Cast: Forest Whitaker, Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, Michael Stuhlbarg
Director: Denis Villeneuve
Running Time: 116 minutes
Synopsis: When mysterious spacecraft touch down across the globe, an elite team – led by expert linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams) – are brought together to investigate. As mankind teeters on the verge of global war, Banks and the team race against time for answers – and to find them, she will take a chance that could threaten her life, and quite possibly humanity.
Release Date: November 10th, 2016
'I've dreamed of doing science fiction since I was ten years old," explains director Denis Villeneuve, who fell deeply in love with the short story Arrival is based upon, Ted Chiang's -Story of Your Life.' 'It's a genre that I feel has a lot of power and the tools to explore our reality in a very dynamic way."
'After Dan Levine and Dan Cohen first contacted me about doing a movie," says Ted Chiang, 'they sent me a DVD of Denis Villeneuve' film, Incendies (2010), to give me an idea of what they had in mind. That played a big part in my taking them seriously. If they had sent me a copy of a conventional Hollywood science-fiction movie, I probably would have ignored them. It wasn't until a few years later that Denis Villeneuve was actually attached to direct, but he was the director they had in mind from the beginning."
Denis Villeneuve approached Arrival differently for a number of reasons. Even though he thought -Story of Your Life' was 'fantastic material" he simply didn't have time to write the screenplay because he was in the middle of shooting Prisoners (2013). 'I had no time to write a screenplay," says Denis Villeneuve, 'and, to be honest, I didn't know how to crack that short story because it's very intellectual, in a strong and beautiful way, but from a dramatic point of view it's a bit difficult to articulate because it's about process."
Denis Villeneuve left it with the producers, including executive producer and screenwriter Eric Heisserer, who had already been working on an adaptation of the short story from early on in the production process. 'They came back a few months later with a screenplay written by Eric Heisserer that was surprisingly good," says Denis Villeneuve. 'I say surprising because Eric Heisserer was able to crack it and create a sense of tension and a drama inside of that process of translation." Denis Villeneuve was on board.
Though Denis Villeneuve had always been the producers' first choice to direct the film, Arrival's journey began when Denis Heisserer and fellow Producer Dan Levine and Executive Producer Dan Cohen, both of 21 Laps (fellow Producer Shawn Levy's production company behind current TV sensation Stranger Things), were looking for a project to collaborate on. Dan Levine and Dan Cohen were big fans of Denis Villeneuve's writing so the three met to discuss potential projects. After two hours of discussion they still hadn't settled on a project. When Dan Levine asked Denis Villeneuve what had excited him recently, Denis Villeneuve gave him Ted Chiang's collection of short stories -Stories of Your Life and Others' (2002, Tor Books).
'I got the book, read through it and came across -Story of Your Life' and my jaw dropped when that twist hit," explains Dan Levine. 'I couldn't believe how good the story was. Running through my head was -this is the most amazing thing I've ever read…please let the rights be available.' I read it with great anxiety and then had to hunt down Ted Chiang."
Denis Villeneuve was equally taken by Ted Chiang's story. 'Ted Chiang's short story gripped me in a way that very few stories do," recounts Eric Heisserer. 'It wasn't that I felt that the qualities of the story were inherently cinematic, but it gave me something that I hadn't had in a long time. It fed my brain and my heart. It made me think and feel, and it treated me with a lot of respect as an intelligent reader. At the end of the day I felt it gave an optimistic message about humanity, and in turn about myself."
'Eric Heisserer and I didn't talk about the script as it was being written," explains Ted Chiang. 'He pitched me his idea for the script early on in order to get me to grant permission. I should note that when I wrote the story, I never envisioned it being made into a film and I had difficulty imagining what a film adaptation of it would look like. When I heard Eric Heisserer's pitch I was able to visualize the film he had in mind and I liked it, so I let him go ahead and write a script. After he had finished it, I read it and offered a few comments. Over the years the script has undergone some changes, but in most ways it's still what Eric Heisserer originally pitched."
'This script came to me and our company, FilmNation Entertainment, from the folks at 21 Laps," says producer Aaron Ryder, who says FilmNation focuses on making films for grown ups, like Under The Skin, The Imitation Game, The King's Speech and Nebraska. 'It's an unusual one because Eric Heisserer wrote it on spec and the folks at 21 Laps, Shawn Levy, Dan Levine and Dan Cohen, developed it with Eric Heisserer. There's something about this script that has that sense of realism to it and when you apply that realism to science fiction it's pretty fascinating."
'What I love about the short story is that it has a lot of layers," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'One of them that deeply touched me is this idea that someone is in contact with death. What would happen if you know how you will die, when you will die? What will your relationship with life, love, your family and friends, and with your society be? By being more in relationship with death, in an intimate way with the nature of life and its subtleties, it would bring us more humility. Humanity needs that humility right now. We are in an era with a lot of narcissism. We are at the point where we are dangerously disconnected from nature. That's what this beautiful short story was for me"a way to get back into a relationship with death and nature, and the mystery of life."
The Aesthetic/Cinematography and Design
'I found myself without a cinematographer for this project at the beginning because Roger Deakins was working on another project," says Denis Villeneuve, who had to figure out who else could create the movie he envisioned. 'I needed a strong eye, someone [who could] bring sensuality, that would be able to capture life. The movie is in two parts: There's Louise's relationship with her daughter, this is the heart of the movie, and then there's the sci-fi. I needed a cinematographer able to embrace with [sensitivity] and delicacy the relationship between the mother and her child, and the way I wanted to approach it, while at the same time [able] to bring freshness to [the] sci-fi [elements]. Bradford Young was a massive discovery for me. As a filmmaker, to work with him, [I felt] I was seeing the birth of a genius."
'I've been a big fan of Denis Villeneuve' work since Polytechnique (2009)," explains Bradford Young. 'A few months ago somebody asked me who I wanted to work with next"Denis Villeneuve was at the top of my list. We know some folks in common and they'd said we would really get along. When I got the call from him it was a big surprise but it seemed serendipitous. I read the script, liked the material and it went from there." 'The guy is really hyper-sensitive," says Denis Villeneuve about Bradford Young. 'We created an approach that we call -dirty sci-fi'"which means that we were trying to create the feeling that this was happening on a bad Tuesday morning. We wanted to create a sci-fi movie that [gave you a feeling] like when you were a kid on the school bus on a rainy day and you'd dream while looking [out the window] at the clouds"that kind of atmosphere, getting away from the scope of the huge movies. Getting away from the spectacle. We were trying to make something delicate and light. Bradford Young brought a lot of humanity and beauty to the movie."
'Denis Villeneuve' films seem very grounded," says Bradford Young. 'They always feel very present but cinematic. Even though it's embedded in this tight, human drama, a human reality, they always seem to have massive scope. That's always attracted me to his work. I've looked for opportunities where we could focus in on the human dilemma, but at the same time I always feel like movies should have scale. They should have size and perspective. As I grow as a cinematographer, I look for those opportunities where I can photograph movies that have that ethos to them."
