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Posted December 10, 2015 by admin in Resource
 
 

Catatan Produksi Film Z for Zachariah (2015)


About the Production

An Intimate Apocalypse

Doomsday and cinema have gone together from the beginning. While post-apocalyptic films proliferated in the 50s and 60s amidst the high anxiety of the Atomic Age, they have surged again in an era of financial collapse, climate threats and rogue states.

The question is hauntingly irresistible: what would our lives be like if the complex, high-tech society humans have built over centuries suddenly collapsed? Imagined Armageddon scenarios have ranged from the mythic to the comic to the brutally real. Often, they have been a chance for innovative filmmakers to visually explore what we most love and fear about the world we live in right now, by fantasizing about how it might all be extinguished.

Director Craig Zobel grew up on such films, but his fresh take on the genre is distinctly of our own times. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of what ended civilization as we know it, Zobel’s Z For Zachariah probes inward, to the personal, domestic impact of how those left behind come to grips with one another as they try to start over in the aftermath. Zobel takes resonant themes – freedom, authority, power, trauma, memory, reason, beliefs, dreams – and strips them down to the most instinctive, raw human interactions, as he places the audience among a pair of lone survivors who confront the unsettling arrival of a stranger.

The film required just three actors – but each had to be capable of exposing the tenuous inner lives of those who witnessed their external world being shattered. Acclaim for Zobel’s controversial 2012 film, Compliance, drew a sensational trio to Z for Zachariah – Oscar nominated Chiwetel Ejiofor, fresh from riveting audiences with his lead performance in Steve McQueen’s 12 Years a Slave; rising Australian star Margot Robbie, doing a 180 from her breakthrough role as “the Duchess of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn” in Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street; and Chris Pine, who reveals yet another side to audiences familiar with projects as varied as Star Trek and Into the Woods.

For Zobel, the compacted nature of a three-hander allowed him to hone in on the heart of the story he wanted to tell. “I am most fascinated by human relationships, how we communicate with each other, how we interact when circumstances challenge us. What drew me to Z For Zachariah is questions I think we all have: what would I do if I found myself alone on earth? Who would I be? How would I find meaning? Would I want to start all over again – and how do you even start a new society?”

He goes on: “And what’s so exciting about this story to me is that you get to see people in a situation where their interactions are everything – because when no one else is left on earth, every move you make and each word you say suddenly takes on the most extreme importance. The stakes are naturally high and made even higher when you suddenly have one woman among two men.”

 

Expanded Adaptation: Nissar Modi On The Screenplay

Z for Zachariah began with an enduring novel that almost never was. This was the final work from Robert C. O’Brien, who left it unfinished when he passed away in 1973. O’Brien had earlier garnered fame for his young adult novels, especially the much-beloved Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, which won a Newbery Medal for its captivating story of a society created by escaped lab rats. After publishing his first sci-fi novel, A Report From Group 17, he was writing the final chapter of his second – the story of a sensitive girl and a troubled scientist left as unreliable companions after a nuclear war – when he had a fatal heart attack. His wife and daughter ultimately completed his final work, based on his personal notes. Published in 1974, the novel would go on to win the Edgar Award, which honors the best mystery writing, and to become a staple of high school reading lists.

Indeed, British screenwriter Nissar Modi first read the book at a young age. “I studied it in school when I was about 13,” he recalls. “And I think a lot of people probably experienced it the way I did back then – it was a gripping read and I was intrigued by the story of survival, but there was a lot going on I didn’t really understand at the time.”

Still, the story was resonant enough that when the young Modi and his brother started making films with their home movie camera, their first intended “production” was a version of Z for Zachariah. The amateur film never came to pass, but the fascination stuck. Later, after graduating from USC, Modi was looking for a story ripe for a fresh adaptation and his memory circled back to O’Brien’s novel. “I re-read it and was amazed by how now it seemed so much more rich, subtle and unsettling,” he muses. “I felt it was the kind of story where the surface is very engrossing – but there are even more compelling things going on underneath.”

