Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
Director: Sam Taylor-Johnson
Genre: Drama, Romance
Synopsis: Every now and then a single creation arrives, suddenly and with seismic force, to tap an unexpected vein of shared curiosity and intrigue, coming to span cultures in its popularity and becoming universally known by its name alone. Such is the phenomenon Fifty Shades of Grey. Since the first episodes of E L JAMES' story were modestly released through an online-based publishing house in 2011, her 'Fifty Shades" trilogy has grown into one of the biggest and fastest-selling book series ever, with more than 100 million copies in 52 languages consumed all over the world. The four words of its title have come to represent, to readers and nonreaders alike, a bold new emblem of mainstream sensuality.
Now the film adaptation that has been the subject of widespread speculation and boundless curiosity, whose first trailer became YouTube's most-watched movie trailer last year, comes to the big screen as a motion-picture event for Valentine's Day.
Stepping into the iconic roles of billionaire entrepreneur Christian Grey and curious college student Anastasia Steele are Jamie Dornan (television's The Fall, Once Upon a Time) and Dakota Johnson (The Social Network, 21 Jump Street).
In a story that is as much about the redemption of the unattainable Christian as it is the liberation of the inexperienced Ana, the protagonists have taken on lives of their own for readers who've pored over the vulnerabilities of the characters and intricacies of the novels. Through them, audiences have allowed themselves to explore their own inner fantasies and aspirations.
Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson (Nowhere Boy), this erotic and authentic love story from series creator E L James takes us deep inside a rich and mysterious world that explores frankly the complexities of male-female dynamics, and the limits to which we will allow ourselves to go"and to be taken.
Fifty Shades of Grey
Release Date: Feburary 12th, 2015
A Novel History: Fifty Shades Begins
What started as a whisper in late 2011 soon became one of the most dominating phenomena ever to hit current literature, as more and more conversations began to include variations of the same question: 'Have you read it…?"
A perfect storm of buzz, curiosity and availability soon began blowing through pop culture. Initially issued as an e-book and print on demand, E L James' 'Fifty Shades of Grey" allowed curious readers to enjoy the erotic love story whenever and wherever they desired.
On the surface, 'Fifty Shades of Grey" explores the burgeoning relationship between enigmatic 27-year-old billionaire Christian Grey and sexually uninitiated college senior Anastasia Steele. But when one ventures past the logline, 'Fifty Shades" takes a sharp turn away from the majority of popular love stories and romance fiction.
It is a love story, but a provocative one that also deals with limits, and particularly, sexual limits"setting them, respecting them, overstepping them"and all of the exploration that can take place therein. It is about the placement of trust and the adherence to a mutually-agreed-upon set of rules.
A good deal of the must-read factor may have been fueled by piqued curiosity about this fairy tale taken to the dark side. And yet if titillation were the only thing driving the market, sales would have slowed as soon as something else caught the public's fancy. What E L James tapped into was a rich fantasy peopled by fascinating characters that have been embraced by readers around the globe, who felt compelled to continue the journey with Christian and Ana through two successive novels ('Fifty Shades Darker" in 2011 and 'Fifty Shades Freed" in 2012) to find out how their tale would unfold: 'Would she? Would he? Would they?"
E L James discusses just what it was about 'Fifty Shades" that struck such a chord with so many millions of readers: 'Fundamentally, it's a simple love story about an inexperienced young girl who is stronger than she knows meeting a man damaged by a painful past, and about the healing power of unconditional love. The sex scenes got the headlines, but what appealed to fans of the trilogy was the love story."
In March 2012, after a week of meet-and-greets between E L James and a majority of the studios in Hollywood"followed by a weekend of fevered bidding"Universal Pictures and Focus Features acquired the film rights to the three books published by Random House in the 'Fifty Shades" trilogy.
The author felt that Universal was the right home for her series. She comments: 'I met a lot of wonderful filmmakers from different Hollywood studios, and it wasn't an easy decision. But in the end, I chose Universal because I believed [chairman] Donna Langley and her team would make a movie that was as faithful to the book as the fans expected and deserved. I chose Focus because they have a successful track record in bringing challenging material to the screen." She pauses. 'And because [executive producer] Jeb Brody made me laugh."
When rights to the trilogy landed at Universal/Focus, multi-Academy Award®-nominated producers Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti knew there was a long list of filmmakers waiting to get their hands on it, but they still threw their hats into the ring. Soon after, the pair found themselves in London working on another movie. Both realized what cinematic possibilities lay in the intriguing premise that, at its core, featured an intense love story.
The two men arranged a meeting with E L James' reps, followed by a series of discussions with the author herself. Soon thereafter, while they were at sea producing director Paul Greengrass' Captain Phillips, Michael De Luca and Dana Brunetti received the call informing them that they had been chosen to produce Fifty Shades of Grey.
E L James reveals what it was about her fellow producers that sealed the deal: 'Michael De Luca talked about young love and first love in his meeting. He was passionate about the project, and passionate about bringing the love story to the screen. I didn't meet Dana Brunetti until later, and well, we get on like a house on fire. We've had some good times during all this madness."
Dana Brunetti offers that he was thrilled they were the ones for the job: 'Michael De Luca and I have worked on several films together. 21 was the first, which was based on a book. We then did The Social Network, which was also based on a book, and most recently produced Captain Phillips, also based on a book. Hopefully, the experience of overseeing so many transitions was a big plus for us. But also on a personal level, we all got along so well from the start."
The producer discusses that what intrigued him was the material's inherent mystery: 'Will Ana submit to Christian and give him everything he's asking of her, which he's gotten from others that he's dominated? Will she sign the contract, or will she leave and be gone forever? That's the question that keeps the tension going through the book and what we want the audience to feel through the film."
Writers meetings were quickly calendared, and a short list of potential scripters was assembled and passed by the studio. The resulting, much narrower, list was then presented to E L James, and together, the producers (including E L James) landed on the talented Kelly Marcel, whose work on the lauded Saving Mr. Banks had garnered her BAFTA and several other award nominations.
'We knew that finding a writer who could both honor the characters that Erika had created and, at the same time, infuse their own voice into the saga of Ana and Christian would be a Herculean task," says Michael De Luca. 'Kelly Marcel just captured the tonality of Erika's -Fifty Shades' and delivered a smart, poignant screenplay that she made her own. We marveled at the deftness with which she handled that task."