'When Denis Villeneuve and I first started talking about the film," recounts the cinematographer, 'one of the things that we were really concerned about is that, as filmmakers, we often inoculate the process with our own preconceived notions about what a genre could be. This genre was sci-fi but what we wanted was to be just as surprised when the aliens arrive as the viewer or the characters in the film are. We wanted to be as naive as the characters about what it means to interact with alien intelligence. That allowed Denis Villeneuve and I to take a step back from the process and decide that this film needed to be raw. It needed to be truthful. When the aliens and spacecraft arrive, we all feel surprise, and as frightened and compelled to be in contact with them as the characters in the film."
Retaining a sense of mystery about the aliens, maintaining their otherworldliness, was crucial. 'Often times in sci-fi films human beings have so much influence on our interpretation of what alien intelligence is," explains Bradford Young about their attempt to move beyond preconceptions. 'This is about backing away from that. What if human beings never had contact with aliens? Would they have alloys? Metals? Would they arrive with all the things that we assume because we, as human intelligence, have access to these things? It's about a fresh look at how simple and raw life can be for human beings on Earth and how simple and raw it could be for alien intelligence. We wanted to scale it down and make it very personal"that's been our focus from the beginning, making a very innocent, personal film but with scale."
To design and realise the film's aesthetic Denis Villeneuve worked closely with his cinematographer in preproduction and while filming; his editor, Joe Walker, in post-production; as well as his production designer, Patrice Vermette, who helped design the spaceship; VFX supervisor Louis Morin, who realised the designs for the ship and the aliens; artists Carlos Huante, who helped design the aliens, and Martine Bertrand, who designed the aliens' written language; sound designer Dave Whitehead, who helped create the clicks and whirrs of the alien's 'spoken" language; Supervising Sound Editor Sylvain Bellemare, who created the sound the ships made when they moved; and composer Johann Johannsson who created the score.
'It started with Patrice Vermette, my production designer and beloved friend," says Denis Villeneuve. 'We've made a lot of movies together and Patrice Vermette was by far my first choice because he's brilliant. He has culture, he's passionate, and he'd never done a sci-fi movie. He had all the qualities I was looking for and I thought he'd bring a fresh approach to the movie. Initially, the spaceships were supposed to be round, like spheres, but I felt that had been done before. It wasn't ominous or strange enough. I came up with the idea that the spaceship should be shaped like a pebble, a little stone, ovoid. I based the shape on an asteroid, or small planet, called Eunomia [aka asteroid 15] that's in orbit in the solar system. The shape's insane, like a strange egg." Denis Villeneuve had, until learning about Eunomia, always assumed that everything in outer space, whether an asteroid, planet or moon, was spherical. 'That strange, perfect [shape] felt ominous, mysterious, frightening to me."
Louis Morin, who had worked with Denis Villeneuve on his previous film, Sicario (2015), says he added little to the design process. 'My job is mainly enhancing and making the shot beautiful at the end of the day," says Louis Morin. 'Denis Villeneuve' approach is that he wants it to be mysterious. The aliens are not going to be in your face. It's going to take a long time"the audience will see parts of the alien and they'll construct in their mind what the alien could be"and it will be a big surprise at the end."
'Spielberg and Close Encounters are probably a pretty good inspiration for what we're doing," explains Ryder about their jumping off point. 'First off you have an alien Arrival movie, you're not going out and finding aliens, they're coming to us. The second thing is we had the opportunity to design something that we see through our character's eyes for the first time so that going into an alien ship impacts us too. Patrice Vermette and Denis Villeneuve came up with something that was really unusual."
The spaceship, which was dubbed 'the shell" in the script, held symbolic space as well. 'There was a relationship with life, with birth, that was perfect for the idea behind the spaceship," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'We thought, Patrice Vermette and I, that the spaceship should be made from matter that's not from Earth. It's not a shiny spaceship. It's not white, or made of metal or plastic, it's made of a strange stone. We aren't sure what this is exactly. We can't even guess."
'We're trying to approach this naive perspective within the genre and also through the photography," explains Bradford Young. 'The way we photograph the film is that much closer than what some sci-fi films would be. We talked about the film being very raw, but it's really massively naturalistic and trying to be as natural as possible, while also exploring this idea of darkness. Not darkness as a frightening thing, but darkness as an unknown. When we step into the spaceship, which is ultimately a temple, it's a place where a certain level of truthfulness is revealed to humanity. We don't feel frightened to be in the ship. We feel enlightened. Throughout the film we're working with darkness in all of the places humans occupy, but when we enter into the space the aliens occupy, we're working with a level of brightness."
'Every time they enter into the spaceship," explains Bradford Young, 'as a viewer you want to go back there, because it's the one space in the film where you can see things, where you can understand what it means to watch human beings evolve. The other place is a little bit darker"a little bit dirtier, as Denis Villeneuve and I would call it. There's a visual trajectory about starting in a dark place, which is the unknown, and ending in a place that's a little more elevated, which is about enlightening oneself and coming to a realisation of who we are as human beings."
'Casting [Arrival} was the easiest thing in my career," says Denis Villeneuve, 'because everybody fell in love with the screenplay. Amy Adams was the actress I was dreaming of for this part because I knew that the audience would believe in this movie if the actress believed in it"everything is happening through her eyes."
'We meet this civilisation, those beings coming out from outer space, through her eyes," continues Denis Villeneuve, explaining the importance of the main character. 'I needed an actress that would be strong enough to make us believe that"someone with the vulnerability, sensitivity, strong intelligence and range to bring that onto screen. Her character at the end of the day is going through a very strange mourning process and there are a lot of different, subtle layers of that mourning process that I wanted expressed in the movie. I needed a strong actress. Amy Adams fell in love with the screenplay and got on board right away, to my great surprise. I was so excited."
Amy Adams wasn't planning on taking on any new projects but she couldn't refuse the part because she instantly fell in love with the story. 'It was the heart of the story," says the actor. 'I didn't know what I was going be doing next and it was at a time where I really wanted to take a break and just be a mom for a while. Then I read the script. It spoke to me really deeply in the core of who I am and I felt that I really had to do it. I was really drawn to it."
'Denis Villeneuve is another huge reason that I was attracted to this," says Amy Adams. 'Once I'd read the script and really loved the character, I sat down with him. The way he saw it was how I read it, which isn't always the case, so he really wanted to tell it as an intimate story of this woman, it just happens to be placed in this amazing sci-fi universe. I knew it would have a really deep heart"that was important to me"and yet be really visually interesting. He had such a wonderful way of describing to me what the aliens would look like and how the language would be expressed"he's a very special director, a very special man."
Denis Villeneuve says that the role of Ian Donnelly was a bit different than the usual roles Jeremy Renner is offered. 'It's very unusual to cast Jeremy Renner, who is more of a James Bond or Jason Bourne type of an actor, into [the role of] an intellectual," says the director. 'I think he liked that challenge. It was funny because, from time to time, on set he had to jump around like a rabbit because it was too contained. But, seriously, Jeremy Renner came on board because he was dreaming of working with Amy Adams again. They love each other."
