Cast: Tom Hardy, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Williams, Jenny Slate, Riz Ahmed
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Genre: Action, Horror
Running Time: 105 minutes
Synopsis: One of Marvel's greatest and most complex characters takes center stage as Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) becomes the host for the alien symbiote Venom. As a journalist, Eddie has been trying to take down the notorious founder of the Life Foundation, genius Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed) – and that obsession ruined his career and his relationship with his girlfriend, Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). Upon investigating one of Drake's experiments, the alien Venom merges with Eddie's body, and he suddenly has incredible new superpowers, as well as the chance to do just about whatever he wants. Twisted, dark, unpredictable, and fueled by rage, Venom leaves Eddie wrestling to control dangerous abilities that he also finds empowering and intoxicating. As Eddie and Venom need each other to get what they're looking for, they become more and more intertwined " where does Eddie end and Venom begin?
Release Date: October 4th, 2018
We… Are… Venom!
All of us have something inside of us that just boils with rage. Someone (or something) gets triggered, and wouldn't it feel great to set that free? How satisfying would it be to chomp some idiot's head clean off? How fun to show the world what's lurking inside of you?
For Eddie Brock, that monster – Venom – is about to be unleashed – and the dark side of his personality will literally come out… and it's going to be a wild ride.
There's a reason why Venom is one of the most popular characters in Marvel history. He's dangerous, he's scary, he's unpredictable, his dark wit is matched only by his predilection for violence… and it's all wrapped up into a package with huge, white eyes, a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, and a long, writhing, muscular tongue.
At the center of Venom is not one but two antiheroes in one body: Eddie, played by Tom Hardy – the ego-driven, obsessive reporter driven to expose the powerful and corrupt – and Venom, the chilling alien symbiote with incredible superpowers who fuses with Eddie. Together, they are capable of anything – a terrifying proposition as Venom is fueled by rage. In a truly symbiotic relationship, they will influence each other, for better or worse…
According to producer Matt Tolmach, who most recently produced Sony Pictures' blockbuster nearly billion dollar worldwide hit Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, something about Eddie Brock, an ego-driven reporter on a bad streak, and the duality offered by Venom – the power to see one's potential, physically and indelibly – felt relatable as an anti-hero concept. "Eddie Brock is like so many of us," says Tolmach. "Eddie was the defender of the innocent looking out for the little man. But unfortunately, he got in his own way. He took shortcuts. He's got an ego and a temper. He's impetuous. This movie becomes about being a better version of who he was before, and the only way he becomes better is when he meets up with Venom."
Producer Avi Arad says that Venom's complicated but entertaining mix of tones offered a chance to make a film that turned the conventions of superhero movies inside out. "Eddie Brock and Venom are two very different people who together change each other's lives," says Arad. "This story is scary, intense and funny as hell. Feels tough, dark, yet light and optimistic, and breaks through the clutter of superhero movies with a unique story."
Continues Arad, "Eddie influences the good side of Venom. Venom becomes like Eddie's conscience. It takes the good guy and bad guy to influence each other and save the rest of us."
When director Ruben Fleischer – a Sony Pictures success story with his cult hit Zombieland -- took the helm as Venom's director, the producers knew they had someone with a full grip on how Marvel's most badass character could make for a rip-roaring movie unlike any other. But the Venom filmmakers also realized that it would take a talented actor to straddle both the personalities of Venom and Eddie Brock.
They got more than they hoped for when critically acclaimed actor Tom Hardy – the man behind some of the most complicated characters in modern film – signed on to star. Fleischer sees Hardy as a man of the moment, an actor of his time. Says Fleischer, "Tom is one of the all-time great actors, just so inherently talented and captivating on film. He's a real movie star, and he is in his prime right now, firing on all cylinders, and brings so much to every look, every moment, every detail, every word."
Fleischer continues, "He's just really inspiring. And I think everybody on the crew is just fully invested in how he's chosen to realize Eddie Brock. And on top of all that, Tom is hilarious, and that was exactly what we needed to bring Venom to life for moviegoers." Hardy says that the idea of symbiosis – needing each other to survive – is built into the characters of Eddie and Venom. "There was a lot of range to play within the psychological dynamics of this superhero movie," he says. "And I found that to be exciting because it is multi-personality; one is a human character and the other is an alien. I get to play opposite a seven-foot-tall creature. And Eddie Brock has to handle that living inside him. The two of them have a union in one. 'We are Venom,' is their mantra."
Hardy was especially excited about playing this particular character. "Venom is cool, man – he's a badass. My son was telling me all about him – he loves Venom. He's is a great character to play because Venom is ruthless and, basically, there are no rules. He's so complex."
Venom's beginnings are the kind every comic creator dreams of: the brash introduction that sparks its own expansive life, thrilling fans every step of the way. Since his first full appearance thirty years ago in The Amazing Spider-Man comic book issue #300, Venom's supervillain persona has become one of the most intriguing and entertaining for Marvel's dedicated readers.