E L James felt that Kelly Marcel accomplished a great deal in her translation, with a cinematic treatment that pleasantly surprised her. She gives: '-Fifty Shades' is a long book, and I was impressed by how Kelly Marcel managed to condense it into a tight screenplay that still captured the essence of the novel. My favorite part of the process was working with her, deciding which scenes we would keep and which we would lose."
With Kelly Marcel busily adapting, the search for a director intensified. When Sam Taylor-Johnson, the British helmer of several acclaimed short films"along with a feature about the early days of John Lennon titled Nowhere Boy"presented her sizzle reel, she hoped it would convey how she saw the visuals and the tone of the material. The team instinctively knew they had found the ideal director to helm the drama, one who had a deep understanding of the story's sensuality…as well as the passion with which those who devoured the material approached it.
Dana Brunetti grants that the faith in Sam Taylor-Johnson was unwavering: 'The search was a little nerve-wracking, and hiring Sam Taylor-Johnson involved a bit of a leap of faith on our part, especially the studio. Most probably expected us to go with someone who had a lot of studio films on their CV, but we loved Sam Taylor-Johnson as our choice."
Sam Taylor-Johnson explains her take on the series, as well as why she decided to take this on as her next feature: 'The fundamental reason why I wanted to make this movie is that it feels like a fairy tale with similar plotlines to things that we grew up with, although in a very adult version: A young girl meets her prince. He's unavailable. He's successful, fabulous, rich, but it twists and unfolds and becomes something very different. It's also the story of this girl on a sexual exploration, a coming-of-age journey.
'In many respects, Christian and Ana's story is a love story of the most straightforward kind," she continues. 'It's about two people falling in love and negotiating what they will and won't do for each other, what they will and won't give up and what journey they will go on. Within this there are more extremities than a lot of relationships. Ana falls in love with a complicated person for a first romance and a first journey of sexual exploration. For Christian, it's also what opens him up to start feeling, breathing and learning to love."
Sam Taylor-Johnson acknowledges that her approach to the material was 'to treat this as an extraordinary love story and an extremely unusual and unique one. Going into it, you're trying to finesse and find delicate, subtle moments where the two of them are starting to shift and change. That is something that has to be so finely tuned throughout the movie to keep everything in line with the journey they go on."
Michael De Luca sums up the team's feelings that they'd found just the right creative forces to accomplish the first chapter in the saga: 'We interviewed a lot of people"men and women"but ultimately went with the screenwriter and director we thought had the best and most unique vision. It could have gone either direction, but we ended up with two women. Maybe that says something about their having a better insight on the story of the book. Regardless, we ended up being surrounded by a lot of women on this one, which was great for the project."
Finding Christian and Ana: Casting the Drama
Everyone who joined Fifty Shades of Grey had certainly heard of the novels"some had even been rabid fans long before they discovered that they would play a part in bringing the world created by E L James to the motion-picture screen.
For some time, casting director Francine Maisler and her team had been seeing actors in New York City, Los Angeles and London, where Jamie Dornan had put himself forward for the role of Christian Grey. The Irish performer, known for his BAFTA Award-winning role on television's The Fall and his work on Once Upon a Time, taped an audition scene. For script security, those initially auditioning had been asked to prepare a scene from another film (here, Jamie Dornan chose a scene from True Romance); it was only later when winnowing applicants that anything approaching scripted materials was provided. Of the series' ubiquity, Jamie Dornan remarks: 'I was totally aware of the books. You'd have to be dead to not know of them."
Following the promising taping, the actor Skyped with Sam Taylor-Johnson and met with Michael De Luca, E L James and Dana Brunetti in London. At Jamie Dornan's request, the producers had a long sit-down with him. 'We thought that it was important that whoever was going to play these roles had to chase them, because they would be really putting themselves out there," explains Dana Brunetti. 'If there was going to be any apprehension at all, it was going to be a big problem in production and, perhaps, down the road in other films."
Among the large ensemble of characters in her books, E L James knew that two characters had to be just perfect. When asked what it was that drew her to Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey, she reflects: 'You only have to see Jamie Dornan on screen to know the answer to that question. He has a real brooding intensity and presence. And he's kind of easy on the eye, which helps."
Jamie Dornan was up for the multitude of challenges and appreciated that Christian Grey is many things to many people. He supplies: 'From the outside, Christian is very intriguing and powerful, an impressive man with numerous businesses. They're all under one grand enterprise, but that incorporates all kinds of different telecommunications and farming technology companies. There are many different facets to his empire, and he's incredibly young to be in this position. He's all about power and money, and he has plenty of both. But as we delve deeper, we realise that there's a lot more to him than that."
After finding a welcome reception in England, Jamie Dornan flew to Los Angeles to audition in person for Sam Taylor-Johnson, a meeting that would put him with the already-cast Dakota Johnson for a 'chemistry read." For his part, the somewhat soft-spoken actor admits, 'I liked Dakota Johnson instantly. She has a sort of aloofness to her, and she was thorough and just very good. I actually felt sorry for her when we auditioned. She had to do these scenes over and over with different guys, and then I came in at the end of the day, sort of asking, -Look, can you muster up another good performance for me?' And she did."
Jamie Dornan boils it down to the task before him: 'As an actor, you are looking for parts that will be challenging and different. I've never played anyone like Christian before. He's a very intriguing character with a lot of layers, a lot of depth, and that's what you want: to portray him in a truthful way on screen."
Sam Taylor-Johnson was quite moved to see the performers' connection and knew she'd found the perfect Christian to her Ana. (Sam Taylor-Johnson had originally been paired with Charlie Hunnam, but the actor departed the film prior to the start of principal photography). The director says: 'Jamie Dornan is a fantastic, perfectly pitched Christian Grey. He brings a lot to this role"an elegance to the character, but he also brings exactly what Christian is, which is that slight one-step-removed mystery. That's because Jamie Dornan has that innately in him already. He's an extraordinary actor, and he plays Christian Grey exactly as he should be played."
