Tuesday 21st February 2012
This is as real as it gets.
Andrew, Matt and Steve are recognizable teens, each with a distinctive personality and each facing relatable challenges that come with being in high school, forming new friendships and exploring new facets of their ever-changing lives. They're imperfect, awkward and a little reckless.
They could be you.
Like so many of us, they're obsessed with chronicling their lives, however mundane - or in their case, however extraordinary. For Andrew, Matt and Steve have stumbled upon something beyond their - or anyone's - understanding. Their discovery leads them to acquire powerful telekinetic abilities; in graphic novel parlance, they have superpowers.
They're now capable of, well, almost anything. They can move objects just by thinking about them, crush cars through force of will.
They learn to fly... the ultimate wish fulfillment.
Then things get dark.
What would you do if it happened to you? What would you be capable of?
Those are the intriguing questions posed by Chronicle, a new film unlike any you've seen before. It's a superhero movie that's not really a superhero movie. On the surface it belongs in the relatively new sub-genre of "found footage" or "P-O-V" films, but it turns their conventions on its head. It's thrilling, yet relatable; rich with creatively conceived and executed camera work and visual effects, but grounded in reality.
So, what would you do if you suddenly obtained abilities beyond comprehension? Would you don a special suit, fly off and battle evildoers? If you were a teenager, the likely response would be: hell, no. You'd have a blast with them, pull elaborate pranks and maybe exact revenge on those who've wronged you. Maybe those powers would amplify your less noble qualities. Or worse.
"In most stories, superpowers are generally applied to good and evil, but in reality they'd be applied to necessity", says Josh Trank, who makes his feature directorial debut and also co-wrote the story with Max Landis. "And when you're a teenager, necessity is really about making yourself happy. You'd want to laugh and have a good time with those powers".
Trank was determined that Chronicle wouldn't be "your father's P-O-V movie. The story is very grounded; it's not a fantasy or genre film; it's a story about young people. It's about real teens and not caricatures of young people. Their lives are anything but perfect. We get into their world and discover their challenges, long before anything extraordinary begins to happen. By the time the guys have obtained their powers, that element is so firmly woven into the story and characters that the film segues into an exploration of how they come to terms with those powers".
Adds Max Landis, who wrote the screenplay based on his and Trank's story: "I think Chronicle is going to give audiences an experience, from which they'll leave the theaters, thinking, that's exactly what I would have done if I had telekinetic powers".
Producer John Davis notes that Chronicle is anything but "cookie-cutter" and fills a need for bold, non-traditional storytelling that speaks to today's audiences. "It's really fresh and different", says Davis, who has known screenwriter Landis since the latter was a child. "Chronicle represents a unique vision that has remained intact since Josh and Max first discussed the concept. It takes familiar concepts, like superhero and 'found-footage' films and takes them in new directions".
The title itself speaks to our obsession with self-documentation, through social networking or even by just carrying around a camera and recording our lives, simply because we have the means to do so. "We live in a world where you can film anything you want to, at any time", says Trank. "There is an emerging aesthetic from this generation. Kids in high school today are the most self-photographed people in history. Almost everyone has a camera in some form and are uploading images every few seconds to social networking sites. So we're seeing more films inspired by this new style of shooting".
Trank, whose experimental short film "Stabbing at Leia's 22nd Birthday" was an online sensation amassing over ten million views, embraces this new aesthetic with a vengeance, while dialing up its potential and impact. "Josh's work in Chronicle is the next step in that kind of storytelling", says producer Adam Schroeder. "We've seen movies that have made extensive use of someone's point of view and hand-held cameras, but never in the way we use the camera here. It's more than a device to tell a story; it's a character, or an extension of our lead character".
Most of the film is told through the point of view of Andrew, a troubled but creative young man with a keen visual eye and a high-quality HD camera. "So, Chronicle is not really a conventional 'found footage' feature", says Trank, referring to the often grainy-looking "shaky-cam" movies. "Instead, we wanted a very controlled, thoughtful looking movie, seen through the eyes of a talented young man. There's an intelligence behind the way Andrew operates his camera and captures increasingly incredible events".
