Last September, straight from the Toronto International Film Festival, I got to do something very cool: I went to Moscow and visited the set of Summit Entertainment’s The Darkest Hour. Normally when I say I got to visit the set, it involves going to a huge soundstage and sitting around conducting interviews. However, The Darkest Hour was a bit different: the production was filming on the streets of the city and in and around some of the most famous landmarks on the planet. It was a set visit unlike any I’ve ever been on, and over the next few months, I’ll be posting video blogs from Moscow, on set interviews, and some really cool content. It really was an amazing trip that I can’t wait to share.
One of the highlights of the trip was actually the first thing we did: we interviewed producers Timur Bekmambetov & Tom Jacobson on the top of the of the Hotel Ukraina, a newly remodeled hotel in one of the historical Seven Sisters, seven buildings that were commissioned and built during the time the Soviets designed in the Stalinist style. It was easily the most unique location I’ve ever conducted an interview and the view was breathtaking. During the 45 minute interview I learned a lot about The Darkest Hour. Hit the jump for the highlights, the first trailer, along with the full transcript and audio.
Before going any further, you should definitely watch the cool looking trailer. And here’s the official synopsis:
The Darkest Hour is the story of five young people who find themselves stranded in Moscow, fighting to survive in the wake of a devastating alien attack. The 3D thriller highlights the classic beauty of Moscow alongside mind-blowing special effects.
- They shot the film in 3D. They chose locations in Moscow that would work well with 3D, like Red Square.
- Jacobson and Bekmambetov had an amazing script and then partnered together. They set the story in Moscow and then brought Chris Gorak in to direct.
- Gorak was a production designer so he brought a very visual background to the film.
- The crew was made up of about 30% American and 70% Russian.
- Filming was shut down for three weeks because of a huge wildfire outbreak in Russia.
- In crafting the aliens, they wanted to make them as grounded in reality as possible. They’re creatures of electricity and electromagnetism.
- The movie turns the “scary” convention on its head, because when the characters are in the dark they’re safe because they carry lightbulbs that will flash if any aliens are nearby.
- The aliens are invisible for 90% of the movie. When they’re finally revealed, there’s still some mystery.
- Five or six days is the time period that passes during the movie.
- The movie will be PG-13. It’s not very graphic or bloody, but it’s scary.
- The point of view of the story is contained in the characters in Moscow.
- There was a lot of planning involved in shooting in some of the iconic Moscow locations. For the Lenin Library, they could only shoot on one Sunday that the library was closed, so they had to go in at midnight the night before and dress it for the scene.
- The shoot was 58 days and they added 8 or 9 days to the production schedule when they decided to shoot the film in 3D.
- 3D necessitates longer takes in order to keep the audience from getting nauseous, so it takes more prep time to include the establishing shot, the close-up and the master shot in one take.
- The film is an action-thriller, but it’s grounded in reality from an emotional point of view of the characters.
For a lot more on the film, I recommend reading the full interview. As usual, I’m offering you two ways to get it: you can either click here for the audio, or the full transcript is below. Look for a lot more on The Darkest Hour in the coming months. The Darkest Hour hits theaters December 23.
Tom Jacobson: We’re honored that you came all this way to Moscow. It’s a long way to come. We’re glad the weather is clear for you. Afterwards, we’ll go out and we’ll point out some of the sights.
Timur Bekmambetov: I think it’ll be clear in a few hours. Unfortunately, we spend some of the day waiting.
Jacobson: It’s okay. We’re shooting today and are sort of nervous. We’ve had the last two days off and, of course, it was perfectly clear the last two days. Now we wake up this morning and it’s raining. We’re shooting outside today. We’re going to get our day’s work.
Speaking of days off, you had the wildfires shut down production. Can you talk about how long you were shut down and if it changed the film at all?
