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The biggest challenge facing Mann was turning 21st-century America back into the world of the early 1930s. As there were some 114 different sets to dress for the film, the art department was kept occupied well before principal photography began. In addition to his crew's work on developing sets, Mann felt it was important to lens at as many of the actual locations as possible. As Dillinger and his crew traveled across the Midwest during their bank-robbing spree, so would this production.
A keen historian, the writer/director gives an example of just how easy it was for Dillinger and his crew to get away with it all as they robbed. “Indiana State Police had 27 officers for the whole state of Indiana,” Mann offers. “Law enforcement was local, underpaid, poorly supplied, and they didn't talk to anybody else. They didn't know what was going on in the next county, unless it was anecdotally in a bar or in a café. If you're a crew of bank robbers, you could commit a bank robbery in Indiana, go across the border into Illinois and be home free. There was no law against interstate crime and no federal police force at all.”
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Though in various states of repair, several of the actual sites visited by Dillinger are still around today. Fortunately, the production was allowed use of the structures for three of his iconic showdowns with the law: the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana; the Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters, Wisconsin; and the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
Before Dillinger's daring escape in Sheriff Lillian Holley's (Six Feet Under's Lili Taylor) personal automobile (after he carved a wooden gun out of a washing board), the Lake County Jail briefly saw him as a reluctant guest. Of the location, production designer Nathan Crowley elaborates: “The front portion, which was Sheriff Holley's house, was pretty much deteriorated, while the back part, which was the jail, was rusted and corroded. We didn't have to make anything up, which was fantastic. It had the real corridors and the real geography.”
One of the most notorious photographs ever taken of Dillinger was shot at this jail. The gangster offered a wry smile while leaning on the shoulder of District Attorney Robert Estill (Prison Break's Alan Wilder); it was a photo that would sabotage Estill's burgeoning political career. Because many photographs of the jail (especially the common areas) were taken during the famous press conference, Crowley's team was able to accurately duplicate the area. As there were no existing images of the interiors of the cells themselves, even more imagination went into their dressing.
At the Little Bohemia Lodge in spring 1934, agents from the Chicago and St. Paul offices of the FBI surrounded Dillinger and his gang, only to be outfoxed once again. Along with the notorious Baby Face Nelson, Homer Van Meter and Red Hamilton, Dillinger had just held up a bank and fled to northern Wisconsin to hide out. A violent gunfight ensued in which one innocent local man was killed; additionally, FBI Agent Carter Baum was killed by Nelson. During production of the film, the team lensed at the Little Bohemia 74 years to the week that Dillinger evaded the feds.
The Alpine guesthouse is a tourist spot that now operates as a restaurant, and it took some work to recreate the era. From replicating the gangsters' rooms and planting shrubbery about the grounds, the design team was fastidious in making the Little Bohemia look as it did during Dillinger's heyday.
“We were able to shoot not just in the actual place where this happened, but in his actual room,” reveals Mann. “As you can imagine, there's a certain kind of magic, a kind of resonance, for Johnny Depp to be lying in the bed that John Dillinger was actually in. When he puts his hand on the doorknob and opens the door, it's the same doorknob that Dillinger put his hand on and opened.”
All of the Dillinger gang successfully escaped from the Little Bohemia, and the event became an unfortunate black mark in the FBI's history. The current Little Bohemia still hosts a variety of signs and relics from the Dillinger shoot-out, including bullet holes, broken windows and even some of the gang's luggage which it didn't have time to retrieve upon its hasty exit. It was, as Mann puts, “a dark day for J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI."
Melvin Purvis' assistant during this period, Doris Rogers Lockerman, was helpful in putting both the people and times in perspective for the cast and crew. According to the 92-year-old Lockerman, the Dillinger gang was toting around heavy weapons while holding onto the sideboards of cars during their escapes from the banks. They were simply tough young men, she explains.
On the other hand, she shares that the FBI agents were law school graduates with both proper training and athletic abilities, but they were simply not raised as ruggedly as the criminals in Dillinger's gang. Those men had a definite advantage in pure physicality and endurance.
It was quite meaningful for the actor who played Purvis to work in the same places that his character did. Christian Bale particularly felt that in the woods near the Bohemia. “When you use the real location, you have a reverence for it,” offers Bale. “It's incredibly helpful to stand in the same spot and know you're in the same woods-just sitting silently for awhile-as the man you are portraying. This was where he was actually fired upon and fired back.”
History buffs offer some context to the defeat that almost got Purvis fired. In defense of the FBI's unsuccessful efforts at the lodge, producer Misher says: “There was danger. They were walking into a blind alley with people who are very capable with their hands and weapons. That's the divide between whether Melvin Purvis was capable or not. The film answers it. He ultimately led the charge that got John Dillinger and resulted in the task at hand being accomplished: mission accomplished.”
The most famous of the actual sites recreated for the film is the Biograph Theater on Lincoln Avenue in Chicago. According to Crowley, this street “had the biggest facelift. The street is now gentrified, and there have been masses of changes since the 1930s. The finished street was an amalgamation of research and design.”
A combination of period streetcars, cobblestone-lined roads, numerous 1930s storefronts and automobiles gave an eerie and realistic look back in time to the sweltering evening of July 22, 1934: the night John Dillinger was betrayed by the “Lady in Red” and gunned down by Purvis' men.
No one was more shocked by this turn of events than Dillinger himself. While he knew his run was not indefinite, he had no idea his life would end so soon. Mann explains why the gangster felt comfortable mingling in the open: “Dillinger's natural charisma, his savvy about public relations, made him popular and charismatic, and he hid out in public. There were people who spotted him, saw him, and they didn't turn him in.” Until the “Lady in Red.”
But first, a bit of backstory. Anna Sage was an eastern European immigrant who ran a brothel and was in trouble with the immigration department of the federal government. In an effort to avoid deportation, Sage tipped off Purvis and the FBI that Dillinger would be attending the gangster movie Manhattan Melodrama (starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy) at the Biograph on this particular evening. As the point person in the treachery, Sage became known as the “Lady in Red” when she stood outside the theater. Curiously enough, she was wearing an orange outfit, but the artificial lighting made her dress look red. That moniker would forever be associated with a duplicitous woman.
As Dillinger walked out of the theater with then-girlfriend Polly Hamilton on one arm and Sage on the other, Purvis lit a cigar to alert the many law enforcement personnel that the criminal was in sight. Within seconds, Dillinger knew something was amiss and pulled his gun, but it was too late. He was shot three times and fell dead in an alley a few feet from the movie house.
