Contraband


Contraband

Contraband

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Kate Beckinsale, Ben Foster, Giovanni Ribisi, J.K Simmons
Director: Baltasar Guzikowski
Genre: Thriller

Synopsis: Mark Wahlberg leads the cast of Contraband, a fast-paced thriller about a man trying to stay out of a world he worked so hard to leave behind and the family he'll do anything to protect. Set in New Orleans, the film explores the cutthroat underground world of international smuggling-full of desperate criminals and corrupt officials, high-stakes and big payoffs-where loyalty rarely exists and death is one wrong turn away.

Chris Farraday (Wahlberg) long ago abandoned his life of crime, but after his brother-in-law, Andy (Caleb Landry Jones), botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss, Tim Briggs (Giovanni Ribisi), Chris is forced back into doing what he does best- running contraband-to settle Andy's debt. Chris is a legendary smuggler and quickly assembles a crew with the help of his best friend, Sebastian (Ben Foster), for one final run to Panama and back, hoping to return with millions in counterfeit bills.

Things quickly fall apart and with only hours to reach the cash, Chris must use his rusty skills to successfully navigate a treacherous criminal network of brutal drug lords, cops and hit men before his wife, Kate (Kate Beckinsale), and sons become their target.

Release Date: February 23rd, 2012


About the Production Part 1

Filming on Ships
Much of the interior shots of Captain Camp's ship were filmed aboard an actual U.S. Maritime Administration vessel, the S.S. Bellatrix, anchored at Marrero, Louisiana. Although the ship, measuring at almost 900-feet long, might have looked spacious, the crew had its challenges maneuvering the camera gear in such tight quarters. Shares Kormákur: "I love that the boat is a huge metal monster that becomes a character."

Interior shots of the ship were accomplished during a week aboard the S.S. Bellatrix. The ship's engine room is five-stories tall, with catwalks throughout it, and allowed for incredible shots that could never have been captured on a conventional set.

Exterior shots were filmed in the New Orleans harbor. Finding a huge container ship that was not in use, then garnering permission to shoot the vessel as it sailed down the Mississippi, was a big challenge. Fortunately, seasoned marine coordinator Troy Waters was enlisted to sort out the myriad details.

According to Troy Waters, there are several factors to account for when choosing to shoot onboard an actual ship. He explains: "Weather is a huge consideration because of continuity. The other consideration is the underway shots. Those shots require the cooperation of various river pilots, as well as governmental authorities like the Coast Guard and Harbor Police. So everyone has to be onboard, so to speak."

Troy Waters explains that it took five months to find the perfect vessel. He began his search through a worldwide network of brokers, but in the end, found the ship himself. While the script called for two ships, they only needed to use one. The art department helped to turn this 325-foot vessel into two ships by building an addition to the craft and painting the outside with two different names. For the opening scenes in which Andy is captured, the blue-hulled vessel was the B.B.C. Romania. By painting a section of it black, with an added exterior section to make the ship look much larger, this craft became the Borden. For the latter part of the film, it was now under the command of J.K. Simmons as Captain Camp.

Sailing the huge ship down the Mississippi involved considerable negotiations by Troy Waters and his team. The marine coordinator says it was the U.S. Coast Guard who offered them the most help. "We work with the Coast Guard quite a bit on these types of productions," he explains, "because they have authority in every navigable waterway in the country. So if they don't get a warm fuzzy feeling with something that we want to do, we have to tone it down. But the Coast Guard group in New Orleans was very cooperative, and we were able to accomplish everything we wanted to shoot."

The art department had its work cut out when it began to populate the ship with hundreds of containers...one of which contained a quite valuable van. They not only had to remove the logos from the many containers, but also had to hire a company to place the crates on the ship at the Port of New Orleans. This was accomplished by the aid of enormous gantry cranes.

In addition to the "hero boats" seen in Contraband, there were many marine vessels used behind the scenes. Along with the boats that were dedicated to various film departments, camera boats, safety boats and shuttle boats were all used in the production. Not enough? There was also a green-screen barge that was used to accommodate specific scenes that had to be filmed on green screen...but look as if they were shot on the river. Waters explains that this was "the biggest green screen" he had ever put on the water."

Some scenes on the ship were lensed in Panama. These occurred while the vessel was actually transiting the Miraflores Locks as it went into Balboa to the container terminal. Marine coordinators worked with the Panama Canal Commission and the multiple film authorities to secure the required permission for the shoot.

Cranes, Crashes and Chaos: Stunt Work and ActionTo ensure dramatic tension, the action for the thriller was captured in real time. Explains producer Stephen Levinson: "To make you feel like you're in the moment and feel the pressure, we wanted to keep it as close to reality as possible. Baltasar Guzikowski wanted to design the sequences so they weren't predetermined, prethought of by the characters. Things would unfold randomly, instead of like in a spy film, where everything is carefully laid out. That was something he carefully orchestrated."