Jacobson: We were shut down for three weeks and no, we were able to scramble and make due. Movies always involve some scrambling and curveballs. It just gradually overtook us. It was sort of unbelievable. These fires started and we were here, working. All of a sudden one day we were shooting on Red Square — which was amazing — and one morning we went out in the distance and it was hazy. We said “That’s sort of hazy.” And then it just got worse and worse. And then, like the rest of the word — or certainly Moscow — we just couldn’t believe how bad it got. And then one day it got so bad that you couldn’t see 100 yards down the street. Then it started getting into the hotel. Smoke was in the corridors of the hotels. It was on stage. You could literally see it. Even though our stage was air conditioned, you could see it in the sets. And it wasn’t the cameraman putting smoke it. It was the country on fire. So we couldn’t film. It was literally blocking off. Especially in 3D, which we’ll talk about in a bit. 3D is all about depth. All about an immersive experience. When there’s fog and stuff, it makes it very flat in the background, which is really bad for the movie. So it shut down, but the studio was very supportive. It was actually a so-called “act of God”. We scrambled really quickly and within three days flew everybody out of town and just watched it from afar. Because no one really knew. They didn’t know how to fight the fires.
Bekmambetov: Even now, the government is taking credit that they conquered the problem, but in reality it’s just rain.
Bekmambetov: Russians are great! (laughs) This time. No, it’s a story about an alien invasion. From the beginning, it’s a metaphor for the foreigners and from the beginning of the movie, American boys feel themselves like aliens here or they feel like Russians are aliens. There’s misunderstanding or miscommunication. Then when the real aliens appear, together they have to fight to survive.
Are the Russian characters sympathetic?
Bekmambetov: Yes, it’s not. Because the Russian famous actors involved, they are very creative and they will create sympathetic characters
Jacobson: Very heroic as a matter of fact. Our young characters come to Moscow, which is a very exotic place, all come for different reasons. Two young American guys, Emile Hirsch and Max Minghella. They’re here for a business reason, but it’s just like Timur said. Right at the beginning of the movie, they get cheated. They’re here to launch a website and they think they have investors, but they’re young guys out in the big bad world. That doesn’t go well and then they meet these two young women, Olivia Thirlby and Rachael Taylor, who are here, traveling. And then the world ends. They meet at a club. They think they’re making friends and then it’s a bad night. And then they’re lost and alone in this exotic city where all the signs are in Cyrillic. There’s no one around. That’s one of the reasons we came to Moscow. As a location, it’s very powerful. It’s beautiful. It’s got scope and scale and people haven’t seen it.
Bekmambetov: And energy. The city has an energy. Which is important. The city and the people all have an energy. It’s quite different from what everybody knows in Los Angeles, but it has an energy. People have an energy.
Do you feel particularly invested in this city? There were a number of Moscow locations in Nightwatch as well.
Not only is the city something we rarely see in American films, but we never see it in 3D. Is that part of the attraction, to show it off in a way that’s never been done before?
Bekmambetov: Yeah, the Red Square in 3D is [impressive].
Jacobson: We’re using 3D, which we think is important to the movie. It was an important decision. But we are shooting in 3D. It’s not being converted. We’re using 3D as a story element in terms of an immersive quality. Moscow is very photogenic and our director, Chris Gorak, when he came here, it was very important for him to find locations and to capture this city that felt like you were really embedded in it, but also had scale and scope. Of course we shoot some of the icons locations like Red Square, but certain other places that you might not know as a foreigner or as a tourist. But the look is very unique to Moscow. You might look and not know the specific building, but the look is very—
Bekmambetov: Yes, it’s very interesting because he found very unusual angles. Because he has a unique eye. Russian directors, we are shooting the same streets. The same things. He has a fresh eye and found very interesting and very cool locations and angles and characters.
Are you guys shooting 3D with the RED cameras or the Cameron/Pace system?
