Reaping's Actual Shoot
In “The Reaping,” the character of Katherine Winter, played by Hilary Swank, is based on real-life skeptics and scientists that take on unnatural occurrences and miracles.
Idea of Miracles
All over the world, people are drawn to the idea of miracles, producer Silver comments. Even when scientists try to explain them away, it usually fails to dissuade the faithful. Its all part of the classic struggle between science and the will to believe.
Director Hopkins' Take
Stephen Hopkins likewise plunged into the world of miracle debunking. I met one gentleman who has debunked 60 or 70 miracles in his life, and he works as a professor of theology, says the director. He told me about his experiences going around the world. Hed seen a lot of things he could explain, but there were some things that he couldnt. I think its an extraordinary type of character: someone who is obsessed with finding out the truth of whether these miracles exist or not.
Conveying Plagues Visually
In a film that deals with the ten plagues of Exodus, the filmmakers sought to juxtapose the supernatural with a very real, believable world. Hopkins worked with his longtime collaborator, cinematographer Peter Levy, to give the visuals the immediacy of a television news report. We decided to approach it in a photo-journalistic style, Hopkins says, which I think suits the way Hilary Swanks character sees the world. She is very straightforward and evidence-driven, so I wanted this movie to have a very realistic feel to it.
In the first plague, the river turns to blood. It is red, yes, but its also full of dead fish and scum and looks polluted, like it could have been caused by an accident at a chemical plant, or something, Hopkins describes.
The nine plagues that follow are frogs, flies, diseased livestock, lice, boils, locusts, darkness, fire from the sky, and the final plague: death of the firstborn.
Day of the Locusts
For the locusts, Hopkins wanted the sequence to convey the same feel as war footage shot by news cameras in the midst of a firefight. The cameraman would be hiding behind a wall, so you only see certain things that happen, he describes. Theres dust everywhere, and you can zoom in on certain things and certain people. I used that approach with the locusts, where you feel like youre amongst them. I have locusts splattering on the lens and things like that, so it appears accidental, but actually it takes a long time to make it look that way.
The practical use of live locusts had a chilling effect on the entire cast and crew, all except young actress AnnaSophia Robb, who was required to interact with them on camera. They were brought in a cage, Robb recalls, and for practice, to get me used to them, the insect wrangler would put them on my shoulders and knees. I held them and got used to picking them up. Theyd put them on me at any given moment and I couldnt flinch. Sometimes they even threw them on me and I had to be calm and still. Theyre my friends now. I named a few of them; my favorites are: Big Boy Bob, Gloria and Elvis. Theyre kind of scary looking, but unless youre a piece of lettuce or something green, they wont hurt you.
Practical footage was then enhanced with computer-generated imagery supervised by Richard Yuricich, whose credits include the classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, among numerous other projects. We were lucky in that we had a master of visual effects, Hopkins attests, one of the founders of digital film, in fact. Richard is a legend.
Hopkins did not want to stray from Levys earthy photography, so Yuricich worked directly with the negative rather than shooting separate effects plates. It was a fun film for me because traditionally Im involved in photographing elements independently and then compositing that footage with the live action footage, Yuricich explains. For this film, we treated the first element the original negative and tried to be as photo-real as possible in telling the story with these visuals.
Its a challenge these days because studios are turning out movies faster and faster, and you want to make sure you get the CGI effects just right, adds co-producer Mirisch, especially in a movie like this one that has such a photo-realistic style.
Grounding the Supernatural
For all involved, it was important to ground the supernatural elements of The Reaping into the very real notions of faith and the loss of faith. The film is about faith and spirituality, but its also about how, in any community, the theological power of religion can grow out of proportion, concludes Hopkins. As on any personal journey, spirituality and religion can enlighten youbut they can also be used to control people. I think the film deals with that duality in a big way.
On Location in Louisiana
To find the ideal setting for the story, the filmmakers turned their sights on Louisiana. Louisiana is an extraordinary place with such beautiful architecture, Hopkins says, and it still has a bit of mystery to it. We needed that for Haven, which is modern-day but still pretty cut off from the rest of the world.
