THE LOOK, FEEL, LOCATIONS AND THE INSPIRATION FOR HALF LIGHT…
The autumn of 2004 saw eight weeks of principal photography commence on writer/director Craig Rosenberg's romantic thriller Half Light starring Demi Moore. Locations in the south-west of England, north Wales and London played host to the production, with interiors being shot at London's Ealing Studios.
The feel of the movie is eerie and atmospheric, so the look and locations needed to mirror that. When protagonist Rachel (Demi Moore), a highly successful mystery novelist decides to rent a cottage in a remote Scottish fishing village after the tragic death of her young son, she becomes haunted by the past and events that unfold begin to affect the community as a whole.
"We investigated a variety of possible locations" says Australian-born writer/director Craig Rosenberg, "we even looked at Nova Scotia at one point. We were after a very specific look and had very specific location requirements in terms of the plot because a lighthouse plays a key role in the film and we needed certain other locations to be available to us close to the lighthouse. Combining all of these factors was difficult and above all, I was looking for a place with a bleak beauty to it".
The stark but eerie beauty that Rosenberg was searching for was soon found in the furthest, most northerly tip of Wales on the island of Ynys Llandwynn, situated off the coast of Anglesey. A remote area of wild, unspoilt natural beauty, the wide stretches of beach, the rugged terrain and the all-important lighthouse made the island a perfect choice visually, but the shoot itself was certainly a challenge for the production. Nature has no respect for a shooting schedule! "We shot from September until November in very difficult conditions" explains Rosenberg, "we shot in Wales first and then for a while in Cornwall, but it was the wind and rain in Wales that was the challenge. It's given the film a unique, dramatic, windswept look which is great. It was quite an experience… I'm not sure I'd want to go through it again, but when you look at the footage, you forget what was happening behind the camera and just see what you've captured".
"It wasn't the rain or the cold that were a challenge for us" observes Demi Moore, "it was the winds that would get up to between twenty-five and fifty knots at any given time. For the locals it was just a common part of their everyday environment. But the whole area where we were shooting was beautiful and shooting there was very good for the overall mood of the film".
Actor Hans Matheson who plays Angus the lighthouse keeper who develops a bond with Rachel, embraced the wild weather conditions wholeheartedely, "My family are from Scotland and that kind of weather inspires me and lights my heart, because there's something so amazing about the sea when it's so wild and when the wind's blowing in that way". Matheson auditioned for Half Light in LA but was happy to swap the permanent sunshine for the wildness of Wales, "I was in LA for three days and just thought it was too sunny in every way for me. I couldn't see myself being there for long - I couldn't wait to put my rain coat back on, so when I landed back home it was raining and I found myself smiling. I love the sun too, but I need the seasons. I think the weather must have been difficult for Demi at first, but she's a strong person and I think she loved being out there in the end - the wild west coast of Wales made a change from LA".
Rosenberg originally penned Half Light a few years ago, but put the project on hold, whilst he took on a number of other writing assignments, including the English-language version of the Korean supernatural thriller A Tale of Two Sisters for Dreamworks. "I've always enjoyed ghost stories and thrillers" explains Rosenberg. His love of films in the thriller genre like The Wicker Man inspired Rosenberg, "I liked the idea of someone travelling to an isolated village and succumbing to feelings of paranoia and fear. So, I put those ideas together and came up with Half Light"
As with all good thriller writers, Rosenberg is keen to keep an air of mystery about the twists and turns of the plot, "Demi plays Rachel Carlson, a successful mystery novelist living in London. At the beginning of the film, her son drowns in a canal at the back of the family home in Primrose Hill. Her marriage falls under great strain as a result of his tragic death and she finds she's unable to write . She travels to a cottage near a remote fishing village in Scotland and tries to gain some inspiration to write again. She soon immerses herself in village life and the local people, and in particular, with the lighthouse keeper who lives on an island a couple of miles off-shore from her cottage. Suddenly it seems she may be receiving warning messages from her dead son… That's all I'm saying!" teases Rosenberg
Hollywood star Moore boarded Half Light around five months before production commenced. Craig Rosenberg was interested in Moore's career trajectory and feels that her decision to shun the Hollywood life for a few years to raise her three daughters in Idaho, is one of the reason why Half Light appealed to her, "She's devoted to her kids and that part of her life was interesting, because she plays a mother in Half Light and the mother's connection to her child is an essential component to the story. She's had a very strong persona in the films she's made most recently - GI Jane and Charlie's Angels, whilst she had a touch of vulnerability about her in the films made earlier in her career like Ghost. Her character in Half Light has both of those attributes. She worked well because I needed an actress who could display vulnerability and a sense of fortitude and strength, as she tries to regain control of her life after this tragic event".