'Jeremy Renner and I have wanted to work together for a while, so there was an opportunity there," says Denis Villeneuve. 'He came full of generosity, because he's there to support Amy Adams, I was amazed by his talent and strong instincts. He was able to bring that dimension of a scientist in a very dynamic and funny way. The movie owes him a lot."
'It wasn't the character that enticed me to do it," says Jeremy Renner whose main motivation was working with Amy Adams. 'It was a phenomenal part for her and a phenomenal part for a woman. The part was good for me but I was more interested in supporting her. The movie is told through her eyes, it was always going to be her movie. Also, I love the script. I thought the script was amazing. It's a beautiful story."
The story was also what drew Forest Whitaker to the role. 'What stood out to me, and I've seen a lot films about extra-terrestrials and things of that nature, was that this film dealt with a couple of concepts that were really interesting, such as whether time exists and if time is cyclical," explains Forest Whitaker. 'Two, it's about communication itself and the importance of communication in order to not have conflict."
'The script was so beautifully written and told," says Forest Whitaker. 'It's a very powerful and important story. It's a race for communication. They're aliens, but we're all trying to communicate with them all over the world, and without communication chaos could happen. There was something really interesting about that and about being the man who puts together the team to try to communicate with them. He makes those decisions and tries to make the right choices for the country and the world. It was an exciting opportunity."
Michael Stuhlbarg, who plays CIA Agent Halpern, was excited too. 'When I read the script I was intrigued by the combination of genres that this movie seems to be able to balance and combine in such a beautiful way," says Michael Stuhlbarg. 'There's romance, science fiction, drama, and it's a compelling adventure as well. To be a part of it in any way would have been really fun. I'm a huge admirer of Denis Villeneuve and the cast is fantastic."
'The other huge draw for me was getting to work with all of these guys, Forest Whitaker and Jeremy Renner and Amy Adams," says Michael Stuhlbarg. 'They're amazing artists and to be in the room with them has been a great learning experience for me, to watch what they do with such ease. But particularly how they question anything and everything that has to do with any particular moment in the script. It's alive in there every day, it always changes because they are so smart. They're all thinking thoroughly through each moment. It's not staid and dead and prepared. They're inventing it in the moment and that's thrilling."
Dr. Louise Banks (Amy Adams)
'The story of Arrival is about Louise Banks, a linguist working at a university in the northeast United States," says Denis Villeneuve. 'She has been hired by the US government to go inside one of those spaceships to get in contact with the aliens and to try to translate and understand the purpose of their visit. It's about a relationship with another civilisation."
'We are introduced to Louise's character through the story with her daughter, which is one of my favorite parts of the movie," says Denis Villeneuve. '[Amy Adams] brought a lot of humanity, profoundness and a beautiful vulnerability to her character, a melancholia that I was looking for. We see a woman who is going through a mourning process, having lost her daughter. You feel that she's someone who has nothing to lose. It's very beautiful to see, sad and at the same time beautiful. She has nothing to lose so she's ready for this adventure."
The loss of Hannah, Louise's daughter, is central to understanding who Louise is and it's a pivotal part of the story"in fact the story is told as if Louise is telling Hannah the story of her life. 'Hannah is Louise's daughter and she is very special to Louise," explains Amy Adams. 'When the audience first meets Louise she is dealing with the loss of her daughter, so that's what's going on with her when the audience first meets her"dealing with the love and the loss, and what that is."
'She's an intellectual, living in a university, that has nothing and is not equipped to be in contact with people coming from another planet," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'She's clueless but she goes there with a lot of courage. She's a very courageous character, ready to put her own life in danger because she feels that there's something more beautiful, more profound, that she can be in relationship with."
'The story is about a lot of different things, but one of them is what's known as the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, which is the idea that the language you speak determines how you perceive the world and even what kinds of thoughts you can have," explains Ted Chiang. 'The protagonist of the story is a linguist who gradually learns an alien language, and it changes the way she understands her life."
'It's the process that was so fascinating about the short story, script and movie," explains Levine. 'Hopefully, there will be the sense of her absorbing this language. The Sapir-Whorf theory is that if you start learning a language, you'll start to dream and think in it. We learn midway through the movie that they write, simultaneously, a sentence with both hands. They know the end of the sentence while writing the beginning. While Louise is trying to write this way, the synapses in her brain start to connect with it and the way she's thinking. The better she gets at the language, the more her thoughts become jumbled. She starts to have, not psychotic breaks, but vivid flashbacks to her past. Why is this language pulling these memories of this lost child back to her?"
To prepare for the role, and to understand what a linguist actually does, Amy Adams met up with one. 'I met with a linguist and realised it's impossible to learn everything a linguist knows," says Amy Adams, adding that there's a reason why it involves a lot of study. She learned that being a linguist is very different to being a translator. 'The thing that helped me and freed me is that there are different types of linguistics. The linguist I spoke to only speaks two languages so that freed me up."
'Though my character speaks a couple of languages," continues Amy Adams, 'she studies the anthropological significance of language and culture, how people speak to one another, and how languages originate. I did a lot of reading, and realised I wouldn't be a good linguist, but I found it fascinating and really enjoyed that aspect. I didn't really understand, from a sociological point of view, what linguists did and what linguistics was, so that was really fun to learn. I now understand much better how she was able to then decipher a language."
Though deciphering an alien language involves far more than any human language. No matter how differently human tribes think and communicate, it's not nearly as big a difference as how an entirely different species from a different planet would communicate. Or what relationship an alien peoples' written and spoken languages would have with each other.
'Louise understands that there is no relationship between the way that the aliens are talking and what they are writing on the board," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'Her experience [means that] after several sessions she realizes there's no relationship between them. She's focused on the writing process, because the way they talk is impossible for her to decode."
Denis Villeneuve thinks that there's also another type of communication going on between Louise and the aliens. 'She's helped in a telepathic way by the aliens to try to be able to understand," explains the director, 'because she has been chosen. The linguists that go inside the ships are in relationships with the aliens, and the ones that are open, the aliens are influencing them and helping them to catch the first glimpse, the first key how to decode that language. There are patterns in the writing and, like with any language. they are trying to find those patterns and making a lot of mistakes. Actually, [some of] the drama of the movie comes from one of those mistakes."
Amy Adams found that the experience gave her more insight into the world around her and changed the way she thinks about communication. She says she also learned from watching her own daughter. 'I do think about language and how it informs society," says Amy Adams. 'Watching my daughter and other kids"I've brought her to several different countries now for work"who cannot speak the same language but who end up communicating, figuring out what words they have in common naturally, you start to learn that communication and language are based on so much more than the words we speak. I started seeing it from that point of view and that was cool."
Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner)
'It's a very insular story told through the eyes of Amy Adams' character, a linguist who's hired to try to communicate with the aliens," says Jeremy Renner. 'I'm hired on as the other side of this team, as a physicist to deal with communication through mathematics. Part of the character that was interesting to me was that it was very far from anything I've ever done. It was very left-brain, very mathematical and scientific."
Jeremy Renner says he had experts to help him navigate appearing to be a convincing scientist but his understanding of programming, computer languages and binary code helped him to at least get a grip on the physics. He says Denis Villeneuve also aimed to make the science in the movie accessible for people and not too obscure or pedantic.