Locations manager Peter Novak led the filmmakers to their Haven–St. Francisville (population 1,712), a town, he says, with beautiful scenery, a collection of spectacular Victorian homes, and a community of cool, eclectic people. Atmospherically, Silver adds, the place was perfect with its crumbling plantation homes, swamps, deep woods…
The towns history even lent itself to the story. Hopkins explains, It was destroyed by floods about 120 years ago. There are lots of photos in the town museum, and we saw pictures of these places all underwater. After the town was destroyed, everything was moved up on top of a hill away from the swamps, and I thought, I wonder if people lost faith living in those times So, we modeled our town of Haven after St. Francisville.
The local communities were welcoming and generous, but nature was another matter. The summer heat, which Hopkins admits, could be staggering at times, nevertheless worked to create a rich on-screen mood. Shooting was proceeding on schedule, with every element locked firmly in placeand then Hurricane Katrina struck.
Herb Gains, who had been on location earlier in the summer and faced a similar hurricane threat, had already devised an evacuation plan with the Head of Safety at Warner Bros. When it was obvious the storm was coming our way, we got 120 people out, Gains remembers. We were the last flight out of Baton Rouge. But we left a few people there on the ground just to monitor events and help get things restored in the event we were able to come back.
Only two weeks after Katrina, Hurricane Rita posed another seriousbut thankfully short-livedthreat to the production. The locations had sustained mostly minor damage from both events, but many on the crew had suffered personal losses. Gains recalls, The first day back was quite emotional. People were breaking down. But I think the general sense was that staying and being a part of the regions recovery effort was the right thing to do.
These people define Southern hospitality; they were so welcoming and generous to us, Swank offers. They just opened their arms to us. Obviously, being here through two hurricanes and seeing the mass devastation that it had on this state was heartbreaking but also inspiring. To see these people lose their homes, lose family members, lose virtually everything, you are reminded of whats important: Im alive. Well rebuild. It was amazing to see these things unfold. We were all so grateful. It was strange to be working on a film that has so much to do with Gods work, adds Gains, and then be faced with Gods work in a very real way.
In the center of the productions base in St. Francisville, acclaimed production designer Graham Grace Walker supervised the installation of a gas station, mortuary and barber shop. We found this little crossroads with two existing buildings and we built onto it, he describes. Id never been to the South before and I just loved everything I saw, especially this great town.
Whether designing for a small southern town, a gothic plantation, catacombs beneath an ancient site, or a desert in Africa, Walker and his team of artisans sought to adhere to the realism that colored every aspect of the film. Walker credits location manager Novak with helping to discover so many richly authentic sites for the film. A place we called Dougs plantation was one of my favorites, he says. Its an old, antebellum hometremendous place. I loved it. The set was fitting for a thriller drenched with mystery and surprise. Novak also found an old homestead on the swamp to serve as the McConnell house.
Oscar-nominated costume designer Jeffrey Kurland (Bullets Over Broadway) worked with Walker and Hopkins to create a moody palette for the films costumes. I chose tones that were very muted, he notes. Theres a patina to everything. I wanted to suggest a feeling of antiquity; everything looks worn and well aged and washed out, since one of the messages in the movie is that theres a past to everything.
The Women's Clothes
For Katherine, I chose the style of tailored, workaday clothes, he continues. For Loren, we made a single dress for a girl a little younger than her age to support the plot. Slightly small and tight on her, the dress was aged to show the wear of the five days living in the woods that she endured.
Elbas character, a former street kid who had sustained eight bullet wounds, has an abiding faith in Godone that is expressed, in part, through his tattoos. Stephen and I discussed extensively where we were going to place them, Elba says. And this guy has lots. In some scenes, only a few may be visible because of the clothing I wear. So those maybe took an hour and a half in the morning. But it would take a full day for the one on my back, which is a huge Jesus looking over a bridge. That one took a bit of patience.
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