Initially Venom was portrayed in the Spider-Man comic books as the kind of terrifying antagonist readers would be afraid of, but the opposite happened. Fans fell in love with this outspoken and quirky anti-hero: enormous fangs, merciless mindset and all. Between the arresting look, freaky origins, and dark/light themes, people were hooked, and a fan base was born, driving the character's own eponymous series and becoming one of the most popular characters in Marvel history. Now, the character comes to the big screen in his own film.
To play Venom's nemesis – villain to an anti-hero, the bad opposite the badass – in the role of Life Foundation head Carlton Drake, the Venom filmmakers sought an actor who could bring both elegance and edge.
They found their immoral-yet-sophisticated baddie in the Golden Globe-winning British actor, rapper and activist Riz Ahmed. At first glance, Carlton Drake seems to be a scientist, philanthropist, and inventor, having developed his Life Foundation for the greater good of mankind. The reality, however, is that this smooth-talking visionary is nothing more than a complicated criminal who begins to believe his own lies, at the price of others' bloodshed.
Says Fleischer, "I've been a huge fan of Riz's for a long time and have been dying to work with him. He's one of the most exciting actors out there. We had Hardy, and I think Riz is right there with him. And so I was incredibly excited to cast him as our bad guy in this film, Carlton Drake. He's kind of like an evil genius who in our movie has been so frustrated by the world's coming conclusion."
Producer Avi Arad calls Carlton Drake a particularly resonant villain because he's got an appealing shell of privilege and intelligence. "He is fresh and unique and dangerous as hell because he has all the means, and the world thinks he is hot stuff because they don't know the truth about him," says Arad.
In casting Ahmed, says producer Matt Tolmach, the production found an actor who could pull off the range needed. "Carlton Drake sounds like he is trying to save humanity, but over the course of the movie his madness becomes revealed and he goes off the deep end," says Tolmach. "Riz can straddle both sane and insane, and that is what makes him perfect for this role."
The actor himself sees in Carlton Drake a way to tap into our current world's fascination with big-thinking, well-funded visionaries. "Carlton Drake is someone who's looking at the reality of life on earth and what human society has done to the planet," says Ahmed, "and saying we need to find a future in this mess somehow. And for him the future involves space exploration. It involves trying to tap into alien life forms so that humans can find a home in space. And, as you know, space is something that real world entrepreneurs are venturing into for similar reasons."
Ahmed continues, "But his journey is very complex. He becomes very frustrated to see that Eddie Brock, a journalist who tried to bring him down, successfully manages to merge with these god-like alien creatures, known as symbiotes. In his mind Eddie isn't worthy, Carlton thinks he should be the chosen one to evolve us into the next stage human species. He's trying to find a future for us all, but as always it's that question: how many eggs are you willing to break to make an omelet?"
Just as important as securing the right actors to personify the story's antithetical figures, was finding the ideal woman to play Eddie's ex-girlfriend, attorney Anne Weying, who in many ways is the power force at the center of the story. Fortunately, they were able to hire award-winning actress Michelle Williams to play Anne, who at the beginning of the story is driven to break up with Eddie because of his rogue-ish ways.
As Williams explains, "While she loves him, she can't abide by his terrible behavior anymore. But the love hasn't really gone away, and that's what connects them through the movie."
As for working with Tom Hardy, Williams was thrilled at the opportunity, and challenged by what it entailed. Says Williams, "There is just nothing that Tom can't do. He is maddeningly talented, but it is so exciting to work with him because he's able to make illogical leaps. He's able to make leaps that, all of a sudden you find yourself in a totally different place inside of the scene, than you ever would've logically imagined. It's so fun and it's freeing. You don't know exactly where you're going to go when you show up to work, and that's what makes it exciting."
That push-pull is reflected in the nature of the relationship between Eddie and Anne, which sees Anne struggle to bring out what's best in Eddie while protecting herself. As producer Avi Arad articulates, "Anne is at the crux of our story. She is not giving in or giving up, and is doing whatever it takes. She wishes she could get the undamaged Eddie back and sees signs of that happening."
Tolmach agrees, while confirming that Williams was the perfect choice to bring Anne's dilemma to life. Says Tolmach, "Michelle was not afraid to own Anne's choices. When we first meet Anne and Eddie, their lives are great and perfect. Anne's journey in this film is one of strength and commitment. She is a force in her own right."
Anne isn't the only female force in the film. Jenny Slate was cast as Dora Skirth, a scientist at Carlton Drake's Life Foundation, and ultimately the whistleblower on the inhumane practices happening inside the lab.
Says director Ruben Fleischer, "Jenny is playing a little against type in the film, because everybody pictures her as a comedian. But in this movie, she's actually playing a pretty dramatic role. And what's so great is I think when you see Jenny on screen you just lean into her, you care about her and you empathize, which is very important for her role."
On playing Dora, Jenny Slate points to the appeal of a part not written to be sidelined. "What I like about Dora is she isn't a damsel in distress, and she's not helpless either," says Slate. "She is the one with the information. She is the one with the access. And she needs Eddie because he is the journalist. But it's sort of different than the normal dynamic where you just have often times this boring thing of a woman asking a man to help her. In fact, Dora's the one that holds the cards."