Jacobson: Neither. Of all the different systems, there’s the 3D rig and there’s the digital system. It’s all digital because it has to be captured digitally and then it depends on which camera is using the rig. We’re using a rig called Element Technica. The rig is, like all 3D systems, two cameras. They represent the eyes, the left eye and the right eye. Pace works in the same way. We just made the decision based on availability and a choice that our camera guy made called Element Technica. It’s through Panavision and the cameras are Sony F35 digital cameras, which are state of the art. They’re about a year or two old. We have two of those rigs and two called P1 rigs, which is another, smaller, lightweight camera that we use for steadicam. You’ll see when you come to the set that it’s a huge, complicated system. The camera looks like a Transformer because it weighs about 200 pounds.
Jacobson: Yeah. You hear from people shooting in 3D that it impacts the production and that it takes more time to shoot and have to have a larger crew, which has certainly been our case, but its gone great. We’re trying to pretend in terms of crew and setup and how much time we we take that it’s not 3D, but you have to pay attention to it. You compose differently. You think about cutting differently and where you place your actors in terms of the scene in order to get the scale and the scope. A lot of it is to just put us in the action to make the frame interesting.
Any specific techniques to exploit the effect?
Jacobson: There’s two sides to it. One is sort of a subtler side which is what we’d call immersive. You put yourself into the environment. As we said, there’s a scene that’s shot on Red Square where it’s completely empty. It’s after the invasion and the city has been depopulated. Our two guys only see one or two people as they go. It’s very spooky. They’re lost and they don’t know and they see a police car which is stranded in the middle of Red Square. Right in the middle between Lenin’s tomb on one side — you’ll see this when you take your tour — and the GUM department store, which is this beautiful department store. They think there might be something of value in the police car like a map or flare or emergency [supplies]. So they run out to it. One of the ways to use 3D is if you’re shooting them and showing them hiding behind the police car, and you have this expansive distance behind you, with all of Red Square between you and Saint Basil’s Cathedral, you really feel like your there. So part of it is just that. Framing shots. And part of it is a huge action component. The movie is an action thriller. Those scenes are very tense. Then there’s a visual effects side to the movie where our characters interact, usually not to good effect with them and the invaders. Those effects in 3D will be amazing. How they come to the camera.
Bekmambetov: It is about smoke. It’s exactly what happened with us.
Can you talk about selecting Chris as the director?
Jacobson: We had a terrific script. Timur and I had partnered on it and set it in Moscow. We were excited about it and the studio was very excited about it. We were at that point in the project’s life where we needed to hire a director. We met a lot of people and just loved what Chris had to say for a lot of reasons. Chris is also a writer. He wrote his own script that he directed. He had very smart things to say about the story and the characters. His movie is really grounded in reality. It’s scary and it had scale in a really interesting way for a little movie. That combination of story sense and character reality –
Bekmambetov: And he’s a production designer.
Jacobson: Yeah, he comes from a visual background. So his sense of being able to bring that in and being able to tell a visual story we were very excited to have. He’s doing a fantastic job and we think he’s going to have a terrific career. And deserves it.
What is the blend of American and Russian crew?
Jacobson: I would say it’s 30 percent American and 70 percent Russian. More Russian crew than American crew. You’re right that the technology of 3D is so new and really, right now, limited for big movies to the Hollywood companies, but it’s going to grow fast. It’s going to grow here and, because the decision was made pretty quickly, pretty much the entire camera crew and the digital pipeline crew came from the states and there were a couple of people that went with that. The rest of the crew is Moscow, Russian. There’s a huge film industry here. That’s been fun, having the two crews interacting. A lot don’t speak English so we have interpreters. A lot do.
When the film was shut down for the three weeks, what were you guys doing in that time? Did it help you get a better grasp on the production having that break?
Jacobson: There’s no relaxing.
Bekmambetov: No, and there was a big question about what would happen in Moscow. Because nobody knew at that time. Would it be more fires or would it stop? It was unknown what would happen. Everyone was waiting.
