THE HOLLYWOODS OF HOLLYWOODLAND
The phrase "Hollywoodland," from which Hollywoodland takes its title, was the original lettering on the world-famous Hollywood Sign; the letters were later nipped-and-tucked to "Hollywood" as the town's world-famous image evolved.
Even for a place that alternately - and sometimes simultaneously - reveres and destroys its own past, the Hollywood of the early 1950s was very different from the one later in the decade. The sense of traditional formality and innocence gave way to a more modernist and casual approach; this was reflected in entertainment, fashion, and architecture. Because Hollywoodland transitions within the decade, close attention to detail and constant collaboration were essential for Allen Coulter and his crew members; among them, cinematographer Jonathan Freeman, production designer Leslie McDonald, and costume designer Julie Weiss.
Coulter remarks, "Jonathan was extraordinary at giving different looks to the two time periods. His camera is more formal and restrained in showing George Reeves' Hollywood, with more saturated color. In Louis Simo's Hollywood, the color seems to have been leached away by the harshness of the California sun. To emphasize that, we shot at an exposure that feels almost too hot, and with more restless and unsettled camera movement."
Adrien Brody comments, "Allen would shoot Simo's scenes at a fast pace, which I was used to from a lot of the independent films that I've done. It kept us on our toes, but Jonathan was always ready with the kind of style and energy that a particular scene needed."
Coulter adds, "The Hollywood in which Simo resides is increasingly characterized by informality, physical and otherwise. George came of age in a Hollywood where an air of elegance was the order of the day. People carried themselves with a certain formality and even, one might say, dignity. We made this contrast explicit in several other creative choices. Reeves' world has live bands playing standards and jazz in clubs and restaurants; Simo's has radios, record players, and jukeboxes playing rock-and-roll.
"Further, George's life plays out in relative quiet - the light whoosh of the ocean, broken only by the sound of a distant jazz band; the silence in a room where he and Toni discuss their future - while Simo's life unfolds amidst relentless cacophony."
Reflecting on how any filmmaking team making a period movie must first take into account what the audience will see, Coulter states, "We intentionally avoided postcard shots, the types where it's, 'we've paid all this money to rent these period cars and costumes, let's show them.' We wanted to make it look real; we had great cars and wardrobe and then looked past them. I was constantly saying, 'Don't let the cars be clean,' unless it was at the funeral or Mannix estate sequences...
"In terms of landmarks like Ciro's and the Cocoanut Grove, we attempted to catch and re-create the feel of them. Is our Ciro's architecturally the same? No. But we reproduced the light, the lamps, the way people dressed when they were there - and I believe the vibe is accurate. We were as truthful as we could be to the essence of these places."
McDonald offers, "A lot of those places don't exist any more, so we were trying to capture what their environments were like. I can't imagine what it was like to get dressed up every night and go to nightclubs like that every night, but George and these people did it. Allen was very specific about certain things, like color palettes. Julie, Jonathan, and I all talked with Allen about that.
"For Simo, we had to find a location for an apartment building in Hollywood. We wanted something that, like Simo himself, has some edges and angles. It was difficult to find in today's Hollywood, but we found this place down in Long Beach where it's like time has stopped; interestingly enough, the place had a pool that was shaped like a coffin. It was perfect, because we also wanted to make sure that the minute you saw his environment, you sense that he's blown it with his wife."
The seven-week filming schedule for Hollywoodland also included location shooting at Hancock Park and Parkwood Estates. The latter, the former home of General Motors Canada founder Sam McLaughlin, became the Mannixes' Hollywood mansion because it afforded a rare and completely intact representation of a vanished postwar era.
The party where Reeves and Toni first meet was filmed atop a 1930s department store which had recently been restored to its former glory.
Glenn Williamson marvels, "On the set one day, I was shocked to see all the women extras wearing gloves, but - that was what people wore in those days; it was all very formal. Diane Lane is already so beautiful in person, but from the first wardrobe test, she was just transformed - the hair, the plucked eyebrows, the clothes..."
Lane muses, "The glamour of actors and Hollywood was so exclusive to that time. There is none of that left any more, which is a shame, and all the more reason for why it's appreciated for what it was.