Tolmach concurs, adding, "Jenny takes risks in this film, both as herself and as her character. Her character teams with Eddie to expose Carlton Drake and do what's right, with the cost of her own life on the line, and that takes guts."
As for her onscreen boss, Carlton Drake, Jenny Slate explains why the character has an undeniable magnetism, despite his nefariousness. "I think that the character of Carlton Drake is so attractive in a way," she offers. "You want to watch him because he represents something that almost anyone can do, which is develop what is best and strongest about themselves. But it's really, really dangerous for humans to elevate themselves because of their personal power. He's a man with a dream that is poisonous."
Rounding out the powerful Venom cast are Reid Scott as Anne's new man, the ever so perfect Dr. Dan, who is quick to advise Anne as to his suspicions about her ex, and Scott Haze as Roland Treece, the head of security for the Life Foundation, a man who will stop at nothing to contain Eddie at the command of Carlton Drake.
The VFX Artists Get Their Licks In
Arresting, alarming, enormous, and unnerving, Venom is unlike any other character in comics. As they brought the character to life, they knew that getting the look right was going to be hugely important for many fans. The teeth had to be sharp, the eyes menacing, and the tongue… had to be off-the-charts creepy.
Indeed, Venom is an unusual leading man in that he's a combination of human and alien, realized by a similar mixture of the very real and talented Tom Hardy and the similarly real and talented Visual Effects department, but via computer. Fully realized, Venom is completely CG onscreen, so it was up to two-time Oscar®-winning Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Franklin, as well as Visual Effects Supervisor Sheena Duggal, to create a Venom that is visceral enough to wow audiences, and badass enough to get them to root for him. Tom Hardy's performance would drive the team to create the ultimate alldigital hero character.
Early discussions between Franklin and director Ruben Fleischer had as an end goal that Venom's movements would not translate to a human. Says Franklin, "Venom is so different to any other character that we've seen before. He looks a bit like a man, but he can do so much more than that. He can extend out tentacles. He can change his body shape. He can take amazing punishment and beating from his adversaries. He's almost indestructible though not quite. There's still a little bit of a vulnerability. And he has that interesting quality that he's almost made out of liquid at times."
Franklin had to not only create Venom in its entirety, but also create the look and movement of a symbiote. "A symbiote can ooze thru the pores of someone's skin, they can be absorbed by the body, travel thru clothing," explains Franklin. "When we first meet the black symbiote it will feel like an anamorphous black slug, and then when it fuses with Eddie, it forms a skin over Eddie's body with the end result being Venom, a slick creature with extraordinary white eyes, almost like the markings on a killer whale."
The fact that Venom can take on a liquid form, and turn into tendrils, webs, and sheets, and force tentacles to shoot out of its body, the VFX department had its work cut out for it – they were some of the most complicated tasks of the whole gig. Says Franklin, "Effectively, he can shape shift continuously and dynamically as he's fighting, and when he's fighting Riot, who can do a similar sort of thing but in a more extraordinary way. He's very sharp-edged and blade-like, that character. All of these things make for considerable character animation and also a visual effects animation challenge."
Venom's signature mouth with jagged teeth will have a jaw that opens to a full 180 degrees, revealing an extraordinarily long and mobile tongue, a signature feature of the character. Says Franklin, "He's a bit on the edge, as Venom is both a hero and an antihero. So we're never quite sure what he's thinking or what he's going to do. Ultimately there is a Jekyll and Hyde kind of twist on the character that, um, that this thing takes possession of Eddie every so often against his will sometimes. But then later as the story develops, you know, they become in harmony with each other."
On set during production, the VFX team had a stand-in who was 6'7" tall, who was then made even taller with a helmet on which a VFX sphere reference was placed. This VFX reference ball is where the cast have to look when interacting with Venom, since it reflects where the eyes would be in creature seven-and-a-half feet tall.
Says Franklin, "This is a great way to work because we know what the physical volume that Venom should be occupying is on the set. And so everybody else on the set, the camera, the other actors, the set itself, respects that volume. And then when we come to put the digital version of Venom into the shot, he fits right in."
Franklin enjoyed the challenge of creating a towering figure so rich in design and performance, not to mention in its effect on moviegoers: "Venom is quite a scary proposition with the big teeth and the way that he looks. He's almost demonic at times, but there's a deep sense of humor running through the film, a deep vein of dark humor. Venom is a very witty, sarcastic character, which picks up from Eddie's character itself.
So the two characters, Eddie and Venom, very much complement themselves to make this new creature that we're going to see in this film."
In addition to creating Venom, the VFX team also created a total of four symbiotes in the film, including Riot. Also an entirely CGI character, Riot and Venom square off in the movie's thrilling climax – a = fight to the finish on the Gantry set that combines the production's two leading men fighting as humans and as digital aliens.
