oversized wheelchair,” said Kelly. “We liked the idea that his world was shrinking internally, but his external world continues standing massively.”

The Theory of Everything
The Theory of Everything
In addition to the gradually changing design of Hawking’s electric wheel chair, prosthetics were applied to Redmayne’s face and body to depict the effects of ALS on the human form. Sewell approached designing the prosthetics by starting with the final and worse stage of Hawking’s physical condition to be depicted in the film. This allowed her and the department to work backward in designing the stages leading up to such a state. Sewell explained, “We did tests really early on, with proper lighting, to see what the prosthetics were doing.” Additionally, Sewell stressed the added challenge of wearing the facial prosthesis presented to Redmayne, already tasked with depicting speech deterioration and intense physical restriction.

Regarding the cinematographic approach to presenting Hawking’s world, Delhomme explained both his intention of presenting the multiple decades of the film appropriately and with specific tonal direction, as well as his positive professional experience with academy award-winning director James Marsh (Man on Wire). “James said, ‘when we block a scene, you can always tell me if there is a better idea, ‘” said Delhomme. “The most important thing was to make everything emotional.” Delhomme also explained the presence of vibrant color as an intentional reach for positivity. A majority of the film was shot on Arri Alexa. Home videos of the Hawking family were originally intended to be shot on super 8mm film stock, but eventually, the plan was adjusted to use super 16mm film stock.

LR-TTOE_D02_011571409353795Also explored in the Q&A were strategies employed by Noble regarding Jane’s contrasting looks between scenes with Hawking and family friend Jonathan Hellye, played by Charlie Cox. Specifically identified were Jane’s distressed look when with Hawking and her refreshed look when with Hellye.

Additionally, Johannsson shed light on his approach to writing musical themes for the film. He explained the visual tonal differences between the film’s beginning and ending, and his modification of musical themes to complement the gradual tonal shift.

McCarten explained the generous involvement of both Jane and Stephen Hawking, as well as his personal intention with regard to adapting their story to screenplay. More specifically, the presentation of Jane’s belief in God contrasted against Stephen’s mission to let physics bear truth. “I wanted a 27-year ongoing debate between husband and wife,” said McCarten.

The Theory of Everything will be released in theaters Nov. 7.

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