'Ruins' production builds temple

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The film team behind "The Ruins" thought they had it made.

On the surface, the movie had a simple premise: five vacationers uncover Mayan ruins entangled with man-eating vines.

"It seemed self-contained and easy," producer Chris Bender recalls. "Find a hill, built a set on top of that, and shoot the entire movie there."

But finding that perfect hill -- one that had forests, cliffs and rivers layered around it -- turned out to be impossible. DreamWorks, the studio behind the movie, had decided to shoot in Australia, and while there were many perfect hills in the vast Outback, none of them were practical: they were too remote, and getting actors, cameras and vehicles in was impossible or too costly.

The production then decided to split the set into two parts: one would be the top of the temple/hill, the second would be the bottom, encompassing a jungle environment with a field leading up to the massive temple. The two parts would then be digitally connected to give the illusion of one whole.

The top set was build on private land near the Natural Arch in Springbrook National Park in Queensland, about a mile up from the ground. It was constructed to be a dirty, ancient temple with a shaft in the middle. The underneath was where the real action took place. The scaffolding structure housed the sound, camera crews, food services and was where the prosthetics team worked.

"If we had to race down to the ground for everything, it would have been prohibitive," Bender said. "It was like a self-contained outdoor stage, and all the departments were underneath it. It was really genius."

The set also was used for sweeping shots from a helicopter.

"We needed something where you saw the entire ruins," Bender said. "If you didn't have that, it would feel like you weren't really on top of something. We didn't have a full set or a miniature, so it became a VFX project."

The helicopter shot the top of the hill, and the background, including the rest of the temple and hill, was created via VFX.

The second set, encompassing an area the size of a football field, was situated on Queensland's Mount Tambourine. The filmmakers found an area with ominous-looking trees and proceeded to build three-quarters of a Mayan pyramid, one large enough that the actors could climb.

While the movie, which bows April 4, did shoot on soundstages for the interior of the temple, the fact that so much of it was shot outdoors meant that the production had to deal with daylight, whose always shifting sun limited work hours.

Annual locations confab scouts for room to grow

There is a certain amount of irony that the Association of Film Commissioners International would have a locations problem. But with the 23rd annual AFCI Locations Trade Show 2008 only three weeks away, that's just the case.

The AFCI has only itself to blame. It's just too darn successful.

For the past eight years, the AFCI Trade Show has been held at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. It moved there after its venues in downtown Los Angeles proved too small. With the trade show growing every year thanks to the increasing global nature of film coupled with the incentive craze, now even the Santa Monica location is a tight squeeze.

"We really need a big venue to cope with demand, but finding a suitable venue and finding a suitable location has not been easy," AFCI president Robin James said as he prepared to leave his native Australia for the show. "We need a larger facility, and there is no large facility on the horizon."

The AFCI has been focusing on programs aimed at providing better service for its members and clients. At last year's show, the organization launched the first phase of its global initiatives, unveiling among other things master classes and a certification program. This year, it is expanding its master classes and offering new seminars.

One likely highlight will be the seminar titled "Greasing Palms on Location: What You Need to Know About the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act," designed to inform commissioners of the legislation governing companies operating outside the U.S., and similar laws in other Western countries.

"This is uncharted territory for most film commissioners, that's for sure, and they need to know how this act works and what the implications are for them," James said. "There are cultural practices -- that's a euphemism for bribery -- in some countries which are specifically prohibited by this act."

The AFCI also will unveil a logo at the trade show, one James said is meant to reflect a modern and sleek global sensibility.

"Last year was the development phase," he said. "Now we have been in the implementation phase."
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