People are living their lives remotely from the safety of their own homes via robotic surrogates--sexy, physically perfect mechanical representations of themselves. It's an ideal world where crime, pain, fear and consequences don't exist. When the first murder in years jolts this utopia, FBI agent Greer (BRUCE WILLIS) discovers a vast conspiracy behind the surrogate phenomenon and must abandon his own surrogate, risking his life to unravel the mystery.
Touchstone Pictures presents "SURROGATES," a gripping action thriller directed by Jonathan Mostow ("Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," "Breakdown") which also stars RADHA MITCHELL, ROSAMUND PIKE, BORIS KODJOE, JAMES FRANCIS GINTY, MICHAEL CUDLITZ, JAMES CROMWELL and VING RHAMES.
"SURROGATES" is produced by Mandeville Film's David Hoberman and Todd Lieberman ("The Proposal," "Traitor," "Wild Hogs") along with Brownstone Productions' Max Handelman. Executive producers are David Nicksay ("Legally Blonde," "The Negotiator," "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves") and Brownstone Productions' Elizabeth Banks (acting credits: "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," "W.," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"). The screenplay is by John Brancato & Michael Ferris ("Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," "The Game"), based on the popular and inventive Top Shelf Comix graphic novel by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele.
THE BIRTH OF SURROGATES: The Future Is Now
First the computer. Then email, tiny cell phones and the Internet. Today, sexy robotic surrogates fill in for their less attractive human counterparts--regular people who no longer have to venture out into the real world themselves. In the world of "SURROGATES," has technology gone too far?
"The premise of the movie is that surrogacy has taken over the world like cell phones and computers," says director Jonathan Mostow. "Surrogates are new devices that offer users the opportunity to experience life vicariously from the comfort and safety of their own homes. In our film, surrogates represent the ultimate freedom, from both physical harm and the mental toll of everyday life. Pleasure is achievable simply by plugging in.
"But for some, surrogacy feels like the abandonment of humanity itself," Mostow continues. "In a world where actual physical contact is increasingly rare, does the very notion of love threaten to lose its meaning? Those are some of the ideas we explore in our story."
First-time author Robert Venditti came up with the unique premise while working at Top Shelf Publications in their shipping warehouse in suburban Atlanta. Looking for a new spin on the graphic novel, Venditti recalled a sociology book he had read for one of his graduate school courses which depicted "an actual study of people who played one of those early community-type online games," says Venditti. "I was fascinated by how these people just became so involved in this game, creating these alternate personas for themselves. They became so identified with them that they would lose their jobs, their marriages, because they just couldn't separate their lives from this persona that they created. It was an idea that stuck with me--the basic human desire to be something other than oneself."
The author fleshed out his idea further by imagining various reasons people would have for using a surrogate. "My idea was to create this persona that would go to work and earn money for you, a practical reason for having a surrogate. I looked at the idea of self-improvement, where these surrogates represent plastic surgery to the extreme where you could maintain yourself as forever young, or be more muscular--look like your dream self."
"The story has always spoken to me about technology versus humanity," producer Hoberman says. "I am someone who has come very late to computers, the Internet, email and iPhones. Until recently, I knew nothing. This story addressed, in a compelling manner, what would happen if everybody basically lived inside a computer, and their lives were being lived by someone else out there. It just spoke to where technology is going. I think it also spoke to plastic surgery and things people do to their bodies. I thought it was an interesting idea to explore in a film."
Bruce Willis ("Die Hard," "Twelve Monkeys," "The Sixth Sense") and Radha Mitchell ("Man on Fire," "Melinda and Melinda," "Pitch Black") star as FBI agents Thomas Greer and Jennifer Peters, newly teamed partners charged with investigating a murder. It's the first murder in years for their utopian society, and one that triggers questions about the ethics of surrogate technology and the future of society.
Says Mostow: "This movie is a mystery, a detective story, with Bruce Willis as an FBI agent whose investigation into the mysterious murder of a surrogate finds the hero confronting a conspiracy that calls into question the very definition of humanity."
"It's a cautionary tale about how people live their lives in this technological world of today," adds Hoberman.
In the film, Dr. Lionel Canter is a reclusive billionaire and M.I.T. genius whose groundbreaking experiments have led to the creation of the surrogate population. Confined to a wheelchair, Canter began experimenting with prosthetic limbs while at M.I.T. His research led to a new technology for decoding brain impulses, which he discovered could be transferred as signals to synthetic humans. These remotely operated "surrogates" are distinguishable from their flesh-and-blood counterparts primarily by their physical perfection. Each surrogate is linked directly to a human being, blocks or hundreds of miles away, who control their replicants neurally. Without a human mind sending and receiving impulses while sitting in a special device called a "stim chair," these robotic doubles are completely inert.