Kormákur adds: "What I like about action is that I want it to be real as much as possible, but it has to be fun and entertaining at the same time. You want to push the action sequences to be gritty and real, but there has to be gravity to them."

Fight Scenes
Stunt coordinator Darrin Prescott explains that Kormákur appreciates the hands-on approach. "Baltasar Guzikowski likes to try a few of the things himself," he says. "He's a hands-on actor, a physical guy who will get in there and do the fights. He did a stair fall and drove. He knows what he wants and doesn't like action just for action's sake."

Mark Wahlberg was often on the front lines, but he admits that he used to insist on doing more of his own stunts before he became a father. "You start thinking about safety first," he says. "We wanted to make it as real as possible. So as long as there was nothing risky, we'd get out there and do it. Baltasar Guzikowski is very interested in capturing what's organic and in the moment. That can be a bit hair-raising when you're being thrown around a kitchen and having things smashed at your head."

He wasn't the only actor getting tossed about on the set. Underworld vet Kate Beckinsale faced off with Giovanni Ribisi, as Briggs, in especially brutal scenes in Kate's salon and at the Farraday home. Kate Beckinsale says she did go to sleep at night, having sustained quite a few bruises and cuts. She relays: "The suprise and shock were appropriate. What's so great about Giovanni Ribisi is that he's such a fine person and a brilliant actor. When you come from that place of feeling trust between actors, you don't mind if they slam you into a table. Well, not too much."

Darrin Prescott says that Kate Beckinsale asked to perform in as much of her fight scenes as possible: "What we wanted out of that fight with Giovanni was just brutality. A lot of the time, those types of fights are harder on the actors than a choreographed fight because they're meant to be messy. When people fight in reality, it's not 'you punch me, I punch you; I duck, you duck.'

"The fight was choreographed ahead of time so the director could get an idea and the actors could see where we were going," the stunt coordinator continues. "It was more of a loose foundation, something for them to work from. Kate Beckinsale and Giovanni Ribisi did well, but Kate Beckinsale ended up taking the brunt of it and never complained." Darrin Prescott says that a stunt double was standing by in case Kate Beckinsale had enough, but she kept going. "The next day, she was pretty bruised up," he remembers. "She was black and blue from head to toe. I don't think I'll ever hear the end of it from Kate Beckinsale."

For the scene in which Briggs crashes his SUV into Kate Beckinsale's salon, there was a stunt double in place of Kate Beckinsale. The truck was rigged with what is known as a "dead man," an anchoring system tied to the back of the vehicle as a safety in case the brakes fail. When the truck burst through the wall of tempered glass, it stopped within just five feet of the stuntwoman. To ensure the 12 panes of glass smashed, a small detonation charge was put onto each pane. The stuntwoman was showered with wood and glass but came out of the scene without a scratch on her.

Helicopter Work
In the opening scene of the film, in which U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP) closes in on Andy's botched smuggling effort, the officials attempt to board the vessel while it is in motion. This way, they may seize any contraband before it is thrown off the ship. For that scene, three CBP vessels were used, in addition to helicopters and a Black Hawk. As well, a "safe boat"-a rigid, inflatable craft surrounded by a tube to prevent any damage during contact with the boarded vessel-was utilised.

Safety during the shoot was a prime concern for marine coordinator Troy Waters, who says that there was also a dedicated safe boat standing by to monitor cast and crew. As well, for boat transfers-from boat to boat or from boat to ship-the team wore inflatable life jackets with water-activated lights. The same safety net was used for the film's climax, when Chris and Danny return to the ship with the authorities hot on their trail.

For the opening sequence, a Customs helicopter was needed to hover over the ship. Timing was crucial for aerial coordinator David Calvert-Jones, who knew that he only had approximately 30 minutes of light to capture the helicopter coming toward the ship. A camera crew was in a separate chopper. "The pilots were not film pilots experienced in working for cameras, and the aircraft were Customs helicopters," explains David Calvert-Jones. After an extensive rehearsal process, they got the shots that they needed. "Those guys rose to the occasion and did a great job."

For the scene, when the helicopter must hover over the ship and shine "the night sun" on Andy below, David Calvert-Jones says his team got that shot in one take. With the location just outside New Orleans' air control zone, David Calvert-Jones-in constant communication with the pilots above-was able to coordinate the scene from the ground.

For the big takedown sequences in which CBP commandeers the ship, there were more challenges in store for the team. The project was quite ambitious as the crew had to gain approvals for the container ship to navigate down the Mississippi River, directly in front of downtown New Orleans. Helicopters hovered above as boats surrounded the vessel. With hundreds watching from the shore, when the director called "action," that's exactly what he got.