Sam Taylor-Johnson, who had nailed her audition months prior, recalls the day with her signature laugh: 'Chemistry reads with actors are the weirdest things. You don't know each other, so there's no way around that, but you try to make it work. You attempt, in a short period of time and in front of a lot of people, to try to find something that you like about the person reading with you. So it's strange and not a normal situation at all…but Jamie came in and he was cracking jokes the entire time."
Joking aside, Sam Taylor-Johnson commends: 'He brings intensity because he has this face that can look so dark and somewhat closed, and you wonder what on earth he's thinking about"which is perfect for Christian. Jamie Dornan also brings this youth to Christian that is so necessary. There are scenes in the books where Ana sees him light up and become a young man, instead of his usual mature self. She sees a glimpse of a little boy, and Jamie Dornan has that, which is very special."
The actress had been intrigued by the role of Anastasia even before the project had come together. Dakota Johnson shares her interest in the material: 'I feel the world is changing so rapidly and things happen in such a short period of time that the sex in the book"how vividly and how literally it's described"was very freeing for people."
She reveals that when she found out who was behind the production, she 'thought that it sounded promising. I read the books to see if it was something that I could believe in, and if I could find some connection with the story. Then, about a year later, when the time came for the audition, I asked if I could go in for it. After my first audition, I read a few more times, and I was offered the part of Anastasia. There was a sense of wanting to find someone who could bring a bit of lightheartedness and humor to such dramatic material. I think that's why it worked out for me."
Sam Taylor-Johnson's director explains why her leading lady was so right for the role: 'I knew the moment we met Dakota Johnson that we found our Anastasia. She provided us the perfect balance of vulnerability, sass, beauty and courage. Dakota Johnson came in very early on and read for the part. It was one of those moments where I knew the part was hers, but we had to go through the motions of seeing a good few hundred other actresses just to make sure we covered all ground. Not even in the back of my mind, but quite close to the front of my mind it was constantly, -The role is Dakota Johnson. The role is Dakota Johnson.' She has the wit and charm and intelligence of Ana and brings life into that character like I can't imagine anyone else doing. She is a phenomenal actress and it felt like I was given a gift of being able to present her to the world."
E L James echoes those sentiments, knowing in her gut that Johnson was her Anastasia Steele. She shares: 'Dakota Johnson is just such a fantastic actress. She managed to capture Ana's combination of innocence, desire and defiance. She lights up every scene she's in."
Naturally, Dakota Johnson's take on the character E L James wrote was crucial to her casting. Dana Brunetti comments: 'She saw Ana in a very similar way to our envisioning; she is the audience's way into the story and into this very different world. Dakota Johnson has the same kind of innocent look and demeanor about her as Ana. She's very attractive, but she is relatable to a lot of women who will see themselves in her. It's compelling to watch Dakota Johnson as Ana swan into a beautiful woman. She goes from an innocent college student to someone who is involved in this lifestyle and this world."
The producers felt that Dakota Johnson's uniqueness and instant connection with her fellow performer made the actress the perfect Ana to Jamie Dornan's Christian. Dana Brunetti says: 'We had to make sure that Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan had that chemistry. Because the actress playing Ana could be the best actress in the world, and the actor playing Christian could be the best actor in the world"and they could both be good-looking and comfortable being undressed"but the chemistry that's going to show on camera couldn't be faked."
Dana Brunetti's fellow producer agrees that conveying the extreme depths of her principal characters' passion toward one another was crucial. James reveals that it was actually quite simple: 'How do you define chemistry, or predict it? It's either there, or it isn't. When I see Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan together on screen, I know we made the right choice."
As the pair entered preproduction, both Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan would have to ready themselves to portray the type of relationship required. Describing the bond that Christian customarily seeks, Jamie Dornan states: 'The only type of relationship he has ever had is a dominant/submissive one, where he has a partner sign a contract so that he can treat her in the way they have both agreed to. There have always been clear-cut rules, negotiated and signed before any kind of physical relationship begins. Until he meets Anastasia."
Ana is both a typical and an atypical college senior: She's a studious, clever English literature major who still parties, but is physically inexperienced because she's not found the right partner. Dakota Johnson reflects on Ana's developing singular tastes: 'Her reaction, when Christian reveals the type of relationship he's interested in pursuing, is something that's surprising. Normally, you'd think that a girl who has never been exposed to any of that sort of relationship would run away, thinking that he's the most messed-up person she's ever met. But, Ana doesn't. Instead, her reaction is to try and understand it."
Christian rushes to assumptions about Ana when they meet, when Ana steps in for her ill roommate to interview him for her campus newspaper. She is less than prepared, for either the interview or the reactions she elicits from this enigmatic billionaire. Jamie Dornan explains: 'Ana's uncomfortable and awkward. He's all about control and precision, but she turns all of that on its head. He's attracted to her, but she affects him in a far more profound way and much deeper than he's experienced before. Essentially, the story is about two people who have fallen in love and face massive hurdles that are stopping them from having a -regular' relationship."
Dakota Johnson reveals what millions of readers have discovered and devoured: 'The danger of it, and I think this is exciting, is that the story has all of the components of a thriller; you don't know what's going to happen. Is she going to be okay with this difficult thing to grasp? Will she be able to reconcile herself to it for Christian? Will she be able to change that much and love him despite this? Will he be able to do the same for her?"
Sam Taylor-Johnson discusses that her leads were attuned to this quandary: 'That evolution is a finely balanced tuning that we keep in check throughout the whole film. We shot some of the scenes that are closer to the end of the movie first, so that relationship hadn't quite formed yet. It was trying to make sure that was instilled in the scene and that we knew exactly the emotional temperature. But that's what I love doing more than anything, working with the actors and gauging and playing the scenes and judging those emotional highs and lows."
Two Separate Worlds: Family and Friends
Tony and BAFTA award winner Jennifer Ehle, who bears more than a passing resemblance to her on-screen daughter, was cast as Carla, Ana's mother. As much of their communication takes place over the phone"save a short visit, where Ana flies down to Carla's Savannah home for the weekend"the two actresses took to speaking on the phone while Dakota Johnson was on set and Jennifer Ehle was home. Both began to bond during this mother-daughter time. 'I immediately began to feel such a loving relationship with her," relays Dakota Johnson, 'which was helpful. I think audiences will see where Ana gets her sweetness."
