Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Set Visit with the Cast and Crew of Elevator

Photo by Alain Betrancourt

We recently visited the set of Elevator, an independent film that takes place on, you guessed it, an elevator. During a party for the Barton Investment Company, nine people end up trapped in the elevator of a Manhattan hi-rise and discover someone has a bomb. The result is a story of racial tension, financial scandal, scorned lovers, and revenge.

The key here is that the action occurs ENTIRELY on an elevator. With the exception of one brief establishing scene at the start of the film, the nine-member cast spends 90 minutes confined to a small metal box as the drama unfolds around them.

It is written and produced by Marc Rosenberg, a Texas native transplanted to Australia, who is back in the States making his first U.S. film with Norwegian director Stig Svendson. Tor Arne Øvrebø, Svendson's line producer on many projects prior to Elevator, is also producing and handling post back in Norway.

Ovrebo, described the movie saying, "It's not only a thriller, but it's also a social commentary of archetypes of society."

Marc told us the idea for the film was an effort to make a low- budget movie with a very simple production. He stated, "The film just came out of trying to keep an intensity going in a limited location over 90 minutes. So we had nine different stories. And making it current led us to incorporating some of the drama with the economic meltdown."

The nine stories in the suspense film are told by a few familiar faces. Most in the spotlight these days is John Getz who plays morally corrupt investment banker Henry Barton. Getz is in the current box office hit The Social Network in the role of Mark Zuckerberg's lawyer.

Read more about Elevator after the jump and see a slideshow of the cast and crew at Examiner.com.

Tony, Emmy, and Golden Globe-winning actress Shirley Knight, best known to the masses as Phyllis Van De Kamp on Desperate Housewives, plays Jane, a widow whose son was killed in Iraq and late-husband was one of Barton's clients.

Waleed Zuaiter (Sex and the City 2 and The Men Who Stare at Goats) plays Mohammed, an Iranian-American security guard who finds himself the instant enemy of a Jewish comedian hired for the party, played by Joey Slotnick (The Office, Alias, and Boston Public).

Trapped with them are two of Barton's protégée's. Martin Gossling is played by Devin Ratray (Law and Order and Home Alone) and Don Hanley is played by Christopher Backus (Huge, The O.C., and Will & Grace). And just in case there's not enough drama swirling through the elevator, Don is trapped with the two women in his life. His current girlfriend, an ambitious TV reporter (Tehmina Sunny from Undercovers and Children of Men) and pregnant ex-girlfriend and fellow investment banker (Anita Briem from The Tudors and Journey to the Center of the Earth) are both on the elevator.

Rounding out the cast are twins Amanda and Rachel Pace (Private Practice and The Bold and the Beautiful) taking on the role of Barton's granddaughter and Michael Mercurio (Days of Our Lives and Brainstorm) who is not trapped on the elevator, but whose character builds the bomb.

Aside from the obvious intrinsic drama created from the characters' circumstances prior to getting trapped, a key element that makes the film both intriguing and potentially difficult to make is the confined shooting space. John Getz put the location in perspective form the actor's point of view stating, "It's just close that's all. It's [the crew's] challenge as much as anything."

And the crew rose to the occasion. Production Designer, Richard Toyon, has masterfully re-created the interior of the elevator at the L.A. Center Studio (the only other location in the film). The set has movable walls and removable panels so every possible camera angle can be achieved. The director of photography, Alain Betrancourt, surprisingly was un-phased by the task of keeping the single location interesting. In fact he welcomed it. "It's been quite pleasant actually," he revealed. "One would think it would be difficult and challenging. I think it's a really nice curve… the production designer built us a dream elevator… So there's been no limitation in the bubble. I've been able to put a camera anywhere we want to."

Director Svendson told us that the difficult part was not the logistics, but the actors' energy levels. "We shoot in one location for twelve days… It feels like [a] minimum [of] a month. Because it's such a tight location, it's so hard on the actors."

Rosenberg added that because of the small space, simple movement has to be very calculated. "There's a lot of choreography involved because with an elevator, a location being so crowded, Alain and Stig are always trying to stop actors from masking other actors and giving everybody at least as much space as they need to be recognized."

Tehmina Sunny added, "I guess it's like a dance. Isn't it? Where we block things and everything has to be timed because of the tight proximity… [otherwise] we'll be stepping over each other or ruining each other."

Devin Ratray joked, "We've become more of an amoebic group, where we move and gel as one."

He continued, "There is one agenda in the movie and that is to not stay where you are, and to not feel trapped, and to not be trapped… It can get pretty hairy in there. It is definitely a discipline to maintain a level of focus and concentration and energy."

Obviously, in such tight quarters, the cast has become like a close-knit family during production, but where did Marc and Stig find them? They said that they began the casting process with Joey Slotnick. Stig recounted, "We wanted to build a cast around him... Joey is an amazing actor. When you do an ensemble piece you need that center key to start putting the pieces together. That's basically where we started."

Marc continued, "We realized that the standard we were aiming for was pretty high. Because whenever you ask an actor like Joey Slotnick to be in your movie they want to be surrounded by actors of equal experience and competence so they always say, 'Well who else have you got?'"

When we asked John Getz how he was cast he joked, "I think it was a mistake, actually." But he continued, "I got a call asking me if I wanted to do it." He said that as soon as he read the script he agreed to take the part because "it was amusing. It's a bit of a Ten Little Indians but it had some very nice humor in it."

Clearly to build suspense in such a small space requires deep characterizations, each with their own internal struggle all coming to a head during this intense period of distress. Tehmina related that her character, an overly ambitious, workaholic news reporter goes through a "wonderful transition… my world crumbles around me... it gives a different perspective in life, which is, it's not about career and money. It's about relationships and people in life and about having valued moments."

Anita Briem has a similar revelation with her character, "She's a young women who's ambitious and has been working hard… and she's playing her part and doing all the things she's supposed to do, when she gets this wake up call and realizes what an ugly world it is that she lives in. And realizes that, all of a sudden, when it really matters, she's completely and totally alone in the world."

Chris Backus, who plays Don, the center of the nasty love triangle sarcastically claimed, "I am the most uncomfortable person" on the elevator. He said, "More than anything else that happens in the elevator, to me it was the dynamic of being... faced with an uncomfortable situation and having no way around it... and that's what drew me to the movie."

But perhaps the most potentially explosive relationship of the film is the dynamic between Mohammed, the Iranian-American security guard and Joey, the Jewish comedian. From the moment the two meet, there is a pre-disposed friction which continually increases over the course of the movie. Walleed says the thing that drew him to the character of Mohammed was that, "he doesn't play into a stereotype, but a lot of the beginning of the film he's very quiet. So as an audience we don't really know what's necessarily going on. So it adds to some of the mystery. And George's character poking at him, it just adds to the tension."

He continued, "I'm from the Middle East and play a lot of Middle Eastern characters and a lot of what you see are sometimes things that are written that are very stereotypical, or they lead you down a path from what you've seen or heard in the news, very peripheral things."

Waleed said he worked with Marc and Stig to shape the character. He recalled that the first draft of the script contained a scene where Mohammed was praying and he felt there wasn't a reason for this. He thought it would be more interesting "not to see that. Or to see stuff that you would not normally expect. And if you are expecting that, then let's take it out and see what that does to the dynamic."

We're guessing nothing in this film is what you expect. Elevator is now in post-production. No release date has been set.

For other movie stories check out:
This is Not the version of Star Wars We're Looking For
Make any Photo Pop with the Michael Bayifier

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