Posted on Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 by Peter Sciretta
On August 10th 2011, I traveled to Toronto and visited the set of Len Wiseman‘s Total Recall remake. The movie was shot at Pinewood Toronto Studios, the same studio where Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Universal’s The Thing remake were filmed. I was on set two thirds of the way through filming. After the jump you can watch a video blog I recorded with Frosty from Collider discussing our impressions from being on set, alongside a comprehensive list of over 45 things I learned on set.
Over 45 Things We Learned on the Set of Len Wiseman’s ‘Total Recall’
Collin Farrell was sold on the film based on the worlds created in the script and the concept art he was shown. Director Len Wiseman, who has a background in the prop and design departments, helped draw a bunch of the concept art for the movie.
The film takes place in two locations, New Asia and the United Federation of Britain. Much of the rest of the world is uninhabitable.
70 percent of the costumes for the film were found. 100 Federal Police costumes were created total.
The Synth Robots
Quaid works construction in New Asia, building Synth robots at a factory.
The Synth robots look very Iron Man in style but white and black. This is no coincidence as they were designed by Legacy Effects, the same studio which designed Iron Man.
The Synths are creates practically using men in suits, and in post production they will augment the men in suits to make them appear like android Synths and not men in suits.
The World of New Asia
New Asia a post apocalyptic version of China. New Asia is very crowded and grungy, a huge melting pot of cultures. Its always raining acid rain and the world sits on water, with Venice style canals between the streets. They have mostly water transportation and only a few trams.
The production designer avoided using neon signs in an effort to not look like Blade Runner. They instead opted for florescent lighting.
Everyone lives in the city as the surrounding area is not habitable. We will see the west of the world in the film, a even more post apocalyptic disaster area polluted by chemicals and only accessible by abandoned subway tracks.
The production designer created a massive set for New Asia which could be shot from different directions and redressed to look like many different locations within the city. Every one of the facades will be turned into different stores and be reused multiple times. The set will be used as five different locations in the city, shooting in different directions and different alley ways. For example, they will change a portion of the set into a red light district which will feel completely different. Computer created extensions and backgrounds will complete the effect.
The set features a canal in the middle of two level buildings. The architecture is Asian-inspired, and looks very worn, rusted, used, like it has been there for at least a century. The concrete floors were crafted to always look wet. 400 extras populate the set in primetime.
The people who live in New Asia wear mostly plastic raincoats, and clothing featuring warmer colors: red, green, gold, and browns. In contrast, the wardrobe in United Federation of Britain features very cold colors.
Quaid finds the recall chair about 20 minutes into the movie and the adventure begins from there.
The action sequence in the den (which appears to be one take zooming around the room at incredible speeds) was achieved by using a Super slider mount that allows you to Shoot the camera down at 15 feet a second. They used 6 separate sliders and three cameras for the sequence, which is the only time 3 super sliders have been used at the same time on any shoot ever. The super slider sequence took two days to shoot, after months of prep on the part of the stunt guys.
The World of United Federation of Britain
United Federation of Britain is on the other side of the world. It is basically a futuristic version of London. Everything is clean, safe and sterile — basically the opposite of New Asia. This is where the rich people live.
UFB contains some of the neo classic features of today’s London but also incorporates new buildings that are built on-top of the architecture of today. Director Len Wiseman thought it was important to keep a base level of history in this world in addition to the future technology.
The main transportation in UFB are cars that appear to hover but are actually magnetic. Hover cars can also ride on the bottom of highways, right-sideup
They built 7 or 8 cars for the production. Len Wiseman pushed for them to create practical moving real cars over creating the car sequences in CG.
The Hover car chase sequence was filmed practically withthe prop hovercars on top of stunt-driven cars on the highway. The actors described the filming as “scary and physical,” as the cars were really slamming against each other. Collin claims that the hover car chase is the most unsafe he’s felt in his entire career and that’s including working with live animals in Alexander.
Sony Pictures pushed for the film to not to feel like a full blown science fiction movie, and wanted everything to feel grounded. For example, they opted for bullets over lasers.