He and Denis Villeneuve discussed the role. 'He told me what he didn't want," says Jeremey Renner. 'He didn't want him to be this milky, bland, at his desk writing, computer guy. He wanted him to have life and verve, a lot of personality. That's exactly how I saw it. I had an instant image of Richard Dreyfuss in Jaws."
'He brought a lot of humour, in a good way, a beautiful energy. The movie needed that," says Denis Villeneuve, 'because Amy Adams was more melancholic, a character that's going through a journey where she's disturbed. She's starting to behave strangely, being in contact with the aliens is changing her way of seeing the world, and she's confused and lost. I needed someone who'd be grounded in reality and bring a dynamism and humour to the movie. He did a great job."
Louise and Ian's relationship evolves throughout the movie. 'They come from different schools of thought," says Jeremey Renner, 'but through the progression of time they learn to embrace each other's thoughts, especially as they go speak to Abbot & Costello (the aliens). They both learn something really quite beautiful."
'We have really good chemistry because we're very good friends. We trust and love each other," says Jeremy Renner about acting opposite Amy Adams. 'We'll even argue if we need to work something out. It's usually in a very healthy way and we're usually on the same side trying to figure out how do we do it in an authentic way. It makes your job easy when you work with someone that's really good at what they do."
Some of Jeremey Renner's favourite scenes are the quieter ones with Amy Adams. 'The character stuff, like the back of the truck with Amy, that was a beautiful intimate scene," says Jeremey Renner. 'It's more about them than it is about the chaos. It's the calm before the storm."
They also bond through their unusual shared experience trying to talk to aliens and their unique personal reaction to something so strange. 'It's all that wonderment and awe, and overstimulation," says Jeremey Renner. 'Where he ends up vomiting. He can't process what he is seeing in there. It's hard to put that into words." Levine adds, 'Through the course of the story you see them start to bond as they both start to appreciate each other's approach. They also realize they're in this impossible thing together," says the producer. 'As tension rises around the world, they really start relying on each other to solve this common problem."
'Jeremy Renner's great to work with," attests Forest Whitaker. 'He's very clear and confident. This is a really interesting character because the character's so mental and so excited about what's happening. Jeremy is able to bring that across in a really grounded way. I don't know if everyone could. He's able to do something that's quite complicated really"to play that childlike enthusiasm but yet be grounded in being an adult and professional. Yet you feel the delight anyway."
Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker)
'Colonel Weber's in Military Intelligence and when we first meet him, he's in the process of trying to find a replacement for a linguist that wasn't able to deal with the pressure," explains Forest Whitaker. 'He goes to talk to Louise to see if she's capable of doing this job. That's the first, the first time we get to know him. He's putting together a team, a linguist to break through the language barrier and a physicist to see if you can communicate through numbers, so that he has the proper tools to understand [the aliens]."
Jeremy Renner knew Forest Whitaker from working together before. 'I've known him for a long time and got to work with him back in 2005," says Jeremy Renner. 'He's a very quiet, gentle soul. Very giving as an actor. He brought humanity and intelligence to a role that could have been very one note-ish. He's really smart that way."
'We all know he's one of the best actors living today," enthuses Denis Villeneuve. 'Forest Whitaker is a master, and I saw that, because he had the toughest part on this movie. Colonel Weber is a character that was difficultly written, because he is in scenes as an obstacle, as an abrasive character. He didn't have a lot of depth on the page and Forest Whitaker was able to bring a gravitas, wisdom and dimension to this character in a way that I was very impressed by. It was not an easy process for Forest Whitaker, there was a lot of work on set and I'm very grateful. He was very generous."
Denis Villeneuve and Forest Whitaker discussed the role. 'When Denis Villeneuve spoke about Colonel Weber it was [often] about the fact that he plays out as a father figure, in some ways, to the characters in the film," says Forest Whitaker. 'He's watching out for them, overseeing and encouraging them, and helping them move past their fears and understand their own potential."
Forest Whitaker found it quite challenging to portray what he describes as 'quiet authority and assuredness." He continues, 'It's been difficult to play the father figure, to be able to reprimand but do it with quiet strength."
'He's a figure of doubt, someone that represents common sense that [is under] pressure," adds Denis Villeneuve. 'He's the one who has to deal with pressure from the government and the population. He's trying to protect them and to be a good leader. He brings a dignity to this character that I was [hoping] for."
Forest Whitaker did some research for the role. 'I was looking at some of the linguistic things to try to understand what that was with the technical things and some of the references," explains Forest Whitaker. 'I'd played some military men before so this time I didn't spend the same amount of time going to onsite training and all that, I had conversations with different people from the military and had very specific questions, often specifically about a scene. One of the characters, the CIA agent, pulls a weapon and I wanted to understand how we would respond. I felt that would spark a certain response from me and from everyone else, so he explained some of the things that I would probably say when, for instance, [Agent Halpern] was with us and he was holding that weapon on Amy Adam's character. He's telling her to get off the phone call with someone in China. They all pull their weapons and train them on him and if he didn't adhere to what I was saying they would fire. That little simple thing was interesting."
However, Colonel Weber's role isn't entirely benign and he pressures Banks and Donnelly to go in directions they wouldn't choose on their own. 'He keeps pushing them," says Whitaker, 'and ultimately when he pushes them to communicate the word -weapon' to the aliens it sparks a chain of events."
Agent Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg)
'Michael Stuhlbarg is an actor that I loved in the Coen Brothers' movie, A Serious Man," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'I was so enthusiastic that he agreed to do the part. The way Halpern, the CIA agent, was written was a bit monotone"he only had one colour. Michael Stuhlbarg brought layers and intelligence to the character, a wit and feeling of density, that was not on the page."
'Part of what this gig was about for me was the opportunity to figure out who this somewhat cryptic guy is," says Michael Stuhlbarg. 'I followed Denis Villeneuve' lead here. I brought in ideas"physical ideas about what he could look like, who he might be based on"but in the end we found it scene by scene. I'm curious to know how it's going to come out, because sometimes you come into these jobs and you have a strong idea of what you think you want to do. This was an occasion in which I wanted to collaborate with the director and try to fulfill his vision within the larger vision of what the piece was going to be. That's been absolutely fun."
He did do some research. 'I met with an ex member of the CIA and asked a number of questions regarding what my responsibilities might be," explains Michael Stuhlbarg. 'He suggested James Olson's book -Fair Play,' which talks about the moral implications of spying, which is interesting in terms of what the inner life of this person might be. It broke some myths for me about the kind of people that work for the CIA. They come in all shapes and sizes, there's no particular CIA behaviour. That's interesting to me, trying to dispel myths and find the humanity behind somebody who asks a lot of questions and is primarily interested in getting down to what's going on."
'He represents the government so he is the eyes and ears of the President and the State Department," explains Michael Stuhlbarg. 'In terms of the understanding of the other characters, he becomes a kind of obstacle for them. I thought that might be fun to play. He's as baffled as anybody about what happens [next], but at the same time his job on a regular basis is to accumulate information and try to assess it. In this case it happens to be visitors from outer space. He's used to being in high stress situations. No matter what comes at him, he can filter it through what he has to do and make very logical decisions under pressure. That's what he does all the time."
