Colin Farrell is holding a futuristic black gun that fires energy rather than bullets. He’s standing behind a sliding white door inside a capsule that travels through the center of the Earth. Inside the room he’s trying to enter, armed Federal soldiers are guarding a valuable prisoner: Melina (Jessica Biel), one of the leaders of the underground resistance, and she’s trying to get rid of Vilos Cohaagen (the leader of the United Federation of Britain, who’s being played by Bryan Cranston). An assistant director calls action, the door slides open and Farrell comes barreling in, firing his weapon and killing three soldiers. After freeing Biel, Farrell explains that Cohaagen is lying and he’s not with him. As he pleads with her, it’s clear Biel is not sure what to believe, but she eventually embraces him with watery eyes. After a long kiss, they race out of the capsule and someone calls cut.
Let me back up a second.
As I type these words, it’s August 11, 2011 and I’m at the Toronto International Airport on my way back home. Yesterday, I spent all day on the Toronto set of director Len Wiseman‘s Total Recall remake. While some set visits might be a few hours, we arrived on set around 10:30am and didn’t leave until 10:30pm. It was a crazy day where we got to see tons of cool production art, interview the cast and filmmakers, and we saw huge practical sets that are going to look amazing on screen. For my full recap and video blog, hit the jump.
As most of you know, Total Recall is based on the short story “We Can Remember It For You Wholesale” by Philip K. Dick. But unlike Paul Verhoeven‘s 1990 film with the same name, Wiseman’s film doesn’t go to Mars. Instead, the updated version takes place completely on Earth at some point in the future. However, based on what I saw yesterday, that’s not going to stop this version from incorporating a lot of Easter eggs from the original film and Dick’s short story.
My set visit was conducted with a number of other online reporters, and based on our conversation on the bus ride back to the hotel, I think most walked away impressed by the size and scope of the film. The big debate at the end of the night was whether or not to consider this Total Recall a sci-fi film that has action, or an action film that happens to have sci-fi. After talking to the cast and the filmmakers, in my opinion there is no debate: Len Wiseman’s Total Recall is a huge, non-stop, action movie that uses sci-fi to help tell the story. And I’m completely on board with his take.
Shortly after getting back to the hotel, I recorded a video blog about the set visit with Peter from Slashfilm. We talked about everything we did on set and what we thought. But unlike most of our set visit video blogs, this one features some real debate. It’s actually a pretty vocal exchange. If you’re a fan of our video blogs, I think you’ll really like this one. Further down the page is my written report.
20 Things I Learned on the Set of Total Recall
While in the past I’ve written huge reports about what it was like on set and a complete recap of the day’s events, I’ve learned that most of you just want to know the highlights. To make that happen, here’s the 20 things I learned on set. A bit further down the page is a recap of everything we saw being filmed and links to all the on set interviews.
- The remake of Total Recall is being shot on the RED EPIC with Panavision anamorphic lenses. The camera has 5k resolution and watching playback on the monitors, I could see every little detail. In my opinion, this is the camera everyone will be using in the near future. It’s truly an incredible invention.
- Some of Total Recall is being shot in 48fps (frames per second). This will eventually be reduced to 24fps when being projected, but it will make any camera movement look incredible and it’ll dramatically reduce motion blur.
- In the world of Total Recall, Earth has two places that everyone lives: the United Federation of Britain (UFB from now on) and New Asia. The UFB is located in London and instead of taking down the old buildings, the city has grown towards the sky. Buildings and highways look sterile and exist hundreds and thousands of feet up in the air, while the old parts of the city are still being used. The concept art of the UFB looked incredible and I really can’t wait to see it come alive on screen. The UFB has clean air, plenty of food and water, and it’s where the rich have taken over. On the other hand, New Asia exists on the other side of the planet and it’s built on water where acid rain constantly falls. As bright as the UFB is, New Asia is dark. If you remember what Mars looked like in the original Total Recall, New Asia is going to be darker and dirtier, but still it’s got some similarities. Either way, the production art we saw makes me think New Asia is going to look very cool.
- Quaid (Colin Farrell) works at a robot factory building Synths. In the first 20 minutes of the movie, we see the monotony of his life and how he’s unhappy (even though he’s married to a woman played by Kate Beckinsale). From what I can tell, the remake has a lot of the same plot points as the original, but everything is a bit different. An example is we’ll get the Kuato character, but in the remake, his name is Matthias and he lives on the outskirts of London.
- The movie is trying to do as much practically as possible. They built real sets for the red light district, New Asia, the hover cars, and more of the shops and vehicles. CG will be used to take away wires and to amplify the practical sets. No matter how the movie turns out, visually it’s going to be cool.