Jacobson: And planning during that time. What if we can’t get back to Moscow? What if we have to change the schedule to go inside instead of outside? Now we’re pushed three weeks forward into the season and winter comes pretty fast here. So we did use the opportunity to keep prepping. We tried to find a silver lining and also we didn’t know exactly what we were prepping. Luckily, the fires died down and we were able to get back. But I think we were able to prepare a bit. The action sequences in this film are interactive with the visual effects. Those have to be planned pretty carefully with the animatics and previz and storyboards and which shots are going to have effects in them and how many of them. So we were able to do a little more work on that.
Can you tell us a little about the aliens in this film?
Jacobson: Timur can talk about this. There’s a couple of unique things about this movie and one of them is how we designed them and the science of the movie. We wanted to make them — just like the character’s experience — and the science of the movie as grounded as possible. Our aliens have some mystery to them that our characters along the way are trying to figure out what happened. What’s the danger? They’re based on electricity. They’re creatures of electricity and electromagnetism. But we are the characters. The audience is a character. This just happens to them. One of the things that Chris brings to it is that we’re really shooting it at ground level and they find out these things as they go along. They interact with electricity and when the invasion happens, all the the power on the entire planet goes out. It’s based in Moscow, but they find out this is global. So the power goes out and it’s because the creatures are electrical in nature. They interact with electricity. That’s one of the things we’re having fun playing with between night and daylight.
Bekmambetov: The unique idea of this movie is because in usual if you are in darkness, you are scared. But this movie is the opposite. In darkness, you are okay. Because of the aliens, they all carry lightbulbs and if they are coming, you see the light. In this case, if you are in darkness, it means there are no aliens around you. But as soon as you see the light… The lamps mean they are coming. All the characters wear bulbs. If the bulbs start to light, that means that aliens are coming. It’s how they protect themselves. It’s unique. It’s a twist. It’s opposite.
Summit PR: Just to elaborate, it really takes the alien invasion movie conventions you’ve seen in other movies and really turns it. It’s very mysterious what the motivation is and what drives the aliens and why they want to invade the Earth. Ultimately, what we’re going to see later is how the aliens are designed and how they interact. The way that they attack is very different. Timur and his facility are actually doing a lot of the effects for it.
What do the aliens look like?
Jacobson: Well, you’re going to have to see the movie.
Bekmambetov: They’re invisible. 90 percent of the movie, they’re invisible. You don’t see them.
Jacobson: They’re revealed near the end and even then, there’s some mystery. They’re revealed by how they interact to the environment. Again, it’s a journey of discovery for the characters as well. They react very fatally with the people around. They’re pulled apart in a very dynamic way, which I’ll show you some visuals on later. It has to do with an electrical interaction. And then they come, as Timur said, to trigger electrical responses. There would be no power in here. There would be no lights on. If an alien came through, you might see a little shimmer. You might see some sparks. They might blink in and out through a little ripple in the air and these lights would flicker.
Bekmambetov: All the mobile phones would start to ring and may the radio.
Jacobson: Yes. These would all be dead until an alien came close. And then, all of sudden they would pop on. If you hear an electronic sound, that would be bad.
Bekmambetov: Like in real life. If someone is calling you, that means nothing good. At theater, like the end of the show when the light comes up.
Jacobson: We did a lot of research, just to ground the science into lightning effects and ball lightning. Sort of unusual effects that have never been explained. To help us design how the aliens interact from some of the visuals in it. There’s a fantastic heroic Russian character in the center of the movie that they come upon who has discovered some nature of the aliens just through testing. Through traditional scientific method. He’s built a Faraday cage. Who knows what a Faraday cage is? It’s a cage of wires that no electricity can penetrate. You can be inside a Faraday cage and someone can shoot a bolt of lightning at it and it dissipates in the cage. So he’s built one of those and is using microwave science. There’s one theory behind ball lightning that has to do with electricity vaporizing silicone to cause it. He’s worked on that. So we’ve tried to embed that throughout.