"Demi was always very high on our short-list of actresses. She was a natural for this so we pursued her agressively" says producer Joel B. Michaels. Casting the male lead opposite Moore also needed delicate balance, as Michaels explains, "We tested a number of actors, then flew Hans Matheson to LA where we tested him with Demi. Craig and I just looked at each other and we knew that was it. Demi was thrilled. I think Hans is a big movie star waiting to happen".
Casting Rachel's son Thomas was certainly a challenge for producer Michaels and Rosenberg, "We were a couple of weeks away from shooting and had seen lots of kids, but were beginning to despair as none of them were quite right" explains Rosenberg. "Then Beans Balawi breezed in, shook my hand, introduced himself and stole the audition. A lot of the kids were very shy, but Beans was just brimming with confidence. He's actually pretty experienced for a seven year-old - he's been in a couple of movies now, done some TV and quite a few commercials. He's something of a veteran for someone of such a tender age!"
Rosenberg is a huge fan of what's increasingly seen as the golden age of post-war cinema - the late 1960's and early 1970's in both the UK and Hollywood, when films broke free from formula and achieved a mixture of style and plot. As screenwriter as well as director, he was able to mould the plot to achieve that essence as well as tapping into the talent of cinematographer Ashley Rowe, BSC and production designer Don Taylor, to create an atmospheric and tense look and feel. "There are a number of discreet homages to Don't Look Now, which is definitely a favourite film of mine. Rosemary's Baby and Cul de Sac are other reference points as they suggest a strong sense of tension and are deeply haunting".
GENERAL PRODUCTION INFORMATION
Immediately prior to the start of principal photography in Wales in early September 2004, director Craig Rosenberg spent a week rehearsing with the actors at London's Ealing Studios.
"Spending time together rehearsing is really important" explains actor Hans Matheson, "when you're playing opposite one another you have to break through barriers that sometimes take years in friendships to get through. You have to get there very quickly with other actors, so you have to learn to open up and be vulnerable, because it really shows on screen. The way that you look at somebody, will show on screen whether or not you've allowed yourself to open up, particularly when you're doing love scenes - you really have to lay yourself on the line. Demi is a very giving person with a fierce intelligence as well, she knows what she wants and she brings an extra layer to Rachel. I think she understood what that character was feeling at that time in her life, not necessarily because of the tragedy of losing her son, but just the isolation and the loneliness and I think we can all relate to that somewhere".
The multi-layered nature of the plot and the twists within the storyline also meant the actors needed to get in touch with the subtleties and create a balance. Hans Matheson talks about the challenge that posed, "When I first read the script, I was quite shocked - I started reading the scenes with Angus and Rachel and thought it was going to be a love story. As I read on, there were so many twists and turns, I didn't know whether it was a thriller or a love story and I was intrigued and couldn't wait to find the conclusion. Bringing that to life has been a really different experience and I've found the subtleties that make it work were a big challenge for me. You're almost playing three or four different characters, so you have to find a balance and make sure you're not giving too much away, but you're also giving enough for the audience to understand what kind of character you are".
Once the film unit were up and running in Anglesey, North Wales principal photography commenced on the island of Ynys Llandwynn, an area of breathtaking and raw natural beauty. The island's wide, sweeping beach and its lighthouse were the key locations for filming and being open to the elements wasn't the only challenge for cast and crew as Hans Matheson explains, "I love horse-riding, I've done it many times and I'm not afraid of it, but I wouldn't call myself a great rider and the scenes Demi and I did on the beach were certainly an experience - a painful experience! We had to ride bareback and a horse's vertebrae are pretty big - Demi and I were on the horse together and she sat behind me, but I sat on its vertebrae bouncing up and down and it was really painful. I want to have kids one day and I don't think that experience did my tackle much good! It must have been funny watching the rushes seeing me bouncing and grimacing. Saddles are definitely a necessity for my next role that entails riding!"