His relationship with Colonel Weber is all business. 'With Colonel Weber, he's in charge here, I'm a guest in his house," explains Michael Stuhlbarg, 'yet at the same time I have the ear of the government. It's one of those frenemy relationships between the military and the CIA. Who has the power in any particular moment? Who has the might? What do we need to know, what information do we need, to get us where we all want to go."
'One of the interesting parts of the story is the fact that these ships are hovered above twelve different spots on our globe," says Michael Stuhlbarg. 'One of the most difficult things in life in general is communication with each other in our own languages. To have to communicate with other countries, with other customs, cultures, beliefs and superstitions, and to try to glean knowledge from countries that may be our political enemies, presents an interesting challenge."
'Yesterday we did a scene, which on the page seems to be maybe seven lines scribbled down by the screenwriter that's turned into physical action. Something that you may have passed over in reading, all of a sudden became this huge thing," recounts Michael Stuhlbarg, who was impressed by the scope of the movie as it was realized. 'You have 150 men and women dressed top to toe in fatigues carrying huge boxes here and there, it's basically the evacuation of the space that we have commandeered in the middle of this prairie because we think we're going to get attacked at any moment. So what seemingly was nothing on the page came to life in this remarkable way."
Captain Marks (Mark O'Brien)
'I play Captain Marks," says Mark O'Brien. 'The first time we meet him is when he meets up with Jeremy Renner and Amy Adam's characters. He has to guide them through this process, bringing them to see the aliens. He brings them into a world that they don't know yet. They don't know where they're going, they have never seen this before, and they aren't part of the military. They don't even know one another and they're brought into this situation. It's a lot of confusion for them and everything is new."
'I've always played big, opinionated characters," says Mark O'Brien. 'This is a very straight, reserved but strong person and it's different for me, it's a cool challenge. There are a lot of moments in this movie where it's stillness and just being there, a lot of the time I'm supporting the other actors as a presence. Sometimes you don't even need to say anything, just be there and experience it with them."
Mark O'Brien says Denis Villeneuve compared Captain Marks to a shark in a tank. 'The way he reacts is with reserved calm but on the inside he's ready for anything," says Mark O'Brien. 'We don't know what's going to happen here. Trying to contain that is much more interesting than letting it out."
In many ways, Captain Marks represents fear, even though the character remains calm on the surface. 'The natural reaction from a lot of people around the world, including civilians and media outlets, is that it's danger. Everyone is always afraid of something new," explains Mark O'Brien about the general reaction to the ships arriving on Earth. 'Imagine something from another planet and what that creates, it shows the animosity that we have within our own world. You see how different parts of the world are trying to handle it and how, if one part of the world handles it differently than another, that can create a rift. It shows all these different conflicts, which are so silly when you actually look at it."
'Maybe this is just my theory," says Ryder, 'but deep down in most people's brains we're almost waiting for this to happen one day, to turn on the news and see that we've been visited or approached by an alien species. I just feel like it's out there. It's possible. If it happened there would be a panic and fear, and there would also be a tremendous amount of curiosity. When we set out to make this film we wanted to capture that fear, that curiosity and certainly that panic with having these things arrive."
'Renée April is a very sensitive artist interested in creating characters," explains Denis Villeneuve about Costume Designer Renée April. 'She brings to the characters a lot of humanity and dimensionality. We spontaneously decided that Louise Banks would arrive at the base camp thinking that she would only be there for two or three days, not knowing that she'd be there for months, so she would go from civilian to military clothes."
The same logic informed the wardrobe for Ian Donnelly. 'We did the same with Jeremy Renner's character," continues Denis Villeneuve. 'I love Renée April because she's very strong with uniforms, she's tired of doing movies with uniforms but Arrival is full of military, so I had the best expert. Then there were the Hazmat suits and the challenges of having a suit designed to go inside the spaceship that will look real and contemporary but that will also allow me to see my actors' faces. The actual suit is accurate, it's real. The only difference is that normally you would have something in your face so I had to create a shape whereby I could see the actor's face. That's the only concession I made for the suit."
'When you do science fiction you always move away from reality, in this case it had to sometimes be awkward, like those hazmat suits, that was super awkward," explains Renee April. 'They look awful"that's what we wanted. It was a choice to go with something that isn't pretty. It's difficult to work with but we made it work. We did try things at one point for the hazmat but it looked too beautiful. Denis Villeneuve and I said, -It doesn't work, it's too much.' We pulled it out."
In the end the hazmat suits are Renee April's favourite costume. 'They're so ugly that there's something beautiful about them," says Renee April. 'The way they lit it, it's so interesting, all the reflections. Everything you don't want in a film is there. You have zillions of reflections all over and it's quite beautiful. I really want to see how it works out."
In many ways it meant there was less design involved in wardrobe than there often is. 'I didn't go with palettes of colour or anything like that," says Renee April. 'I work with actors, I'm not a painter. My job is to help Denis Villeneuve tell his story the best I can. The actors, they're the ones that carry the story so we work together to find what's best for the character. For example, Amy Adams doesn't wear much colour during the day, it's pretty drab, but when she has flashbacks it's very colourful. That's the only thing that we did colour-wise to make a change. That's it."
'Coming from the documentary world, I feel that there's nothing more impressive than reality," explains Denis Villeneuve, 'and very often reality is ahead of your imagination. I tried to stay as close as possible to reality to try to create dirty sci-fi: sci-fi that's based on reality and that's unimpressive in some ways. Renée Aprilwas a part of that process."
The Aliens " Abbott And Costello/Vfx
Denis Villeneuve thought a lot about the design of Abbott and Costello, the two aliens we meet in Arrival. 'Abbott and Costello are two of the main characters," explains the director. 'They are the two aliens that Louise Banks and Ian Donnelly meet in the chamber inside the spaceship. I became very humbled trying to design an alien. It's a big challenge to try to create something that hasn't been done before. I wanted them to have a huge, strong presence, like a whale."
'I wanted to have this feeling of being near a huge beast underwater," continues Denis Villeneuve, 'where you feel a strong intelligence or a presence. Maybe you can have that feeling with elephants, too. If you meet an elephant in the wild, there's that feeling of a strong presence, an instinctive presence and deep intelligence. That's what I was looking for in the design of the aliens. That's why it was important for me that the aliens would not necessarily have eyes but I wanted to feel their presence, even if we didn't have a strong contact with them at first."
Though nobody outside of Louise Banks, Ian Donnelly and the military actually get to see the aliens, their mere presence on Earth creates an existential crisis for many people. 'The idea was that if spaceships land that societies would freak out all around the world," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'Because, first of all, it's a massive existential crisis for religious people who think that we are the center of the world. Myself, I strongly believe in nature, so I would be amazed if aliens landed. There's a strong contrast that I love"their presence is very calm, they do nothing, and yet just their presence creates chaos outside. Where we feel silence and concentration is inside the shell. In order to be in contact with the aliens our heroes need to go inside the spaceship, into a specific chamber where they can exchange through a screen with the aliens. They cannot touch them. They can't smell them. They can barely see them through the strange mists, the strange atmosphere on the other side. They're like elephants in the mist."