Franklin says creating Riot wasn't the same as creating Venom. "From a design point of view we want to be clear that the creature of Riot is of the same species," says Franklin, "and comes from the same place as Venom. And yet at the same time we want to make it distinctly different. And we also want to make sure that it isn't just a battle of equals. We want to be clear that Venom and Riot both have very different skill sets, very different abilities and that keeps it very interesting when they're fighting against each other. You're trying to figure out who's going to come out on top."
The sheer amount of VFX razzle dazzle needed for the climactic battle, including not just the action but the environments, was daunting, says Franklin. "This is going to really push us to our absolute limit, pushing us into new areas that we've not gone into before, new techniques, new ideas. It's a very, very exciting thing to be a part of."
The Gantry set, where the movie's final, glorious fight takes place, found the cast on wire rigs, giving very physical performances. Though bluescreen surrounded the actors, the Gantry was built practically on a 30-degree incline, so that the actors would have something to interact with, fall onto, and roll down. Says Fleischer is particularly psyched about some of the fight's big moments. "There's a couple minutes where Drake and Eddie are revealed in the midst of all that chaos of the final battle, and that is going to be great!"
The same bluescreen-with-dimensions format was followed for scenes involving Eddie, sometimes with Venom in tow and sometimes not, at the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay Bridge. These required a partial practical build of the Golden Gate Bridge's and Bay Bridge's pylons.
To help create the digital doubles required for many of the fight sequences - when maneuvers become unworldly for even the most experienced stunt person - a 3D scanning rig was brought in. 3D scans of all the cast were captured by 130 DSLR cameras that fire in a split second. They find all the points of community between the images, and create a really high-quality 3D version of them. That way, any cast member can be created in CGI and completely rendered in 3D.
Franklin and his team worked tirelessly to bring a sense of absolute realism to every VFX shot created for Venom. Also on deck for the VFX creative team was creating the entire Life Foundation building exterior, a hexagon building stuck into the side of Hawk Hill in Marin County in Northern California, and overlooking the Bay. In the distance beyond the building can be seen the Golden Gate Bridge and the City of San Francisco.
Franklin praises the Life Foundation's exterior architecture as crafted by Production Designer Oliver Scholl, with details like grass growing on the roof and solar energy collectors. Says Franklin, "This amazing hive-like building, again replicating the hexagon shape seen in the interior Life Foundation, will include a rocket base that is able to launch a space shuttle. We'll be creating that digitally but then seamlessly integrating into the actual landscape."
To capture as much realism as possible, Franklin's VFX team went out to Marin and photographed all of the environment in great detail. They took VFX surveys so they could recreate the terrain, and shot aerials from helicopters as well. By banking all the real imagery, it allowed the team to build it all out, and bring the bluescreen backdrops used during production to vivid life.
The Sound (And The Fury)
Production Sound Mixer Michael Koff had a particular challenge on the Venom set. With more than forty days during production, and plenty of scenes featuring Venom's voice carrying on an inner dialogue with Eddie, Koff and his sound team needed to create a practical way to make Venom's voice come to life during filming.
Says Koff, "Tom Hardy would spend twenty to thirty minutes with us in sound every morning and go through the scene for that day, reading and recording Venom and all the characters in the scene. Then Tom would go to into Hair and Make-up to get ready for work, and then I and the playback operator would create all of the cues to playback on set for him."
Koff and his team created individual files for the Venom dialogue, adding special effects to the Venom voice to make it sound creepy and slithery. From an earwig in Hardy's ear, they would play the Venom dialogue voice back to him during the scene.
Continues Koff, "By the time Tom walked on the set ready to roll, he felt like he had already rehearsed with the character of Venom talking in his ear." It created an effective on-set reality, in that only Eddie is supposed to hear Venom. The earwig in Hardy's ear meant none of the other actors in any given scene could hear Venom, either.
The set-up was just the apparatus needed to fortify Hardy's performance as the everchanging Eddie Brock. "Every time we were on set and Tom slips on the earwig loaded with the Venom dialogue, there is a certain amount of confidence that comes over Eddie Brock, and Eddie's performance is driven by Venom," says Koff. "Venom's dialogue is pushing the scene in a certain direction, and having the Venom voice live on the set really worked."
Fatal Vision: About The Production
The Look and Photography
Central to the impact Venom would have with audiences was its look, from Eddie's harsh reality to the terrifying nature of Venom's appearance, which necessitated close cooperation between Ruben Fleischer and cinematographer Matthew Libatique about the kind of world they wanted to create on film.
Says Fleischer, "Matty and I talked a lot about different movies in the process of preparing the look for this film, but where we landed is the vibe of an 80s John Carpenter horror movie – very gritty but beautiful, and inspired by comic book panels. And so at every opportunity we tried to really focus on making it look distinctive."
To achieve this tone, strong collaboration was a necessity among all department heads. Fleischer put together a core team consisting of Matthew Libatique, Production Designer Oliver Scholl and Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Franklin. Says Fleischer, "It's a real organic collaboration between our production designer Oliver and our DP Matty to be able to get such an impressive look."
