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Crafting the look of the upcoming action explosion ‘Safe’, starring Jason Statham, involved many hours of discussion between director Boaz Yakin, producer Alexander Bender, Director of Photography Stefan Czapsky, ASC and Production Designer Joseph Nemec III.
“We looked at some ‘70s New York films together,” says Yakin. “I like to use very long and wide lenses so that the film sort of bounces back and forth between a very intimate look and a more revealing look, but not give that comfortable middle ground.”
“We were often working with more than one camera,” Yakin continues, “and Stefan had a way of getting the second camera to tell the story as well as the first camera. I work with a very specific shot list that I put together before filming, and Stefan was able to take the ideas from that shot list and bring something else to it. A different look or take on it. It was extremely effective. He is really, really, really good and the film looks great.”
Production Designer Nemec was faced with the challenge of creating a world that is textured and gritty and evokes New York as it appears in the films of the ‘70s and early ‘80s. “There’s a certain quality about the film ‘The French Connection’ that Boaz liked, and we wanted to keep that in mind,” explains Nemec. “We took out a lot of the greens, a lot of the blues and kept things more browns and tans and creams.”
Though the film is set in New York, filming took place in both New York and Philadelphia. “We shot all our exteriors in New York,” explains Yakin. “We wanted to shoot everything in New York, but it’s difficult. The streets are hard to control and the people are a little jaded with film crews working here.
But the Mayor and the city of Philadelphia went out of their way to accommodate us. They would let us shut down streets. They were always asking us what they could do to help as opposed to making us feel we were a burden. Shooting there turned out to be great and I’m grateful for the help they gave us.”
One of the largest sets was the Triad’s casino, which was built inside of Girard College. “We used one of the buildings and some of the existing structure that was there, and basically built a stage set inside that,” says Nemec. “It’s an illegal underground gambling establishment that kind of looks like a speakeasy. Back in the days of Prohibition, they’d have hidden clubs that you would come in through a very non-descript entrance, but once inside it was a nice place.”
Statham particularly enjoyed working in New York, which is Yakin’s hometown. “We had such a good time working there,” says the actor. “It’s Boaz’s city and he knows it so well.
One of the best experiences you can have as an actor is to work with a writer/director. There’s no substitute for that because they’re constantly enhancing the script, taking out what doesn’t work. It’s just honed and honed hour by hour and you only get that collaboration with a guy who’s in control of his own material.”
Academy Award-winning costume designer Ann Roth impressed Yakin with her strong, character-driven designs. “Ann was a revelation,” says the director. “I’ve worked with some really good costume designers in the past. But when Ann costumes someone, that costume contributes to the character’s inner-life. I’ve never quite seen someone do it the way she does it. An actor that would do good work in rehearsal would come in wearing her costume and suddenly it was – bang – that’s the character. I was just knocked out by her work.”
When production was completed, Bender and Yakin approached Frederic Thoraval to edit the film. “Frederic edited ‘Taken’,” says Yakin. “I saw it and what really impressed me was the editing. Frederic has a way with editing not just action, but pace and a combination of real French New Wave looseness, jump-cutting and all that, with an eye on keeping the emotional focus on what’s going on that I just love. I would work with Frederic again in a heartbeat.”
The director was equally thrilled to have the prolific Mark Mothersbaugh on board to compose the score. “I would never have thought of Mark for this film,” admits Yakin. “He’s known for his charm, lightness and humor. He’s done all of Wes Anderson’s movies.”
But Mothersbaugh was eager to try his hand at a different film genre and even offered to compose a temp score to prove he was the man for the job. “Boaz gave me a script and I looked at some scenes. We talked a little conceptually about it and I went and did some sketches for it – music sketches that I recorded in my studio on electronic instruments, samplers, guitars, things like that.”
Yakin and Bender were immediately convinced upon hearing Mothersbaugh’s work. “The music was just really exciting,” says Yakin. “Mark really proved that he had the range.” Mothersbaugh created a final score that mixed orchestral sounds “reminiscent of ‘70s chase movies” with contemporary elements.
“I’ve worked with a lot of directors and I found Boaz to be really refreshing,” Mothersbaugh says. “It’s nice when you find a director who knows what he wants to hear. He was always very enthusiastic and he brought a lot to the project. He’s someone I hope I get to work with again.”
Now that the movie is set to be released on April 27, writer/director Boaz Yakin hopes the final film will readily satisfy action fans while also offering audiences a central character they can relate to deeply. “Luke’s journey is an extreme one, but it’s one that I think people will recognize and understand and hopefully invest in,” says the director.
“When you have that kind of connection with the central character, then the stakes are higher, the action hits harder. If I manage to make that happen, I’m happy.”
Image Courtesy of http://www.safethefilm.com