"Every department on this movie put their best efforts and energy into re-creating the era, and it shows. Although I think it was more because they were responding to the story and to Allen's wonderful direction, rather than just because it was a movie about Hollywood. Certainly, Julie Weiss and her department outdid themselves with the costumes and wardrobe."
Weiss, the film's two-time Academy Award-nominated costume designer, had tracked the project for two years. She elaborates, "I wanted to be a part of this film. It reminds people that we applaud an idol and we leave, and we forget to come back - and the person is still standing onstage. We can be much kinder to the people who have helped us dream than we were to George Reeves. The people in Hollywoodland are on a road of finding out who they are, and it was a time when the city itself was growing, too; orange trees were coming down, and houses were going up. Growing up in L.A. myself, I know that you can either acknowledge the process of getting there, or pretend you're where you wished you would have been.
"My responsibility was to help the actors find that one little thing so they become the people they're playing; the moment when the costume becomes clothing for them. It ceases to be dress-up, and audiences watch them move and feel that they have a bridge back in time. Hopefully, when you watch the film, you won't be able to tell what has been made and what has been borrowed."
Bob Hoskins confides, "All my costumes were the genuine articles, from the period; it was wonderful! I was wearing things Edward G. Robinson might have worn, you never know..."
BEHIND THE SCENES
Having long been preparing to direct Hollywoodland as his first feature, Allen Coulter reports, "When I came on the set every day, I knew every shot, start to finish. That didn't mean it didn't change - constantly!"
Screenwriter Paul Bernbaum says, "The choice of Allen to direct was one that I was thrilled about - even more so, after we met. We kept in touch throughout the filming, and I spent a few days on the set with him. He's smart as hell, very thoughtful, and a terrific director."
Producer Glenn Williamson adds, "Having worked on this project for so long, I couldn't be happier to see things come together the way they did. I've worked with a lot of filmmakers, and Allen knew what he wanted - but he also knew how important it was that he create an atmosphere on the set where people are comfortable and feel like they can do their best work possible. This was especially true of our gifted group of actors."
Coulter says, "I like the process of trying to figure out together with the actors who the characters are, and how we can make them believable.
"I started sending Ben Affleck materials on George Reeves as soon as he agreed to do the film. He watched a hell of a lot more of the Adventures of Superman episodes than I did. We found a tape of Reeves speaking as himself, not in-character. Ben was fascinated by that, and would listen on-set to that tape or to excerpts from Reeves' movies or television shows. He'd do that right before we'd start shooting. He learned Reeves' voice, posture, and manner."
Affleck admits, "I did more research for this movie than any I've ever done, and spent a lot of time preparing. I put on about 20 pounds; there was a lot of, 'I'll go to bed in a minute, but just let me eat this pizza first...' Now, in making a movie, you get start-of-production gifts, and on this shoot we fortunately got iPods, so I was able to create an audio database of clips of George's voice. This was to try to immerse myself in listening to George. I also watched all 104 episodes of Adventures of Superman, and his movie work. It was all so inspiring to see because he was such a good actor, very natural and winning.
"He played Clark Kent and Superman so well and with such enthusiasm, because he understood that the show was about the audience being in on the secret identity with his character that the other characters weren't in on. While George felt undignified wearing the costume, for me, working with Allen on re-creating the Superman scenes was a lot of fun."
Coulter confirms, "Ben loved wearing the costume, dressing as Clark Kent, and improvising in-character as Reeves in those scenes; we knew from talking to Jack Larson that Reeves was a big cut-up on the set."
Stunt coordinator Matt Birman adds, "Ben did all his own wire work, including on our re-creation of the true-life incident on the set when the wires snapped at either the rigging or his harness, and Reeves fell 8-10 feet to the ground. He was okay - but he never got on the wires again."
In praising Leslie McDonald and her staff for their work re-creating the show's Daily Planet set, Coulter says, "Excepting to those aficionados who knew where every pencil lay, we've come pretty damn close in our accuracy."
McDonald clarifies, "That set did change over the course of the show's run, so we did have to make some decisions about what was important. It was definitely fun to re-create the bad painting of the Brooklyn Bridge behind the Perry White character!"
Many of the members of visual effects supervisor Dennis Berardi's team wanted to be part of Hollywoodland because, he notes, "We have artists here who are fans of the Superman comic book and of the original television series."