Bekmambetov: What’s interesting is that it’s very grounded. All the mythology. You can understand it without special knowledge of microwave or mobile phone.
Jacobson: A few days. Five or six days. The first ten minutes are meant to be the first day. Everyone shows up in Moscow and this event happens that night. Then our characters luckily hide in a protected environment. We fade to black and when we fade up, it’s just a few days later. We don’t really say. It’s two, three, four. It’s enough that the aliens have done their work and we emerge from the hiding place into this empty city, which is a scene we’re shooting today as a matter of fact.
How violent is it?
Jacobson: Well, it will be PG-13. It’s what we are aiming for. But, you know, there is a fair amount of action. There’s a fair amount of scenes where they fight back. Where they run from…where we see the aliens do what they do. But it’s not graphic. It’s not blood and guts. But it’s scary.
PR Person from Summit: Yeah. It’s not exploitative, but you’re going to see destruction.
On the first night, you have your big invasion sequence, which is going to be the film’s big opening statement. I guess you can’t spoil too much, but can you describe what that entails?
Jacobson: It’s told from the point of view of our characters. Our characters end up meeting by certain happenstance, like life. If we get it right, it’s one of these things where people are going along in their lives. These two young guys came to Moscow, something happens, and they go “Oh, what the heck? We are here in Moscow. Let’s have a good time. Moscow has a great night life.” So they find this club they go to. They meet these two young women there. Things are pretty happy. The music is playing. There are beautiful people around. Then all of the lights go out. “What the heck?” They all wonder outside and it’s dark. The entire city is completely pitch black. No one can start their car. Their cell phones don’t work. Nothing works. It’s pretty spooky. And there is this shimmering light and things are coming down to the ground. They think little sparklers. If it was America, it would be like the 4th of July. It looks beautiful, and then it’s not so beautiful. Then, there is devastating panic. The aliens start to do their work and our characters run back inside this club. And there is this big action scene, and it’s told in a very sense of immediacy. A sense of you are really connected to these people and what’s happening to them, and they don’t know. As if it were really, you know, imagine if it were to happen to you. If there was an attack. If there was, like, the blitzkrieg.
Jacobson: Well, we learn through our characters. They find some things along the way. Some connections to the outside world. The point of view of the story is contained in Moscow. We learn as we go along that it’s not just Moscow that it has happened to.
It’s quite unusual to have a film of this level lead by such a young cast. It’s quite an eclectic cast as well. You got Americans, a Swede, an Australian. They all come from different schools of thought as far as actors. What sort of thought went into the casting and what are you trying to get out of these characters?
Jacobson: Again – a grounded, real, relatable cast of characters. Good actors, who I think we attracted. I think that is a testament to the script. We had a really good script that again, we think is hopefully original in these kinds of stories, that was dramatically credible. And we really wanted to get relatable people that felt like this age group. You know, the “you and me” of this age group. Emile Hirsch, from the very beginning, was interested in this script and the ability to play in a “studio commercial movie”, but play a real character. But you find out with a lot of actors this age, even the serious ones who do independent movies, that they like these kinds of movies if they are real. They like this experience of being in it. So that’s what we really went for and we are really thrilled with our cast, which is a testament of Chris and the script.
I’m also curious, you are filming in very famous Russian locations. It is obviously stuff that has not been done time and time again in Russia probably because of government sanctions or the government not wanting certain projects. Can you talk about the complexities and logistics about getting the rights to film at these locations?
Bekmambetov: The government doesn’t care what we are shooting here. We are just destroying the whole city of Moscow in the movie, and nobody asked us. They don’t care. They like that we are producing a movie here. They like that something is happening and that Russian filmmakers can be involved and do something for the rest of the world. And we have some sponsors and some supporters on different levels. But it’s just an ordinary production. There is nothing special for it in Russia.
