Once best-known for his acting, Peter Berg has lately won over critics and audiences with his powerful and inventive films as a director.
After collaborating with Michael Mann on Berg's film The Kingdom, Berg stepped behind the camera to direct Hancock. Mann says that though Berg creates an easygoing and spontaneous atmosphere on the set, beneath the surface is a prepared and focused director. "Pete has an intuitive sense and is improvisational in his choices," says Mann, "but he's a lot more focused and intellectual than he lets on. He thinks quite seriously about everything."
"Peter Berg seems like a good-hearted little boy who wants to have fun," echoes Akiva Goldsman, "but it's a mask he puts on in order to generate an ambiance, a spontaneity, around the process. In truth he is a deeply thoughtful and very smart individual who tries to wink and nod his way out of engaging those attributes until he feels it's useful."
"Pete has a distinct voice," Smith says. "It's a style and flavor that is uniquely Pete. He's on a savant level in terms of how he shoots and how he creates. I was excited to see what would happen when Pete put Hancock, as a real dude with real problems, into a superhero suit."
"Pete has an actor's confidence that's very different from what a writer, director or producer exudes," Mann continues. "He knows when he has to hold on to a thought or an emotion and how to make a shot or a scene work for a specific actor to achieve the emotion he's looking for from the audience."
"He was very upfront and honest about how he liked to work," says Theron, recalling her first meeting with Berg. "He told me he was just going to yell things in the middle of takes. He said, 'I'm not going to cut, I don't like to cut, so I hope you're OK with that.' I had never worked that way before, but now, I can't imagine not shooting that way."
Berg was part of the team of filmmakers that came together to bring Hancock to the screen. Each one -- Smith, Lassiter, Mann, Goldsman, and Berg -- each brought something to the table that helped Hancock's journey to the big screen.
"Filmmaking is a team sport," says Smith. "For a film like Hancock, we needed as many off-center points of view as possible -- and everyone on this team is one degree off of normal. What made this a wonderful collaboration is that we all had these really strange ideas -- anyone could say anything -- and the number one idea, an idea that felt like part of the DNA of the material, would stand out."
"We formed a group where we really relied on each other," explains Goldsman. "Pete can write, direct, and produce a movie, Michael can direct, write, and produce, Will can produce and direct, J.L. can certainly produce, I can write a movie and if you put a gun to my head, I could probably direct a scene. It doesn't mean you do one another's jobs, it just means that each of us had the other's back."
"I had to keep bobbing and weaving," laughs Berg. "A group like Akiva, Michael, Will, and J.L. is like a force of nature; they kept me on my toes. Michael would come at me, bam, and then Akiva, and then J.L., who is like the silent assassin," he jokes. "We tweaked parts of the script and dialed in some details, but the credit for this story really goes to Vincent Ngo and Vince Gilligan.
"As an actor, I learned that it's important to get your head right and be in the right moment," he continues. "There is so much subterfuge in moviemaking that we forget what matters -- the audience, sitting in a theater, enjoying what they're watching a year after we've completed production. Will's got this saying, 'If you stay ready, you never have to get ready.' Staying in the right frame of mind makes that possible for me."
"He creates a really nice atmosphere on set," agrees Smith, "where anybody from the cast or crew can give him ideas and he'll listen. He's open and he likes to have fun so everyone enjoys coming to work. It's still high pressure and high tempo, but the work is done with a good spirit."