Film­maker makes a color-blind ro­man­tic drama

Business World - - WEEKENDER - By An­gela Daw­son, Front Row

HOL­LY­WOOD — As she did three decades ago in Ti­tanic, Os­car win­ning ac­tress Kate Winslet ( The Reader) plays a char­ac­ter that once again is im­mersed in freez­ing cold wa­ter, cling­ing to life, hope­ful of a res­cue. Only this time, in The Moun­tain Be­tween Us, her char­ac­ter is bat­tling the el­e­ments in a high al­ti­tude rather than ship­wrecked in the mid­dle of the ocean.

Based on the Charles Martin novel, the drama cen­ters on Alex, a young woman headed east to her wed­ding. When her flight aboard a pas­sen­ger jet is can­celed, she and an­other stranded pas­sen­ger ( Idris Elba) hire a pri­vate plane to take them to their des­ti­na­tion. Bad weather isn’t the worst of their prob­lems when they reach 10,000 feet, and soon the strangers ( along with the pi­lot’s dog) find them­selves stranded on a re­mote and un­for­giv­ing moun­tain with­out any way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing their lo­ca­tion to the out­side world. Their best hope is to wait for a res­cue, but stay­ing in­side the wreck­age could spell more trou­ble than ven­tur­ing out into the wilder­ness in search of help.

The adapted screen­play by J. Mills Good­loe and Chris Weitz is di­rected by Palestinian film­maker Hany Abu-As­sad who pre­vi­ously helmed the Os­car-nom­i­nated Par­adise Now. As he was putting the fin­ish­ing touches his first Hol­ly­wood stu­dio film, the ami­able film­maker spoke about work­ing with his two ac­claimed stars, shoot­ing on lo­ca­tion in Al­berta and British Columbia, and ( SPOILER ALERT!!!) how he was over­ruled when he wanted to kill off one of the char­ac­ters.

What was it like mak­ing this film and how would you cat­e­go­rize it? Is it a drama? A sur­vival movie?

This is my first ex­pe­ri­ence with a stu­dio and it was a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence. This film is a sur­vival story but it also ex­plores big ideas such as what is im­por­tant in life: is it sur­viv­ing or is it each other or is it some­thing else? It’s not preachy ( but told) in a very ac­ces­si­ble way.

How easy was it con­vinc­ing Kate Winslet to get into the icy lake?

Kate wasn’t the prob­lem; the prob­lem was the team be­cause there are all kinds of se­cu­rity peo­ple and in­sur­ance. So, the prob­lem wasn’t the wa­ter it­self be­cause she could be pro­tected by a wa­ter­proof suit. The prob­lem wasn’t when she was in the wa­ter but once she leaves the wa­ter, 10 sec­onds later she would have become an ice-block. So, we had 10 sec­onds to get the shot. We had to do that three times. And ev­ery time we did it, we then would have to get her back to the tent to re-dress her be­fore she froze and keep­ing her warm un­til she was ready to go again. The 10 sec­onds started the mo­ment she went un­der­wa­ter. Then Idris has to put his hands in to find her and pull her up. It isn’t easy.

Where did you shoot that?

In Canada. It’s a real river but you can’t use real river wa­ter. So, we had to build a tank within the river so we could con­trol the wa­ter, so ( Winslet) wouldn’t go un­der. That would have been too dan­ger­ous. We built it in Septem­ber, four months be­fore (pro­duc­tion started) the wa­ter froze. It was a very very cold en­vi­ron­ment. Some days, I couldn’t move my fa­cial mus­cles. Some­times, I couldn’t open my eyes be­cause it was so cold.

How long were you in that en­vi­ron­ment?

Two months: three weeks of pre­pro­duc­tion and five weeks of shoot­ing. It’s very dif­fer­ent from the Mid­dle East.

How high up were you?

Above the tree-line it was 11,000 feet and we were there for eight days. Then, we had the tree-line area for four days and the rest was un­der the tree-line.

How long did it take to ac­cli­mate to that al­ti­tude?

We couldn’t stay more than six hours be­cause beyond that, your chest feels like it’s burn­ing. You feel like you’ve been run­ning for six hours be­cause of the lack of oxy­gen. We also couldn’t fly to the moun­tain if it was windy or if there were clouds or if it was dark. We had to have clear weather to go up 11,000 feet. Ev­ery day we would wait for the fore­cast to know if we could go up (the moun­tain) or not. Some­times, when we were up there and it was clear, a sud­den cloud cover would ap­pear so we couldn’t fly back down. So, we had to bring eight days of sup­plies for 50 peo­ple (cast and crew). So, first we’d take up all the sup­plies and then we’d go up. Oth­er­wise, it would be dan­ger­ous.

Did you ever get stuck up there?

One day we had got­ten the all clear to go up. It was me, the DP, the line pro­ducer, and the first AD. We were in the he­li­copter and sud­denly saw the clouds com­ing to­wards us. So, we had to turn around and get down fast be­cause the clouds were right be­hind us. That day I felt like, “What am I do­ing here? Is it worth it to have this ex­pe­ri­ence?” Some­how, I feel like in films like this, when you take a risk, you, as a di­rec­tor, the cast and the crew, will give their best. We all felt like a team and do­ing some­thing more than usual.

What was it like hav­ing the dog in this al­ready lo­gis­ti­cally com­pli­cated pro­duc­tion?

The dog had two train­ers, the owner and a rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an­i­mal pro­tec­tion to make sure we didn’t push the dog too hard. Some­times when he was cold and re­fused to stand on his mark, we’d have to wait. I sug­gested that we kill off the dog (char­ac­ter) but the stu­dio said, “No way! We’ll fire you, but not the dog.”

Was it al­ways go­ing to be Kate Winslet and Idris Elba as your stars?

(Pro­ducer) Peter Ch­ernin thought of Idris. The mo­ment he men­tioned him, ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing me, felt like this is go­ing to el­e­vate the movie be­cause it’s go­ing to be a color-blind love story for the first time in Hol­ly­wood. Usu­ally, when you have a love story in a Hol­ly­wood movie, their race is an is­sue. We don’t have an is­sue at all in our story be­cause it’s not writ­ten as an is­sue.

Your cou­ple are adults in their 50s, not young­sters. Did you think of mak­ing them younger?

No. Dra­mat­i­cally, it’s more in­ter­est­ing to have more ma­ture char­ac­ters that ex­plore the mean­ing of life in a po­etic way. Se­condly, I don’t re­call a movie that I want to see on the big screen. This is a movie for grownups be­cause most of the movies made to­day are for teenagers.

Did you take the ac­tors up to the lo­ca­tion be­fore you started shoot­ing?

No. They said they wanted to feel like there was no way back. They’re not pre­pared for (the jour­ney) they go on. Their first day of shoot­ing was the first day they were up in the moun­tains. They hadn’t been there be­fore. Kate ac­tu­ally said to me when we got there, “If I knew how dan­ger­ous it was, I wouldn’t have agreed to do it.” But we made it very safe. Ev­ery step she took, some­body else took it be­fore her to make sure there weren’t any holes for her to fall into.

Was any­one on the crew fa­mil­iar with wilder­ness sur­vival?

The lo­ca­tion man­ager was ex­pe­ri­enced and he pre­pared us for the shoot. We were like a well-oiled ma­chine. We were on sched­ule.

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