When you are filming something like Red Square or some of these really famous locations, do they…
Bekmambetov: Just pay them. Just pay the city, take a permit, get permission, be polite, and don’t destroy. It’s quite the same as everywhere.
Jacobson: We’ve actually been amazed. I mean, it’s hard to shoot in these locations. There are a lot of rules, like Red Square. But if you obey the rules, and you pay the permits, and you hire the cops. And as Americans, we were out there shooting on Red Square and they allowed us for certain periods of times to put up barricades and close off different angles. So, like, there is the entire one quarter of Red Square in the middle of Sunday morning empty for us. And they were thrilled. I mean, it’s business. They love the fact that we came here. This is actually the first time that an American movie has shot here in its entirety with, as you’ve heard, really a Moscow-based crew. Yes, there are Americans here, but it’s a Moscow-American production in terms of the production of the movie. Other movies have come here…
Bekmambetov: Five days, six days, and then…
Jacobson: International movies that are already set up, and they bring their crew here, and they shoot a location. This is the first time that an American studio movie has based entirely in Moscow and shot the whole movie here.
Bekmambetov: And it’s not easy to…your question is very specific. It’s not easy to shoot here because the city is very busy and very intense. For example, if you want to shoot in Red Square, you have to shut down Red Square. It’s like a hundred thousand people during the weekend. And you have to shut it down and you have to control it, and it’s not easy to do. It’s the same as the shooting day in Lenin Library because it’s by a central road of the country where all of the bureaucrats drive back and forth during the day. And if you want to shoot there, you have to deal with them because they need to think about the security. You cannot put a hundred cars in their way. But somehow it has happened.
Jacobson: It took a lot of planning. You asked about planning. For instance, there is this one location in Lenin Library. It’s this beautiful state library. It’s very highly regulated with a huge plaza with the statue of Dostoevsky in the front of it. And we wanted to shoot a scene there with our Russian characters. They’re Russian soldiers and that is their encampment. That’s their base. And they told us, “there is one Sunday a month. The last Sunday of every month.” The library is closed on Sunday and the last Sunday of every month. Monday it’s closed also because they use it for repair. So they said, “You can shoot the last Sunday.” We only had so many Sundays on our schedule, so we had to plan really far in advance. And when we shot there, we had to go in at midnight the night before and dress it to make it look like an army camp. And for the Russian cast – this is a scene with the combined Russian and American cast – the scene has a hush to it because the Russians, as we were shooting it, they couldn’t believe we were in there. It was sort of an amazing day on the set because they were sort of in awe of the beauty of it. It’s like, I don’t know, shooting in the capital in Washington. It’s this amazing location. They were sort of like, “Wow.”. And probably because we are trying to capture some scale to the movie. I don’t think it’s common for local movies to do that.
It seems like the film is actually going to be a good advert for the tourism board. It seems like you are really showing off this city as a place that, I guess, is worth destroying in a way. [everyone laughs]
Jacobson: Come see Moscow. Worthy of destroying.
Bekmambetov: Come see it before we will destroy it.
I’m curious, how many days is the production schedule and how much did 3D add to that production schedule?
Bekmambetov: Ten percent? Twenty percent?
Jacobson: Yeah, to the shooting schedule. The movie is around 58 days now. Its always been a tight schedule. We always wanted to make it in this sort of intense sense of immediacy and I think we added 8 or 9 days for 3D.
Bekmambetov: Not so much, unfortunately.
Jacobson: Not so much. That’s all they gave us.
A lot of filmmakers I’ve spoken to about 3D say that you have a lot of long steady shots and not a lot of cutting because too much would make it jarring. Does that sort of help the production schedule because your shots are going to be longer?