As the team reconstructed events, Mann was most exacting. He explains the process: “We rebuilt the street front of the Biograph. We engineered it so that we were able to stage exactly where Dillinger was when he died-the same square foot of pavement that he died on-so that when Johnny looked up he saw the last thing Dillinger saw. That means a lot to an actor and to a director…to find yourself in those environments where you can suspend your disbelief and give yourself the magic of the moment.”
The film's lead agrees. He couldn't help but be wowed by his surroundings at the Biograph. “Everywhere you looked, it was 1934,” notes Depp. “It was pretty incredible to be standing in front of the Biograph Theater. As far as you could see, it was 1934…from the roads to the building storefronts to the marquee lights. Every detail was accounted for. I salute Michael for that. His attention to detail is unparalleled.”
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When deciding upon the actor who would portray the principal outlaw, Mann turned to a performer known for immersing himself in his roles. He found the complex character he needed for his interpretation of John Dillinger in Johnny Depp.
“Deep in the core of Johnny there's a toughness,” commends Mann. “When we started talking about it, he said that he had been interested in Dillinger for a long time and that Dillinger reminded him of some people from his past. He had Dillinger in him; that's something I sensed. Everybody has these dark currents inside of us, but to be able to reach down in a movie and plumb those depths and bring that up…that's courageous.”
Depp explains his long interest in the gangster: “Funny enough, when I was a little kid, there was a long period where I was fascinated with John Dillinger. No particular explanation why, I just was; he struck my fancy somehow. But looking back on that initial interest in Dillinger and the fact that it's carried through for the majority of my life, it was his character. It was who he was as a man…back at a time when men were really men. He was, for good or ill, exactly who he was, without any compromise whatsoever.”
For Mann, the challenge of preparation is “…trying to make 1933 come alive. And be alive just the way it's alive for you right now in 2009. And that meant not just how things looked, but how people thought. How men courted women in 1933. How ex-convicts thought about life and their fate in 1933. What the material world meant to those who were hungry and denied. The desperation on the streets.”
In preparation for the shoot, Mann, who had decided to film in some of the actual locations where the story took place-like the Crown Point Jail, Little Bohemia and the Biograph-was able to provide Depp with the actual clothing and personal articles of Dillinger.
Depp was able to spend time in some of the haunts frequented by the “Gentleman Bandit” and handle weaponry the man had used. Also informative were his personal experiences. “I read many books on him, but aside from all the research, more of it had to do with an instinct and understanding of the man,” Depp notes. “ I related to John Dillinger like he was a relative. I felt he was of the same blood. He reminded me of my stepdad and very much of my grandfather. He seemed to be one of those guys with absolutely no bull whatsoever, who lived at a time when a man was a man.”
The actor continues: “I think Dillinger had some idea of what he was doing. I believe he had found himself and was at peace with the fact that it wasn't going to be a very long ride…but it was going to be a significant ride.”
From his rise as a golden boy of the FBI to his need to get his hands dirty if he hoped to catch Dillinger, Purvis was just the complex part that Christian Bale was eager to tackle. The actor was particularly interested in the conflict he believed existed within Purvis. “He had such accolades in the press as a hero and was regarded so highly,” offers Bale, “but I think Purvis was very conflicted about the direction that the Bureau was taking in its effort to become efficient.”
Bale extended his feelings about that conundrum to Purvis' capture of Dillinger and the ruthless tactics pushed by Hoover. “There may have been no satisfaction for Purvis to pursue Dillinger,” he adds. “In my interpretation, I felt that by the time they got him, Purvis must have believed he had to compromise himself and his own values so much that he was questioning who was the loser here.”
As does Depp, Bale engages in extensive research into the characters he plays. For Public Enemies, he and Mann took an investigative trip to FBI headquarters in Quantico, Virginia, and spent time with Melvin Purvis' son, Alston. Because there was no recorded sound available of the senior Purvis' voice (he died in 1960), Bale chose to use Alston's southern drawl as his accent for the action-thriller.
The Welsh actor stayed in his character's voice throughout production, and his dedication had a big impact. Producer Misher explains: “When Alston Purvis came to visit the set, we were at the Biograph Theater where Dillinger was shot. Alston said it was the greatest night of his life, because it was like watching his father come back to life. To have a son of the character who an actor is playing say there's no other actor on Earth whom he could see play his father…that's quite a testament to the actor's performance.”
To understand Billie Frechette, Mann spent a good deal of time uncovering the history of the woman who became the singular love of Dillinger's life. “I tried to figure out the life of Billie: what she was about, what she was doing and how she got by in the Depression,” he states. “She worked as a hatcheck girl at The Steuben Club; she was an ambitious young woman from a small town making her way in Chicago. What also is very significant is her upbringing. As a Menominee Indian, she was very much a second-class citizen, an outsider.”
Marion Cotillard, who won an Oscar for her brilliant portrayal of chanteuse Edith Piaf in La Vie en Rose, was cast by Mann for the part. “After I saw La Vie en Rose, we met. That was it,” says the director.
As part of her preparation, Mann asked her to meet with a variety of gangster wives, girlfriends, strippers and bar girls to listen to the women's stories of unfailingly standing by their often-violent men. “He wanted me to understand the feeling of being a convict's wife and not knowing exactly what the next day would bring,” explains Cotillard.
As Frechette was French and Native American, the actress spent extensive time with a dialect coach and visited the Menominee reservation to learn about the world from which the gangster's girlfriend came. There, Cotillard met with members of Frechette's extended family and discussed the life and primary love of their ancestor. She was quite moved by what she learned about the woman…as well as about the man for whom Frechette went to jail and never betrayed. “It was very emotional,” she relates. “When you live a passion, a love like that, you will not turn your back at all the fear that comes from any situation to be with a man who's a gangster.”
“The skills of Marion are extraordinary. The commitment, the absolute total commitment to the moment. How deep and thoroughly she would live the truth of a small gesture, a glance,” says her director.
Her on-screen Dillinger was one of many on set moved by her performance. “I was profoundly impressed by Marion's commitment to Billie,” commends Depp. “She took so much care in playing her properly and giving Billie her fair shake. Marion worked unbelievably hard on the accent and was profoundly committed to the part. I like her very much, both personally and as someone to get in the ring with.”
For the supporting players in the world of Dillinger, Purvis and Frechette, Mann chose an elite international cast. Serving as two of Dillinger's primary henchmen are Australians David Wenham and Jason Clarke, who play Harry “Pete” Pierpont and John “Red” Hamilton, respectively, while British actor Stephen Graham portrays infamous psychopath Baby Face Nelson.