So, the world of surrogacy was born--to the applause of millions--and the regret and contempt of others. Ving Rhames ("Pulp Fiction," "Mission: Impossible," "Con Air") portrays The Prophet, the self-styled leader of a group of disaffected citizens who passionately oppose the inhumanity of this technological lifestyle.
"The core idea of 'Surrogates' is how we retain our humanity in this increasingly, relentlessly technological world that we live in," says Mostow. "Technology is great. The fantasy of technology is that it frees us to be creative, productive and to do all these wonderful things. The flip side to that is that we wind up being servants to it in a certain way. We're tethered to our cell phones, to our BlackBerries. It's great to have email, but when you spend hours a day returning emails, it becomes an obligation. So, these new opportunities and possibilities in life also restrain us in certain ways."
"Technology becomes a lifestyle," says producer Todd Lieberman. "That seems to happen with a lot of technology. It pervades society and people then depend on it in their lives. What would we do today without the Internet? Without cell phones? It's hard to imagine. In this world, what would they do without surrogates?"
"The story's just meant to raise such questions," Venditti concludes. "I don't know the answers to the questions. When I wrote the story, I wanted people to see the good uses surrogates would present to society, as well as the bad ones. Ultimately, I wanted the readers to make that determination for themselves."
SENDING "SURROGATES" TO THE BIG SCREEN: A Graphic Novel Becomes a Movie
Producer Max Handelman, a lifelong comic book aficionado, optioned the graphic novel from Venditti. He found the story's themes compelling. "The story really moves along at a great pace and allows you to imagine something that could impact our society someday. Are we all going to have surrogates? Probably not. But it's a metaphor for our society's increasing reliance on technology and increasingly virtual communication."
Handelman brought the comic to a college friend, veteran producer Todd Lieberman, who is partnered with longtime industry producer and studio executive David Hoberman at Mandeville Films.
"I was looking for something with an edge, a film noir-type story and I found that in Robert's story," says Lieberman. "The movie starts with two really attractive people outside of a club. All of the sudden, some guy approaches and they fall dead. You have no idea what's going on. In comes a detective, Bruce Willis' character, and his partner. And you realize pretty quickly that we're living in a world that's not our world.
"The two people who've been killed are actually surrogates," continues Lieberman. "Not only are the surrogates getting destroyed, but the people controlling them at home have been murdered, which is something that's never happened in the history of surrogacy. The entire world of surrogates is at risk because the fail-safe of not harming the user is the cornerstone of the technology."
Jonathan Mostow agreed to direct the film; his longtime writing partners, John Brancato and Michael Ferris ("Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," the 1991 telefilm, "Flight of Black Angel"), were tapped to tackle the script, marking a professional reunion for the trio of Harvard University alums.
"As soon as Mike and I read the graphic novel, we felt it could make a great film," says Brancato. "The concept of surrogacy speaks to the modern condition in ways direct and oblique, a metaphor at once for the Internet, plastic surgery, addiction, role-playing games. Not to mention outer versus inner selves."
To capture the flavor the writers sought to depict in this present-day/near-future universe populated almost exclusively by robots, the pair began to research the technology that reflected Venditti's ideas in the graphic novel.
Their studies led the scripters to a Japanese scientist named Hiroshi Ishiguro, who has been using a plastic version of himself to lecture around the world without leaving his Osaka office. They also uncovered a rhesus monkey in North Carolina that has been wired to make a robot in Kyoto walk, merely by thinking. The technology continues to improve with groundbreaking advances that are already benefiting people with debilitating diseases.
CASTING "SURROGATES" Bruce Willis Takes the Lead
"SURROGATES'" roster of characters includes idealized robots as well as real-life humans. Most cast members were asked to play both.
To bring "SURROGATES'" conflicted FBI agent to life, the filmmakers turned to global superstar Bruce Willis. "He's really one of the great film actors of his generation," says Mostow. "It's a very specific skill to be able to pull off movies that have a very high-concept idea behind them. Here, it's an alternative reality, and yet he makes it credible. That's really his gift." Read more
MAKING "SURROGATES" A REALITY On Location with Veteran Behind-the-Scenes Talent
"SURROGATES" marked a homecoming of sorts for director Mostow, a Connecticut native who graduated from Harvard University 25 years ago. Read more
THE MAKE UP
The actual robotic look of the main cast and hundreds of extras appearing in the film came to life through the combined efforts of the film's two makeup departments--the key makeup under the guidance of Oscar-winner Jeff Dawn ("Terminator 2: Judgment Day"), and the special prosthetic designs courtesy of another Oscar winner, Berger ("The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe"). Read more
THE VISUAL EFFECTS
Casting Boston as the locale of this parallel reality created a challenge for the film's visual effects gurus, here under the supervision of Oscar winner (and three-time nominee) Mark Stetson. The film marked a homecoming for Stetson (honored in 2006 as one of Hollywood's "Digital 50" content creators by the Hollywood Reporter and the P.G.A.), another Massachusetts native among the crew.Read more
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
JONATHAN MOSTOW (Director) made his motion picture debut as writer and director on 1997's "Breakdown," the taut thriller starring Kurt Russell as a man whose wife mysteriously vanishes in the desert after their car breaks down. The critically acclaimed film debuted atop the U.S. box office its opening weekend.
