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Building a better Bruce Willis

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By SEAN O’CONNELL

Earlier this week, HollywoodNews.com participated in an exclusive, virtual round table discussion with “Surrogates” director Jonathan Mostow ahead of the film’s DVD release. (It streets Tuesday, Jan. 26, on DVD and Blu-ray.) As the studio previewed the Blu-ray bonus feature, “A More Perfect You: The Science of Surrogates,” Mostow addressed why he deleted certain scenes, his casting process, the future of digital effects and his approach to audio commentary tracks. Below are some passages from the lengthy conversation:

Q: This isn’t your first time dealing with a high concept of man versus machine. Can you talk about why this concept intrigues you?
Jonathan Mostow: It’s true that I’ve touched on this thematic material before — in fact, I think all my films in some way have dealt with the relationship between man and technology, so apparently, it’s an idea that fascinates me.

I assume your question implies a relationship between the ideas in “Terminator” and “Surrogates,” so I’ll answer accordingly. Whereas “T3” posed technology as a direct threat to mankind, I see “Surrogates” more as a movie that poses a question about technology — specifically, what does it cost us, in human terms, to be able to have all this advanced technology in our lives.
For example, we can do many things over the Internet today. Witness this virtual roundtable, for example. But do we lose something by omitting the person-to-person interaction that used to occur? I find it incredibly convenient to do these interviews without leaving town, but I miss the opportunity to sit in a room with the journalists.

Q: One of the deleted scenes (on the DVD) shows the surrogates’ prejudice towards a human being among them. Why was this particular element cut?

Jonathan Mostow: The scene you reference (Bruce Willis and Radha Mitchell in a bar) was cut, but the underlying idea is still in the movie — although admittedly not as strongly as had we kept the scene. … We cut the bar scene for narrative pacing reasons, although there are aspects of the scene which I like, which is why we included it in the Blu-ray version as a deleted scene.

Q: Can you explain the casting choices in “Surrogates”? Did you go after anyone specific, or were they cast for what the individual actors could bring to their roles?

Jonathan Mostow: The interesting thing about casting this movie is that for the surrogates, we needed terrific actors who also looked physically perfect. Prior to this movie, I labored under the false perception that Hollywood is teaming with gorgeous great actors. Not necessarily so. Yes, there are many wonderful actors. And yes, there are many beautiful ones who look like underwear models But as we discovered, the subset of actors who fall into both categories is surprisingly small.

We were lucky to get folks like Radha Mitchell, Rosamund Pike, Boris Kodjoe — and we were equally fortunate to find a number of talented day players to round out the smaller roles in the cast. I must say that myself and everyone on the crew found it somewhat intimidating to be surrounded all day by such (beautiful people).

Q: You’ve worked with special effects a lot prior to “Surrogates.” Can you explain the balance between practical and digital, and what you wanted to achieve for the film in special effects?

Jonathan Mostow: My goal for the effects in this film was to make them invisible. There are over 800 vfx shots in “Surrogates,” but hopefully you’ll be able to identify only a few of them. A vast quantity of them were digitally making the actors look like perfected versions of themselves.

Q: How involved was KNB Effects? What did they bring, if anything, to the film’s effects designs?
Jonathan Mostow: KNB is a top-flight company that specializes in prosthetic devices for movies and creature design. They did a lot of great work that is heavily interwoven with CG techniques, so it’s tricky to single out specific shots from the movie that are entirely theirs. They were great to work with.

Q: I really enjoyed listening to your audio commentary on the DVD. Talk about your approach to it. You seemed to enjoy it so much. You kept talking even as the credits were rolling.

Jonathan Mostow: Thanks for the compliment. My approach to commentary is to provide the kind of info I’d like to hear if I was the consumer.
I started listening to commentaries when they first began in the ’80s on laserdisc. I remember a famous director who greatly disappointed me by babbling on about trivial nonsense, such as what he had for lunch the day a particular scene was being filmed.
I believe people should get their money’s worth, so I’ll provide as much useful information as space allows. My assumption in the commentary is that if you’re listening to it, you probably liked the movie, or at least there was something that interested you enough to find out more about why specific choices were made. So I try to tailor my comments for that audience.

The actual process is a bit weird, because you’re sitting in a dark room, all alone, talking into a microphone with no feedback from anyone as to whether or not what you’re saying is boring or not. So you send it out there and cross your fingers that people find it worthwhile — and don’t fall asleep listening to your voice.

Q: Each of your films have boasted sound mixes that many have considered classic examples of sound design. Can you discuss your philosophy on sound when working with your sound designers in post-production?

Jonathan Mostow: I really appreciate this question because sound is something I care deeply about and I believe that mixers I’ve worked with will probably tell you that few directors get as involved with sound as I do. Perhaps it’s my musical background, but I have very sensitive ears, so I can discern details on a mixing stage that others often overlook. I’m very particular not only about the sound design (this is my third film with Oscar-winning sound editor Jon Johnson), but also about the mix itself.
I think a good soundtrack helps immerse the audience in the movie. Ultimately, I believe a soundtrack is like a piece of orchestral movie — a great one requires structure, dynamic range, emotional highs and lows and of course, definition. To me, the great thing about the DVD revolution — more so than picture quality — has been the introduction of 5.1 surround sound to the home.

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