Amazon Studios brought three striking iterations of true grit to Deadline’s Contenders New York with a look at The Aeronauts, The Report and Honey Boy that kicked off Saturday’s event.
Tom Harper, director and producer of The Aeronauts, said the set was kept below freezing and actors plunged their hands in ice water to simulate the chill of early hot-air ballooning.
“It gets cold up there. We didn’t know that at the time,” nodded producer Todd Lieberman. “The capillaries on [actors] faces were the result of good makeup and real blood vessels.”
The film reunites The Theory of Everything co-stars Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones as an adventurer and an early weather scientist who launch an ambitious balloon flight in 1862. Their great chemistry was a major plus since they had to “work together in a basket for so long,” Harper joked.
The grander conceptual challenge, what attracted Harper to the film, is realizing a dream. He called it an ode to “innovators who have moved history, a drive for knowledge, and what we can overcome if we put our minds to it.”
In The Report, an investigator for the Senate Intelligence Committee labors in a basement bunker for five year to expose the CIA’s illegal and failed enhanced interrogation techniques launched post 9-11. The probe was suppressed by two presidential administrations before seeing the light of day.
The five-year anniversary of the report’s release will be December 9, noted Scott Z. Burns, who wrote, directed and produced the film. He started working on the project a little more than five years ago, he said, and accountability and courage in politics have never been more relevant.
“The story that’s revealed in the report is incredibly horrifying and bizarre. Beyond that the story of Daniel Jones is incredibly compelling to me. This one guy sits in a windowless room for seven years and pieces together the puzzle,” Burns said, referring to the investigator played by Adam Driver.
“What was chilling to me is that while we were making the film, you see the same [thing] happening in our government. We have to decide if we will hold each other accountable.”
Actor Tim Blake Nelson plays a physician’s assistant who left a black site and reveals to Jones the depth of the atrocities. “It was a composite character of CIA operatives who were participating but burdened by that” and ultimately spoke up, he said.
The Report, in an unusual move, featured a brief clip of another movie, Sony’s Zero Dark Thirty, about the raid on Osama bin Laden’ hideout. That film, from 2012, was directed by Kathryn Bigelow and written by Mark Boal. They are friends, Burns said, but “I had the benefit of the report and those guys didn’t.”
In Honey Boy, Shia LaBeouf works through his trauma as a child actor with an abusive father who left him with reservoirs of unresolved anger and pain. He penned the script in court-mandated rehab and has found himself and his Hollywood career in healing mode. Producer Daniela Taplin Lundberg said she loved the script immediately but had to look LaBeouf “in the eyes” to make sure he was ready.
At a meeting, “Shia told the whole story of how … he wrote it as a script. He had grown up reading scripts and it was the only way he knew how to write. He said, ‘If you do this it will save my life. I will be the first one, I will be there every day.’ People started crying.”
Cinematographer Natasha Braier said emotions continued high as LaBeouf played his own father in the film. She felt the raw truth of the story was best served by the look of a stark documentary look. The pathos and memories were projected visually through lighting.
“Shia was going through a therapeutic process and he does not like to be constrained by marks. So there was no way for us to know which way he was going to move,” she said. “We replaced LED lights with wireless receivers and transmitters. I had a dimmer board outside the room so I was prepared for all the different angles all the time.”