Robert Redford at Sea: The Making of 'All Is Lost'
12:10 PM PST 11/14/2013 by THR Staff
The legendary star and director J.C. Chandor break down their $9 million gamble about a man alone on a voyage. Says Redford, "He's taken away the filters and barriers of dialogue, voiceover, special effects, what have you. It's a pure cinematic experience."
By design, director J.C. Chandor decided that the audience should learn very little about the backstory of Robert Redford's character. Chandor says he didn't even discuss the character's origins with Redford, though the actor at first found that approach disarming. "I kind of doubled down on that. The character of the man you never question. You know who the guy is in the meaningful sense," says Chandor. "But how many children he has, is he divorced? Is he married? Those things I kept vague. The key piece of information that Mr. Redford did have is that he does have a family. He's not a homeless wanderer who's been sailing the world for 20 years."
Director J.C. Chandor and Robert Redford
"[Chandor has] taken away the filters and barriers of dialogue, voiceover, special effects, what have you. It's a pure cinematic experience," says Redford of the daring movie. "And that was very appealing to me at this point in my life -- to be able to go back to my roots as an actor, to be interesting enough to have the audience ride along with you and almost be a part of what you are feeling and thinking."
A Challenge to Make
Making a movie, particularly one shot on water -- an unpredictable environment that can send budgets soaring out of control -- would be a challenge. The producers began assembling an experienced team and scouting the world, checking out tanks from Malta to Taiwan, where Life of Pi was filmed. At one point, Chandor cold-called Baja Studios, saying he was planning to shoot an indie film but wasn't sure he could afford the location, home to four tanks, near Rosarita in Baja, Mexico.
The Virginia Jean
But when it came to the 39-foot boat he sails -- the Virginia Jean -- production designer John Goldsmith created a bit more of a history. Three boats actually were used. And Chandor suggested to Goldsmith that Redford's character bought the boat when he was 51, six years after it was built, and some years later, after its upkeep had slipped, invested $20,000 re-outfitting it. "The boat had to have an openness to interpretation," says Goldsmith. "The boat is almost an abstract idea -- a womb or a cocoon, a place of safety and security while the world rages outside."
The First Mate
Instead of working from the bare-bones script, Chandor broke the film down into 500 storyboard images that were pushpinned on the wall in the conference room that James Cameron once used when he was filming Titanic. The goal was to bring the viewer as close to what Redford's character is experiencing as possible. Says cinematographer Frank DeMarco, who shot with an Alexa camera: "J.C. really wanted to be in the moment. One of the main rules for the film is that we should be very close to Bob's character, like a first mate. I used a 32 mm lens, so I could be right there within an arm's reach of Bob, in his breath and in his sweat."