Rounding out Dillinger's immediate crew and known crime associates are Americans Stephen Dorff as incorrigible clown/unemotional killer Homer Van Meter; John Ortiz as high-level crime lord Phil D'Andrea; Giovanni Ribisi as train robber/kidnapper Alvin Karpis; Channing Tatum as the aptly named Pretty Boy Floyd; Stranger Than Fiction's Christian Stolte as calm killer Charles Makley; and 21's Spencer Garrett as Baby Face Nelson's wingman, Tommy Carroll.
For fellow Chicago gangsters and girls, Mann brought on board War of the Worlds' John Michael Bolger as corrupt East Chicago cop Martin Zarkovich; Bill Camp as Al Capone contemporary Frank “The Enforcer” Nitti; Miami Vice's Domenick Lombardozzi as Nitti henchman Gilbert Catena; Changeling's Peter Gerety as Chicago gangland mouthpiece attorney Louis Piquett; Branka Katic as Madam Anna Sage, better known as Dillinger betrayer the “Lady in Red”; and 88 Minutes' Leelee Sobieski as Anna Sage's “girl” Polly Hamilton.
On the other side of the law are Billy Crudup as the young front man for the newly formed FBI, J. Edgar Hoover; Rory Cochrane as Melvin Purvis' close ally and fellow agent, Carter Baum; Stephen Lang as Western Agent Charles Winstead; Disturbia's Matt Craven and Miami Vice's Don Fyre as, respectively, Western Agents Gerry Campbell and Clarence Hurt; Alpha Dog's Shawn Hatowsky as FBI Agent Medala; Barefoot to Jerusalem's John Hoogenakker as Agent Clegg; Taken's David Warshofsky as Lake County Jail Warden Baker; and Lost's Emilie De Ravin as bank hostage / Dillinger convert Anna Patzke.
Mann, who had previously written a screenplay about the era-about the famed train robber and bank robber Alvin Karpis-explains Dillinger's appeal: “Dillinger, probably the best bank robber in American history, only lasted 13 months. He was paroled in May of 1933, and by July 22, 1934, he was dead. Dillinger didn't `get out' of prison; he exploded onto the landscape. And he was going to have everything and get it right now.”
“In assaulting the banks,” the director continues, “and outwitting the government…to people battered by the Depression, it's as if he spoke for them. He was a celebrity outlaw, a populist hero.”
While no time frame in either Dillinger's or nemesis Melvin Purvis' lives could be considered particularly ordinary, the filmmakers were interested in a very specific window as they imagined Public Enemies. “It was this 14-month run of Dillinger's life that opened a window for us into a confluence of forces that were at work during this period of American history,” says producer Kevin Misher. “There was a nexus between John Dillinger, perhaps one of the more famous Americans of the 20th century; Melvin Purvis, the underanalyzed G-man; and J. Edgar Hoover, a titan of American history. These three were in a dance of power and death.”
Soon after his release from prison until late June 1934, Dillinger embarked upon a whirlwind bank-robbing spree across the Midwest that attracted fervent nationwide attention, especially from J. Edgar Hoover and his nascent Bureau of Investigation.
To track and capture Dillinger, Hoover assigned a young, square-jawed agent named Melvin Purvis, whose profile actually inspired cartoonist Chester Gould in creating the look for Dick Tracy. But Dillinger and his men proved to be much wilier than the FBI agents, who would eventually bring down such gangsters as Pretty Boy Floyd (Channing Tatum of Fighting, the upcoming G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra), or their boss could ever imagine.
As they honed their techniques, Dillinger and his crew used a number of strengths to their advantage: a hardness hewn by years in prisons that were as lawless as they, the latest in automatic weaponry, a fragmented public safety system that had not yet been nationalized, state-of-the-art Ford V8 getaway cars and the knack for riding the wave of anti-banking sentiment from the very public whose banks they plundered.
While they could easily argue with his methods, few who saw the newsreels during Saturday matinees would disagree that someone was finally “sticking it” to the fat cats who they felt had destroyed their lives.
Time and again, the outlaw embarrassed government at every level and escaped from seemingly impossible situations, including a breakout of his crew from Indiana State Prison in September 1933, an escape from the Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana, in March 1934 and an evasion of Purvis at the Little Bohemia travel lodge in northern Wisconsin in April 1934. And while his men never hesitated in the use of violence, the often chivalrous Dillinger could be counted upon to give money back to citizens during a bank robbery and not curse in front of female hostages.
When it comes to the law and lawless, Mann understands and appreciates that truth is stranger than fiction. Dillinger and his pursuers' story was just the inspiration he was looking for in his next project. “Their mobility and use of technology made them almost invincible,” he says. “This was happening at a time when massive forces conspired against Dillinger: what Hoover built with the FBI-the first national police force, the first interstate crime bill, the use of very progressive, modern technology and data management. They were doing what is routine in law enforcement now, but what had never been done before in this country.”
Battling a doubtful Congress about the efficacy of his newly formed FBI, Hoover grew furious that Dillinger was becoming a folk hero to American citizens, while his schooled and polished agents were flubbing cases. Many of his colleagues saw the head of the bureau as an inexperienced, puffed-up suit and didn't trust his methodology. In a frustrated effort to escalate the pursuit by Purvis and his agents, Hoover enlisted the aid of a Western lawman, Special Agent Charles Winstead, and two of his associates to track Dillinger. That, coupled with such orders to arrest relatives, girlfriends and associates of the criminals (in the FBI's efforts to get tough on crime), did the trick.
While eluding the law, the bank robber had traveled across the country with girlfriend Billie Frechette, spending money in lavish quantities and rubbing elbows with the elite of Florida. Eventually, Dillinger's luck ran out at the Biograph Theater in Chicago on July 22, 1934. As the screening of Manhattan Melodrama ended and he left the movie theater, law enforcement officials-under the direction of Agent Purvis and with the help of a Dillinger traitor called the “Lady in Red” (Chicago madam Anna Sage)-put him to rest with a slew of bullets. His legend only grew.
For grisly souvenirs of their hero, devastated fans of the “Jackrabbit” dipped handkerchiefs in the pool left by his blood, and thousands lined up at the morgue to view his body. From curious onlookers to lawmen, everyone wanted a piece of the legacy.
Dillinger's primary antagonist, Melvin Purvis, received the lion's share of the credit. And none were more unnerved by Purvis' accolades in the celebration of Dillinger's demise than J. Edgar Hoover. Continues Misher: “Dillinger was so famous that when he was killed, Purvis became `The Man Who Shot John Dillinger,' even though he was not the man who pulled the trigger. As a result, Hoover started to resent the fame and acclaim that Melvin Purvis, G-man, had in the United States and drummed him out of the FBI.”