The production's technical apparatus included the best tools available, from the Alexa camera to the use of MoVi and Steadicam rigs, and drone photography achieved with a Gryphon Dynamics Heavy Lifter Drone X8. A three-man crew, consisting of a technician, aerial camera operator, and flyer operated this 55-pound drone, which soared high above the buildings of downtown Atlanta to capture the street night work.
Filming on Venom began with a bang at Blackhall Studios in Atlanta, Georgia. First to go before the cameras were raw scenes on the Eddie's Apartment set, when our symbioteappropriated protagonist first begins transitioning into Venom. Eddie has no clue what is happening to him and isn't cognizant to the strength of his newfound powers.
The windup is a standoff between Eddie and a batch of mercenaries, whose threats lead to a one-on-one fistfighting combat sequence inside the apartment that plays as both compelling action, and a dynamic introduction to the new, symbiote-fortified Eddie, even as the man himself is at a loss to explain his behavior.
Says director Ruben Fleischer, "I always describe that scene as Eddie being puppeteered, like he's a marionette. Venom's the puppet master, and Eddie's like a pawn that he's using to fight these bad guys. It's easy to describe that, but to actually figure out how to realize it was a lot harder. It was upon Tom to figure out how to be in the middle of an action sequence and reacting, as your arm is punching things that he has no idea how it's happening or why his hand's moving."
As this scene is the inaugural appearance of Venom coming out of Eddie, Stunt Coordinator Chris O'Hara and Fight Coordinator Tim Connolly knew this action sequence had to deliver the goods. Equally important to the fight choreography was the subtly humorous inner exchange between Eddie and Venom that would set up the story and take audiences inside Eddie's dilemma. Says Chris O'Hara, "This inner dialogue influenced how the action would play out, and we were always choreographing two sides of any fight with both Eddie and Venom."
Tim Connolly adds that the fight, filmed over two weeks, was painstakingly structured. Says Connolly, "We layered it, and tried pacing it like a choreographed dance. It builds and builds as at first Eddie is not aware what is going on with his body. Then when the first Venom tentacle shoots out at the Mercs, both Eddie and audiences will be equally surprised."
However, an up-close-and-personal fight like this could never be accomplished without a leading man like Tom Hardy, who is up to the task, willing to take risks while delivering a complicated performance. Months before filming started, at his home in London, Hardy entered into a strict Mixed Martial Arts workout regime in order to be fully prepared.
Says O'Hara, "Tom's MMA background is in punching, kicking, throwing pads … and just working out like a madman. All that hard work in the UK definitely paid off for the film. Also his crispness and control, when there is no CGI and it's just one-on-one, is really, really good."
O'Hara clarifies, "It's two-on-one for most of the stunt beats, a little different than a normal fight, as we always have to consider Venom realized in the action. Tom is a man's man and likes to get his hands in there and do the stuff. He has a great stunt double in Jacob Tomuri, but he still wants to do as much as he possible can."
The fight in Eddie's Apartment segues into a hardcore chase sequence outside with Eddie/Venom hopping on a Ducati, and being chased by the "Mercs" in high-powered Jeep Cherokees, as they straddle the steep, unpredictable streets of San Francisco.
The payoff at the end of the action, says Visual Effects Supervisor Paul Franklin, is meeting Venom fully realized for the first time. "This was a really exciting piece to shoot because of seeing how the actors responded to imagining they're seeing Venom on the set because, of course, Venom is completely CGI," says Franklin. "But we are always putting reality in front of the camera. We're never just making it up in the computer. This is driven primarily by the stunts, by the performance, by the amazing special effects, physical effects, the locations, and the sets."
The Second Unit crew, directed by Spiro Razatos, teaming with Stunt Coordinator Andy Gill, got into the nuts and bolts of the motorcycle and car action. Razatos' and Gill's collaboration spans more than twenty years of working together on memorably intense and breathtaking action sequences, including the Fast and Furious franchise and Captain America.
Stuntman Jimmy Roberts, who makes the extreme motorcycle riding in Venom look effortless, bobbed and weaved atop the Ducati Scrambler at high speeds on the streets of Atlanta and San Francisco. Says Roberts, "On Venom I rode over top of cars, got bombs blown off in my face. I had cars sliding around me doing head-ons with diesel trucks, head-ons with cars. I did just about everything. I was ratcheted up in the air around light posts. I did the bulk of the stunts on this whole second unit – it was pretty much a stunt decathlon."
In San Francisco, world renowned Aussie Motorbike Stuntman Robbie Maddison, for his first-ever American film, flew off crests and down 30-degree streets without batting an eye. One of the largest jumps took place on San Francisco's "Bullitt Hill," named after and made famous by the legendary car chase in the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. Nine film cameras rolled on Maddison's expert riding as he achieved air on the Ducati Scrambler the way few others can.
