‘There’s nothing stronger than loving your neighbour,’ the Emmy-winning director tells LBB’s Addison Capper
Much of California right now is, quite literally, burning. As the west coast state endures its most catastrophic and costly wildfires ever, resident Trump has been criticised for his initial reaction in which he directed blame on poor forest management. The events that have unfolded in California all add an edge of unwanted poignancy to this incredible short film from Game of Thrones director David Nutter.
‘Rising’, the 11-minute cinematic epic, was created by R/GA as part of its ‘Love Has No Labels’ campaign that’s it’s been rolling out successfully in recent years in collaboration with the Ad Council. It tells the story of a diverse but divided American neighbourhood which comes under attack from relentlessly rising floods. In the face of adversity and disaster, the residents come together to help one another.
With production from Great Guns and VFX by Ntropic, as well as being the important story that it is right now, it’s also a marvel visually. LBB’s Addison Capper spoke with director David to find out how he pulled it off.
LBB> David, why was this project something you were keen to get involved in?
David> Having just come off of season eight of Game of Thrones, and the massive undertaking that that was, the Rising project was simultaneously small-scale and - at the same time - bigger, thematically, than anything I have ever undertaken. I wasn’t manufacturing anything, and felt wholly responsible for doing it, and doing it right.
LBB> What was the casting process like for the film?
David> This was a ‘commercial’ in one sense, but in another it wasn’t a commercial at all - and I needed, above all else, actors who could create empathy. The casting process was done very quickly, here in Los Angeles, and we were truly blessed to find this group of actors - none of whom I’d ever worked with before - but all of whom possessed a unique ability to express themselves almost entirely wordlessly. That was really the key, I think, to making such a visual story work.
LBB> It's a pretty epic production... what was the shoot like? Are there any moments that will stay with you?
David> The Rising shoot was four long days - or, I should say, one long day and three long nights. The production involved a fabricated flood, wind and rain machines all through the night, and all manner of wrenching, complicated staging - involving boats, flotsam and jetsam, and choreographed chaos. I think the moments that stay with me the most are those ‘final shots’ of Rising - where we see the exhausted-yet-exhilarated faces of everybody, and we realise that the ethnic and prejudicial differences between them have all just melted away.
LBB> How do you go about mimicking something as drastic as a hurricane in a studio?
David> We actually weren’t in a studio (although we did avail ourselves of the back lot at Warner Bros. in Burbank), and we used not one sound stage for Rising. For the most part, everything was practical, and mostly outdoors, produced in hyper-realistic fashion, and - with the exception of a few VFX shots - all filmed just the way you see it for maximum realism.
Check out a VFX breakdown from the Ntropic team below.
LBB> What kind of conversations were you having with the actors on set? There's an incredible amount of emotion to get out here in pretty intense conditions...
David> I have to say, I am so fortunate to have found these actors - all of whom were ready, willing, and able to endure tremendous physical and mental efforts during our four-day shoot. Our conversations went from choreographing incredibly detailed moment-to-moment actions, along with very involving ‘emotional discussions’ concerning how each of these individual characters would deal with a catastrophe in their own specific way.
LBB> You brought in a pretty mega crew on every element of the production... can you tell us a bit more about who was involved and why?
David> This was always going to be a highly visual story, with a huge degree of difficulty, but I have worked with Great Guns before, and Laura Gregory and I have had a great track record with our past projects, along with fellow Great Guns producer Thom Fennessey, here, on Rising. I chose a young editor, James Demetriou, who Great Guns trained straight out of art school. James edited Ilya Naishuller's Leningrad ‘Kolshik’ and The Weeknd’s ‘False Alarm’ music videos. Another key collaborator was Peter Menzies, Jr., a truly great DP. I had worked with Peter on an action-oriented TV pilot, about 10 years ago called Traveler - a terrific show that was shot on the streets of New York City and went from zero to a hundred in about three seconds flat. I knew that the pacing of RISING would be ten times this, and I knew Peter would make it all come together visually (and he most certainly did).
LBB> What kind of aesthetic were you going for with the film? Who did you work with on the grade and where did you look for inspiration there?
David> It was critical, most of all, to inculcate a sense of realism vis-à-vis an aesthetic for Rising. If there was a moment of fakery, or overly flamboyant camerawork, or tricked-up editing or sound, it would have diluted the cumulative power of the story’s theme, so we were highly cognisant of keeping everything real. Peter Menzies and I had a lot of discussions about that, and the great folks at Ntropic VFX, and their colour correction scheme, really tied it all together.
LBB> It's launched at a particularly poignant time, with California's wildfires raging and the president's less than helpful comments about them. Presuming that this was conceived before the current wave of wildfires, how does it feel to see the film out in the open with that rhetoric happening around it?
David> Rising was conceived over the course of the past year by Eric Jannon and Chris Northam, as the next iteration of their wildly-successful ‘Love Has No Labels’ campaign. And, unfortunately, its prescience has been foretold, practically week after week, by the many disturbing events (man-made and otherwise) colouring the whole of 2018. It’s a very difficult time to be optimistic and hopeful. But what I love about Rising is its insistence on the innate humanity of us all - and it’s so great to be able to point to something like this project, which states this theme so powerfully and wholeheartedly. It’s an opportunity for us all to have a voice in the conflicts that are occurring now. There’s nothing stronger than loving your neighbour, and we are born to be good. Rising is all about surviving and helping each other survive - ‘cause we can’t do it alone.
LBB> What were the biggest production challenges and how did you overcome them?
David> The house featured in Rising is an actual home located in the Eagle Rock neighbourhood north of Los Angeles. Re-creating that house in the midst of a fabricated storm - in actuality, it was a half-construction in the ‘lagoon’ on the back lot at Warner Bros. studios - was super-challenging, especially when you add tons of wind and rain effects to the mix. There was just so much sheer story to tell, in three short nights, and I wanted to make certain not to miss anything important or emotionally involving.
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