Bekmambetov: To make shots longer, you need more time to prep because you have to combine in one shot somebody’s close up, then the establishing shot, and then the master shot. You have a lot of events, in any case, during the shot. To combine it and to be sure that everything works perfect, all of the reactions in the right place. It takes time to prep these long shots. It’s why I think that this technique doesn’t help to make it faster because when you are cutting, it’s easy because you can shoot moments and then later you will create the story. But if you are trying to combine all of the reactions and events in one shot, you need more time to prep and to rehearse. Sometimes everything is good, but sometimes someone appears behind the door and you have to stop and say, “Ok. Let’s try again.” It’s more complicated. It’s easy for James Cameron because everything was virtual and it was easy to do long, beautiful shots. But in our way, it’s much more complicated.
Jacobson: And I think that the technology and the sort of visual psychology of 3D, editing, and style is still evolving. I think it’s a truism that you can’t be as cutty, but some of that has to do with the angles that you cut between also. It has to do with the eye readjusting. You know, we are trying to evolve our own style too. We are trying to make a movie that actually hasn’t been made before in 3D. That has a sense of immediacy that is grounded. That has a sense of urgency to it.
Bekmambetov: Especially because our movie is more suspense. It’s very suspensey. It’s about suspense because you don’t see the aliens and they might be next to you and you don’t know. 3D for suspense movies is very effective. That is what I have learned from this movie. In 2D movies, it’s more, like, narration. It’s the director pushing you along and telling you the story. In 3D movies, it’s the director inviting you into his world and you are the traveler. It’s very interesting. I learned a lot because it’s the first time. I’ve never made 3D movies. I learned the difference between 2D and 3D. In 2D, the audience has to be more creative because you only see these colorful shadows on the white screen and, in your mind, you have to create the world. You are supposed to imagine the 3D world by seeing these images. But in 3D movies, with the glasses, you don’t have to imagine the world. You are already there. It’s kind of corrupting the audience’s imagination because you don’t have to imagine You are already there. It’s very different. We didn’t understand what 3D meant for us and how it would change everything. It’s the same thing that happened during the 16th century when painters created perspective. Before that, it was more regimental and symbols. Then, they created the illusion of the real world, and it becomes a big deal. It changed everything.
Do you have to consider what it’s going to look like in 2D, though? If you approach the film differently for 3D, you have to consider the fact that presumably that it’s eventually going to come out on DVD and it’s going to be on TV, and that’s how a lot of people are going to see the film. Does that lessen the impact then if the shots have been constructed in such a different way?
Bekmambetov: Theoretically, it’s a big problem because 2D is very different. It has a different rhythm and composition. But when I saw Avatar in 2D, I liked it even more than in 3D. I don’t know. I don’t think it’s so important. If there is a story, if there is a character, and it’s well written – then it doesn’t really matter. You can enjoy the movie.
But obviously, if you have this stuff flying at the camera, it looks kind of funny on a small screen as opposed to the big screen.
Bekmambetov: We don’t have a lot of things…
Jacobson: It’s not gimmicky like that. I mean, there will be some effects He’ll use it judicially so there will be, like, one moment because of the nature of the visual effects of the movie. But as I said, it’s meant to be grounded, real, and suspenseful. Most of the 3D movies that have been done today are fantastical in nature. Certainly the family movies, and the animated movies. Avatar is fantastical. Even though the emotion of Avatar works great, it’s in a fantastical world. Ours is not. Ours is grounded in a real world. It’s not a comic book movie. It’s not a superhero movie. So we think that adds a unique quality to it.
Speaking of the fantastic, you’ve certainly been drawn to science fiction with these sort of bigger than life stories. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Bekmambetov: I don’t know. I don’t know what to say. If you have a relatable story, then the science fiction genre will help you to tell the story in a more entertaining, exaggerated, and emotional way. It’s just a tool to tell the human story. Nothing else. I wasn’t a big fan of genre movies before Night Watch and then, suddenly, I found out that the genre helps you to tell the relatable human story in a very aggressive and very emotional way. Like usual, every creature and nightmare is just a metaphor for the nightmares we have in the real world.