- Recall is in New Asia and unlike the original which was a huge company that advertised all over the planet, in this version, it feels more like an opium den that’s secluded and private.
- Some of the big action scenes include a hovercraft car chase that took 15 days to film, a helicopter chase sequence, a big fight sequence between Colin Farrell and Bryan Cranston which will take 5 days to film (I believe it takes place towards the end of the movie), and a lot more. During the interview with Farrell and Biel, they told us how we caught them on an unusual day as they were doing dialogue. Farrell joked that this was one of four days they were doing an intimate scene.
- As I mentioned, Wiseman’s version of Kuato is called Matthias, and he lives on the outskirts of London. In the production art, it looks like he lives in an abandoned old Church. We were told Farrell gets to him using the old subway tunnels which still exist but aren’t used.
- One of my favorite things about futuristic movies is the cool advances in society. In the original Recall, you had Johnny Cab, the girl who could change her nail color in an instant, and the way they did advertising (just to name a few). In the new Recall, some of the cool things we heard about were how advertising would be all around us. Patrick Tatopoulos, the production designer, talked to us about how billboards in the future would be right in front of you and you’d walk through them. To make it work in the movie, he told us that they had practical lights on set so the actor would really walk through the lighted space, and in post production they’ll add the ads and clean up the effect. We also saw phones that exist in your hand and light up when you’re talking, Biel’s character will use a 9mm Beretta fully-automatic, and people in the future can get LCD tattoo’s that light up under your skin.
- In the movie, you’ll be able to go from one side of the Earth to the other in about 20 minutes. One of the very cool sci-fi aspects of the new Recall is China Falls – which is the name of the company that runs this transportation device. The way it works is that in both UFB and New Asia, there is a huge station that goes high into the sky and it’s like a train station for going to the other side of the world. This device is a huge part of the story. Also, while we tried to find out more details about how New Asia and the UFB interact, everyone was pretty guarded. And before anyone starts to say this can’t be real, the filmmakers aren’t pretending it is. People on set said it was pseudo-science, and they didn’t talk to anyone to see if such a device could theoretically work.
- Cohaagen runs the UFB. While in the original Recall we saw the inside of Cohaagen’s office, Cranston told us that we’ll never see his office because for most of the movie we see Cohaagen as a hologram talking to the people or communicating on the phone. People are always looking for him but he’s a mystery. It’s only towards the end that we’ll see him in person.
- For the big hovercraft action set piece, the production built 7 or 8 cars. Farrell told us that filming this sequence was the scariest thing he’s ever done on any movie set and said that he felt safer on the set of Alexander even with elephants all around him.
- The most extras they’re going to have will be on the New Asia set. They’re planning for 400 extras on selected days.
- It rains all the time in New Asia, and it’s mostly acid rain. Most of the extras will be wearing clear raincoats so you can easily see the falling rain and rain drops on their clothes.
- The plan for the costumes is to make everyone look realistic. However, the costumes department decided to go futuristic when it came to the Federal Police. The Federal Police in white uniforms are normal cops, while the Federal Police in all black are Cohaagen’s personal police force. The costume department made 100 Federal Police outfits.
- Len Wiseman isn’t afraid to shoot with multiple cameras. We saw one sequence being filmed with 3 cameras. One was a medium shot on Farrell. One was the same type of shot but focused on Biel. The third camera was a wide shot of the room. This way, Wiseman’s editors will be able to cut between the actors on the same take without worrying about continuity.
- Quaid’s apartment is ultra-modern but has a mid-century feel to it. The rooms are square and boxy while he has a half sunk bedroom. As many told us on set, the future will still use many things that exist today, but they’ll just have technological advances that we haven’t yet thought of yet. People will still use forks to eat with, they’ll still drink coffee, and they’ll still sleep in beds.
- The plan for Recall is to have a gritty realism. They want the world to feel real and lived-in.
- Bryan Cranston wanted to look like John Edwards (the politician) in the movie and copied his hair style on Edwards. When we saw him, he was wearing a tie, white shirt, a vest that was buttoned up, and it was all Tom Ford clothing.
- Wiseman wanted the moment when Quaid gets attacked in Recall to look different than the rest of the movie especially because this was the moment Quaid woke up. To do this, he used super slider rigs that are normally used on commercials and sporting events. The sequence took 2 days to film and they prepared for months to shoot it. On set, the camera operators wore helmets, and everyone had to be extra careful. The rigs can move 15 feet a second and they attached 3 rigs together so it looks like the camera is doing something that it physically shouldn’t be able to do. They showed the sequence to us (it was also shown at Comic-Con) and it looked bad ass.
