New York Film Fest: 'All Is Lost's' J.C. Chandor, Producers Take Leap to Make Stranded-at-Sea Epic
The team behind "Margin Call" also talks about why an on-demand release wasn't right for the follow-up.
J.C. Chandor's debut feature film, Margin Call, earned him an Oscar nomination for best original screenplay. For his follow-up, the up-and-coming writer-director ditched all of that pesky dialogue for a movie with few words and one actor: Robert Redford.
The result is the stranded-at-sea epic All Is Lost, which has been hailed as equally if not more impressive by critics since it premiered at Cannes in May.
At the film's New York Film Festival premiere Tuesday, producer Neal Dodson, who also worked on Margin Call, revealed his reaction when Chandor announced that he wanted to make a movie that was so different from his prior film.
Chandor said the concept was, in many ways, his white whale.
"It's sort of the idea that wouldn't go away," he said. "And then he said yes, Redford said yes, and at that point I realized that it can become a reality."
Actor Zachary Quinto, who served as one of the film's executive producers and produced and starred in Margin Call, said he was encouraged by Chandor's pursuit of his bold idea.
"I was really excited and I appreciated his audacity and was happy to go on the ride with him for sure," he told THR.
For this film, although Quinto's company Before the Door produced the movie, the actor said his personal involvement in the project was somewhat limited.
"I executive produced this one, so it was a little more peripheral," he explained. "I popped down a few times [during filming] and supported them from afar. … It was more about my company than my individual contribution."
Dodson, meanwhile, "was there for every single second," from financing and casting through shooting and postproduction tweaks.
The process also included a crash course in nautical knowledge.
"We had to do a lot of research into the sailing part of it and into water tanks and into where one could shoot this safely and we had to very quickly connect with a bunch of sailors," Dodson explained. "J.C.'s a sailor in his own right, but we had to connect with a bunch of guys who were able to advise us on how this would really happen, from a physical standpoint, so we had guys who worked on the Pirates of the Carribean movies and all that stuff, both shooting underwater to manipulating the boats to making it feel like you're at sea to actually taking boats out to sea to sinking boats, to all of these various things that we had to figure out how to do. I have this whole useless set of skills unless I want to make another water movie."
One part of making the film that wasn't complicated was arranging the financing, Dodson said, noting that there isn't a financier listed among the movie's many producers.
"We sold the movie out to every country on earth and then just borrowed money from a bank," he said. "We literally don't have a financier on the film, we just borrowed it from a bank because we had sold the foreign and domestic rights for more than we needed to make it. … It gave us total control."
They ended up making the movie for $9 million.
Although Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions released Margin Call day-and-date in theaters and on-demand, All is Lost is solely a theatrical release. Chandor and the producers explained that an on-demand release didn't really make sense for this film.
"This is absolutely designed to be seen in a movie theater. My first film, frankly, the reason I didn't put up too much of a fuss when they came to us with that option is that I actually thought it was an opportunity for that film to have a much larger audience," Chandor said. "This film needs to be seen in a theater with other people around. It's a communal experience and it needs to be seen in that way. So I'm hoping that people go out and see it in theaters."
"This is a true cinematic experience," Quinto said, with Dodson adding, "it's a scale and scope movie, not unlike Gravity."
Dodson's wife, actress Ashley Williams, who had a small part in Margin Call and was on hand for Tuesday night's screening, said she was truly impressed by All is Lost.
"I think it's incredible. I think the fact that the first movie, Margin Call, was filled with amazing dialogue and he got nominated for an Oscar for that and he decided that his follow-up would have no dialogue in it is bold and shows his range incredibly well, and I'm really excited to see his next movie after this to see what he chooses to do," she gushed. "J.C.'s really keeping us guessing now, which is a fun position to be in."
Williams is likely best known for her role as Ted Mosby's ex-girlfriend Victoria on How I Met Your Mother. Although she appeared in a few episodes last season, she said she doesn't know if she'll make an appearance in the final season, airing now, but she would like to be invited.
"Oh gosh, it would be such fun, but you know, it's hard to say now. I'm sort of hoping that they do like a lineup of all the ex-girlfriends and maybe I could come in for like a day. That would be so great," she said.
We'll have to wait and see.
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