Jennifer Ehle, no stranger to the world of star-crossed lovers (she captivated television audiences with her work as Elizabeth Bennet opposite Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy in 1995's Pride and Prejudice) explains her character's role in the story: 'Ana's father died while she was still very young, so she never knew him. Carla is on her fourth marriage, and this time she feels like she's gotten it right. Well, perhaps she feels that every time. But she and Ana have always been very close. They have a good, strong relationship that's warm and loving."
Once Ana begins to spend time with Christian, Carla's concern over the new romance begins to seep into their talks. Jennifer Ehle states: 'Her reaction to Ana's new boyfriend is complicated. There are these moments of happiness, but she's also sensing something else going on. When he shows up in Savannah, impeccably dressed in his $4,000 suit, Carla isn't impervious to that. On the surface, she's impressed with Christian, but her main concern is if her daughter is going to be happy."
Christian's adoptive mother, although just as caring for her child as Carla is for Ana, is much less the doting parent and more the 'Town & Country" matriarch. Dr. Grace Trevelyan Grey is married to Carrick Grey, and they had one son, Elliot, before they adopted Christian, rescuing him from a troubled life while he was still a very young boy. Afterward, they had Mia, the baby girl of the Grey family. Jamie Dornan explains: 'It's a loving, fairly normal family, all things considered, which gave Christian the opportunity to make something of himself, despite coming from such an awful beginning."
Oscar® winner Marcia Gay Harden, cast as Dr. Grey, knew of the phenomenon, but hadn't read the 'Fifty Shades" books before being cast. Refreshingly, she takes an academic approach: 'I knew of this as an event, and I've never been in an -event' movie before. As I started reading the books, I became curious about how it all fits into our society. The anthropologist Richard Leakey did a great deal of study about it, determining that the more enjoyable sex becomes, the stronger the chance we'll keep our mate."
Of her on-screen son, Marcia Gay Harden shares: 'Jamie Dornan has an instant vulnerability. He has gentleness and a tentativeness that has played beautifully into Christian. The character can be one person and in command in the playroom, but then, in this floundering relationship where he's attempting to build love, he doesn't know what to do. Christian is tentative and nervous. He's always scared that Ana is going to leave. What Jamie Dornan brought to it is a vulnerability that washes over the character…and yet, he's just gorgeous."
Luke Grimes was cast in the role of the first-born Grey son, Elliot, who is the antithesis of Christian. Elliot's much lighter, carefree and brash and doesn't understand to what degree his brother has these curious fascinations and sexual practices…nor how they play themselves out behind closed doors.
As closed-off and enigmatic as Christian appears to be, the opposite is true of his little sister, Mia. Filmmakers chose recording artist Rita Ora for the role. Harden shares why Rita Ora was ideal for the flamboyant Mia: 'Rita is completely unexpected and perfect because she's without any -actor-y' affectation, and yet she's a wonderful actress and singer. She has a roughness and an impishness about her that played perfectly into this. She's also funny and self-effacing."
Anastasia's roommate, Kate"who is scheduled to interview Christian for the campus newspaper but sends Ana when she is downed by the flu"is portrayed by Eloise Mumford. Kate knows exactly what she wants in life and isn't afraid to go get it. In crossing paths with Christian and Ana, Kate and Elliot meet and begin to date, providing a dynamic that is counterpoint to the complicated one being played out by the leads. Although she's a loyal friend to Ana, the straight-shooting Kate has no idea of the depths to which Ana has gone with Christian.
For every pretty college coed, there is a young man who'd rather be something more intimate. José is Ana's good friend, an engineering student who harbors a long-standing crush on her. Victor Rasuk, who was chosen to play José, offers: 'José is an aspiring photographer, and Kate has asked him to take a photo of Christian to accompany the profile in the paper. As the story goes along, you see that he's been admiring Ana at a distance, through the lens, rather than trying to get closer to her. When he does decide to do that, it's at a bad time, and they're both a little drunk…so it doesn't go well at all."
A Delicate Balance: Bringing the Novel to the Screen
Sam Taylor-Johnson knew that translating 'Fifty Shades of Grey" would be a challenge, but the director was surprised just how wild the ride was. She reflects: 'I admit that I leapt in feet first. I thought, -Fantastic. I've read the book. I feel that the story is something so special that I can see and understand.' I embarked on the journey very gung ho, and it felt from that point I was on a bullet train and the responsibility was enormous. I wanted to honor the fans so that they would feel that what I was giving back was what was in the book.
'The film took me on an unexpected journey," the director continues. 'I had very clear ideas about the film I wanted to make. But as I went on that journey, I realised it was shaping me and the way I was thinking in terms of how it should be presented. So, it was interesting because you have the material and as a director, you shape it. Well, this was a two-way street. The material was powerful. What I wanted to bring to it was powerful, and the collaboration between those two things, I'm hopeful, is equally so."
Michael De Luca offers one of the key advantages of translating a book to motion picture: 'The way that the book was written"a lot of the scenes and how they were described"was very visual. One concern I had was Ana's thought process, expressed by interior monologues in the book, and how we could get that across. But like with every book, it's a challenge of -how does this translate to film?' It boils down to this: It's a really good story. Then the script writing, the direction, the acting and the cinematography translate a good story into compelling cinema."
Dana Brunetti was thrilled that the team was able to achieve this goal. He commends his director: 'Sam Taylor-Johnson's a filmmaker, a photographer and a visual artist at her core, and there are so many iconic elements in this story: the tie, the cars, the Red Room, or just the world that Christian's in. We needed to present things that are specific to this universe, and not just plant them on screen, but show them in an elegant way that fits the tone of the movie. Sam Taylor-Johnson chose Seamus McGarvey as the director of photography, and he's an amazing artist himself. The two of them created a tremendous look and a terrific movie."
For her part, Dakota Johnson felt that with the inclusion of the explicit sexual nature of the book came resonance and honesty…a quality that would translate beautifully. 'These two people meet by chance, and they both happen to be each other's Achilles' heel," she says. 'There is no getting away from the other one, and that struck a chord with the legions of fans."
'There's a fairy-tale quality to it," agrees Jennifer Ehle. 'Erika captured that archetypal story in those characters, and clearly readers have found that compelling. The darkness, the beauty and the beast, the Cinderella; it's got all of that, and it has undeniably struck a nerve with an enormous amount of people."