Thus began a journey for Modi that would go on for 10 years before Z for Zachariah was finally in production. Several of those years were spent acquiring the rights with his associate Pall Grimsson. Then, Modi went through a challenging creative process, penning numerous drafts of the screenplay. He began by asking himself the question: how would ordinary people actually behave at the end of the world? The answer, he felt, is that they would act the same way they do right now, in their contemporary lives, but perhaps in more distilled ways, having lost all but their humanity.

Yet bringing out the subtle nuances of human interaction after mass annihilation proved confining with just two characters. Modi was searching for a way to bring more dynamism to the story when, during conversations with Gary Ross, one of the film’s producers, a radical – and perspective-shifting – idea emerged: to add a third character not in the novel. That shook up everything, and led to a more shaded, ambiguous view of Ann and Loomis.

“Suddenly, the characters of Ann and Loomis were more fascinating because I able to add in all these interpersonal dynamics,” Modi explains. “There were many shades of gray between Ann, Loomis and Caleb, and I was excited to explore that. There were more now complications to Ann’s coming-of-age and there were more questions about who Loomis really is, which helped me expand their humanity. As they are tested and changed by the coming of Caleb, it was a chance to reveal their characters more.”

Modi says he did not look back once he decided upon the change. “In a sense, the novel’s ending was never written because O’Brien passed away, so there was something open about it,” he says. “But more importantly, I really believe that when you adapt any work, in order for it to become alive, you have to inject your own voice into it — what you respond to emotionally, intellectually and thematically. I was committed to being true to the spirit of the novel, but it had to find its own life.”

Electrified by the change, Modi found the tension in the script now emerging organically, and in unexpected ways. “Caleb brought in more suspense and drive,” he says. “But I never saw it as something as simple as a love triangle. The relationships are complicated and spiky and it’s hard to say if love even comes into it. That’s part of the mystery. When the world ended, time ended for Ann and she never really got to mature into an adult. Now, with Loomis and Caleb, she grows quickly. She is manipulated by them, but she also learns to manipulate. All these things are in the book – but it was a matter of bringing them out in a tense, cinematic way. And then Craig came in and made it all even more willfully ambiguous in the very smart way he directed it.”

Modi also utilized the landscape as a kind of fourth character, a fertile idyll frozen in time, belying the harsh human dilemmas within. “The setting in the novel is this verdant, Eden-like Valley and that’s what I love about it,” he explains. “I didn’t want to go into that post-apocalyptic mode where everything is desolate and dark. I always had in my mind a Terrence Malick-esque paradise – against which plays out a kind of fall of man. I think these elements were always part of O’Brien’s intent.”

Yet, whereas O’Brien set up a dichotomy between spiritual faith and science in the clash between Ann and Loomis, Modi blurred the lines further, especially with the addition of Caleb, whose allegiances seem to shift according to his needs. “These questions are very much a part of the book,” notes Modi. “Loomis is a man of reason and Ann is deeply spiritual. But I didn’t really see it as an intellectual debate between them; it’s more a part of their trying to connect to one another.”

Finally, the one thing Modi eschewed completely was trying to explain whatever political or scientific failures might have led to the immense catastrophe at hand. “I really like that there is a sense of minimalism inside this very large story of apocalypse,” he concludes. “What happened to the world is in the past at this point and it can’t be undone. Everything and everyone the characters have known is lost and when we join them, they are very much having to live in the present tense.”

 

Craig Zobel On His Influences

Once Modi’s script started making the rounds, accolades followed, and it soon entered onto The Black List, the underground roster of the very best (and often most imaginative) unproduced scripts in Hollywood. Tobey Maguire’s production company, Material Pictures, optioned the script and began developing it and ultimately brought it to Craig Zobel’s attention a couple of years ago.