Three-quarters of a century later, Dillinger's status as a legendary criminal is cemented. From the classic image of his crooked smirk as he draped his arm around one of his admiring captors, to his status as one of Chicago's most famous residents, the dapper Dillinger remains iconic. And no one would be more inspired by him than a man who grew up less than 160 miles from Dillinger's boyhood home of Mooresville, Indiana: an actor named Johnny Depp.
Now, in his most ambitious and timely project to date, the seminal gangster saga Public Enemies, Michael Mann directs one of our most gifted contemporary actors (Johnny Depp of Pirates of the Caribbean series, Sweeney Todd) in the story of the fast and dangerous life of John Dillinger.
In the film, Mann teams with Depp to examine the man whose criminal exploits captivated a nation besieged by financial hardship and ready to celebrate a mythic figure who robbed the banks that had impoverished them and outsmarted the authorities who had failed to remedy their hard times, who inspired the first nationwide war on crime, who led a band of accomplished armed robbers on a cascade of dazzling heists and improbable breakouts, and whose dashing manner and charisma entranced not only a special woman but an entire country: legendary Depression-era outlaw John Dillinger.
For the epic action-thriller, Mann directs Depp, Christian Bale (The Dark Knight, Terminator Salvation) and Academy Award winner Marion Cotillard (La Vie en Rose, A Good Year) in the story of Dillinger, whose well-choreographed bank robberies made him the number-one target of J. Edgar Hoover's (Billy Crudup of Watchmen, The Good Shepherd) fledgling FBI and its top agent, Melvin Purvis (Bale).
No one could stop Dillinger and his gang. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyone-from his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Cotillard) to Americans who were looking for a symbol to divert them from their everyday hardships. They found it in the man who took from the banks the monies they felt the banks had wrongly taken from them.
But while the adventures of Dillinger's gang-later including the sociopathic Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham of Gangs of New York, Snatch) and robber / kidnapper Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi of Cold Mountain, Lost in Translation)-thrilled many, Hoover planned to exploit the outlaw's capture as a way to elevate his Bureau of Investigation into the national police force that became the FBI. He made Dillinger America's first Public Enemy Number One and sent in Purvis, the dashing “Clark Gable of the FBI,” to snare him.
However, Dillinger and his gang outwitted and outgunned Purvis' men in wild chases and shootouts. Only after importing a crew of lawmen from the Dallas bureau and orchestrating epic betrayals-from the infamous “Lady in Red” (Branka Katic of Big Love, The Englishman) to Chicago crime boss Frank Nitti (Bill Camp of Reservation Road, Deception)-were Purvis, the FBI and their new crew of gunfighters able to close in on their prey.
Drawn back to the very city where his obsession with both Frechette and bank robbing began, Dillinger, for once and for all, ended this pursuit by Purvis. And when all was said and done, the entire country learned that with the death of one of its heroes came the birth of a legend.
Completing the principal cast are a talented group of seasoned actors and up-and-coming performers, including Jason Clarke (Death Race, Rabbit-Proof Fence) as Dillinger ally John “Red” Hamilton; Rory Cochrane (Hart's War, A Scanner Darkly) as Purvis' good friend and fellow agent Carter Baum; Stephen Dorff (World Trade Center, Cold Creek Manor) as Dillinger gang member and unemotional killer Homer Van Meter; Stephen Lang (Gods and Generals, Fire Down Below) as Special Agent Charles Winstead; John Ortiz (Fast & Furious, Miami Vice) as high-level crime lord Phil D'Andrea; and David Wenham (300, The Lord of the Rings franchise) as the authority-hating Dillinger gang member Harry “Pete” Pierpont.
Directed by: Michael Mann
Screenplay by: Ronan Bennett, Michael Mann, Ann Biderman
Release Date: July 1st, 2009
MPAA Rating: R for gangster violence and some language.
Studio: Universal Pictures
No one could stop Dillinger and his gang. No jail could hold him. His charm and audacious jailbreaks endeared him to almost everyone—from his girlfriend Billie Frechette (Cotillard) to an American public who had no sympathy for the banks that had plunged the country into the Depression.
But while the adventures of Dillinger’s gang—later including the sociopathic Baby Face Nelson (Stephen Graham) and Alvin Karpis (Giovanni Ribisi)—thrilled many, Hoover (Billy Crudup) hit on the idea of exploiting the outlaw’s capture as a way to elevate his Bureau of Investigation into the national police force that became the FBI. He made Dillinger America’s first Public Enemy Number One and sent in Purvis, the dashing “Clark Gable of the FBI.’’
However, Dillinger and his gang outwitted and outgunned Purvis’ men in wild chases and shootouts. Only after importing a crew of Western ex-lawmen (newly baptized as agents) and orchestrating epic betrayals—from the infamous “Lady in Red’’ to the Chicago crime boss Frank Nitti—were Purvis, the FBI and their new crew of gunfighters able to close in on Dillinger.
No other filmmaker has explored the psyches of people caught in extreme circumstances with the dominating consistency and cinematic power of Michael Mann. For three decades, Mann has remained one of cinema's most compelling filmmakers, and his level of artistry has created an indelible influence on the medium.
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Executive Producers Stephen Sommers David Womark Gary Barber
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Based on Hasbro's G. I. Joe ® Characters
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G.I. Joe: The...
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Director of photography Peter Deming, who previously worked with Raimi on Evil Dead 2: Dead by Dawn and served as DP on the last two Scream films and From Hell, used realistic lighting in his shoots that goes progressively darker as Christine is drawn further into the world of the supernatural.
Says Deming of the process: “We went with a lot of source lighting and didn’t correct the odd lighting sources, like in the garage where everything is blue-green. Normally, you’d put all corrected bulbs in, but we went with what was there, including the shots in the street. We used the streetlight look and mixed that with interior lighting. There were a lot of odd color sources that we chose to leave the way they would be naturally. It’s a heightened sense of realism.”
For the séance scene, which has a richer color palette, the cinematographer used additional lighting effects and camera shakes to increase the feeling of anxiety and tension as the viewer begins to believe Christine has no way out.
Deming also took part in creating the atmospheric elements for scenes involving the Lamia, which included reflecting light against shaking Mylar and capturing the unnatural wind that blew leaves down the street. “Sam loves B-movie stuff,” Deming says of the high-impact elements. “He really embraces the wind out of nowhere and the camera shaking and the inventive, interactive lighting. He eats that up.”