Aside from the pain and the fact that they nearly fell off a few times, Matheson was glad they decided against stunt doubles and found it an amazing experience, "It was enjoyable because the beach was stunning , it was a beautiful sunset and its those moments that make this job so worthwhile. How many people get the opportunity to horse ride bareback on a beach like that with Demi Moore?!"
The wild sweeping landscape called for wild horses during the scenes described by Matheson, so the horses, supplied by horse master Steve Dent, were allowed to roll around and have a great time in the build up to shoot. They weren't groomed so they appeared more shaggy and even had mane extensions to make them appear even more wild.
Although exteriors of the lighthouse were shot on the island, amazing sets for the interior of the lighthouse were built at Ealing Studios and the studio's tank was also used for two days of underwater work and close-up scenes featuring Demi Moore, "It's pretty tricky shooting this stuff in the water" says Moore, "the movement obviously makes it difficult, but it's a lot more controllable in the tank as opposed to being out in the natural elements".
North Wales served as the location for the village, Finlay's cottage and the lighthouse and Cornwall doubled for Scotland in a host of scenes featuring Rachel cottage. The unit then relocated to London's fashionable Primrose Hill in mid-October to shoot interiors and exteriors of Rachel and Brian's London home at a stunning canal-side house on Regent's Park Road. The drowning scene was actually shot in the Regent's Park Canal.
Young actor Beans Balawi who plays Demi Moore's son in Half Light talks about his experiences: "I've been training for the scenes in the water with our stuntmen Lee and Jamie. I had to learn some underwater skills in a swimming pool before and did lots of jumping in and had to wear these really great goggles. For the scenes in the Regent's Park Canal the stuntman had to be under the water to help me and protect me and to help Demi because it's quite hard for her to pick me up and grab me out of the water as I'm quite heavy. I had to wear a wet suit under my clothes to go in the canal and I had these things that look like tea bags to warm my hands up! That scene was quite hard as we had to do it in two takes and I think the neighbours must have been really worried because Demi did a lot of screaming when she found me in the canal - I think they thought someone had really drowned!"
"Demi's really nice" says Beans, "she's done loads of movies and her children were fun to play with. I spent a lot of time with them in Cornwall, particularly with her daughter Tallullah - there was a great park that we played in. Working with Demi's been great training for when I grow up, hopefully I'll be really good after learning from her. One of our most difficult scenes together was where I had to pull her on to a crash mat - we did it about twenty times because I kept bonking her on the head with my Action Man by accident!"
As well as having a big Hollywood star like Demi Moore play his Mum, the entire filmmaking experience on Half Light was huge fun for Beans, "I have to have a tutor while I'm on set, I only have to do about three hours every day and it's more fun doing school work here".
CRAIG ROSENBERG - WRITER/DIRECTOR
Born in Melbourne, Australia, Craig Rosenberg graduated from Monash University with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) and a Bachelor of Law (LLB).
His numerous feature film screenplays include projects for Art Linson, Steven Spielberg and Wes Craven. Rosenberg has worked with many of the major US film studios including Dreamworks, Warner Brothers, Paramount, Disney, Universal, Miramax, Sony and MGM. Recently he worked with Walter Parkes and Laurie MacDonald and Dreamworks Studios on an English-language screen adaptation of the hit Korean horror movie, A Tale of Two Sisters, which was the highest grossing local film ever released in Korea.
Rosenberg wrote and directed the critically acclaimed Hotel de Love, which premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and was described as "winning and charming" by the Chicago Tribune and "a Valentine's Day box of heart-shaped chocolates" by the New York Times.
Most recently, he wrote After the Sunset directed by Brett Ratner and starring Pierce Brosnan, Salma Hayek, Woody Harrelson and Don Cheadle.
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