To a person, the cast felt that passion. 'Erika cares deeply," adds Marcia Gay Harden. 'She has a huge fan base, and she wants to satisfy them. As we moved forward, there was a delicate letting go. Now that it's left the world of the book and become the world of the movie, it isn't exclusively hers anymore. She is clever enough to know she can't hold on to every little moment, but it's also important that what it does become, is representative of the essence of the characters and the world she created."
Filming Their World: Shooting in Vancouver
With all of the talk of the global phenomenon, the series' popularity, the honoring of the fans being aligned with the realities of filmmaking, it sounds like the actual process of filming might begin to feel like a balancing act in the center ring of a circus. Yet, with Sam Taylor-Johnson at the helm, that notion couldn't be further from the truth.
Jamie Dornan commends: 'Sam Taylor-Johnson, from the start, made you feel that we were just making a movie like any other. In fact, it felt like we were making an indie movie, where the overriding concerns are these characters and their truths, even in the midst of this attention given to the -Fifty Shades' phenomenon. The atmosphere never felt pressured. There was never this heightened awareness that millions of people had read the book that we were now trying to film. All of that went out the window the minute we stepped onto the set."
Dana Brunetti praises his director's shooting style: 'She moves quickly and is mindful of what she wants to get. She has the actors ready and doesn't do many takes. Combining that with Seamus McGarvey, who also works efficiently, when we would turn around on a scene, there was never an hour that we were waiting for lights. She gave the actors notes as we're going along and keeps the momentum going. The film had an independent production feel about it, which might be due to her short and feature films background. But it also speaks to her as an artist. She's not going to spend all day taking the same photo over and over again."
Sam Taylor-Johnson discusses her work with the cinematographer: 'Seamus McGarvey and I have worked together for 15 years now, so we basically converse via dolphin clicks. We have an almost secret code of how we work."
Once Seamus McGarvey was committed, Sam Taylor-Johnson and the producers were able to assemble an impressive ensemble of film artisans. The director discusses her key crew: 'Our production design team was led by production designer David Wasco and set decorator Sandy Wasco. They've worked on pretty much every Quentin Tarantino film, and they came with such a vast knowledge and the perfect sensibility for creating extraordinary spaces, such as Christian's apartment and the Red Room.
Dakota Johnson was impressed with her director's ability to keep myriad of details in her head and her ability to access one at any time. As the movie was shot out of sequence, Sam Taylor-Johnson needed to be able to ground the actors in the time and place of the shot, and access what the characters know and didn't know at that point in the script. While much of this was necessitated by the simple economics of production, the filmmakers were committed to keeping the most challenging and revealing of scenes between Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson for filming at the end of the shot. The last two weeks of shooting were being held for all of the scene work in Christian's infamous Red Room…more about that below.
For Christian, money is clearly no object. For the filmmakers, this meant that whatever part of the billionaire's world was to appear on screen, it needed to reek of extravagance, luxury and the best that money could buy"which for a film production on a budget (no matter how large), it meant all of the design teams needed to be at the top of their game. 'Whatever is Christian's, it all has to read as impressive above the norm. It's a fantasy life, and the look and the feel of whatever we do has to match that," comments Jamie Dornan.
Without the entrée into his private world of luxury, without the visuals necessary to evoke that, 'then you're just left with a movie about sex, and that is not what this is about," observes Dakota Johnson.
To remain true to the settings in the book, and also to provide the necessarily less-than-sunny atmosphere, shooting was set for the Pacific Northwest, specifically Vancouver, British Columbia (which would stand in for Seattle and Vancouver, Washington; and Portland, Oregon). Although the story takes place during the summer months, shooting had to be scheduled with a December start date. In the end, shooting in the winter months provided the somewhat gloomy atmosphere evoked by E L James, which locals know can occur in July and August. Mindful of opening up a novel that is an internal, first-person narrative, filmmakers took every opportunity to exploit their surrounds, with more than 55 locations figuring into the final shooting schedule.
While name-dropping the project title and its pedigreed cast and crew was useful when booting up production, to have it known that one of the most popular books of all time was filming locally could clog the highways and byways of the locations and cause expensive delays to the tight production schedule. Therefore, every precaution was taken to conceal the exact nature of the project. The title Fifty Shades of Grey was banished entirely from the set and any correspondences, materials or printed matter remotely connected with the film. In its place was the pseudonym of The Adventure of Max and Banks (Max is the name of E L James' dog, and Banks is the name of Marcel's pup).
Some locations had to bring to life the iconic locations in E L James' tome: Heathman Hotel filmed at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver and Washington State University filmed at the University of British Columbia, which was dressed with appropriate WSU school S.W.A.G. and 500 collegiate-looking extras.
Ana and Christian's first date at a coffee shop is the location of one of the earliest scenes in the movie. A section of downtown Vancouver, British Columbia, called Gastown, doubled for Portland, which is where the coffee shop location was chosen, among others.
Clayton's Hardware Store, where Ana works while in college, is actually located about 45 minutes outside of Vancouver in a little town called Ladner. More than 10 old-fashioned hardware stores were scouted before driving down Ladner's Main Street, where the yellow façade of the store seemed to beckon to the scouting team to stop and come inside.
During their initial interview, production designer Sandy Wasco and Sam Taylor-Johnson both had preselected a photograph by noted artist Helmut Newton as a reference shot for the tone and look of the film they wanted to achieve…and they had both chosen the exact same photograph.
Sandy Wasco muses: 'When you're both on the same page for the art direction, and you have an artist leading the collaboration, what more could either ask for? I don't believe I have ever had another interview where I was hired on the spot. We spoke, both pulled out the Newton photos, and after that, it was basically, -Would you like to do this movie?' -Yes!' -Great!'"
Having a previous collaborator (and your spouse) as a design partner means no need for an introductory phase. David Wasco notes: 'Our job is about gathering information and distilling down to the best ideas, the ones that satisfy. What Sandy Wasco does with the set decorating is surround the characters, within their space, with ephemera that help tell the story quietly. For me to be able to instantly rely on my design partner, we arrive in sync with shorthand, ready to work."