The DP made a concerted effort to adhere to the script’s focus on the audience’s relationship with Christine. “From the beginning, Sam and I talked about being with her as much as we subjectively could throughout the film,” he offers. “We stayed right on Alison’s face a lot of the time. We covered scenes and gave her extra-tight close-ups, because we want the audience to be in her place.”
One of the first projects the special effects teams tackled was deciphering how to shoot Mrs. Ganush’s attack on Christine in Christine’s car. In order to film the action, which includes close-ups of Christine jamming her foot on the pedal, hitting the brake and shifting gears, the team created a puzzle car. Their design allowed for the front engine compartment and back trunk—as well as all four sides and doors—to come away from the car. The roof came off in two directions (front to back and side to side), which—despite the tight space—gave the filmmakers a good deal of freedom to shoot from different angles.
Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger, the partners at KNB EFX Group who supervised the special makeup effects, have collaborated with Raimi on several of his films. Nicotero and Berger met the director in 1986 on Evil Dead 2 and also collaborated with him on Army of Darkness. When he learned of the project, Nicotero was happy to hear that the film would be using a great deal of traditional effects. “Visual effects are fun, but there’s just something about a bunch of guys pulling cables and moving a puppet around,” he laughs. “Sam is still enamored with that.”
Unlike with several of his past horror films, Raimi did not want this one to be strictly driven by gore. Of the decision, Raimi explains: “I didn’t want to do exactly the same thing I had done before. This time, I didn’t want to have a lot of blood.”
The special effects teams used a wide array of tricks throughout filming Drag Me to Hell. For example, to create Mrs. Ganush’s malevolent floating handkerchief, the team attached the material by four wires to a fishing pole; with the help of a little wind, they then fluttered it around and flapped it toward the source of the curse.
Still, the actress was fascinated enough by Christine’s journey that she was game for the challenges. “I liked the fact that my character has a real arc,” she says. “In the beginning, she makes this one mistake. She becomes a more compassionate and sympathetic character, and I actually enjoyed doing stunts. I think they’re fun, and I didn’t mind getting bruises.”
Once she grew accustomed to the content and the arduous tasks that were ahead, the performer found her first experience working with Raimi a relaxing one. “Sam has these touches that are a little bit off-center that break the tension,” Raver muses. “He’s great to work with as an actor because he includes you in the process. I found it interesting to watch him on the set because he’s very focused, and sometimes you can see the movie running behind his eyes.”
As a fan of the genre, the actor likes being lulled into moments of false security. He enjoyed being part of a project that would make him simultaneously laugh and gasp. “In some ways, it’s a little more realistic, which is a good counterpoint: the humor to the horror,” Paymer says. “It gets the audience relaxed. They’re thinking ‘Oh, this is funny. We’re having a good time.’ But then it’s ‘Oh my God, there’s blood spurting everywhere!’”
“We made Christine morally complex,” adds Ivan Raimi. “She’s trying to get ahead in her job, like anyone else. She’s just a normal person with all of the attributes that we might have, colored in grays instead of black and white. That’s what makes her interesting to me. She’s put into a situation where her punishment does not fit her crime, and it is exciting to watch how she has to deal with it.”
From Darkman and Army of Darkness to Spider-Man 2 and 3, the two collaborators have long been curious to explore accidental, reluctant warriors. Like The Evil Dead’s hero Ash Williams and Spider-Man’s alter ego Peter Parker, Christine is an average person thrust by consequence into a fantastical world that runs parallel to the one she knows. Without warning, her normal life gives way to the bizarre: a surprise attack in her car by a stranger, a preposterously bloody nose, bad daydreams and worse nightmares—capped off by a surreal séance and a breathless scramble to escape an almost certain fate.
As they wrote, the Raimi brothers imagined what would become the supernatural tormentor for Christine. They chose to use a mythical beast, the demonic Lamia, as their antagonist. While the Lamia has been imagined as various incarnations in many cultures—from a Greek goddess who turned murderess once Hera stole her children to a cannibalistic ogre, succubus or centaur-like creature that is half man/half goat—the stories share a unifying trait. “The one thing the legends have in common is that the Lamia is a demon that, when awoken in anger, drags its victims down to hell screaming,” Ivan Raimi states. “That’s the common, awful thread.”
In 2009, he returns to horror with Drag Me to Hell, an original tale of Christine Brown (ALISON LOHMAN, Things We Lost in the Fire, Matchstick Men), an ambitious L.A. loan officer with a charming boyfriend, professor Clay Dalton (JUSTIN LONG, Live Free or Die Hard, He’s Just Not That Into You). Life is good until the mysterious Mrs. Ganush (LORNA RAVER, Freeway, television’s Walkout) arrives at the bank to beg for an extension on her home loan.
Should Christine follow her instincts and give the old woman a break? Or should she deny the extension to impress her boss, Mr. Jacks (DAVID PAYMER, In Good Company, Alex & Emma), and get a leg up on a promotion? Christine chooses the latter, dispossessing Mrs. Ganush of her home.
In retaliation, the old woman places the curse of the Lamia upon Christine, transforming her life into a living nightmare. Haunted by an evil spirit and misunderstood by a skeptical boyfriend, she seeks the aid of seer Rham Jas (DILEEP RAO, upcoming Avatar) to save her soul from eternal damnation.
To help the shattered Christine, the psychic sets her on a frantic course to reverse the spell and brings her to the only woman who can aid her, seer Shaun San Dena (Oscar®-nominated actress ADRIANA BARRAZA, Babel, Amores Perros). As evil forces close in, Christine must face the unthinkable: How far will she go to break free of the curse?
Joining Sam Raimi behind the scenes for Drag Me to Hell is an accomplished crew of longtime collaborators, led by his brother and co-writer IVAN RAIMI (Darkman, Army of Darkness) and producers ROB TAPERT (The Evil Dead, The Grudge series) and GRANT CURTIS (Spider-Man trilogy, upcoming Spider-Man 4).
Joining the team are director of photography PETER DEMING (Evil Dead 2, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, Mulholland Dr.), production designer STEVE SAKLAD (Juno, Swing Vote), editor BOB MURAWSKI (Spider-Man trilogy, The Gift), costume designer ISIS MUSSENDEN (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, American Psycho), composer CHRISTOPHER YOUNG (Spider-Man 2 and 3, The Grudge series) and special effects makeup artists GREGORY NICOTERO (Evil Dead 2, The Unborn) and Oscar® winner HOWARD BERGER (The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Sin City).