The central mystery to the story, the puzzle Louise Banks and Ian Donnelly are trying to solve, is why the aliens are here on Earth. 'Their landing has no political purpose," explains Denis Villeneuve of where the aliens land. 'They were simply landing places that were suitable for their spaceships. It was important for me to bring a fresh approach to [an] alien, not invasion but landing on Earth. Right at the very end, there will be a moment of collaboration, because they realize that the aliens gave [them] their culture, their language, in pieces. Once you bring all of these pieces of their language together, you basically have an encyclopedia of their culture and language."
Denis Villeneuve brought in artist Carlos Huante to help create the aliens' appearance. 'To create the aliens I worked with an artist I love," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'I looked at several portfolios then fell onto Carlos Huante's, he had worked with Ridley Scott on Prometheus and other movies. I felt that, through his creature, that was what I was looking for: a soul, a presence, a mystery, and a lot of originality too. Shapes that I had never seen before. Aliens that I felt were unseen in cinema. I started a process with him where I explored tons of ideas. The most difficult thing I have ever done in my life was trying to create a new life form."
Amy Adams' experience working with VFX helped, as did having other humans to act with in most scenes. 'Having worked on special effects films before was really helpful," says Amy Adams. 'I was only alone once so I still had a human component around me, we were all in it together, which always helps because it creates that energy. The actors can help create the energy together but my job as an actor is to create what isn't there"you create a relationship and it has to feel real"so it's the same thing."
Denis Villeneuve says he drew inspiration for the aliens from whales, octopi, spiders and elephants. 'I wanted the alien to be a creature that's surrealistic, that comes from the world of dreams, of nightmares. In that regard it's a success." There's an ambivalence about the aliens"are they friendly or hostile? Their movement and bodies are also intentionally open to interpretation and only gradually revealed as the story unfolds.
'It's a study of behaviour," says Denis Villeneuve. 'The alien is a representation of death, and there were specific shots where I wanted the alien to look like a classical representation of Death or the Grim Reaper. It has, from some angles, that feeling at the end of the movie. We went through a long process of drawing to come up with their odd shape. I also wanted the audience to discover the aliens step by step through the movie, not at first glance, so we slowly unveil more and more qualities of their structure and their body."
Forest Whitaker said there were some challenges to acting with the 'aliens" without them being physically present and without knowing how they would sound. 'When we get inside the spaceship and we are starting to try to communicate with them, would I react somewhat stronger if I was hearing these clicking sounds that they were talking about?" ponders the actor. 'My imagination carries me pretty far inside of the scene and they had somebody puppeteering behind the screen for us to be able to watch and it feels kind of real."
Having physical stand-ins for the aliens assisted the actors, even if they were only symbolic representations of the aliens. 'I had to have a relationship with these sticks with balls on the end of them but we had really great puppeteers," explains Amy Adams of how the scenes were shot, 'these really great guys running around with these puppets for us. I always appreciate [these] people, they don't get enough credit because they're there every day we are, working all day, and they have to hold a stick for hours on end so that we can act to it. I really appreciate that."
'I don't like green screens," says Denis Villeneuve about some of the challenges he gave production design and how he tried to minimise the use of visual effects, and create physical experiences for the actors, as much as possible. 'I don't like the actors to be in contact with something that doesn't exist, I like them to be surrounded by something real."
The Aesthetic / Sets & Shooting
Denis Villeneuve, Patrice Vermette and Bradford Young worked together to define the film's aesthetic. One source of inspiration for Young was Scandinavian photographer Martina Ivanov, specifically a series entitled -Speedway' that was in a book Bradford Young was carrying around. 'When I got the script, I felt like it was the best reference for the film," says Bradford Young. 'The photographs are stylised in some ways, but very subdued and natural, and dark and mysterious. Not darkness as not seeing, but darkness as pathology. The darkness is deeply psychological. Her photographs really inspire how we approach that visually."
'She's a major reference," says Bradford Young. 'I gave the photographs as a creative look book for Denis Villeneuve and Patrice Vermette. They looked at it and we all said that this film should be open. It should be milky. It should be dark in a way that makes us a little uncomfortable. That's what it should feel like for the viewer." The way colour was used was in contrast to this sense of darkness. "It was never really a striking palette, like these are the colours you're working with," explains Bradford Young, 'but one of the main colours in the film that really stands out is the orange of the hazmat suits. We surrounded the hazmat suits in colours that would allow them to become objects within their own [right]. Instead of using colours that polarize the orange or create a dichotomy from what isn't orange, what we did was use this idea of darkness as a way to bring attention to the orange. Because the suits are so reflective, the more you surround them in darkness, the more your eye can go to that spectacularity of the suits."
'When the suits come off, it brings us back into that natural, organically embedded image," explains Bradford Young of how the act of Louise and Ian removing their suits works both aesthetically and symbolically in the film. 'It wasn't really about palette per se, other than these orange objects, but the film feels monochromatic because it's our intent to not bring a lot of attention to colour. It's really our attempt to bring your attention to the visual tone of the film."
Having physical sets to shoot on meant that Bradford Young could control the tone through lighting and his choices of lenses. 'I asked Patrice to build the interior of this spaceship," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'That was a big gift for the production because we were able to create the massive tunnel and the chamber. There were no visual effects"it is all real"and the actors were able to feel the strangeness of that room. The cinematographer, Bradford Young, was able to shoot with lights, and create an effect with light, that was real in that room."
'Directors want to have the real thing so the actors can interact," says Morin. 'It creates a mood and spirit for the actors. They decided to construct this 150' tunnel with this interview room, which is a live piece where we have the background element of the screen that the aliens are behind in their atmosphere." Jeremy Renner agrees that the physical set really helped him and the other actors interact with the aliens and their environment. 'There's a really interesting practical set," says Jeremy Renner. 'We've got to go on this scissor lift up 45--60 feet and into this shaft of weirdness. That helps us as actors, having all that real stuff.
Having physical sets rather than shooting in front of a green screen also allowed Young to sculpt the look of the film as they shot. The cinematographer used wider lenses than he's used on other films. 'I've had to be a bit more disciplined and precise about where we put the camera because in small spaces sometimes wide angle lenses can work against you," explains Bradford Young. 'So it was about being smart and ultimately listening, too, because as the cinematographer I don't always have the answers about where the camera should go. Sometimes it's technique versus a feeling, for us the point of departure should always be feeling. Then, if it felt right, ultimately we could be as wide or tight as we wanted, even when the spaces were tight. This added a certain level of scale and scope so we could ultimately be deeply personal and deeply internal, but at the same time be massively observational and able to step back from it all as well."