Andrew's newfound telekinetic abilities add an unexpected dimension to his camera operating skills, which give Chronicle a one-of-a-kind look and texture. "Andrew begins operating his camera telekinetically, which opens up his entire world", Trank explains. "His camera is, in a way, attached to his brain and he's able to make it float, fly and capture action in a unique way. Halfway through the film, you realize you're watching something you've never seen before and then in the last 15 minutes, it just becomes insane. It's constantly evolving, from the intimate and grounded to the epic and unexpected".
As the film opens, Andrew is revealed to be an introverted, socially awkward teen who even before he becomes telekinetic, seems to be attached to his camera. It's the only thing to which Andrew is connected. "He's the 'fly-on-the-wall' kid who everybody in school kind of knows, but they either ignore or bully", says Trank. Andrew evolves from teenage insecurity to full-blown narcissism in a way that could happen to anyone facing his extraordinary circumstances. Says Dane DeHaan, who portrays Andrew: "When you're given the ultimate power and if you're experiencing something that nobody has ever experienced, there's a certain God complex that comes of that".
"Andrew is a loner, but he's visually creative", adds Trank. "His constant companion - the digital camera - isn't just a medium of storytelling. The way it moves and what Andrew sees through it tells us a lot about him".
In much of the movie Andrew is only "felt" as the unseen figure behind the lens, so it was critical to cast the role with an actor with a strong enough presence to register even when not in view. DeHaan, a noted theater actor, had the requisite chops to bring the pivotal role to life. "Dane is also a very naturalistic actor, which was important because we wanted the character and his actions to feel real", says Adam Schroeder.
"I really got excited about Chronicle because it just feels so new and different", says DeHaan. "It's believable, even though by the third act it's depicting some pretty incredible things".
Andrew's perspective - he's behind a camera, recording everything he sees - allowed DeHaan to take on additional, behind-the-camera "duties" and approach his performance as if he were actually operating the camera. At the same time, Chronicle director of photography Matthew Jensen and the film's camera operators had to think like actors. To convey Andrew's perspective, the camera operators team had to "unlearn" their carefully honed skills. Jensen often worked over DeHaan's shoulder to create the illusion that the character is recording his experiences, when in fact a team of seasoned professionals was operating the equipment.
Trank gave Jensen and his team free rein to conceive new ideas, new rigs and mounts and to create ingenious ways to suspend the camera to obtain the "telekinetic" hand-held style. The result is impressive: graceful and subtle camerawork that conveys the character's powers. "Josh was so specific that he graphed each camera movement", says Jensen. "By the end of the film, the camera is flying around through the streets of Seattle [where the story is set]. The camera has amazing freedom and flexibility that mirrors the growing strengths and powers our protagonists have developed through the story".
The two other members of the newly empowered high school trio are Andrew's cousin, Matt (portrayed by Alex Russell) and campus king Steve (Michael B. Jordan). As the story opens, Matt is a cynical, know-it-all, too-cool-to-care teen. But like his two new cohorts, Matt undergoes radical changes after an encounter with a mysterious force leaves him with incredible powers.
Australian actor Alex Russell reflects on playing the all-American high schooler: "What grabbed me about the project was that the concept is so surreal; it's about teens with superpowers but at the same time it's so ingrained with reality. Matt couldn't be more unlike Andrew and Steve - they would never have become friends under 'normal' circumstances - but they become incredibly tight through their shared experience".
Michael B. Jordan, who was a series regular on the acclaimed "Friday Night Lights" and has a co-starring role in George Lucas' historical epic "Red Tails", portrays Steve, who, says the actor, "is everything a teen would want to be. He's the most popular student, a top athlete and is not far from becoming school president. He comes into Andrew's life like a guardian angel, pulling him into the school's social scene and Andrew starts to feel good about himself".
The starring cast also includes veteran character actor Michael Kelly, who portrays Andrew's father Richard, an out-of-work firefighter whose failings as a parent impact his son as much as the latter's newly-acquired powers; and Ashley Hinshaw as Matt's girlfriend Casey, who discovers Matt's secret when she finds herself in the middle of an incredible airborne battle.
Trank's vision for Chronicle was meticulously... chronicled prior to the start of production. Trank created previsualizations for every visual effect and camera angle and wrote a detailed "Director's Statement" outlining his plans, themes and methodology. Given the challenging nature of seamlessly marrying live action, stunts, visual effects and special effects, the pre-viz was a valuable guide for Trank's department heads.