To re-create Adventures of Superman's earlier-years black-and-white opening-title sequence, Berardi reveals that "we decided that the best thing to do was to shoot Ben against a green screen, and everything in color; that gave us the latitude to digitally match the old footage in post-production. Getting reacquainted with some of the basic film techniques from back then was a fascinating process."
An even bigger challenge for the actor and the effects team was placing Reeves in-character in original From Here to Eternity footage - in the same frame as the film's star Burt Lancaster. Berardi says, "We shot Ben against a green screen, giving him a proper eye line and working very carefully under a matched camera angle. We had Burt's lines being played into an earpiece for Ben, and he'd act out Reeves' lines as if Burt were in the shot with him. He did a fantastic job."
The effects team also had to frame the footage for its context in Hollywoodland, wherein From Here to Eternity is projected in a movie theater. Berardi points out, "Movies used to be shot in a different aspect ratio than they are today, so we had to figure out the lenses to use and to work out the geometry of the scene in order that it look right."
Another, more physically ambitious sequence was the one in which Reeves makes a promotional appearance in-costume at a "frontier town" for an audience of children. Birman remarks, "It was fun doing traditional Western stunt work, and to work with kids and horses. But in the movie itself, it's a scary and bittersweet sequence, because in real life, it's what prompted Reeves to have a gun in his house."
To shoot the sequence, over 100 children were cast and then assembled as extras on location. In a nearby tent, costume designer Julie Weiss and her staff dressed each child in vintage period wear; when one child made it over to the set without having taken off her very modern bracelet, Weiss caught the slip-up before it could get on-camera. She reflects, "You could say, 'It doesn't matter.' But it does matter. Those of us who remember the day that 'Superman' died knew that he should never have died. We were too young to grieve, and too young to be heard.
"So, being part of Hollywoodland was very exciting for me. I felt that Ben became George Reeves; when he'd talk to me on the set, it would be in George's voice."
Bernbaum comments, "All of the actors in the movie have come through with great work. Hopefully audiences will agree, and will also give another actor - George Reeves - the respect he always craved."
Williamson says, "We'd like audiences watching our movie to get more of an understanding of who George Reeves was as a person and, through Simo's story, be moved to take stock of what's good in their own lives."
Coulter notes, "You could say that Hollywoodland attempts to combine two contradictory elements; the air of nostalgia and the emphatic nature of the here and now. But I hope we've expressed how the challenges and self-discovery that George Reeves and Louis Simo face still affect us in our own day and age. I believe anyone can relate to our film's story; like George, with his dreams of stardom, and Simo, with his drive to be a player, we all live in Hollywoodland."
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
ALLEN COULTER (Director)
Hollywoodland is the first feature film directed by Allen Coulter. He has been nominated four times for a Directors Guild of America Award, twice apiece for respective episodes of The Sopranos and Sex and the City.
The Sopranos has also earned him several Emmy Award nominations, both as the director of individual episodes and as one of the producers of the series. In the latter capacity, he shared a Golden Globe Award when the show was honored as Best TV Series [Drama].
Mr. Coulter was also an Emmy Award nominee for his direction of a Budweiser commercial, one of several he has helmed. His additional television credits include directing several installments of Millennium; episodes of Rome, Six Feet Under, Prince Street (on which he first worked with Hollywoodland director of photography Jonathan Freeman), and The X-Files; and the pilot episode of the miniseries Kingpin.
Previously, he wrote, directed, and produced the award-winning short film The Hobbs Case; and directed the CableACE Award-nominated short film The Secret Life of Mary Margaret, which starred Calista Flockhart.
Mr. Coulter was born and raised in Texas. He began his industry career by working as a messenger for a small NYC production company.
PAUL BERNBAUM (Screenplay)
Hollywoodland is the first feature film screenplay for Paul Bernbaum to be produced.
He most recently sold a pitch to Universal Pictures, Counter-Clockwise, which he will write as an original screenplay; Jennifer Aniston is slated to produce and star in the film.
Mr. Bernbaum is also scripting several features currently in development, including The Warden, with HBO Films; Wild Ride, at Misher Films.
RETURN TO MAIN MENU