Sam Taylor-Johnson produced a number of photographs and research references, and the Wascos took those and discovered what was available locally. Says David Wasco: 'The design sense was a mix that would allow Christian to be very sophisticated, but maintain his youth. It became about the quality of the individual choices. We imagined him choosing important individual pieces for their beauty, like he chose the women in his life."
While Christian sits at the head of an emerging tech company, designers were careful to make his personal spaces state of the art. The mandate was timelessness, and if there was a decision that might take them down on the side of 'new and now," more often than not, analog was the direction chosen.
All reveals of Christian's spaces were to be silent advancements of the story and of character development"particularly his Red Room, so early research and reference centered on futuristic looks of Stanley Kubrick's films. Conscious choices were then slightly dialed back away from the heightened theatricality of lit floors to reflection and refraction of light. The work of American photographer and painter Saul Leiter (one of the original establishers of the look associated with the New York School) was chosen for shots looking through glass or diffused light. This led the Wascos to intensify the collaboration with Shamus McGarvey to incorporate obscured and diffused glass in a lot of the early sets. Levels of frost in the glass were explored to find the right level to allow shooting through or to achieve shadows from behind.
By studying examples inside upper-end Seattle residences, the team 'localised" two Vancouver, British Columbia, homes, built a quarter of a mile apart for two entrepreneurial brothers in the 1920s, to ensure that the sets would fit the city. One home provided the exterior for the Trevelyan/Grey home and the interior foyer and dining room. The other home was used for its glass-enclosed swimming pool (taking the place of the boathouse from the book that Christian shows Ana, following dinner with his family).
With the director's art world knowledge and relationships, production was able to secure paintings by noted artists Ed Ruscha and John Baldessari to display in the Grey office spaces. Once word got out that the two masters were in on the project, other artists made their work available for placement on set, including artists from Vancouver, British Columbia., and the Pacific Northwest, as well as Great Britain. Along with Ruscha and Baldessari, these included works by Rob Pruitt, Peter Millett, Allan Switzer, Brent Comber, Chris Shepherd, Marta Barisca, Michael Joo, Harland Miller, Jake and Dinos Chapman, Gary Hume, Rodney Graham, Gerda Lattey, Farik Aldin, Arno Kortschot, Georgie Hopton, Gary Aylward and Eric Blum (and even one of the director's own pieces).
A Door Is Opened: Welcome to the Red Room
One of the most anticipated sets from the film is the Red Room where Christian practices his more extreme sexual proclivities. Up until the time she is ushered across the threshold, Ana has no idea the room exists, and nothing has prepared her for this world of alternative desires. The Red Room represents Christian's darker tastes, a side of him that Ana must choose to either accept or reject.
Among fans of the series, there is much anticipation for not only the look and feel of the Red Room, but also what occurs there. In E L James' books, her description of it is painstaking. The reader won't be surprised by her answer to the question of 'What elements were extremely important to get just right?" The author/producer laughs: 'All of it! The Red Room is Christian's safe place and the most intimate room in his apartment. It was a struggle to get it how I imagined it, but I'm pleased with the result."
Dakota Johnson explains that entering into this type of arrangement all goes back to consent: 'It's discussing exactly what will be done, what won't be done, what he would like to do, what she doesn't want him to do. That is how you maneuver a relationship of this kind. For Christian, he instantly realises that Ana is going to stand up for herself; she's going to challenge him. For the first time, instead of having a controlling relationship, he tries to shift his point of view. That's what starts to make him vulnerable, which makes her fall a little more in love with him and him fall a little more in love with her."
As the team designed, built and researched the world of dominance and submission, the director relied upon her trusted cast and crew: 'I pride myself on having a fun set. I want everyone to enjoy what they're doing and be part of a team. Although I'm the director, the film isn't anything without a great gaffer or a great prop master who finely tunes the props. Everything is about teamwork and collaboration."
To that point, the production employed consultants to advise on what was acceptable, what wasn't, how the props in the Red Room should be used and what they should look like. Sam Taylor-Johnson elaborates: 'Alongside that, what would a man of Christian's stature be using? He would have something handcrafted from Japan flown in. He would have something made by Marc Fraser-Jones, who's an elegant designer for that world. He would have things which were expensive and would be ordering things that were unique. Starting from that, it gave us a clear, distinctive way of going. We had items hand-stitched in Italian leather. Everything was very finely tuned and detailed to suit a man with expensive taste."
To complement the aforementioned location work, it was clear that critical sets would have to be constructed"specifically, all of Christian's penthouse to include the living room, kitchen, dining room, his bedroom, Ana's bedroom"the white bedroom"not to mention the all-important Red Room. David Wasco explains: 'It answered all the questions, and Erika wanted it to be very womblike, very relaxing…without cliché. These were the sets that we kept very concealed. We wanted to make sure building these sets on stages would prevent people from seeing them. We could also film the most intimate scenes with the utmost respect for the actors' processes and privacy."
The build would ultimately cover three stages. With regard to the look of the penthouse, all concerned zeroed in on a handful of architects' work for reference: Norman Foster, John Parson and, possibly, the unanimous favorite, the American, Hugh Newell Jacobsen.
As Christian Grey is a man with limitless resources, what would his room of pleasure resemble? Discusses David Wasco: 'Without it being Vegasy or weird, we referenced a lot of things and paid key attention to the simple book description when Ana smells leather and furniture polish. These were the things that Erika described that sent us in a direction with plenty of leather and wood. Sam also steered us to referencing equestrian tack, how certain things were hung in stables"in an orderly fashion on walls with pegs."
Jamie Dornan adopts a down-to-earth viewpoint when he says, 'It's only in the Red Room where Christian feels totally free of everything else and is able to have things exactly how he wants. The only kind of relationships he's been able to have in the past have been enmeshed with the environment in which they have taken place. This is the space where he's capable of being sexually intimate with a woman. It's all he's known until Ana, and then it becomes about venturing beyond his limits, beyond the walls of the Red Room."
Sandy Wasco mentions: 'Any first reaction upon entering the room would be one of amazement. But then, gradually, one realises that this is Christian's place. It is very important to him. He doesn't sit in it. He doesn't eat in it. He doesn't do anything else but be involved with his chosen partner in this room."