Trank's mandate was to always keep it real. "What's different about this show is that it's really a personal story; we get to know the kids especially well". says Robert Habros, one of the film's visual effects supervisors. "We want the audience to be living in Andrew's experience and not thinking about how the kids are flying. The visual effects work had to disappear within the story, characters and emotions".
The film's flying sequences were extremely challenging and came to life through not only visual effects wizardry, but through the magic of innovative rigs designed by Simon Hansen, a noted visual effects supervisor who in the past worked closely with acclaimed filmmaker Neill Blomkamp. Hansen invented techniques and rigs that created, says Trank, "flying like you've really never seen in a movie before. It is really the most realistic flying I've ever seen".
Hansen designed a circular rig that would simulate the freedom of skydiving and allow for all sorts of interactive lighting and elaborate flying moves, like corkscrews and somersaults. The filmmakers wanted the characters to look like they were having the time of their lives flying.
The actors underwent extensive training to prepare them for the rig. "From the very beginning Josh wanted to do as much as possible in camera, live and with the actors doing their own stunts", says executive producer James Dodson. "We had to effortlessly combine these fantastic live-action effects, which are actually happening, with additional enhancements that Simon created digitally. I think that some of the shots we see in this movie have never been experienced, thanks to that invisible integration".
The meticulous preparation, innovative flying rigs and intricate camerawork were critical for the film's epic third act - a super-powered battle above the streets (and Space Needle) of Seattle. The sequence features not only flight, but cars rocketing into the air, a bus smashing into the side of a building and a city under siege. Notably, Andrew's ever-present camera, now destroyed, has been replaced by a plethora of recording devices capturing the battle, including telephone cameras, security cameras, automated bank teller cameras and police dashboard cameras.
It's a high-intensity climax, leading to an emotional resolution. But what about the beginning - where did these powers come from? Trank and Landis keep it fairly mysterious, but production designer Stephen Altman enjoyed creating the location where it all happens - a craggy hole in the ground, in which rests a chamber containing a massive crystalline rock structure that emits wispy clouds of light.
Altman confesses that the creation of this unknown "matter" was a highlight for him. "It's unlike anything I've designed before and I hope like nothing anyone else has seen. Josh [Trank]'s vision of the matter was that it was not of this earth. We don't know if it's animal, vegetable, or mineral. Perhaps it's a combination of all three. To design the structure, we referenced geology, biology and organic and inorganic matter".
That set and what happens afterward will raise numerous questions for audiences - and that is exactly what the filmmakers wanted. Says Max Landis: "Josh and I know what happened in that cave. But in the movie it's never meant to be explained".
In addition to the groundbreaking visual effects, rigs and stunt work, Chronicle features some impressive special effects, including using compressed gas to flip two 1,000-pound vehicles thirty feet into the air and then have them land and be destroyed. Another scene that many will assume to be CGI but was actually captured in-camera depicts Andrew gently raising his arm and telekinetically crushing a car, which implodes and collapses within itself. The car imploded on cue, thanks to 20,000 pounds of hydraulic pumps sucking in on actual metal and creating an unforgettable twisting, wrenching metallic sound.
Squashing cars just by thinking about it. Flying. Wielding enough strength to level a city. Who wouldn't want to obtain these kinds of powers? Who wouldn't want to do the impossible? What would you do, asks Chronicle, if you were Andrew, Matt or Steve?
What are you capable of?
Dane Dehaan (Andrew Detmer), just three years into his professional career, has wasted no time establishing himself as one of the industry's fastest rising stars. Dane is perhaps best known for his portrayal of Jesse on HBO's Golden Globe®- winning seriesIn Treatment. Joining Gabriel Byrne, Debra Winger and Amy Ryan, his performance was lauded as a "revelatory breakthrough" by Variety, "brilliant" by the Chicago Sun-Times, as well as "the season's most compelling client" by Entertainment Weekly.
