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Tuesday, 21 January 2014 21:42

Discovering Her with Location Manager Rick Schuler

Written by  Dyana Carmella
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HER SM beachThe sci-fi romance film Her is anoriginal love story that explores the human need for intimacy and the risks it poses in a technological world. Set in a future Los Angeles, the movie is written and directed by Spike Jonze, and stars Joaquin Phoenix (The Master, Walk the Line), Amy Adams, Rooney Mara and the voice of Scarlett Johansson. The story follows Theodore (Phoenix), a complex, soulful man in self-imposed isolation after being heartbroken by the end of a long relationship. He soon meets Samantha (Johansson), the insightful, sensitive and surprisingly funny female voice of his computer’s new operating system. And as each of their emotional needs and desires grow, the friendship eventually deepens into true love.

The cast was more than keen to work on this innovative film because Jonze was at the helm.“I’ve been a fan of Spike’s since his music videos, so the opportunity to work with him was obviously very exciting,” says Phoenix. “But then on a script that was so unique and full of these big ideas and this wonderful heart and accessible emotion, you couldn’t find any reason not to do the film.” Adams also sees this film is a triumph, and feels that Phoenix and Jonze are a brilliant team. “The great thing about Spike is that nothing is done in a really obvious way,” says Adams, “and it’s through conversation and details, and you learn through the brilliant dialogue he writes on where these characters are.” 

Her-Rick-SMBenefitting from California’s tax incentive, Her was shot all over the Los Angeles area, including downtown, Venice, Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, Hollywood, Van Nuys, Topanga, West Hollywood, Altadena, San Marino and Castaic. The film also lensed in San Bernardino County and spent 10 days in Shanghai, China. With so many locales on the roster, veteran Location Manager Rick Schuler, pictured right, (The Social Network, Zodiac) was up for the challenge. A production crew of 50–70 people helped to make Jonze’s vision a reality by creating a Los Angeles of the future. “As was the case on [Jonze’s] Adaptation, when we needed to make Los Angeles pass as Florida, with Her we were faced with the task of figuring out how to create a futuristic Los Angeles,” says Schuler. “I sat down with Spike and [Production Designer] K.K. Barrett and discussed how far into the future we were thinking…. as it would determine what I was to scout. Spike spoke of Los Angeles 30 to 40 years into the future. As we wrestled with what that would look like, it finally occurred to me, that L.A. would not look all that different than it does today. I reasoned that we were working in a building that was built in the 1950s and yet it was 2012! The point being that older buildings would still be found some 30 to 40 years down the road, yet there would be new forms of architecture and more futuristic-looking buildings as well. L.A. would be as eclectic architecturally as it is now.” 

This discussion of the future naturally involved the topic of vehicles, but the production budget wasn’t big enough to include building futuristic cars. “This financial issue led us … to think creatively, to discover for ourselves this world that Spike wrote about,” recalls Schuler. “The characters live in apartments in high-rise buildings with city views. They walk on pedestrian bridges high above the traffic below them. They speed along in trains high above the landscape below.… They walk on pathways in parks designed on building rooftops. They sit and talk to each other at restaurants that are not at street level…. There was only one scene that put us at street level, and we would see one car: a taxi. If I recall correctly, Spike and K.K. Barrett made reference to China and Shanghai in particular where hints of this world can already be found. In the end, we went to China to find L.A. in the future. Both worlds were blended into one.”

HER SMThe most challenging location to manage was Theodore’s apartment. The production chose a penthouse in a downtown L.A. building with the appropriate interior space and orientation to the city’s skyline. “The building had done some filming before, but never on the scope of what we wanted to do to the space, or for the length of time we required to occupy the premises,” reports Schuler. Locking down the location proved tough, but Schuler knew he had to get the property manager on board. His solution was to rent the penthouse on a monthly basis for four to six months, which was more time than the shoot needed but made it easier to get both parties on board. “[This] reassured them that I took both the production company’s interest and the building’s interest to heart,” Schuler explains. “I was sincere about looking for a win-win situation.” 

Schuler’s next task was a different kind of challenge. The cinematographer wanted 17 floor-to-ceiling tinted windows (weighing almost 200 pounds each) to be replaced with clear glass. This request renewed negotiations with the property manager and involved finding a reputable high-rise window installer and storage for the glass, as well as certifying a window-washing rig. “The hard reality is you don’t know if you have really ‘secured’ a location until you walk away from it after having shot it,” Schuler says. “In the end, we ended up being the best production company [the property manager] ever worked with, and [we] set the standard of what she expects from every other company. We worked out a deal where she kept the clear glass in place for other production companies to benefit from, and she kept the unit available for future filming.” 

A production crew needs to be a well-oiled machine in order for a shoot to run smoothly. With 18 years of feature film experience, Schuler had worked with Jonze on three prior films, so he’s now well versed in how the filmmaker runs a show. “To work with Spike is to work in a way that I don’t experience with any other director,” says Schuler. “He, of course, has his own ideas, but works and leans creatively on a team throughout the whole process of making the movie. As a location manager … the securing of a location often requires new ways of thinking, risk-taking, a good sense of timing, an honest approach, and a whole lot of luck! It’s a roller coaster ride, scary at first and then fun down the stretch to the end, yet you never let go of the fear that the coaster might fly off the tracks. I suppose that’s what makes the ride as well as the process of making a movie from a location manager’s point of view both terrifying and challenging and intoxicating all at the same time. [And] once you are done, you want to do it all over again.” 

 

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