You can't ever accuse producer for playing it safe. With the Harry Potter franchise and Gravity, Heyman has taken on two of the most ambitious projects in recent memory. A +12 year long franchise with the same leads and an envelope pushing 3D space pic aren't easy to come by in the local cinema.
With Gravity, Mr. Heyman reunited with director , to bring to life an original idea of Mr. Cuarón's. The project was a massive four year undertaking, and speaking with Heyman, he was more than willing to explore new territory with the director behind Children of Men.
Here's what David Heyman had to say about the project's production, those glossy long-takes, and more:
I'm guessing you and Alfonso Cuarón had a good relationship on Prisoner of Azkaban to return for round two?
[Laughs] It would seem that way! We had a great time on Azkaban. I asked him to come aboard because I had just loved his films. I saw he was a great director. To have him do Potter was really exciting. He came into a world that was very much conceived, but he made it his own. This was an original piece of material that was his own. When he asked I leapt at it. I didn't even have to read the script.
It's interesting that, even though Azkaban was the least financially successful, it seemed to lead the way in terms of where the series went forward.
Chris Columbus set up the series, because he cast the actors and hired the designer, but Alfonso allowed us to grow up. It became more mature and a little more darker, which was the path we followed. He's one of my best friends and godfather to my son. He's a very important part of my life. It was a lovely thing to do this.
From a producer's standpoint, what makes him a great director?
He has a vision. He knows the film he wants to make before he starts shooting, but he's open to discovery along the way. Even with the way this film was made he found room for change and development. He knows every aspect of filmmaking. What he doesn't know he learns. On Prisoner of Azkaban he didn't know very much about visual effects, but, by the end of it, he was an expert.
On this, he didn't know about 3D, but the script I said had "3D" in the title. Alfonso is curious and never settles. He's always pushing the envelope. Also, he's not afraid of failure. Also, while he understands the technical aspects, he's a humanist who focuses on the truth. He works on three levels: narrative, story, and thematics. He not only tells stories in words, but in images. That's very much the case for Gravity. So much of the thematic elements of the film are expressed in images.
Everyone always talks about how impressive those long-takes are, and I think a part of why that is because it allows you to really take in those performances.
That's absolutely right. For that to work, you need great talent. For huge amounts of the film 's in a space suit with just a visor. It's hard for her to express her performance physically. She can't shrug her shoulders or any of that. It's all through her eyes, so it's almost like a silent film performance. The eyes are so key to understanding that character.
It's funny, because you do hear stories about actors not wanting to wear those visors or masks, since it is a challenge.
[Laughs] Right. There's that restriction and a physical restriction. Also, it's a challenge with her movement, because every shot led to another. You have to come in at a certain point, so her movements were rigidly designed. You'd have to look to the left in the second shot, straight ahead at the second, and to the right at minute one. She had to hit those marks and all the ones in-between, but you don't think about that when you're with her. You're with her in the movement.
Technically speaking, how much discovery was there in what could or couldn't be done?
No pun intended, but we literally leapt into the void. We had no idea what we were doing. Again, Alfonso was so brave with these long shots. Three shots take up thirty minutes of the film, so we had to find a way to do zero gravity that way. If you cut, you can hide. If you don't cut, there's nowhere to hide. We had to develop a series of technologies to tell this story in the way Alfonso wanted to.
How are the zero gravity sequences done?
When you have an actor hanging upside down, gravity takes hold. The key for us was the camera did the work. You know, the camera was what would do it. We used various techniques, like, a light box we created for this. We also had a track which had a robot used to make cars that had a camera rig which could do 360s. We used various techniques.
After Harry Potter, did you ever think you'd find a project to match that undertaking?
Harry Potter was a unique, fantastic journey for me. It was the same for Gravity. Each film has its challenges and excitement. I loved Harry. Happily, that was 12 years of my life. I was working with people who really make everybody around them better at what they do. I always look forward to interesting experiences.
I'm very interested in the future of that franchise, because in ten or so years, they probably will do some more films with that property. What do you think the right route to go is, reboot it or make new stories?
Technology has improved. I could see the difference from beginning to end. I'd say...I don't know. I'm not big on reboots. If that happens in 10 or 20 years time, that'd be great. I'm sure they'll do it well. I had amazing twelve years on Harry and now four years on Gravity.
Before I let you go, obviously James Cameron has said Gravity is the best "space" movie he's ever seen. What are some of your favorites?
Oh gosh, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, and the original Solaris. Alfonso said he wouldn't watch 2001 while developing this, because he would've found it so disappointing.
Gravity opened in theaters October 4th.