DIVERGENT Set Visit Report; 30 Things to Know about the Next Big YA Franchise

     October 24, 2013

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Trends come and go rather quickly in Hollywood, and with every surprising success comes a slew of similarly plotted films that aim to capitalize on the popularity of a particular genre, theme, or basic story structure.  Though on the surface Summit Entertainment’s Divergent may seem a bit similar to a certain other futuristic YA franchise, author Veronica Roth’s source material stands entirely on its own with a thoroughly compelling story, a truly strong lead character, and plenty of thrilling twists and turns that keep audiences both invested and engaged.

Earlier this year, I was invited to the set of the feature film adaptation of Divergent along with a handful of other journalists.  Directed by Neil Burger, the filmmaker behind Limitless and The Illusionist, the film takes place in a futuristic society where people are divided into factions based on their personalities.  Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a young girl who doesn’t fit into any of the pre-assigned groups and faces grave consequences due to her status as a “Divergent.”  Read my full set visit report, including 50 things to know about the film, after the jump.

divergent-infographicAs a bit of a primer for those that may be unfamiliar with the source material, the world of Divergent is divided into five factions: Abnegation (the Selfless), Dauntless (the Brave), Candor (the Honest), Amity (the Peaceful), and Erudite (the Intelligent).  Once citizens reach a certain age, they must undergo testing to determine which faction best suits them, after which they are forced to decide whether to choose a new faction or stay put.  Each faction serves its purpose, and the futuristic society functions rather smoothly as a result—or so it would appear.

During her testing, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovers that she is “Divergent,” which means she will never fit perfectly into any one group.  She is told that this is an incredibly dangerous classification, and when she discovers a conspiracy to destroy all Divergents, she must find out what makes her status so threatening.  In addition to Woodley, the cast includes Theo James, Kate Winslet, Zoe Kravitz, Jai Courtney, Miles Teller, Ray Stevenson, Mekhi Pfifer, Amy Newbold, Christian Madsen, Ansel Elgort, Ben Lloyd-Huges, Ben Lamb, Tony Goldwyn, and Ashley Judd. Watch the film’s first trailer below.

Those looking for a brief rundown of the highlights from the set visit can peruse “30 Things to Know” below, which is followed by my full set visit report.  For an intimate look at how the film adaptation came together, I recommend reading the latter.

  • divergent-neil-burger-theo-james-jai-courtneyWhen he started prepping Divergent, Burger knew a little bit about how the third book ends so as to ensure he wasn’t on the wrong path with any of the characters.
  • Burger wanted to differentiate Divergent from the other YA adaptations by telling the story in a much more cinematic way.
  • Some of the violence from the book was toned down in order to ensure a PG-13 rating. There’s less visual violence (ie. blood spatter) and more “emotional violence.”
  • One of the main things that attracted Woodley to the project was the relationship between Tris and Four: “It’s very different than the Bella/Edward relationship; they’re completely on the opposite sides of the spectrum.”
  • Burger wanted the film to feel real and not raw in a gritty way, but raw in an immediate and intimate way.
  • The producers were looking for a director who could juggle a difficult adaptation, loved character, and wouldn’t be overwhelmed by bringing an epic scale to the film visually.  After seeing presentations from many different filmmakers, they realized Neil Burger was the best.
  • The producers knew early on that Kate Winslet would be playing Jeanine, so Burger was able to tailor the character so that it would serve as a launching pad for Winslet’s talent.
  • The producers were aware of the story’s surface-level similarities to The Hunger Games, but felt that the urban world of Divergent would contrast with the rural feel of Hunger Games and help differentiate the two.
  • divergent-shailene-woodleyUriah was left out of the first movie because it would have been too difficult to ask a great actor to come and spend thirty seconds on screen just so they can have him return for the second film, in which Uriah will play a much larger role.
  • The film was shot on location in Chicago, the setting in the book, and Burger wanted to use as much of the city as possible. He decided to shoot the film like street photography but where the streets are 150 years in the future.
  • Burger also didn’t want the film to look bleak and flooded blues and grays as the colors. Tris wants to be a part of the system, so Burger made the social system feel luminous, especially Dauntless.
  • When asked which actors best fit what he imagined when reading the book, James cited Shailene Woodley (Tris), Miles Teller (Peter), and Ray Stevenson (Marcus).
  • Regarding differences from the book, Woodley says they had to change the way some things are presented in the film to ensure they make sense logic-wise.
  • In the film, Four has been in Dauntless for a few years longer than he was in the book.
  • The burgeoning relationship between Four and Tris is presented differently in the film, because there is only a limited amount of screen time that can be devoted to establishing the small nuances between the two.
  • Shailene kept wanting to push her stunts farther and farther.
  • divergent-shailene-woodley-theo-jamesIn filming the Ferris wheel scene in Chicago, the production used fake mud and decals designed to look like rust. This transformed the structure into a dilapidated Ferris wheel from 100 years into the future without relying too heavily on CGI.
  • The ambition from the beginning has been to make a great standalone movie and not just a film that sets up the sequel.
  • They made a list of fan favorite pieces of dialogue from the book that they tried to include in the movie, as long as it didn’t feel intrusive.
  • The cast is all locked in to appear in the sequels, should they get the greenlight.
  • The production had a very hard time casting Four.  They looked at a lot of would-be movie starts and up-and-comers in the vein of “beach handsome” or “Paul Newman-esque,” but no one popped until Theo James did his screen test with Shailene. They needed someone who was magnetically attractive but who also felt mysterious.
  • Producer Douglas Wick said they were so desperate to find the right Four that they looked at the tweets from fans to see who they were suggesting.
  • Summit/Lionsgate sat down with some of the actors and prepared them for the experiences ahead regarding the eager fanbase.
  • In the original script, Molly had no lines and was mainly a fighting role.
  • We don’t see Molly’s fear landscape in the film.
  • There is not a lot of dialogue between Christina (Zoe Kravitz) and Will (Ben) since the story is centered around Tris and Four.
  • Zoe Kravitz spoke to her good friend Jennifer Lawrence before signing on to Divergent, and the Hunger Games actress encouraged her to do it.
  • Kravitz was initially hesitant to sign on because she had seen how other major YA franchises had affected the lives of actors.
  • In designing the look of the film’s buildings and exteriors, the production designer and director imagined that society had continued on from the present for about 50 years or so, at which point an unexplained natural disaster occurred that stopped progress in its tracks.
  • Early on, Zoe Kravitz bought tickets for the cast to go to an Erykah Badu concert in Chicago, which is where they all began bonding.

Click over to Page 2 to read the full set visit, which includes a visit to the Abnegation sets, a tour of “The Pit,” and the filming of a scene between Tris and a tipsy Four.

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