Set to hit theaters within the next year is award winning director John Hillcoat's gritty film Wettest County, in which Dane stars alongside Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hardy, Guy Pearce, Gary Oldman and Mia Wasikowska. Dane recently completed filming on Jack and Diane (with Kylie Minogue). Dane joins Daniel Radcliffe, Elizabeth Olsen and Jack Huston in Kill Your Darlings, a thriller about a murder that brought together the writers would spark the Beat Revolution.
Last year, Dane was awarded an Obie® Award (Off-Broadway's highest honor) for a performance so honest it was utterly disarming in Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre's production of The Aliens, by Annie Baker. The play was named play of the year by The New York Times.
Alex Russell (Matt Garetty), a native of Australia, is a graduate of that country's prestigious NIDA acting program and was one of the first actors in his class to land a leading role in a feature film. Alex starred in the film Wasted on the Young, which was one of the breakout films at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival and garnered him much attention. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles, Alex was cast in the independent feature, Almost Kings. He has since filmed the highly anticipated Australian film, Bait, opposite Julian McMahon and Xavier Samuel.
Michael B. Jordan (Steve Montgomery) has starred in two of the most significant television dramas of the past decade: The Wire and Friday Night Lights. He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of the hard-shelled, softhearted young urbanite Wallace in HBO's dramatic hit series The Wire and then he went on to star as the role of quarterback Vince Howard on Friday Night Lights (NBC). Recently, he played a recovering alcoholic Alex, on NBC's Parenthood.
Graced with the opportunity to begin a professional acting career early in his life, Michael caught the eye of Dr. Bill Cosby and was cast in the recurring role of Michael for the CBS sitcom series Cosby in 1999. At the same time, he appeared on the HBO series The Sopranos. The following year, Michael was selected from hundreds of hopefuls, to play Jamal, in the Paramount Pictures feature film, Hardball, starring Keanu Reeves.
In 2003, Michael became the youngest African-American actor to be contracted with the ABC network daytime drama series, All My Children. He played the role of Reggie, Erica Kane's (Susan Lucci) adopted son. He landed a lead role in the independent film Blackout, starring Melvin Van Peebles, Jeffrey Wright and Zoe Saldana. In 2007, Michael was cast in The N network's sitcom The Assistants. His debut feature film was Pastor Brown, which premiered in the American Black Film Festival in the summer of 2009. Michael has had guest appearance roles for CSI, Cold Case, Lie to Me, Without a Trace and Law & Order. Michael plays the role of Maurice "Bumps" Wilson in George Lucas' recently released epic film Red Tails, the story of the first African American pilots to fly in a combat squadron during WWII.
Michael Kelly (Richard Detmer) was a series regular on Criminal Minds: Suspect Behavior, portrayed Matt Damon's best friend in the film The Adjustment Bureau and appeared in the feature Fair Game, with Sean Penn and Naomi Watts. He will soon be seen in Zack Snyder's Man of Steel, set for release in 2013.
In 2008, Kelly starred opposite Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich in Clint Eastwood's Changeling, which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival. For his performance, Michael received a coveted spot as one of Daily Variety's 10 Actors to Watch. Also that year, Kelly starred in the HBO miniseries Generation Kill, which chronicled one Marine's journey in the American-led assault on Baghdad in 2003. Kelly's other feature film credits include Law Abiding Citizen, Did You Hear About the Morgans? Defendor, Invincible, Dawn of the Dead, Tenderness, The Narrows, Broken English and Loggerheads. Kelly also appeared in M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable, Milos Forman's Man on the Moon and River Red.
For television, Kelly recently appeared on Law & Order: Criminal Intent and on Fringe. Michael also had a recurring role on The Sopranos and was a series regular on the USA network television series Kojak and on the UPN action drama Level 9. He has guest starred on numerous hit television shows, including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Law & Order, C.S.I. Miami, The Shield, Judging Amy, The Jury and Third Watch.
Ashley Hinshaw (Casey Letter) made her acting debut portraying a sultry stranger caught in a tangled web of deception on the hit television series Gossip Girl. She has also appeared on the series Fringe. Hinshaw will next be seen starring alongside Miley Cyrus and Demi Moore in the comedy, LOL, directed by Lisa Azuelos. Ashley plays Emily, Lola's (Miley Cyrus) best friend, who wants to explore the world, but feels repressed by the pressure from her strict parents.