They shot on digital film, which facilitated their ability to really push the darkness and sculpt the image as they worked. 'We chose to shoot digital," says Bradford Young. 'It's been super-helpful because it allows us to see what we're getting. When we're pushing it that much further into the darkness, we didn't have to bite our nails about the negatives coming back and [whether] we'd have an image. What we did choose to do was use different kinds of lenses throughout the film, even within a scene we'd switch. Different lens manufacturers have their own particular personality. We might use one lens for a close-up from one manufacturer and for a wide shot use another lens. Again, that brings that imperfect massively naturalistic feel to the film, where it's not a film about precision in terms of perspective. It brings that level of naivety to the film that you wouldn't get if you had stayed with one particular kind of perspective in terms of lensing."
'The quilting of the lenses gives a different textural reality to the film that is often hard to achieve with digital," says Bradford Young. 'It gives us the ability to start off with an image that's more filmic than it would be if we were using the same kind of lenses. We wanted the image to be a little bit more imperfect and using different lenses has helped a lot."
'Everything in the ship has been exciting," says Bradford Young. 'Ninety percent of this film is outside of the ship, we're in the ship quite a bit, but a majority of the film is outside the ship. Those spaces, I feel like I'm exploring things I've explored before in other films, but when we step inside the ship, it's just something I've never done before. The way we're approaching it also feels like uncharted territory."
'The ship has been really exciting because it's also the space where we've had to be a bit more precise," says Bradford Young. 'The lines make us have to be a little more precise than we would have been, had we been in the tents or house or all those places that we know as human beings, that we occupy every day where we know every nook and cranny. This is an unknown territory, when I'm in the spaceship I feel like I'm shooting film for the first time because it's a piece of architecture. It's a piece of set, a piece of reality that I've never worked in before. I've had to suspend my own notions about what is real and what isn't real in order to convey feeling. It's been really exciting."
But, due to the restrictions imposed by reality, CGI was still necessary. 'That is something that we'll process after in CGI, because of course we had to create the aliens because I wasn't able to cast on the Jupiter so we had to create aliens. But we used puppeteers that were moving shapes in front of that wide screen. It was very poetic and moving, it has a relationship with old cinema in some ways. To see Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner talking to that gigantic sphere hovering, and those presences, was a very beautiful moment."
Morin's job with VFX was not only to create the alien ships and beings that Denis Villeneuve and his design team envisioned, it was also to enhance the human reality and the effects of the alien atmosphere. 'The aliens control the gravity," explains Morin. 'The CG army, which are dressed in hazmat suits, they come up on the scissor lift and basically jump and walk on the wall, that's another big part of the visual effects in this move. The gravity thing is quite a challenge and there are some stunt scenes that involve gravity as well. But the key thing in the story is the encounter of the alien. Louise meets the alien in what we call the core room"it's a full CG environment with a CG alien."
Morin also had to create the image of spaceships hovering over 12 different locations in the world. 'We have matte paintings and recreate the environments and various angles," explains Morin. 'Also spy satellites and a lot of army material, like helicopters and drones, so a lot of CG work to be done."
It was cinematographer Bradford Young's first time working with CGI. 'It was my first visual effects film," says Bradford Young. 'It's been a big challenge to work with as much visual effects as we're working with on this film. I didn't realise the big challenge would be taking a film that wants to be so naturalistic and bringing in visual effects that are created later. I'm learning a lot about how there is a good bridge, there is a conversation between making films where we're embedded in extreme naturalism, but we bring in these existential abstract things. When you bring in these existential, abstract things there's a beautiful bridge that you can create with visual effects. It's been a big challenge to surrender to this idea that visual effects can ultimately help us in the process, in this filmmaking experience. This is a film where we, at a certain point, don't have all the answers. It's going to be refreshing to see what they do later to complete the vision."
Morin says that it's the work put in on the front end by both him and the cinematographer, and the director, that really defines how successful the VFX will be. 'The director works with the storyboard artist," explains Morin. 'Based on that we start doing the previz, then we look at this with the director and the DP and get everybody involved. They have their comments and we try to fine-tune it. After that, we have what we call the techviz"the techviz gives the camera position, the movement of the actors or CG elements for eye line. Those elements are essential to have a rock solid shoot because the idea for visual effects on a shoot is to get the best elements possible. When we start with that we don't have to fix problems, we can enhance it and make the shot look great."
Denis Villeneuve wanted the spaceship to appear to be made from materials not found on Earth and unknown to science, but he also wanted the spaceship to confound our knowledge of physics. 'The composition of the spaceship will be totally unknown [to us on] Earth," says Denis Villeneuve. 'The way it works, too, the way they travel through space will be totally different from what we have seen before. I must give great credit to my editing team, Joe Walker and the people from Frames Store, that did a fantastic job helping me create the alien departure at the end of the movie."
While Denis Villeneuve wanted the aliens and their ship to be as unearthly and mystifying as possible, he wanted everything related to humans and our technology to be as realistic as possible. 'The production designer did a lot of work," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'We wanted the movie to look as real as possible, so there was a huge [amount of] research done by Patrice to make sure that all of the equipment used by the military would be as accurate as possible, and simple and non-spectacular. I didn't want the humans to use technology that didn't exist. I wanted them to use what is available today"the tools that we could use to contact and talk with aliens."
Denis Villeneuve was astonished that the research uncovered that the method would be surprisingly low tech. 'It was astonishingly shocking," says the director, 'because if you [want to] talk with aliens, you will use a whiteboard with a marker and say -hello.' There are not a lot of ways to learn language, to express language. At the end of the day it's like teaching kids, and that for me was a very striking image to see the banality of that process [within the context of] contact with something as impressive as another civilization. Patrice made sure that every little detail of the movie would look authentic, from the Hazmat suit that they are wearing to the equipment they are using. Objects of everyday life will be in contact with that new civilization, and we were trying to approach it at the most humble and human level."
Language And Sound Design
Communication and the alien's language are central to both the story and the structure of the film, both providing and revealing the narrative structure. 'The beauty of the short story is that it was about language," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'I fell in love with the short story because it was exploring language, in a beautiful, poetic, powerful way. The problem is that intellectual exploration of language can be mesmerizing in the short story, in a novel, on paper, but in a movie I needed something to create tension. The presence and impact of aliens takes a larger place in the movie than in the short story. I wish I could have had more space to explore language in the movie, but the movie didn't allow it. That's my only regret, I wish I had been closer to the short story in that regard."
Both the written and 'spoken" forms of the alien language posed specific challenges, as did creating the sound of the spaceship. 'The production designer has a huge task on this project, which was to create the interior of the spaceship, but most importantly he had to develop the language," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'Patrice had the idea to ask the artist, Martine Bertrand, who we both love. She came up with the idea of this abstract approach. I wanted the language to be almost frightening and very impressive"I didn't want something that could relate to any human language"[I wanted] a language that comes from another way of thinking. Martine came up with the idea of abstract circles that look almost like coffee stains. Maybe the idea came from there… It's one of my favourite things of the movie, how she developed that language."
A great deal of work went into creating a believable language. 'Patrice created a dictionary," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'He created a structure, how to develop the words, how the words were constructed. There were piles of documents explaining to me how the language [worked]. It was the most beautiful thing to see the level of detail and passion that Patrice brought to the project, it was insane."