Says Maddison, "I'm just trying to make Eddie look as cool as I can. But, you know, my job is to make the shot look right. So I'm doing what I feel comfortable with. And they say we want it higher, we want you up above the buildings. I'm like let's lift it up." But he's also aware that there's a performance to consider, that Eddie is also scared of what's happened to him. "Venom's taking over. And Eddie's along for the ride!"
The Life Foundation
For production designer Oliver Scholl, a huge fan of Venom who also lent his talents to Sony Pictures' Spider-Man: Homecoming, the chance to work on Venom was a dream come true. Perhaps the project's biggest undertaking, from his end, was how to realize Carlton's Drake's headquarters, which would become the modern, green and imposing Life Foundation set.
For the Life Foundation lab, where extremely unethical and gruesome, deadly testing is done on humans to discover if they're compatible with symbiotes, Scholl created a clinical atmosphere not unlike encountering the updated, disturbing environment for a Stanley Kubrick film.
Glass and reflective surfaces made the space feel perplexing yet buttoned up. Hexagonshaped pods housed the experimented-upon patients. Meanwhile, the hexagon pattern - a type of molecular symbol - repeated itself throughout this maze-like, stark, and sterile space. Hundreds of computer monitors displayed high-end medical testing graphics, and research equipment, specimens, and unidentifiable bottled liquids lined the eerie space.
Says director Ruben Fleischer, "If it's not already clear, Oliver's just a true genius, and everything he does is beyond my wildest imagination. This Life Foundation set is probably the crowning achievement of his work. The one thing that was really important to me is that we have these hexagon-shaped cells, as the logo of the Life Foundation is a hexagon. And so for me having these little pods within the world, in a honeycomb kind of nature, I thought was really cool. And the way he realized that was cooler than I could've ever imagined."
Says Scholl, "We made the scientist environment believable and convincing and real, so it heightens the fun of the fantastical element. The main operating room, with a splayedopen symbiote specimen oozing upon it, added the finishing touches of just how disturbing this lab was."
Scholl and his team had a short prep of two months to bring the Life Foundation lab to life, and they burned the candle at both ends to achieve it. The lab has two modes, the off-hours mode which read very dark, and the work-hours mode, which was well-lit. Says Scholl, "The lab space is so confusing. To me it became like the 1920s' German silent horror film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari. The type of place where anything could happen, and inside a labyrinth you could get lost in."
Fleischer speaks to the set's lighting challenges: "Matty and Oliver worked tirelessly together to figure out how to light the Life Foundation set with all those vertical light stripes. Then we have the different color temperatures between the warmer tungsten and the bluer lights. It creates this really neat balance between the lighting. And then tie that into an anamorphic lens. And the flares that we're able to achieve with some of these bigger lights, like the one behind it, just ends up being super dramatic."
It's during Carlton Drake's testing on the symbiotes inside the Life Foundation lab that one unfortunately gets out: the black one, aka Venom. When Eddie Brock is smuggled into the Life Foundation by whistleblower scientist Dora Skirth, he becomes inhabited by Venom.
Another facet to the Life Foundation set was the Mission Control set, which was built inside a 400,000-square foot industrial warehouse in Peachtree City, Georgia.
"Mission Control is the ultimate scene with Carlton Drake," says Ruben Fleischer. "This is the scene at the end of the movie, when Drake is unhinged. The scale of it all really sells the Life Foundation."
The director's conversations with Oliver Scholl regarding the Mission Control set were heavily influenced by Fleischer's own first-hand visit to the rocket manufacturer and launch facility SpaceX in California. Fleischer saw the Life Foundation Mission Control set as contemporary, modern, and simple. "I think this is actually more impressive than SpaceX Mission Control," jokes Fleischer. "Once again Oliver outdid himself."
The Life Foundation Mission Control featured close to a hundred computer monitors on desks, with a huge 32' rear projection screen with 30,000 lumen projectors triple stacked behind it, showing in real time the happenings to Carlton Drake.
One Life Foundation set calls for a real-world location – the lobby, where Carlton Drake gives a tour to children about all things science, from orbital launch to interstellar chemistry. This scene was shot in the American Cancer Society building in Atlanta, a building designed by well-known neofuturist architect John Portman. Says Oliver Scholl, "The lobby of this building has amazing geometry and curvy transitions, which was perfect for our Life Foundation feel."
A key moment in Venom happens when the symbiotes escape, leading to a bloodbath in a small Malaysian village. Building the village set in the middle of Georgia proved challenging for Production Designer Oliver Scholl and his art department team. This set was the antithesis of the stark, modern Life Foundation set, since the goal was to create an outdoor market scene at night, in all its hustle and bustle.
To accomplish it, Set Decorator Larry Dias and his crew loaded up twenty-five trucks of set decoration materials and transported them to a dirt lot that sat by a bridge in Rex, Georgia. Georgia Power Department helpfully turned off all the street lamps, and then Dias's department team brought in hundreds of traditional night lanterns to illuminate the space.
