Keith and Jess Wu Calder have been going strong for 15 years now. The producers behind Snoot Entertainment set out to never repeat themselves, and mission accomplished because they haven’t. Over the course of their producing careers, they’ve given the world Blindspotting, Anomalisa, The Guest, and more. They’re the sort of producers who make the types of movies they actually love, including their most recent film, Little Monsters (now on Hulu). Directed by Abe Forsythe, it’s a sweet horror-comedy with a lot of zombies, bloodshed, and Neil Diamond fandom.
Look no further than their body-of-work to know they’re producers with good intentions and taste, both willing to take chances. Their most recent productions include Corporate Animals and Blindspotting, and they’re now working with Starz on a TV show based on the latter. Recently, they told us about making the movies they love, experiences and lessons from their 15 years of running Snoot Entertainment, and the films that inspire them.
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Gemini Man, in which Will Smith comes face to face with a de-aged clone of himself, was made from a ’90s script originally meant for Tony Scott. At some point, it was saddled with mid-2000s military politics and anxieties — a la the Bourne films — until eventually, Ang Lee got his hands on it, turning it into a futuristic visual experiment. Like Lee’s previous film, the contained war drama Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016), Gemini Man was shot at 120 frames per second, and was projected as such on the handful of screens that could accommodate it.
Unfortunately, not a single screen could show the film exactly as Lee had intended — at 120fps, in 3D, and at a 4K resolution — which is a shame, given that Lee is one of the most visually interesting filmmakers working in Hollywood. But does his use of “HFR” (High Frame Rate) actually work? Well, not exactly. I’m not sure a narrative film shot at 120fps can work, barring very specific circumstances. However, the conversation about Lee’s use of technology, and the kinds of stories he applies them to, is worth having.
First, a brief primer: What does 120fps mean?
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Perhaps the world just wasn’t ready for two Will Smiths in the same movie. Ang Lee‘s Gemini Man, an action spectacle in which Smith has to fight a younger clone of himself, did paltry box office in America, but there was a hope that its weekend release in China could turn things around. But that didn’t happen. The end result is a box office bomb, with Gemini Man suffering a loss of at least $75 million. Ouch.
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Gemini Man is a globetrotting 3D action movie with assassins, motorcycle chases, and that emphasizes the value of life, so it’s no surprise that it’s directed by Ang Lee. The visionary director behind Life of Pi and Brokeback Mountain once again pushes the envelope with his high-frame-rate and Will Smith-headlined cinematic experiment. Similar to many Ang Lee movies, Gemini Man has an identity crisis, repression, and father issues to go along with the popcorn entertainment, which, like his Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, is shot in 120 frames per second and 3D. This time around, the result is more immersive and tactile, less otherworldly and distancing.
It’s a new way of telling a story that, as Lee says, he’s just getting started with as he remains hopeful other filmmakers will join him in his pursuit of the sharpest image possible. 120 fps remains polarizing, but Lee remains assured he’s on the right path. Anytime an artist tries something new, it’s automatically going to distance some audiences, anyway. There are still kinks to be smoothed out and movie theaters have to catch up to Lee, but he’s also thinking about the long game: not just where the technology is now, but where it will go.
After over a decade of trying to interview him, we got 15 minutes with Lee, and although there’s some pressure to finally sit across from this filmmaking giant, when you walk in a room and are greeted by him, any nervousness dissipates fast. His calmness and modesty are impossible not to feel at ease around, but behind that calmness lies an intense desire to, as he told us, remain cutting edge.
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If you were pumped to see Ang Lee‘s Gemini Man in the 120 frames-per-second high frame rate 4K 3D format that director Ang Lee intended, you might want to sit down for some bad news. Not a single movie theater in America will be screening Lee’s film in that desired format. On top of that, only 14 theaters in the country will be able to screen something close to what Lee wanted – 3D with 120fps high frame rate, but no 4K.
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“I’m having trouble looking in the mirror lately,” says Henry Brogan (Will Smith), one of the world’s best assassins. He’s spent a large chunk of his career bumping off bad guys for the government, but now he wants to hang up his guns and retire at the ripe old age of 51. He’s tired of killing people, and for the first time in his deadly career, he’s actually starting to grow what might be considered a conscience. But if Henry thought looking in the mirror was hard, just wait until he comes face to face with a new enemy: himself.
A younger, cloned Henry (played by a digitally de-aged Smith) has come calling, setting the stage for a big Will Smith vs. Will Smith action extravaganza wrapped-up in a package called Gemini Man. All the pieces are there, and those pieces rest in the able hands of director Ang Lee. So why is the end result so curiously lifeless? At some point, Lee got too caught up with the tech at work here and forgot to focus on a moving narrative. The end result is more video game than movie.
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If you’ve ever wanted to see Will Smith bicker with himself, it looks like Gemini Man is going to be the film for you. Ang Lee‘s special effects-driven action flick has old man Will Smith fighting young man Will Smith, which means the Will Smiths get to shout insults at each other in between bullets. A new Gemini Man clip has the Smiths engaged in a standoff. Things don’t go well.
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In just under a few weeks, director Ang Lee and two Will Smiths will attempt to liven up the fall box office with Gemini Man. The sci-fi action flick finds Smith as aged expert assassin Henry Brogan, who suddenly finds himself targeted by another younger, gifted killer who always seems to be one step ahead of him. That killer just so happens to be a younger clone of himself, and a new Gemini Man clip shows just how efficient and lethal this clone can be – especially with a motorcycle. Read More »
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Gemini Man may be Ang Lee‘s most existential action movie. Starring Will Smith as a hitman who becomes the target of a younger clone of himself, Gemini Man is a fairly straightforward sci-fi action flick that has famously become the vessel for Lee’s digital film innovations — shot digitally at an extra-high frame rate of 120 fps, modified for 3D, and featuring a fully CGI recreation of a younger Will Smith. But more than just presenting a new challenge for Lee, who has been experimenting with high frame rates since 2016’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Gemini Man is an action movie that allows him to examine the endlessly fascinating “subject matter of nature versus nurture.”
“The two Will Smith’s coexisting, with one looking so much younger, in this medium the feeling is kind of existential,” Lee told /Film at a roundtable interview for Gemini Man in New York. “It really makes you wonder about your own existence and what would you tell your younger self. And also see your trajectory when you’re young.”
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If you had the chance to talk to your younger self, what would you say? That’s the premise, more or less, of Gemini Man, the upcoming sci-fi action film starring Will Smith…and Will Smith. Smith stars as an assassin named Henry who is being hunted down by a younger clone of himself, called Junior, sent to kill him by his former employer. Ang Lee directs the film in stunning 120 frames-per-second 3D, a feat that would already be impressive if not for the cutting-edge technology used to turn Will Smith into his 23-year-old self. But before you make comparisons to the “de-aging” technology used frequently by Marvel, Lucasfilm, and other studios, Smith wants to clarify: it’s not de-aging.
“The younger character is not me,” Smith said during a filmed Q&A screened after a footage presentation of Gemini Man attended by /Film. “That is a 100 percent digital character. A completely recreated character. They didn’t take my image and just stretch some of the lines. It is a completely CGI character in the same way that the lions in The Lion King are CGI characters.”
Smith’s dual performance is highlighted in the Gemini Man footage presentation, which /Film got to attend in New York City. The presentation showed three extended clips in 60 frames-per-second 3D (a step down from 120 but still in eye-popping high definition), which painted a fuller picture of what kind of action film Gemini Man will be.
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