The executive producers for the horror film are NATHAN KAHANE (The Grudge series, 30 Days of Night, Juno) and JOE DRAKE (Juno, The Grudge series), with Ivan Raimi and CRISTEN CARR STRUBBE (Dinner and Driving) serving as co-producers.
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Rogue Pictures Presents A Misher Films Production: Channing Tatum, Terrence Howard in Fighting, starring Luis Guzmán, Zulay Henao, Brian White. The casting is by Amanda Mackey, CSA and Cathy Sandrich Gelfond, CSA.
The costume designers are Kurt and Bart, and the music is by David Wittman and Jonathan Elias. The music supervisors are Dave Jordan and Jojo Villanueva, and the editors are Jake Pushinsky and Saar Klein. The film’s production designer is Thérèse DePrez, and the director of photography is Stefan Czapsky, ASC.
Fighting’s executive producers are Lisa Bruce and Andrew Rona, and the film is produced by Kevin Misher. The action film is written by Robert Munic and Dito Montiel, and the film is directed by Dito Montiel.
Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (Channing Tatum) has come to New York City with nothing. Barely earning a living selling counterfeit goods on the streets, his luck changes when scam artist Harvey Boarden (Terrence Howard) sees that he has a natural talent for streetfighting. When Harvey offers Shawn help at making the real cash, the two form an uneasy partnership.
As Shawn’s manager, Harvey introduces him to the corrupt bare-knuckle circuit, where rich men bet on disposable pawns. Almost overnight, he becomes a star brawler, taking down professional boxers, mixed martial arts champs and ultimate fighters in a series of staggeringly intense bouts. But if Shawn ever hopes to escape the dark world in which he’s found himself, he must now face the toughest fight of his life.
“What was wonderful about working with Dito was knowing how he is completely grounded in reality,” says production designer Thérèse DePrez, whose work was recently seen in Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium and will soon be seen in Antoine Fuqua’s Brooklyn’s Finest. “This is a film in which the design should not outshine anything. As a New Yorker, it was very important to me to make sure that it never screamed New York; things should be subtle but very real, warm and authentic.”
Montiel wanted to bring audiences the same excitement he felt as a kid on trips to Manhattan. In order to keep an authentic feel for the film, the casting directors looked for extras from the different neighborhoods where the fights take place. Many Russian extras were found in Brighton Beach, many Dominican cast members were found in the Bronx and many Korean extras were found in Flushing. “I wanted to show New York off and roam around the city,” says Montiel. “We didn’t need close-ups of the Empire State Building to let the audience know they’re looking at New York. The extras, who randomly walk through our shots, have such interesting faces. That’s why you film in New York.”
Agrees producer Misher: “You get a feeling that these people actually are New Yorkers. Hopefully, in the finished product, you get to feel like you’ve actually taken a trip to a New York that people haven’t seen that often—a city of great diversity and very different people.”
DP Czapsky hadn’t shot a film in Manhattan since 1989’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. “I wanted to come up with some out-of-the-ordinary, iconic visuals of New York City,” he says. “I hope the audience feels like they’ve been taken to places in the city they normally wouldn’t get the opportunity to visit as a tourist or an outsider.”
Montiel, Misher and DePrez were eager to find unique locations for each fight. “There were a lot of places that were incredibly cinematic but they seemed very stagey,” says DePrez. “We would find a terrific location with great vantage points, but Dito would question why the characters would fight in that particular space.” For example, while looking for a location for Shawn’s final fight with Evan, DePrez found the perfect spot under the Brooklyn Bridge in an old factory that had arched windows. The setting had a Roman Coliseum feel to it, almost completely set up to host a fight scene, but it seemed too staged for Montiel. Explains DePrez: “Dito asked me, ‘Why would they come to this location?’ So we honed that scene down to the Wall Street penthouse. That made much more sense for the characters, and it’s more in keeping with the obsession Dito and I had with keeping the film as realistic-looking as possible.”
The filmmakers used Linden Place (which features a large dim sum banquet hall on the first floor) in Flushing as the location for Shawn’s battle with the Korean fighter. A popular establishment that often hosts weddings, the setting reflected that this fight involved much more money than the ones in Brighton Beach or the Bronx.
The penthouse fight, set in a work-in-progress home atop an early 20th-century Beaux Arts skyscraper, is now the finished apartment of one of the leading Google entrepreneurs. It is located on Nassau Street and Spruce Street, right in the Wall Street area. With its three floors, huge arched windows and vast open spaces, it is one of the most spectacular living spaces in the city. Montiel and DePrez were looking for a raw, unfinished location, and it fit perfectly. An added bonus was that it contained an expansive outdoor terrace with astonishing views of Manhattan’s surrounding bridges, high-rises and night sky.
“We wanted something that was under construction,” reflects DePrez, “because it was important to have the fighters crashing into and through various elements. What was great about this location were the vantage points—the views and the huge exterior and interior space.”
Filming of this complex, final fight sequence stretched out over the course of more than a week, much of it outdoors in bone-chilling winds. What was tough for the crew was even tougher for the actors, who were stripped to the waist throughout. Recalls Tatum: “I practiced martial arts as a kid, but preparing for fight scenes that are similar to backyard brawls, in which only one person can come out alive, was an intense experience.”
They began working with Tatum five weeks before filming, teaching him routines that involved techniques from boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling to Ultimate Fighting and mixed martial arts. All quite helpful, because facing Tatum in each of the fight sequences were men who had been involved in combat sports, some professionally.
Up-and-coming Russian boxer Yuri Foreman plays Sean’s opponent in the scene at the social hall in Brighton Beach, while top-ranked mixed martial arts champion Cung Le squares off with him in the Chinese pleasure palace. His partner in the Bronx brawl is Stand Up’s DANTE NERO, who has extensive experience in multiple fighting techniques. Much like our film’s hero, Dante—in his early years—fought on the streets to make money. Sean’s ultimate opponent on the rooftop, Evan, is played by a man with extensive martial arts training.
“To come in and work with him was, from my standpoint, a dream come true,” says Mike Gunther. Tatum’s character is supposed to be trained in high-school wrestling, so the style that the fight coordinators created had to reflect that. Fortunately, they had a good student. “Channing’s a really great athlete,” says Gunther, “so he made my job very easy.”
In preparation for the role, White trained for three hours every day for four weeks. The former football player had to train to get the look and feel of his character’s fight champion moves down.
The coordinators trained White in moves derived from Brazilian jujitsu, muay thai and grappling techniques. About doing most of his own stunts, White says: “When you hire athletes, or actors that happen to be athletes who can do their own stunts, you add a lot of realism. You could be the best actor in the world but, as soon as there’s a shot of an actor from behind and we see a punch but never see his face, we know it’s not him.”