For weeks beforehand, fresh fish was acquired and stored in three massive industrial freezers, and then removed to be put on display for the shooting day in the different market stalls. Along with the fish was local produce, merchandise for sale, and Malaysian cuisine, prepared and displayed authentically amongst the roaming villagers. Goats and chickens roamed freely in the makeshift village for that extra touch of verisimilitude. Built from scratch, this constructed village became realistically complete with aged mopeds and bicycles. Although a paved road led up to the dirt lot, the art department covered the road with dirt to help fortify the illusion.
The scene required a female paramedic character to limp into the bustling night market, bloodied after being in an ambulance crash. But since she's inhabited by a symbiote, she grabs a live eel from one of the market stalls, and bites its head off.
Says director Ruben Fleischer, "I think the Malaysian village is going to be one of those signature scenes, because the environment is so rich, and there's just a lot of atmosphere that Matthew Libatique and I can use to create mood and tone. It's the first glimpse of the power of the symbiote, and it's a true horror sequence. So we can really lean into that visually and make it as dynamic and visually interesting as we possibly can."
Just prior to the village, one of Carlton Drake's rockets crashes in Malaysia, which allows one of the symbiotes to break out of its canister. The spaceship crash site set was built out in the middle of the woods. The life-size space capsule itself was constructed, sculpted, aged, scorched, and cracked on stage for two months, before being mounted out in the forest.
The greens department, meanwhile, brought in logs and tree roots to make the Crash Site look believable. The finishing touch for this smoldering set were isolated drone lights used to light the sets and give the whole atmosphere a creepy vibe. Fuselage from the spaceship crash was created and strewn all over the forest.
Other Sets and Props
The MRI Room in the hospital where Dr. Dan works is where the audience gets vivid confirmation that Eddie is not himself: the MRI's loud noise causes an adverse reaction in Eddie – as in symbiotes – and in a fit resembling schizophrenic behavior, Eddie even attacks Dr. Dan.
For the MRI Room set, production designer Oliver Scholl wanted something that wasn't so bland, so he installed a huge LED screen that projected a calming illustrated image of landscapes and water, the complete opposite to what happens in the two different disturbing MRI scenes.
Regarding the second MRI scene, Michelle Williams says, "At this point in the story, Anne is fully aware of who Venom is. But what she wasn't aware of then is that Venom is actually eating Eddie, destroying Eddie from the inside out. And so she knows that these two have to be separated. Her boyfriend, Dr. Dan, however, hasn't been clued in yet, so Dan's in for the shock of his life."
Reid Scott, who plays Dr. Dan, says his character is a practical guy thrown backwards by the thing inside Eddie. "It's kind of a sweet moment," notes Scott, "and I tried to play it as though he's a kid seeing Santa Claus; but Santa's really hideous and could rip your throat out at any second."
Other sets include the interior of Anne's apartment, which was built at Blackhall Studios, and Mrs. Chen's grocery store from Eddie's neighborhood, which was created in downtown Atlanta with the help of art department signage to help the area feel like Chinatown. Ziggy, Eddie's next-door neighbor, had an apartment whose look came straight out of the Haight-Ashbury era, complete with psychedelic posters and magic mushrooms growing on the window sill.
For exteriors that gave the visual flavor of San Francisco, the main unit and second unit both traveled to the city by the bay, each crew spending a week filming everything from action sequences to dialogue scenes. Locations included North Beach, Russian Hill, The Tenderloin, The Financial District, and the Embarcadero.
When it came to the props that added essential detail to every scene, Property Master Josh Roth was on the case. Roth had the responsibility of creating everything from the Life Foundation high tech lab equipment to the gross, gooey and dead yellow and blue symbiotes. Not only did Roth work on these high concept props, but he and his team made every tiny detail come to life in the film, from the Life Foundation employee ID badges, to the "Merc" vests, to the graphics on all of the tablets inside the Life Foundation.
For the symbiote canisters first seen being removed from the crashed spaceship, Roth researched actual NASA and space equipment and modified them to work for the film. Five canisters were made in total, from a simple canister that doesn't open to a high tech one that opens up and has three speeds. All of the canisters were aged for the spaceship crash scene, and then cleaned up for the Life Foundation lab scenes.
Roth collaborated closely with Costume Designer Kelli Jones to design and create the Life Foundation logo on any clothes and vehicles that were used as props. The team was especially proud of the creepy vibe created by the steel restraint chair featured inside the Life Foundation, when Eddie is captured by Carlton Drake. Atop the operating table, the props department designed the aftermath of the dead yellow symbiote autopsy, split open so its insides are visible, and also the blue symbiote left on the floor after it destroys yet another human life.
At the heart of Costume Designer Kelli Jones' work on Venom was creating a clear delineation between the two worlds of Eddie Brock: the one when he is a successful journalist in a relationship, and the one when Eddie's life plummets.
Says Jones, "Eddie wears a lot of neutrals, natural fabrics, and cottons. I gave him a beatup brown leather jacket to show he is earthy, and not so stylish. Eddie's messy jeans paired with a boxing boot just worked. The shoes were such a quirky and weird choice. It's a white boot with black and red."