- Bryan Cranston revealed that he’s delivering his dialogue a few different ways so Wiseman will have choices in the editing room. He said some of his takes are very serious, while some are more humorous. He thinks he’s one of the few characters who can add some humor to the film. Also while Beckinsale was doing her close-ups and using her hand phone, Cranston was standing in video village delivering his lines on take after take. Even though he wasn’t being filmed and it could easily have been an assistant director, he was always saying his lines like he was the one on camera. Not every actor would do that, which is just another reason why I respect his work.
While I’ve been on a lot of movie sets, the stuff I saw being built for New Asia was definitely some of the coolest. Even though the sets were still coming together and it wasn’t close to completion, walking through the set made me think of what it would have been like to walk through the Warner Bros. backlot when they were filming Blade Runner. The U-shaped set is going to hold tons of small shops and restaurants, as well as small alleyways where the fringes of society will exist. Also, in the center of the U, the production is going to fill it with water and have boats coming and going. We were told five major scenes will take place on the set, and I’m beyond confident people are going to wish it was real. We also learned once they were done filming those sequences, they’d turn the set into the red light district, and that’s where we’re going to see a three breasted woman (another nod to Verhoeven’s film).
The other massive set we got to visit was the China Falls set. On one side of the huge soundstage, the production was building the very top of the device on the UFB side. Based on the interviews with Cranston and Farrell, this is the location where they’re going to have their huge fight scene. I’d imagine when they add the tops of the buildings and fill in the green screen, it’s going to look awesome on screen. However, unlike some productions which build as little as possible, the top of China Falls was hundreds of feet across and at least 50 feet high in some areas.
On the other side of the same soundstage at Pinewood Toronto, the production built the inside of China Falls, complete with one of the cars that take you from one end of the Earth to the other. The best way to describe it would be to say it felt like the inside of Star Tours. I wanted to sit down in one of the 50 chairs and strap myself in for an epic ride. The inside of the car and the location were mostly white, which goes back to what I said earlier about how most of the UFB is sterile.
Another cool aspect of the set is the production made it so a camera can spin 360 degrees around. This way the people dressed in synth-suits can remain still, but the camera will make it seem like they’re upside down. We saw them filming like this and I first thought everyone was upside down. They had me tricked for at least 10 minutes.
A Recap of Filming
As I said in my opening paragraph, one of the scenes we saw being shot involved Farrell rescuing Biel from some Federal Police. The scene takes place very close to movie’s end, and after he rescues her, he most likely has his big fight scene with Cohaagen on the China Falls platform in the UFB.
We saw the scene being shot at least seven times, with each take being 98% the same with some slight tweaks. An example is one take had Biel really crying, while most of the others she just had watery eyes. Also, when they embraced each other, some takes had longer kisses, and others were a bit quicker. It’ll be interesting to see how the scene comes together.
The other scene we got to see involved Kate Beckinsale. In the scene, which was shot on the same set, we see Beckinsale walk into the China Falls pod/car being followed by a number of Federal Police who she’s commanding. I think she’s chasing down Biel and Farrell, and she’s in another China Falls pod/car. They’ve escaped and she’s pissed. As she gets to the far window which has been somehow opened, she sticks her head out to see where the other pod is and at the same time she’s on the phone with Cohaagen. While she wants to follow them, he tells her to back off and she’s not happy.
Since the two of them are talking via the hand phone (a futuristic phone that exists under the skin in your hand, which means you can put your hand to your ear and near your mouth and it lights up so you can talk), we saw a few takes where Beckinsale was just holding her hand to the side of her face with no effects, and a few takes where she had a light up device in the palm of her hand. This way the special effects people can use the one that works best for being able to add effects.
As we watched a number of takes being shot on two cameras, we eventually hit the end of the night and made out way back to the bus for the ride back to our hotel.
When I first heard they were remaking Total Recall, I had mixed feelings. I was concerned the production would half-ass it, and we’d get some cheap remake that disgraced the original. But after being on set, I can tell you that Sony is spending some serious coin to make sure Len Wiseman’s Total Recall looks great and is loaded with action. I left extremely confident that this new Recall is going to be a hell of a ride and something I’m really looking forward to seeing.
For more on Total Recall, here’s my on set interviews:
- Colin Farrell and Jessica Biel Talk Action, Epic Chase Sequences, Remaking A Beloved Sci-Fi Film and More on the Set of Total Recall
- Bryan Cranston Talks His Version of Cohaagen, Turning Down X-Men: First Class, the End of Breaking Bad and More on the Set of Total Recall
- Director Len Wiseman and Producer Toby Jaffe Talk Referencing the Original, Sequel Possibilities and More on the Set of Total Recall
- Production Designer Patrick Tatopoulos Talks Car Designs, Constructing New Cities, Product Placement and More on the Set of Total Recall