For Tatum, working with each opponent was a chance for camaraderie. As their fight scene had a number of different elements, Cung Le worked with Tatum for three days prior to shooting. The two actors performed a combination of dirty fighting and street fighting on their feet, as well as on the ground. The fight was not entirely choreographed, leaving them freedom to freestyle some of their moves.
As they staged the fights, ensuring safety for their actors was a serious responsibility for Mic Rodgers and Mike Gunther. The trick was to make the scenes look as real as possible, while keeping the actors safe from harm. Says Gunther: “If the actor goes down, everyone that’s working on this movie goes down. So the responsibility of keeping him safe added a lot of pressure. You definitely don’t want anyone to get hurt on your shift.”
Misher knows that the authenticity has paid off in the fight scenes captured in the film. “I’m a fight fan, and actors able to perform their own stunts is something I don’t see that often,” says the producer. “That feels rich and exciting to me. I enjoy the specificity and the gifts boxers and mixed martial artists have, so I love the way we were able to authentically bring that to the film.”
“The fights are not classic movie-style fights,” adds Rodgers. “What we tried to do was reinvent that. We worked closely with the special-effects department, so there’s a lot of breaking glass and knocking stuff over that’s special-effects rigged. We advised them on what was safe, and they came up with their ideas.”
Despite Tatum’s broad athletic experience, fight training was an entirely new beast. For an actor, it’s not simply a question of remembering the moves and making the fight look real. It’s also a matter of maintaining the performance, which requires equal concentration. “Keeping up the emotion in a fight is hard,” says Tatum, “because you’re filming one fight scene for 14 hours a day. You need to show emotion when you take a punch or grab somebody and slam them into a wall or a plate-glass window. Mic Rodgers pointed out to me that one reason the fight scenes in Lethal Weapon worked was because Mel Gibson is so good at selling it in his face and in the emotions. He’s not just going through the physicality of it.”
Adding to the illusion was director of photography Stefan Czapsky and editors Jake Pushinsky and Saar Klein. “We shot the fights with a handheld camera—three cameras simultaneously, in fact,” says Czapsky. “That gave Jake plenty to work with in the editing room. And you have to find camera angles that make the punching look real. During our first fight, Channing actually got hit; he wound up with a bit of a black eye. He learned after that why there’s a good reason to fake it. It doesn’t hurt as much.”
The editors had the challenge of combining the editing with sound design in order to make the fight scenes look realistic. “The combination of editing and sound design can make or break a fight scene in a movie,” believes Pushinsky. “People hear a good slap or a good punch and, even if it’s not there visually, they still believe it. With sound and editing, you can do a lot of tricks.”
In addition to quick cuts, the editors also rely on the actors to portray the throwing and receiving of a punch. Continues Pushinsky: “People’s eyes aren’t as fast as they think. One thing I learned was that it’s more the person getting hit who has to do this real acting of selling the reaction to a punch than the person throwing the punch. Everybody can throw a punch into the sky, but not everybody can act like they just got hit.”
Pushinsky also believes in the importance of music, especially when doing his editing work. For him, a big part of these fight scenes is rhythm. The editor comes from a music background, and music always plays a huge part in his process. Pushinsky plays music while editing, even if it’s music that’s never going make it into the scene, as it adds a rhythm, a feeling and a pace to a scene that he believes audiences feel subconsciously, because everyone listens to music.
Agrees Montiel, an avid musician who finds filmmaking and making music very similar, “I know what feels right when I play music. When you’re writing music or writing a film, you’re picturing everything that goes with it.”
The troubled, sensitive and good-natured Shawn is a character far removed from Saints’ violent, streetwise Antonio, but Tatum was eager to challenge himself as a performer. He and Montiel created a detailed backstory for the character who has fled his roots in Birmingham, Alabama, in order to try his luck in the city.
“Shawn’s dad was a tough college wrestling coach,” Tatum explains. “Since he was a very athletic guy, he expected his son to be athletic, too…so Shawn wrestled. A lot of parents want to live through their kids and want them to do better than they did. That was a real source of friction for him and his father.”
Since working together on Saints, Tatum and Montiel have evolved an easy kinship. “Dito and I don’t need to talk much when we’re working,” Tatum explains. “We get each other. Sometimes he’ll act it out for me. He’s a mirror for me that I can look into and say, ‘Okay. I get it.’”
Adds producer Misher: “Channing’s performance in Saints was groundbreaking, something that marked him as a star on the rise. That’s why we were so keen on putting Channing and Dito back together for a movie like this. What we have is the intensity and the honest emotions that Dito brought to Saints, which he now brings to a genre movie.”
Terrence Howard’s Harvey, in a situation inspired by Midnight Cowboy, takes Shawn in and becomes his mentor. The filmmakers were eager to work with Howard, whose role in Hustle & Flow earned him an Oscar® nomination for Best Actor. His versatility extends to his role in the box-office smash Iron Man. Of Howard’s character, Montiel says: “When Channing first had to go with Terrence in that early scene, I wondered how we were going to make anyone believe that Shawn would follow this guy down the street. Then I remembered, when I was a kid in the street, if I thought you had $20…I didn’t care if you were some guy telling me the craziest story in the world, I was going to figure out how I was going to get that $20. Harvey is a decent person and Shawn is a decent person, and there is an aura about decent people that makes it so you might follow them. I knew that feeling of waiting so long and hoping for something good to happen.”
Howard wanted to work with Dito Montiel ever since the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, when he was part of the jury that awarded Montiel that year’s Dramatic Directing Award for A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints. “The chances he took in putting that film together! It was one of the most original and unique ways of telling a story I’ve ever seen in my life,” commends Howard. “Alan Rudolph and I were judges at Sundance that year, and that was the first film we saw. We walked out of it and Alan said to me, ‘We could go home right now and come back nine days later, without having seen any of the other films, and give this film the award and be right doing it.’ Of course, we stayed and watched all the other films, but none of them came close to what Dito accomplished. That’s what brought me to this film. I knew I was betting on the right horse.”
Howard responded to the fact that both Shawn and Harvey have reached a desperate point in their lives and are looking for one good break. “Harvey is somebody who’s down-and-out and trying to find his way,” says Howard. “Any time the door of opportunity opens, he’ll walk in there—whether it’s selling shoes or socks or helping somebody do some street fighting. But Harvey’s no street fighting guru; he’s new to the game, like Shawn.”