For Riz Ahmed as Carlton Drake, a wealthy new-tech visionary, Jones did her research. Says Jones, "Drake is a billionaire, so we had to look at billionaires today and realized they all basically have one look -- clean and sharp, whether they are in a turtleneck and a blazer or a tie and shirt."
Capturing that difference between Eddie's struggling existence and Carlton Drake's power, was paramount. "Eddie lives in the opposite world from Carlton Drake," says Jones. "When you see them together it is a stark difference that explains so much right away."
Many of the clothes for the film were created from scratch, the flight suit for the spaceship crash scene being no exception. Jones didn't want to just rent a NASA suit, and budget/time constraints prevented such an option, anyway. So she created thirty illustrations of flight suits for director Ruben Fleischer. Fleischer then picked one design, and Jones made the suit in three different fabrics until the hero suit was decided upon.
Also created intentionally from scratch were the Life Foundation lab coats. All of the coats were custom-made, more form-fitting, and with slightly sharper lapels. The Life Foundation security uniforms have a modified collar with the same edges as the company logo. Say Jones, "All of the employees that worked inside the Life Foundation have very distinct looks created just for them. They blended together nicely to create a sterile, inaccessible, and somewhat intimidating work environment. This was all very intentional."
The most populous sequence for Jones to outfit was the one in the Malaysian village, for which Jones and her team dressed over sixty villagers, muting and distressing everyone's wardrobe.
Venom boasted a first-rate picture car coordinator in Sean Ryan, who supervised and sourced all of the moving vehicles in the film. One of the biggest vehicles was the MRAP, which stands for Mine Resistance Ambush Personnel. This beast of a vehicle was built for the Iraq war and not available for use outside of the military.
In Venom, the black matte with dark grey interior MRAP securely carries the symbiotes into the Life Foundation. Ryan and his team modified the vehicle with fake doors and body, and transferred the engine to run on peanut oil. The fiberglass body version crafted by Ryan and his team made the MRAP easier to maneuver, since a real MRAP weighs more than 10,000 pounds.
Also heavily featured in Venom are the Dodge Jeep Cherokees SRT driven by Carlton Drakes "Mercs." These vehicles normally run on 480 horsepower, but Ryan and his team kicked it up a notch to 707 horsepower, so they could sustain the high action chase sequences.
Twelve of these matte black Jeeps were used in the chase sequences, and by the end of filming all twelve were destroyed. Says Sean, "We converted the Jeeps from all-wheel drive to two-wheel drive and tested them like crazy to make sure they were safe and up to the action tasks at hand."
Prominently displayed as well is the Ducati Icon Scrambler motorcycle, which is Eddie Brock's preferred ride of choice. Says Ryan, "You know what, the Ducati Icon Scrambler, it's a little bit of a sport bike. And so you can kick it around. It's light and nimble."
Six bikes were used throughout filming, each one tricked out in matte paint. Regarding shooting with the Ducati in San Francisco, Ryan says, "We had several stunts that we've shot here on second unit with the Ducati racing around. We have it jumping hills. We have it sometimes getting seven, eight feet off the ground. We have some shots that were twenty, twenty-five feet off the ground. The bike held up great. We never had one problem with it. And we were very thankful for that."
Ryan was pleased that the key Ducati stunt scenes were able to be captured where the film takes place. "We do everything we can in more available streets in cities like Atlanta, where the majority of our shooting was. But the hills, you're not going to get it anywhere but San Francisco. You're not going to get this iconic background anywhere but here."
Other vehicles Ryan sourced and had modified for filming were Dora Skirth's blue Volvo 560, a perfect choice for a scientist, the Toyota Prius seen when Eddie Brock first sees himself in a reflection of the window as Venom, and many of the vehicles featured in the Malaysia sequence, from the ambulance to mopeds to mini trucks, and many others.
What's A Symbiote?
Symbiotes are highly intelligent life forms, not simply blobs of goo. They can withstand different temperatures and are completely adaptable aliens.
When symbiotes take over a host, they're absorbed through the skin, liquefying and traveing through the membrane of the skin to get inside and effectively bond to the central nervous system, distributing itself across the spinal cord and major nerve junctions in the host body. It then expresses itself again back through the skin to form a shell around the human body.
Each symbiote only has the ability to merge with certain people, similar to the specificities that dictate organ transplants. It needs to find the right match. In this story Eddie and Venom are one such perfect match.
When a symbiote inhabits a human, it eats the human from the inside. For the human to survive, the symbiote eventually needs to be extracted.
In Venom the symbiotes have their own plan, as they have allowed themselves to be captured and brought back to earth, so they can scout it out, and see if it's a suitable place for them to come in mass, go on a merging spree, and perpetuate their kind.
In the Venom film, there are four symbiotes: the black Venom symbiote, a blue symbiote, a yellow symbiote, and a silver symbiote called Riot. The Riot symbiote inhabits Carlton
Drake, and in the climax of the film, Venom and Riot go head to head in a battle only symbiotes could endure.
Release Date: October 4th, 2018