He followed with another No. 1 box office success--the WWII submarine action-thriller "U-571," starring Matthew McConaughey and Harvey Keitel. The film, which he also wrote, garnered two Academy Award nominations, winning an Oscar for Best Sound Editing.
Mostow next directed "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines," starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, which earned $450 million in global receipts in the continuation of one of Hollywood's most fruitful franchises.
He executive produced David Fincher's 1997 thriller "The Game" (on which he also developed the script with longtime collaborators and Harvard classmates John Brancato and Michael Ferris), then returned to the director's chair for the Emmy award-winning HBO miniseries, "From the Earth to the Moon," directing Tom Hanks in the finale segment entitled "La Voyage Dans La Lune."
In 2004, Mostow was voted "Action Director of the Year" by the World Stunt Association. Most recently, he served as executive producer on the blockbuster Will Smith superhero drama, "Hancock."
Mostow began his filmmaking career as a student at Harvard University, where he directed numerous award-winning shorts and documentaries. His first writing and directing breakthrough was the 1991 Showtime television thriller "Flight of Black Angel," which earned him a Cable ACE nomination for Best International Movie or Special.
In addition to his film and television work, Mostow also recently created, for Virgin Comics, The Megas, a four-issue graphic novel series set in an alternative reality, in which the United States is ruled by a monarchy.
JOHN BRANCATO and MICHAEL FERRIS (Screenplay) reteam with director Jonathan Mostow after having penned the original screenplay for the filmmakers' last big-screen hit, "Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines." The pair first worked with Mostow (a fellow Harvard classmate) on his 1991 telefilm, "Flight of Black Angel."
Although the budding writers first met at Harvard University in the early 1980s (both edited the esteemed Harvard Lampoon), they come from diverse backgrounds and opposite coasts. Brancato was born and raised in New York, working as a cartoonist and journalist after college before eventually finding his way to Los Angeles. Ferris is a native of Southern California, returning home after his Harvard film studies to team up with his college classmate.
They began earning a living as screenwriters on several successful low-budget films, working with such legends as Roger Corman, Oliver Reed and Bruce Campbell. In 1991, the pair wrote a spec script called "The Game," which resulted in a high-profile sale to MGM at the time. Six years later, David Fincher directed the clever thriller starring Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. Meanwhile, their high-tech thriller "The Net," which starred Sandra Bullock, was produced at Columbia.
Brancato and Ferris created and executive produced the NBC series "The Others." They were among the 26 writers on the comicbook actioner "Catwoman," and penned the monster movie "Primeval." They have also written the next installment in "The Terminator" series--"Terminator Salvation: The Future Begins," starring Christian Bale under the direction of McG.
ROBERT VENDITTI (Graphic Novel Author), a native of Hollywood, Florida, received a B.A. in Political Science and English from the University of Florida in Gainesville and an M.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida in Orlando.
Aspiring to be a novelist, he published a short story in 2002 (in the Berkeley Fiction Review) before getting hooked on comic books and changing his focus to graphic novels. With the help and guidance of his employer, Top Shelf Publications, he hoped to submit story ideas to the industry when publishers Chris Staros and Brett Warnock chose to retain the rights to The Surrogates (his first long-form publication) for their own company.
Venditti recently finished work on the prequel to the book (set 15 years earlier), which will be released in the Summer of 2009. He also envisions a third tome, which will be set 15 years after the initial story.
BRETT WELDELE (Graphic Novel Illustrator) has worked in a wide range of comic book genres since bursting onto the scene in 2000. His work has been published by Oni Press, Image, Marvel and AIT. His unique fusion of pen-and-ink and toner-and-paint has been acclaimed by fans and critics alike.
The Montana native now resides near Sacramento, California, where he completed his most recent project, Southland Tales, with author/filmmaker Richard Kelly. Other graphic novel publications include Couscous Express (authored by Brian Wood), Shot Callerz (written by Garry Phillips) and Julius (with Anton Johnston). The Surrogates represents his first work in color.
Weldele began pursuing his interest in illustration while in high school, later earning a bachelor's degree in "sequential art" from the Savannah College of Art and Design.
THE ART OF ADAPTATION