Fifty Shades of Style: Costumes, Props and Vehicles
The intricate world that E L James had imagined lent itself fully to the creation and design of Ana and Christian's life on film. From Christian's infamous selection of ties and seemingly endless supply of luxury vehicles to Ana's shared apartment and evolution into a woman through dress, the style that Sam Taylor-Johnson and her team designed for Fifty Shades of Grey exudes wistful glamour and sensual otherworldliness.
Costumes and Props
Every fabric choice of Academy Award®-winning costumer Mark Bridges, who worked on There Will Be Blood, The Master, Boogie Nights and Silver Linings Playbook, was subjected to the same kind of scrutiny as the set and dressing choices. With all filmmakers onboard to heighten the reveal of the infamous Red Room, any other uses of the colors black and red (save for the graduation gowns at the WSU graduation ceremony) were strictly curtailed.
Sam Taylor-Johnson commends: 'The interesting thing about the way Mark Bridges works is that every piece of clothing reflects an emotion. He comes from an emotional way of representing through clothes. He understood that this journey is an emotional one and the finely tuned aspects of Ana growing from quite girlish to woman to a strong woman to a very decisive woman."
At the forefront were the suits for Christian, all of which were custom-made to fit Jamie Dornan. 'I don't often wear a suit in the real world, so it's nice when the suits you are wearing are truly made just for you," says Jamie Dornan.
Besides being true to the character, the suits transmitted signals about Christian's life. Mark Bridges explains: 'You can't move or behave the same way in a suit as you would in a sweatshirt. So there is always something that keeps him a little upright and structured, but we used wools and a lightweight construction that made it less constricting for Jamie Dornan and could contribute to Christian feeling more at ease." As his relationship with Ana develops and he becomes 'less protected" by what he wears, Christian's clothes become less a suit of armor.
In the end, all but one of Jamie Dornan's suits were handmade, all shirts were custom, every shoe was top-of-the-line (production did not have sufficient time for bespoke footwear, or those would have been handmade as well). Discussion about type of cuff, type of tie, weight of fabric, type of collar, type of lapel, amount of patterning in the tie, amount of gray in the tie"nothing was too small for a man who could buy literally anything he wants.
As Christian grows less rigid and more at ease with his dress, Ana slowly and subtly transforms from a thrown-together-coed look to a young woman with a new sense of self. Dakota Johnson explains: 'Ana in the beginning of the film does not have any sense or care what she looks like, but there is a level of uniqueness and cuteness about her. Then, throughout the story, you see her become more aware of her body, therefore, the way clothes hang on her is a little bit more obvious and different. There's a dress that Mark designed"a peach silk and chiffon dress"that directly echoes an iconic one that Faye Dunaway wears in the 1968 The Thomas Crown Affair. It's so beautiful."
Nowhere is the contrast between characters as visually obvious as in the scene where they first meet, when Ana comes to interview Christian in his offices. Grey is in a single-breasted suit of silken wool, custom-made shirt, a French necktie and pearl cufflinks. Ana sports classic student wear, with an inexpensive cardigan, a faded shirt (actually constructed on the reverse side of the fabric to look repeatedly washed and worn), a nondescript-but-feminine skirt, boots and an outer toggle coat"'so that when she walks into Grey Enterprises with all of the staff there very chicly dressed and in high heels, you get it immediately that she's a fish out of water," supplies Mark Bridges. 'As their relationship progresses, she -grows up'"cleaner, simpler, slimmer, less fussy"her shoes more streamlined, she becomes more graceful."
One early occasion that the designers did want Ana to appear a little more manicured was at her graduation, where she sports a gray chiffon dress (specified in the book, but also chosen by Sam Taylor-Johnson and team"with the fabric a near match to Dakota Johnson's own eye color).
Anyone familiar with the mythology of the books"practically anyone who ever glanced at the cover of the paperback"realises that one of the most iconic wardrobe pieces of the story is Christian's silver tie…for a variety of reasons. When a costume piece comes with this much lore, of course, no off-the-rack cravat will do. Mark Bridges discloses: 'Probably more than anything else, we were always incredibly specific about his choice of tie"the thickness, the sturdiness and, of course, how much gray." Because of the alternate uses for Christian's neckwear, rather than calling his ties by the maker,Mark Bridges referred to them by their country of origin (hence, the French tie). And all versions of the infamous silver tie were specifically designed and painstakingly constructed by hand.
As Ana is credited with bringing color into Christian's life, the subtle shift in his wardrobe from cool grays and blues to discreet warmer tones was always kept in mind as the design processes and filming progressed.
Supporting characters' looks are a combination of Mark Bridges' first impressions and consultation with Sam Taylor-Johnson and the art department. Regarding Dr. Grey, he shares: 'I saw her in something pale, white, off-white or oyster" in her first appearance, and always with tasteful yet expensive accessories. About Mia, he shares: 'I found a wonderful dress that had tiers, moved in a special way, and had the excitement her character does. On José: 'Thrift and vintage, artistic," On Elliot: 'The kind of guy I envision having a few glasses of wine with his buddies over lunch, and then dropping $500 on a shirt." Finally, Kate: 'Pretty and sexy, without upstaging."
Per property master Dan Sissons, with regards to the specificity of some of the objects in the books: 'We went out of our way to replicate things like menus, wine choices, things like that." Perhaps the most important prop that would appear in the film would have to be 'the contract," drawn up by Christian's attorneys for Ana to alter/agree to/sign.
Dan Sissons explains that his team had to analyse each item to make sure appropriate choices were being made. He shares: 'We were getting key information on Christian from the costume department about his dress and attire, and we knew that he was going to be very sophisticated and tailored. We keyed off of that. When we were doing a suitcase or a shaving kit or a wristwatch, anything for him, it had to be very specific and carefully chosen."
Knowing that anyone could simply trot around the corner and ask the author of the source material a question about anything, 'was incredibly useful," says Dan Sissons. 'The fun thing about Erika was that she would occasionally pull me aside. For instance, the Bollinger, the celebration champagne when Ana graduates was a very rare bottle of vintage. Sam and I were tossing around ideas, and Erika came to me and showed me a picture on her phone of two beautiful antique teacups, they're over 100 years old and made by a company that doesn't exist anymore. And she says, -These are in my home in England. If you could find these teacups or something similar, I would be thrilled.' What prop person doesn't want a challenge like that?"