The filmmakers cast Luis Guzmán as Martinez, Harvey’s former childhood friend and a fight promoter. Montiel met Guzmán at his apartment to go over the role as well as his style of directing. Guzmán was impressed by the director’s ability to inject real aspects from his life and put them into a believable story. Says the actor: “I was turned on to Saints because it was such a character-driven movie with amazing characterizations of real people from Dito’s life. Someone like me who grew up in the streets in New York can really identify with that.”
Shawn also embarks on a romantic relationship with Zulay (sounds like July), a single working mother who is struggling with her own trust issues. When Zulay Henao auditioned for the role, the character was named Tasha. The day of her audition, Montiel heard someone at the audition make the mistake of mispronouncing Zulay’s name, at which point she corrected him. “At that moment,” Montiel laughs, “I said to myself, ‘She’d be really good.’ I liked that she corrected the person who asked and said her name wrong. We decided to use her real first name, and she really became the character. She brings a true decency to the role.”
Though they share a name, Henao found her character quite different from herself. “Of course, she’s a New Yorker, so I understand her, even though I’m from New Jersey. And she may have a bit of an attitude,” she laughs. “Though she’s going through a lot of things I’m not going through, I can definitely relate to her. All of us have made bad decisions that have marked us. She knows she’s made a lot of mistakes and that she’s paying for them. She’s a single mother working in a nightclub, living in the projects and supporting her family. So often in life, we walk around wearing masks and pretending everything’s okay, but these three characters [Shawn, Zulay and Harvey] strip each other down to the bone.”
Actor Brian White was cast as Evan Hailey, Shawn’s former wrestling teammate from Birmingham who has become a powerful professional fighter. White, who recently demonstrated his athletic ability and dance skills in Stomp the Yard, looked forward to playing a character who is an expert at mixed martial arts—a sport White practices. Of his character, White says: “There’s a seed of antagonism between Shawn and Evan, which stems from their days as high-school wrestling teammates. Evan kicked Shawn’s butt when they were younger, and he’s now a champion, so he underestimates Shawn’s ability to win.
“I love Dito’s sensibilities as a director, and he’s a real artist,” White continues. “Any director who can write a story about himself and make it entertaining and objective is special. Something so close to home is usually hard to put on to celluloid in an entertaining way, and Dito was able to do that and maintain his integrity.”
Rounding out the cast are other Saints alums, including PETER TAMBAKIS, MICHAEL RIVERA and Pride and Glory’s FLACO NAVAJA as Harvey’s crewmembers Z, Ajax and Ray Ray, respectively; Beer League’s ANTHONY DESANDO as fight promoter Christopher; American Gangster’s ROGER GUENVEUR SMITH as the organizer of the underground fights, Jack Dancing; and professional fighters YURI FOREMAN (middleweight boxing champion) and CUNG LE (MMA Strikeforce middleweight champion) as, respectively, the Russian fighter and Korean fighter.
After seeing A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Misher was keen to put writer/director Dito Montiel and actor Channing Tatum together on another project. Misher knew he’d have a good working relationship with Montiel from the start, and they began developing a script together that explored extreme sports, with the city as its backdrop. “He’s a kid from Queens, and I’m a kid from Queens,” says Misher, “so I knew it would be a very easy fit. What people loved about A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints was that it felt like an honest portrayal of a life…rather than a depiction of events for the purposes of a movie.”
Montiel and Tatum were looking to work together again as well. Tatum suggested they consider a storyline about street fighting in which he could use his raw physicality. Using inspiration from his childhood, Montiel considered the suggestion and crafted a story that explored the world of underground fighting. “This is a really good version of a big, pop movie,” says Montiel. “I knew it would be great to put the right people together and have fun making a film that I could be proud of.” Though Fighting is a bigger production than A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, it is still a story rooted in Montiel’s world. Saints was autobiographical in nature and focused on the years Montiel spent growing up in Astoria, Queens. Like Shawn, Montiel sold what he could on the streets of Manhattan in order to make a buck.
“When I was a kid,” Montiel explains, “I sold peanuts on 42nd and 8th, and I sold fresh-squeezed orange juice on 45th and Broadway. I was always in the streets, doing things like that. Sometimes I didn’t sell enough to make the subway token home, so I’d sneak on the train. It could get pretty bad, but it was also a lot of fun, and I’ve tried to bring a bit of that late-night New York City excitement into the film. You put a little of yourself into everything, and in this case, when Shawn is on the streets waiting for something good to happen—a lot of that was me.”
Small-town boy Shawn MacArthur (CHANNING TATUM, A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Step Up, upcoming G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra) has come to New York City with nothing. Barely earning a living selling counterfeit goods on the streets, his luck changes when scam artist Harvey Boarden (TERRENCE HOWARD, Hustle & Flow, Iron Man, The Brave One) sees that he has a natural talent for street fighting. When Harvey offers Shawn help at making some real cash, the two form an uneasy partnership.
As Shawn’s manager, Harvey introduces him to the corrupt bare-knuckle circuit, where rich men bet on disposable pawns. Almost overnight, he becomes a star brawler. He learns he must fight his way—in a series of staggeringly intense bouts—through the city and take down local opponents who come at him with a variety of skills. But if Shawn ever hopes to escape the dark world in which he’s found himself, he must now face the toughest fight of his life.
Joining Montiel for the action film is producer KEVIN MISHER (upcoming Public Enemies, The Interpreter). The cast includes LUIS GUZMÁN (Traffic, Nothing Like the Holidays) as fight promoter Martinez; ZULAY HENAO (Grizzly Park, Racing for Time) as Shawn’s love interest, Zulay Valez; and BRIAN WHITE (Stomp the Yard, The Game Plan) as Shawn’s rival and former wrestling teammate Evan Hailey.
Rejoining Montiel are key members of his Saints team, including editor JAKE PUSHINSKY (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Columbus Day) and composers JONATHAN ELIAS (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, Pathfinder: The Legend of the Ghost Warrior) and DAVID WITTMAN (A Guide to Recognizing Your Saints, The Tripper).
Joining the behind-the-scenes team are cinematographer STEFAN CZAPSKY (Blades of Glory, Batman Returns), production designer THÉRÈSE DEPREZ (Summer of Sam, upcoming Brooklyn’s Finest), editor SAAR KLEIN (Almost Famous, The Bourne Identity) and costume designers KURT AND BART (Shortbus, Phoebe in Wonderland). The film is written by Dito Montiel and ROBERT MUNIC (television’s Dawn Anna and The Cleaner).
LISA BRUCE (upcoming Case 39, A Lot Like Love) and ANDREW RONA (Scream 3, The Brothers Grimm) serve as executive producers.