Armored Car Heist
One of the biggest action scenes in Contraband takes place when Chris and Danny pull a heist on an armored car in order to settle the debt with a Panamanian cartel. Their very dangerous job is to cut off the vehicle. With Chris behind the wheel of a van, they veer in front of the truck; it crashes into them, and a shoot-out begins. The two men narrowly escape and leap into the back of a truck to make their escape. When the truck's driver is shot, Chris jumps into the driver's seat and heads back toward the ship.

Sam Tedesco says that finding the location for this climactic scene was a big challenge. The setting had to look like Panama, but it needed to be shot in New Orleans. The crew was fortunate to discover a section of highway that had a grove of date palm trees and showed the city skyline in the background. The day he brought Kormákur to the site, Sam Tedesco recalls: "I saw him start getting excited. He was walking around and picking angles. The wheels were turning, and he started grinning."

What Darrin Prescott describes as "the takedown scene" was the first opportunity he has had to create a big shoot-out. The stunt coordinator says the key to crafting that scene was to keep it very organic. "Even the camera guys were told not to fixate on one thing," he recalls. "If you know a guy's getting shot over there, don't just sit there and film the guy getting shot. Look over here and then come over and go past him and come back and catch him as you are getting his reaction. You're there as an observer, instead of it being presented to you perfectly."

Preparation for the sequence was intense. Five highways and exit ramps had to be closed down during the stunt sequences. With automatic weapons fire and C-4 explosions taking place, representatives from the fire department were on-site to monitor all activity. Before the roadways could be reopened to traffic, the crew had the very large task of cleaning up approximately 30,000 automatic-weapon shell casings.

When the armored car slams into Chris and Danny's van, it was originally meant to be a big wreck with the van flipping and then rolling. The production was faced with the challenge of using a real bridge that could not be marked or hit. To compensate, the ingenious effects crew built what looked like a snowplow rig on the front of the armored car. The idea was that the snowplow would come in and "scoop up" Chris and Danny's van and get it to rotate. The rig worked, and the van made a 50-percent rotation, giving the director the realistic look that he wanted for the scene.

Without heavily relying on post and the use of green screen, careful planning was needed to get the stunt driving and effects just right. To create the crash, the actors were placed in a van on a gimbal and spun around. This helped the director and cinematographer capture the shots needed of Mark Wahlberg and Haas tossing and turning inside the vehicle during the terrifying crash.

Haas was in the passenger seat as Mark Wahlberg maneuvered through the streets of New Orleans. He recalls: "Mark Wahlberg was spinning the van around, crashing into things." The performer admits he was pleased not to act in front of a green screen. "When you're shooting with green screen and CGI, you're looking at something that's not there. You can see it in the acting, and it can make the shot feel fake. In this case, we actually did everything. We were driving the van around and crashing into things. It gives you the feeling that it's actually happening. "

Racing Home
During the climactic scene in which Chris and Danny race back to Camp's ship with the clock ticking, the docks of New Orleans were swarming with actors dressed as Customs officials and police officers, as helicopters hovered overhead. "The Drug Enforcement Administration delivered," says Stephen Levinson. "They rolled out the red carpet and gave us the assets, the manpower and the know-how. People wanted to be involved and were excited about the process."

"It's a scene when you think Chris is at his lowest," explains Kormákur. "Then when you think he has no chance of getting through it, you see helicopters, Black Hawks and boats coming up the river. There are dogs barking at every corner of the boat. It was great, but it was so many pieces to put together."

Troy Waters explains that the first step in receiving needed permission for the shoot was giving a walk-through for officials. "We first had to approach the CBP, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security," he states. "They did a script review to make sure that it was not showing them in an unflattering light. They're very protective of their image, so we had to rewrite some of the action, based on their protocols."

To ensure that the situation was as authentic as possible, the team followed these protocols, to the letter. "There are several 'houses,'" shares Troy Waters. "There is the Air and Marine Wing, and there's the Operational Wing; they don't wear the same uniforms. As far as the boarding procedures, it had to be how CBP would do it. "

One of the most complex scenes shot is when Chris rushes back to the ship with his stash, with the enemy in hot pursuit, and eases the car into a container. For the sequence, Mark Wahlberg drove the car into the container. According to his passenger, Lukas Haas, "Mark Wahlberg drove right into the container five times, one right after the other, and he never hit the sides. He feels confident about what he's doing, and so it makes you feel confident."

Mark Wahlberg concludes by offering that he hopes the audience enjoys this ride. "I hope they feel the suspense and the tension," he ends. "But, ultimately, it's going to trace back to the relationship between Chris and Kate. If the audience is invested early, then they're going to be invested late. I hope they're on the edge of their seat, watching, hoping, and waiting to connect the dots."


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