Would you call yourself a genre filmmaker now, though? You said that you hadn’t really considered it before Night Watch and I wonder if you see yourself as a genre filmmaker now.
Bekmambetov: I don’t know what it means to be genre filmmaker. It’s very difficult to describe what it means to be a genre filmmaker. Every movie has a genre. I don’t know a movie without a genre.
Anyway, you are following a model of science fiction. Science fiction can create panic and strange feelings inside people. So different maybe from the new era and like District 9 for example. Do you prefer doing it this way or do you consider doing the other?
Bekmambetov: I prefer…the most impressive movie that I’ve seen from the last few years was Gareth Edward’s Monsters. It’s a great example of the mix between genre movies and melodrama. It’s very good, new, and surprising.
Bekmambetov: Yeah. I hope we will make his next movie together.
What’s that about?
Bekmambetov: [laughs] He will tell you.
You keep emphasizing that it’s very grounded in reality. But are there any over the top action sequences that we can expect?
Jacobson: It’s an action movie. I mean, it’s an action-thriller. I guess what we mean by “grounded” is from an emotional point of view from a sort of character point of view. That you want to believe that these characters are really going through it like an audience would go through it. But it’s a ride from the opening action sequence. It’s a combination of action and suspense. So even the scene in Red Square, which is just a vast empty scene, with these characters working with a police car when all of a sudden they hear this sound. It’s broad daylight. It’s the middle of the day. They’ve now figured out a little about these aliens. “ Maybe they are invisible?” “Maybe they are there?” “Maybe they are not?” What follows, is this incredible tense scene with great scale. And then they end up in the middle of the movie meeting up with these Russian soldiers, who come to their rescue after a good action sequence. And eventually they learn how to fight back. They take the fight to…
PR Person from Summit: Yeah. There are multiple set sequences. As we talked about earlier, the invasion happens in the first ten minutes. It’s pretty unrelenting I would say.
I don’t know what you can say without spoiling, but are the aliens invading because they want something? Or is it because there is more technology now and we are noticing them more now?
Jacobson: No. There is a reason. They want something and it’s pretty simple.
It seems to me that a lot of aliens are coming to this planet for water…
Bekmambetov: Or girls [everybody laughs]
But water seems to be a big thing with a lot of movies. So is water a big part of this?
Jacobson: No. There’s water in the movie, but that’s not why they are here.
PR Person from Summit: But, Steve, it does have to do with electricity and electrical phenomenon.
So this story is set in a foreign country. Coming here from the airport, my driver couldn’t a word of English to me. How does that play into the movie? Are there subtitles? How do people communicate?
Bekmambetov: It’s what has created the uniqueness of this project. We have a problem to communicate with each other until we have a bigger problem. Then, if we have aliens, we will figure out how to explain to each other where to run and how to survive.
There’s a lot of alien invasion movies on the horizon. Next year, and even later this year…
Bekmambetov: Something is coming. [everybody laughs]
Is this in your mind at all? Do you worry about these?
Bekmambetov: About aliens or…? [laughs]
More importantly, the other films. Do you worry that you are competing against them? Do you want to try and research them so you are doing something different? Or are they not in your head at all?
Bekmambetov: We can’t think about it. We just have to make a movie. Make it good, emotional, and impressive. Then, we will see. How can you build a strategy when there are six hundred people producing movies at the same time in different cities all around the world? If you try to plan and manipulate you will be stopped like a centipede. You can not move. Instead, you will start to think about how you can move your legs.
Jacobson: We think that our movie is very unique, and it’s our movie. Our job, is to be competitive with ourselves to make the best movie. The effects, the action, the characters, the drama, and the visual effects – we feel pretty good about it.
That’s it for now, but over the next few months, you can expect a lot more from my trip to Moscow for The Darkest Hour prior to release on December 25, 2011.