Even with movies, it's location, location, location

Atom Egoyan makes the most of Toronto in 'Chloe'

The cities where films take place are like characters, themselves, and often play a key role in making stories work.

So thinking location, location, location, Atom Egoyan pushed to change the setting for his drama "Chloe," opening Friday via Sony Pictures Classics, from overly familiar San Francisco to much less identifiable Toronto.

Egoyan signed on to direct "Chloe" three years ago when Ivan Reitman approached him about remaking the 2003 French film "Nathalie" that he'd seen and acquired rights to at the Toronto Film Festival.

In "Chloe" Julianne Moore is Catherine, a married doctor who seems to have it all but still has nagging doubts about her husband's (Liam Neeson) fidelity. To resolve her fears she hires a call girl (Amanda Seyfried) to approach him and report back with details.

When Reitman hired screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson ("Secretary") to re-imagine "Nathalie" he was considering directing it, himself. In late spring '07 he and Tom Pollock, his partner in the Montecito Picture Co., decided "Chloe" was better suited to Egoyan, whose 1994 drama about obsession, "Exotica," Reitman particularly liked. Reitman became a producer and Pollock an executive producer of "Chloe."

Egoyan, born in Cairo but raised in Canada, knew he'd rather shoot in Toronto and that he'd have a hard time getting Reitman, who was born in Czechoslovakia but grew up in Canada, to say yes.

"Ivan came out and we spent some time going around Toronto, which I think was really quite an emotional experience for him because he spent so much time there before leaving. He saw the city was completely transformed."

As a director, he explained, "I'm always excited to explore new terrain and so many of my favorite films have been set in San Francisco. It's just impossible to reinvent it."
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How did Reitman react?

"While he was skeptical about it being as alluring as San Francisco, I was able to convince him there was a way of photographing it that would make it very seductive to the viewer because they would not necessarily know where they were."

Moviegoers would see they were in an urban center, but wouldn't know it's Toronto because the city almost always doubles for places like New York or Chicago where it's more expensive to shoot.

Another reason for filming in Toronto, Egoyan told me, is, "I don't really know how people live in San Francisco the way I do in Toronto."

Where to shoot was just one of Egoyan's challenges making "Chloe," whose tight 35 day shoot's budget was only $12-$14 million.

Egoyan always had Moore in mind for Catherine. He wanted Seyfried for Chloe from the start, but she wasn't well enough known to cast.

"There wasn't any way it could be financed with Amanda," he explained, "so I went out and made 'Adoration' and while I was making that 'Mamma Mia' came out and was a huge hit" (with Seyfried playing Meryl Streep's daughter).

Meanwhile, Egoyan directed Neeson onstage at Lincoln Center: "Liam mentioned that we should work together again so I presented him with the script and he came on board."

One of "Chloe's" key scenes is a steamy erotic encounter between Moore and Seyfried's characters.

"The most important thing is you shoot them as dramatic scenes. You don't suddenly shift gears and make it all very secretive and hushed. There had to be continuity between the way I would direct a dramatic scene and an erotic scene because ultimately what I'm most interested in in that erotic scene is the drama."
Yes, but how do you shoot it?

"You come to an agreement with the actors as to what they're comfortable showing or not showing," he replied. "You're very specific about the way you're choreographing it. Once they understand what the parameters are, they can concentrate on the drama, itself."

It helps, of course, if a director's been around this track.

"There's a lot of stuff going on and the last thing the actors have to worry about is whether or not they're overexposed or whether or not they're well photographed. You obviously don't shoot those scenes at the beginning of the shoot. You make sure the actors are comfortable and there's a rhythm and the crew is comfortable."

Looking back, Egoyan noted, he's also learned what not to do. When he shot his '05 erotic thriller "Where the Truth Lies" the MPAA slapped it with an NC-17.

"The mistake I made is that I shot it as a master (scene) and there was no way of altering it," he pointed out. "But this one is carefully covered. We were able to tailor it because the one thing that was absolutely clear is that we needed an R rating. NC-17 is the kiss of death."

What also made "Chloe" unusual for Egoyan, he said, "is that it was the first film I extensively tested."

He knew from the get-go that Montecito intended for "Chloe" to have recruited screenings.

"I don't know how my own scripts would survive that process, but this film (did) because it was more linear," Egoyan observed. "It was a very eye-opening experience. I actually enjoyed the test screenings we had here in L.A."

See Martin Grove's Zamm Cam movie previews on www.ZAMM.com.
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