Creating the alien's spoken language was a challenge that Denis Villeneuve only had to tackle in post-production. 'When I was in post, there was another huge challenge that was in front of me which was to develop the way that the aliens talked," says Denis Villeneuve. 'We had developed the written language, but then there was the sound. Joe Walker, my editor, talked about this man, Dave Whitehead, who lives in New Zealand, is well known for his work on a Neil de Camp movie or the Lord of the Rings. He's a master of sound, one of those guys who has knowledge about sound waves, and who can explore and develop strange languages. He thought the idea was a beautiful challenge and started to develop the language with Joe Walker. It was a very long process and he was very generous. I'm very proud of the way the aliens talk. In fact, it's not talking, it's expressing emotions through sound. What I loved about David is that it had a deep logic, which was based on the way the aliens were deigned, their body."
'The thing is, the most powerful sound is silence," explains Denis Villeneuve about the sound design. 'I tried to let the movie breathe. The approach is quite minimalistic. Sylvain Bellemare, the Supervising Sound Editor of the project, brought some striking sounds. The aliens are silent, but when they move or do something, the sounds are quite remarkable." 'I needed someone that would approach sound in a crazy way and I found a crazy sound designer," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'One of my friends, Sylvain Bellemare, was the perfect man to design the sound of this movie. Sylvain Bellemare came up with this insane idea of that rocky shock like an earthquake sound for when the spaceship is moving, one of the most powerful sounds I have heard in the cinema."
Editing / Post Production
'Each movie has its own challenges, and on this one, the biggest one was the editing," explains Denis Villeneuve. 'Arrival owes everything to Joe Walker. When we arrived in the editing room the screenplay was about this process that Eric [the screenwriter] was able to crack into creating a structure but we realized, as we were in the editing room, that that structure wasn't dynamic enough and that the feeling of repetition that I was afraid of was present, and that there was some incongruity between some character behaviours."
'In the end we approached the movie as if it was a documentary in some ways," explains Denis Villeneuve, 'and re-structured and worked with what we had. We re-structured the movie in a way that felt less linear, that embraced more of the themes and main ideas of the movie. Joe did a fantastic job. I owe him a lot and I'm very proud."
Denis Villeneuve says he and Joe Walker put in long hours during the editing process. 'The editing process of a movie is my favourite part," attests Denis Villeneuve, 'We worked very hard in the editing room to make this movie and when it came to life, we felt it strongly."
'The thing is that when you read the screenplay sometimes, there are things that are written that are explaining to you what is happening, and then you get it," says Denis Villeneuve about how the story structure really only solidified in the editing room because of the challenges of telling a non-linear story. 'In the movie, we realised that it's very tough to go against a hundred years of cinema language. There are things that were said in the beginning of the movie that were so powerful that it was very difficult to make the audience switch and understand where we were going, what was happening, exactly."
The narrative structure of the story is crucial to its meaning and that meaning is revealed by an unexpected plot twist. It took a lot of work to translate that structure from words on a page to the more visual medium of film. 'It was a challenge because it was very efficient on paper," explains Denis Villeneuve, 'but on the screen it was a challenge to change the audience's perception in an effective way. It was a long process, a long back-and-forth process in the editing room."
'The vibe on the set is always from the top down," says Levine. 'If you have a great director who is brilliant yet listens and wants feedback, then you have a cast and crew that feel really comfortable. We had that here. What always stood out to me about Denis Villeneuve was he has these visions, or he wakes up with these thoughts, as if things are almost ordained. There's a certainty to him in the gentlest way that makes you feel so confident with him directing. He's a master at suspense and tension, but the key component to him is he gets the human component of a script, the deep emotion, the dramatic depth of each character. There's a deep soul to him. He's an artist. Every single time I see a film of his, it's the greatest experience."
'In my development as an image maker, I look to work on stories that get me that much closer to the human experience," says Bradford Young about what interested him about Arrival. 'This one, with all of this nuance, might be the perfect sum of all the things I've been working on before, where we've been massively experimental but also at the same time massively raw. All those films where I tried to experiment with both of those things at the same time or separately, it seems like they came together in this film."
'It's an enormous burden to be original and still stay grounded but we've really pushed ourselves to be original here," attests Ryder. 'Denis Villeneuve has been a tremendous partner for all of us throughout the whole process of this movie, from script development through design, he came up with things we never would have thought of. I would have never in a million years have pictured the ships looking like they did or the movie looking like it does, but he had it in his head. We're working with somebody pretty extraordinary here."
Jeremy Renner says of the final result, 'It's much bigger than I anticipated, not size-wise but in emotional scale, and also the vessels and the scope of the movie and cinematography. You see a real director and cinematographer's hand on this picture. That comes from the visual effects"there are a lot of players involved in those sorts of things. But this movie's all about Denis Villeneuve, he's made it what it is through his thoughts and hard work. He's very patient and thoughtful and he had this story told within a very insular pairing of actors."
Though VFX are his livelihood, Morin hopes they'll barely be noticed in Arrival. 'I don't want them to talk about visual effects, I want them to get into the story," says Morin. 'It's about a human story and, if we do it right, they'll forget about us, get involved in the story and just enjoy the movie."
'This movie is about a growing understanding of our place in the cycle of the universe," says Forest Whitaker. 'It explores, inside of that, communication and time. What time means, if it exists, and if all we have is the present moment. That's a very interesting concept and one that we all should look at." Forest Whitaker also appreciated Denis Villeneuve's skill and excitement about the project. 'He's very enthusiastic and has a clear vision of what he wants to see. There's no wasted energy. When he sees what he wants he moves on. There's a certainty to the way he does stuff and an excitement that has affected most of the crew."
Forest Whitaker also really enjoyed working with the other actors, particularly Amy Adams. 'She's an extremely committed artist, she's really focused and she has an immediacy to her emotions and feelings," says Forest Whitaker. 'It's really special and unique. When you live into a language so much that you start to dream in that language and start to change your mental patterns, we watch her struggling with that."
'Amy Adams is not only one of the best actresses alive, if not the best, she's also the most lovely of human beings, and a trooper," enthuses Denis Villeneuve. 'She just wanted to give everything. She doesn't question, she's there to give and she's very generous. She's very easy to work with, very easy to direct. It was sunshine on set all of the time with Amy Adams, even if you were shooting in the rain."
Forest Whitaker thinks audiences will be enthralled and conflicted about how the story unfolds. 'People are going to be brought on a really interesting psychological and emotional journey as they go through the film," says Forest Whitaker. 'They will be excited, too, because in a way you win when the world comes together and you win, too, when she has the child."
'It's a very suspenseful film, there's something about it that's Hitchcockian to me," says O'Brien, 'because we don't know what's going to happen completely. It's stretched out in that Hitchcock way. Because it's so mysterious and other worldly, audiences are going to be totally gripped to the screen the entire time."
'I can't wait to see this movie with an audience," enthuses Levine, 'because the floor will drop out of the theater. People will gasp, because you are so caught up in this story. You think you're figuring it out and then you realise it's something else completely, but it works perfectly. It's a deeply emotional, powerful ending that I can't wait to experience through other people's eyes."
Release Date: November 10th, 2016