Dan Sissons and his team found six, of exactly the same pattern, and had them sent. They found that the pattern license had been purchased by a modern company that is still in production, so they were cleared through the legal department. And just like that, with only 48 hours between his conversation with E L James and the day the scene was to shoot, they obtained the teacups and had their usage cleared. 'Erika was really happy, and Sam loved the look, too. It was nice for us to be able to bring that part of Erika's world visually into the film."
One of the earliest extravagances heaped by Christian onto Ana is an original first edition of one of her favorite works: Thomas Hardy's 'Tess of the d'Urbervilles," published in 1891. Another iconic prop known by every fan of the book, Dan Sissons took it upon himself to locate the book (which, in this case, was published in three volumes) before the official start of production.
For the record, Christian's library was outfitted with books dealing with emerging technologies (e.g., Tesla), and technological/design innovators (e.g., Michelangelo). Also included were books that deal with green issues, new scientific processes for informational systems…hardly Thomas Hardy, but just as telling about his character as 'Tess" is about Ana's.
Luxury Cars and Helicopters
Taking the spending side of Christian one step further, the billionaire resembles a James Bond character in a lot of ways"which was clearly not lost on the readers particularly taken with the lifestyle fantasy. Whether he owns it, or simply hires it for the weekend, each one of his toys needed to be the best, the biggest, the brightest he could find.
Ana's soul mate has the full selection of Audi's latest fleet of automobiles at his disposal, including, among others, the R8 (sports car), the S8 (sedan cruiser) and the brand new A3 (the gift he presents to Ana). Indeed, filmmakers were lucky to secure the latest model A3, which was not available for retail purchase until after the project completed filming.
Christian doesn't just motor Ana around in his slick group of automobiles, he pilots her in his helicopter, which happens to be the latest EC130, the largest helicopter that may be privately owned, at a cost of around $2 million. The art department fully customised the EC130 (Charlie Tango), down to all of its graphics, which dovetail perfectly with the designs found everywhere else in Christian's professional world.
Even when away from home with all extravagances at his disposal, the best money can buy is still just a phone call away for Grey…especially when the experience is something as precious as a few fleeting moments of utter freedom which, when shared with Ana, becomes an instance of intimacy and revelation. Other than the Red Room, piloting his engineless glider is perhaps the place where Christian feels most free.
So Curious: Music of the Film
For Sam Taylor-Johnson, perfecting the score and the soundtrack to Fifty Shades of Grey was as crucial as the photography of the film itself. She offers: 'It's not something I'm just tacking on at the end. The score and the song choices are as important as scenes and how they're emotionally played. It's like in real life: You're sitting, drinking a cup of tea, and whatever plays on the radio in that moment can take you to a different place. Music is so fundamentally important to me and to this film. It's a big deal to keep it driving forward and at the right temperature."
To accomplish her music and lyrical objectives, the director turned to four-time Oscar® nominated composer Danny Elfman, whose varying compositions including the infamous theme of television's The Simpsons to his longtime partnership with director Tim Burton has made his music a part of our daily entertainment life. In fact, Sam Taylor-Johnson's love of Burton's work drew her to Danny Elfman. She reveals: 'Danny Elfman is a phenomenal composer. His scores are dark, funny and all of those elements are within this film. Working with him has been a dream. To be able to go over and listen to him write the score for scenes has been absolutely magical."
Danny Elfman discusses what interested him about coming aboard Fifty Shades of Grey: 'It was two things: One, it was a genre that didn't exist, and then certainly meeting Sam Taylor-Johnson. I liked her immediately and felt that it would be a fun project." That combination resulted in his approach to a score that, Danny Elfman admits, 'is very simple, thematically, because the job of what it needs to do is very clear. I wanted the score to continually play Anastasia with Christian. It's about them being together"their romance or not-quite romance"and that sexual tension."
The composer offers that there are moments in the score that are much lighter and leave room for subtle humor, mild jokes upon which fans who know the characters will definitely pick up. That levity aside, he reveals the majority of the score is a bit darker, yet still romantic. He found that darkness in how Christian relates to Ana, and his inability to connect to her at times. Says Danny Elfman: 'My hope when I'm writing a score like this is that, whether they're aware of it or not, the characters feel a longing or a connection. A lot of what the score does is what in the book might be narration. In the book, Ana's thinking, -Oh my God. This guy is amazing!' Now the music has to do that in the film. For example, it's telling us there's something going on there beyond this simple conversation they have when they meet."
With compositions including 'Did that Hurt?" and 'Ana and Christian," Danny Elfman allowed himself to explore a different side of his personality. He offers a look into his creative process: 'Any time you do something that's rhythmic and simple, you're creating a pulse; that is relaxing for the writer. It's about playing a tone that's consistent. I live in an intense world, and to do something that's pleasant feels hypnotic. I don't get a chance to do that very often, so I just appreciate it."
Complementing Danny Elfman's score is a soundtrack that takes us on the tempestuous journey from Christian and Ana's first meeting in his office to deep in the Red Room. Indeed, under the supervision of music supervisor Dana Sano, the album features 16 tracks from superstars and legends, such as Frank Sinatra ('Witchcraft"), The Rolling Stones ('Beast of Burden") and Annie Lennox ('I Put a Spell on You (Fifty Shades of Grey)"), as well as new and previously unreleased material from Ellie Goulding ('Love Me Like You Do"), Sia ('Salted Wound"), Skylar Grey ('I Know You"), Jessie Ware ('Meet Me in the Middle"), Laura Welsh ('Undiscovered"), Vaults ('One Last Night"), AWOLNATION ('I'm on Fire") and two new songs from The Weeknd ('Where You Belong" and 'Earned It (Fifty Shades of Grey)"). Taylor-Johnson was even brought aboard to direct the latter song's video for the Weeknd. For the video, she reunited with star Dakota Johnson and cinematographer McGarvey
Even global superstar Beyoncé participated in the soundtrack. She created an exclusive new recording of her juggernaut 'Crazy in Love (2014 Remix)" that was scored by artist Boots to accompany the trailer launch, as well as remixed her 2013 'Haunted (Michael Diamond Remix)".
Fifty Shades of Grey
Release Date: Feburary 12th, 2015