Jessica Biel’s character Melina shoots a 9 mill barrette but automatic, which doesn’t exist in reality.
Another weapon is “the bolo”, which fires a projectile that shoots out something that wraps around the victim. The gun than lets the shooter control the victim virtually (think about how you control the Nintendo Wii).
Phones in the future appear on the palm of your hand, and are used as a touch screen. People put the hand up to their head to talk.
New Asia features billboards made with light which people can walk through. Imagine holographic billboards that instead of being on the walls around you, appear in front of you as you walk down the street. The billboards might feature products of today but as a futuristic version of whatever the brand would produce in the future world. When I visited the set, they had yet to nail down clearances.
A huge elevator called “China Fall” connects the United Federation of Britain to New Asia. This is how people get from one side of the world to the other.
China Fall looks like a futuristic train terminal meets shuttle launch. The production designer describes the shuttle as a cross between a seven story building and a rocket. The vehicle falls through the earth, a futuristic spacecraft elevator.
The trip from one side of Earth to the other is said to only last 15-20 minutes.
The concept of China Fall was inspired by a loose scientific theory that if you dropped a steel ball through a hole in the middle of the earth, that it would only take 30 minutes due to the gravity involved. The ball would continue to go out each side forever. China Fall uses hardcore enforced technology to stop the spacecraft elevator at each end. The production design admits that they didn’t actually work with any real scientists on developing the China Falls scifi tech concept.
The China Fall shuttle features seats on either side. The seats transform with the gravity and by the end you walk out of the ceiling on the other side. The set they filmed on flips around (as does the camera) but the humans and seats remain stationary.
There is a fight sequence that takes place in the space elevator which features an antigravity sequence when the shuttle goes through the Earth’s core.
The China Fall set was built on Stage 4 of Pinewood Toronto Studios. Stage 4 is known as “The Megastage”, the largest film stage in North America.
The top of the China Fall features an air pad with a huge landing pad. The set will be used for a big action sequence near the end. Where other sci-fi movies rely on night, this will be the only sequence in the movie set at night.
Another set on the same stage is the interior of one of the ships traveling through the center of the earth. The set is built on a circular gimbal, a little bit like the hallway set from Inception, but as the set moves the actors stay stationary in their strapped down seats. The seats look like something out of an amusement park ride.
The on-set camera monitors usually feature a line of text at the bottom telling you information like how many frames per second the footage is being shot in, the camera’s iso settings and other information. The monitor for this sequence also features a reading displaying the set’s circular location — ie the set is at 180 degrees.
Bill Nighy plays Matthias Lair, the character the was formerly Quato. Apparently the character is slightly different so they decided to change the name.
Kate Beckinsale plays Lori, the Captain of Kohagan’s Guard.
John Cho‘s character works in the den where Quaid encounters the Recal chair, and has a tattoo which glows from the inside of his skin.
Bryan Cranston says he performed his scenes with a range from cheeky to menacing, and is giving director Len Wiseman the option in post to find the right choice for each scene. His character appears a lot on screens or holographic projections during the film.
Living Up To The Original Movie and Original Story
Director Len Wiseman describes the story as dealing with the haves and have nots, the propaganda machine and the rebellion of the suppressed. Colin Farrell says the film is about the cause and effect of violence.
The production designer says that Kubrick’s 2001, which was made in 1969, says more about the year 1969 than it does about the year 2001 and that Total Recall will probably speak more towards this time than it probably will of the time of the future it’s set in.
The movie will leave viewers with speculation if things that happened were real or were just a dream. And while it leaves things open to interpretation, it doesn’t set up a sequel.
Bryan Cranston really liked the script because it really differs from the other Total Recall and goes back a bit towards the source material.
The three breasted alien woman does appear in the reboot, but Johnny cab does not.
Dean Norris, who plays Hank Schrader on Bryan Cranston‘s television series Breaking Bad, appeared in the original Total Recall movie in the bar scene.