Friday, January 8, 2010

In the Making of NINE [8/10]

The trio was excited to reunite—especially on a movie that’s so in love with the emotional power and visceral beauty of the movies. Says Dion Beebe:“If the stage was our playground in CHICAGO, then moviemaking was our playground in NINE. We all wanted to exploit cinematic ideas to transform the Cinecitta soundstage into the stuff of a man’s imagination.”
Adds John Myhre: “Perhaps the only thing that could have been more exciting to us than a movie about moviemaking was the idea of a Rob Marshall musical about moviemaking. All Rob had to tell us was, ‘there has to be a transformation, the audience has to see Guido’s world transform,’ and immediately big ideas were being put about.” The team split the design elements into three distinct realms: Guido’s complicated real life in Rome, and the luxe hotel spa that he hopes in vain will be his hideaway; the memory of Guido’s youth, and his very active fantasy life. The latter all takes place on a half-built set on a Cinecitta soundstage—the source of Guido’s creative anxiety—that morphs into different visual worlds.

Myhre explains: “We decided that when we first see the soundstage it had to be a real set—so we used H Stage at Shepperton Studios in England, which was an excellent match for Fellini’s historic Stage 5 at Cinecitta in Rome. Rob always wanted us to emphasize that this stage is the core of Guido’s life, where he makes it or breaks it. The set was designed as you would design a theatre set; all the lighting had to be figured out and the space needed for the dancers. But the biggest challenge was that the stage had to transform ten different times, sometimes overnight, into many different imaginative worlds—it becomes the Folies Bergere, it becomes a stylized beach, a 1960s fashion runway, a piazza in Rome, and more—and the challenge of creating each of those worlds was fantastic.”
All of this pushed the design team’s inventiveness to the very edge.“Each of the facades was designed so it could work for a specific number but could also be adapted for others,” Myrhe explains.

Some of the dance sequences also required extensive rigging. “For the number with Penélope Cruz as Carla, Rob wanted her to slide down a huge, 80-foot long, pink draper,”the designer recalls. “Technically, it was very challenging to do this so that it would be safe for her to perform over and over again. Ultimately, we used a conveyor belt that becomes part of the pink drape and allows her to fall out onto an eight-foot mirror in the middle of the dance.”

When it came to the film’s lush, sensual cinematography, Dion Beebe took his initial inspiration from the deeply personal tone and vibrant aesthetic of Italian cinema—especially its heyday in the 1960s when Italy produced a chain of history-making auteurs, from Fellinito Antonioni to Pasolini and Bertolucci—but crafted the film’s own individual style from there.“Italian cinema has always played a dominant place in my love of movies,” notes Beebe, “and it was always on our minds. Rob and I looked at a lot of films but we never set out to emulate Fellini. We made a pointed decision not to re-make his work. There are references to it. There’s homage. But I think NINE is very much, visually and stylistically, in its own musical genre. It combines the cinematic and the theatrical and those elements always seem to be come together magically when you’re working with Rob.”

From the start, Beebe and Marshall engaged in complex discussions about how to make this new version of NINE involve the audience through innovative lighting and fluid camera movement. Beeberecalls: “We had long conversations about how we would shoot and light the production numbers. With the lighting, just as we did on CHICAGO, we incorporated a lot of theatrical elements to really define the musical numbers as fantasies taking place in an alternate world. We were always looking for those punctuation moments where the stage transforms into pure fantasia.”

They were also looking for original ways to do that multiple times.“Since we had a space that we had to transform again and again and again,” he emphasizes, “we had to figure out how to keep it exciting each time without ever feeling like we were repeating ourselves. A big part of that was creating transitions that become part of the dramatic storytelling.”

Lighting was key, but so too was kinetic camera work. “Camera movement has always been important for Rob and myself in terms of shooting musical numbers,” Beebe states, “and capturing all the movement in the choreography. Rob likes to run the number all the way through and that’s important for the artists and the dancers, to build up pace and rhythm, but we also have to bring it alive for the camera. The use of dollies, cranes and tracks on these sets was essential, but it had to be done without interrupting the flow of the number and song.”


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