Zobel began his filmmaking career at the influential North Carolina School For The Arts, where the alumni include such distinctive American voices as David Gordon Green (Manglehorn, Pineapple Express, George Washington), Jody Hill (“Eastbound & Down”) and Jeff Nichols (Mud, Take Shelter). He made Great World of Sound, about the exploits of a low-budget record label’s A&R man, and garnered a Breakthrough Director honor at the Gotham Awards. His second feature, the provocative thriller Compliance – about a fast food worker compelled into humiliating acts by a caller claiming to be a cop – took him into darker territory. The story’s intense exploration of gender, class, authority and subservience drew accolades from many while unsettling others, making it one of the most talked-about films of 2012.

When Zobel read the Z For Zachariah script, it instantly struck him on a level that went beyond the creative allure of the after-doomsday setting. “I was quite taken with the script,” he recalls. “I saw it as a way to get at a lot of things that I’d already been thinking about in terms of exploring communication, and how people talk to each in other relationships; it was the humanity of it that really struck me most of all in what Nissar had done. Then I read the book and it does have a different feeling. The book has a very 70s feeling to it, but I felt Nissar had crafted from it something contemporary and relevant to our lives right now.”

For Zobel, the idea of bringing new twists to a still oft-read piece of literature was in no way verboten. “I think everyone realizes by now that you simply can’t execute a book on screen. There’s always some compression or expansion and it’s just a matter of degrees,” he says. “What Nissar did was to give the story an immediacy that opened it up for visual storytelling.”

He was enthralled by the addition of the third character, and the unique direction it would allow him to take with the film – the chance to build a domestic psychological thriller atop a sci-fi foundation.

“The third person unlocked a lot of things,” he observes. “When you’re by yourself all your decisions are yours and that is how Ann has been living in the beginning of the story. Then, when there’s a second person, of course you will have some conflicts between the way you do things and the way they do things. Yet when you are just two people, you can only have conflict for so long – because there’s no one else to turn to. Eventually, you have to address the issue. But once there’s a third person, the dynamic is profoundly changed. Now, you can have secrets. You can have allegiances. You can make choices about who you want to trust or spend time with. It’s a more complicated and perilous situation.”

Once he decided to dive in, Zobel knew he wanted to follow a purposefully understated path into this shocking world where most of humanity has perished. His influences came from his own sci-fi favorites – which span both B movies and art-house flicks.

Among them he cites the 1951 pioneering disaster thriller Five, about five disparate men and women who survive an atomic blast; Stanley Kramer’s 1959 classic On The Beach, in which World War III destroys all but inhabitants of Australia and a single U.S. submarine;The World, The Flesh and The Devil, another 1959 doomsday story starring Harry Belafonte as a coal miner who survives the apocalypse underground; Andrei Tarkovsky’s allegorical journey into a mystifying, devastated area known only as the Zone in 1979’s Stalker; and the 1985 New Zealand filmThe Quiet Earth, about a man who believes he is the last person left after a radical new power source destroys much of earth.

“I was interested in those kinds of ‘Midnight Movies’ that took a simpler approach to this massive theme, that invited you to imagine ‘what would I personally do if I found myself alone with just a few people left on earth?’ I was also thinking in terms of stark survival dramas, like Hitchcock’sLifeboat, where it’s really about how people interact in an extreme situation,” he explains.

The story’s provocative tangle of spirituality and science also intrigued Zobel, in part because they are so often absent from modern sci-fi adventures. “If the world ended, if you had any kind of faith, I imagine you would be thinking a lot about it,” he points out. “It’s a huge part of how we approach the End, yet it’s missing from a lot of movies. It’s also a fascinating dichotomy when you have one person trying to find a logical reason to go on and another who has a profound faith that everything is happening according to a plan – so how do those two people find common ground?”

With so many themes swirling through the story, Zobel knew casting the film would be the major crux in bringing them all to life. He was thrilled to find three actors with both extensive range and popular appeal willing to commit to an unconventional, pared-back indie production.

“When you have just three actors, it can be a lot of fun, but it can also be very stressful because they have to be ready every second to show up 100 percent,” Zobel summarizes. “But Chiwetel, Margot and Chris got right to work and it all happened in a remarkably organic way.”

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