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Danny Boyle lead James Franco to Purple Bruises in 22 minute Take on 127 Hours


29 October 2010

James Franco looked like he has just rolled out of bed at the London Press Conference yesterday but he was on top form as he talked about his latest film 127 Hours alongside Academy Award winning Director Danny Boyle.

I was there as they talked about how the film was made, how James got into his real-life character Aron Ralston, and Danny Boyle's directing techniques that lead to a 22 minute take where James tries to get his arm out from under the boulder, leaving him battered and bruised.

127 Hours is based on the true story of a mountain climber who becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive. The film was chosen to close the 54th BFI London Film Festival this year.

Alongside James Franco and Director Danny Boyle, the real Aron Ralston himself attended the glitzy event and is said to be very pleased with how the film has turned out.

127 Hours Film Page

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How would you like people to feel after seeing 127 Hours?

(Danny Boyle) Aaron used the word Ecstasy, but I told him that we probably wouldn't be able to use that in Britain, it might be misleading; perhaps euphoria would be better (laughs). I thinks James' acting of that pain, that process is an extraordinary empathetic thing that takes you to a place that you do feel very venerable in. I actually talked to James about how women go to a plateau of pain in child birth way beyond anything that guys will every feel so we tried to get into that territory really. We always wanted the end of the journey to feel like a passage way to something that was much greater.

We didn't really want to make a survival film, really that's a documentary. It's often honoured as a survival story. It felt very clear from the book and then speaking to Aaron about things that weren't in the book . Aaron grew under those circumstances, it becomes a journey where he grows as a person because if you think about it he's got everything he needs to get out of there, he's an ultra marathon, he's a brilliant athlete, he's an achiever. There must be a reason why nature stops him. That's why James' scene at the beginning, with all that power and all that skill seems to be useless.

 

James you're a director as well as an actor, what did you learn from Danny specifically?

(James Franco) There are two major things I learnt from Danny. The first being the way he has shaped his career and his movies. He really looks to challenge himself by approaching different kinds of material, subjects he is not used to, different technical requirements, that force him into new discoveries and pull him out of his comfort zone. What that does is enable him to make a different kind of movie every time. If you look at his resume, they're all very different and not just because of the different genres but the way that they're made. I find it very inspiring. The other thing he likes to do is make entertaining movies, so in this film he has the challenge of using one man in a single area, unlike Tom Hanks' Castaway where he has an island to move around in and a volleyball to talk to, here he is stuck in a single place. Danny will take that challenge and make it exciting and entertaining.

 

James, how method could you be, what did you put yourself through that could compare to Aron's own experience?

(James Franco) Well, I didn't cut my own arm off. However, Danny does like to push the boundaries a bit. In an early scene Aron has just been trapped by the boulder, he's a great athlete so tried to pull his arm out with his physical strength. The film was shot everything in order, apart from the scenes with the girls, we had to do that to the end because of snow.. anyway this was a very early scene and I don't think Danny planned to film it this way either, but he said to me on the day "so try and pull your arm out, do anything that you can, bash yourself against the rock, knee it, kick it, yank, pull, do anything you can and don't stop until I say cut". I said "Er, ok I'll probably be pretty bruised, and exhausted, i'll probably get hurt a little bit" and I know this is exactly what was said because a friend of mine was filming behind the scenes. I said "Alright, I'm up for it, just make sure you get it on the first take". So we did it and I think it had been 22 minutes by the time he said cut, I was completely exhausted and the next day my arm was literally purple, but we figured it out and as an actor it was incredibly liberating, I had the freedom to really experience that and if I had my arm stuck that's what it would have been like, I'm not acting, it's real. It was a very different process than a typical film where you can set up then relight then setup again, here you could do all that during the take and it just gave the performance more authenticity because I was experiencing it to a certain extent.

 

There are lots of bright colours in the film, was that symbolic of the hope within it?

(Danny Boyle) It's certainly symbolic of Utah, you really do get that blue sky with the plane trails in it, its bizarre to see. We wanted it to be very vibrant looking, but the have to pay a lot of respect to Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle who did the cinematography, they did all this movement with James which gives the film its physicality but they also agreed when we graded the film not to grade it in the normal way you do (they grade it wet, so it looks sexy, the black looks liquidy) however you cant do things like dehydrate James, sure you can do things like weight loss, James did that, but with water you have to be very very careful, so he has to do a lot of acting, he does his best lip acting in this (laughs) and you also have to find other ways of suggesting it, obviously we have the diminishing water in the water bottle but then we graded everything dry, not sexy, because we wanted his whole environment to feel arid, like there was no moisture anywhere. Its a tribute to them that they took that risk.

 

How did you think Aron managed to keep his mental strength, is that something that you can grasp, and do you think you would ever have those reserves to draw on?

(James Franco) Well, I talked to Aron extensively before filming and tried to get into his head space, we all did, but as helpful as all that was, Aron gave us another incredibly valuable thing, he showed us the actual videos that he filmed while he was stuck down there, they were incredibly valuable because it wasn't necessarily what he was saying, it was the pure behaviour, we were sat there watching a guy who had pretty much accepted his own death, and didn't know that there was a happy ending, so now looking back its different, but at the time, this was a man in the middle of a situation. When I was watching it, I tried to absorb however we read each other and our behaviour and other peoples mindsets, as an actor you train yourself to pick up on little signals subconsciously. So in the most basic terms, I'm watching a guy that thinks he's going to die, but he wasn't wallowing in self pity, he was recording personal, simple and dignified messages to his family, and to me that says loads. When Aron asked me why I wanted to play him and I said, "Because you're such a good example of human will" he corrected me and said no, actually it was the connection to his family that got him through. Those messages weren't just goodbye messages, Aron said he felt a connection and that although his family weren't there, he felt like they were, and that gave him the strength to pull through. One of the points in the movie is we all have that in us. Aron may have been an accomplished athlete and climber, but when it came down to being in trapped in that canyon, he is humbled and he gets in touch with whatever it is inside that helps us get through these things, and for Aron it was the love for his family.

 

Were there any sets involved and how was it shooting on location in Utah, and how much of it was location?

(Christian Colson) It was a combination of the actual location, Bluejohn Canyon where Aaron was actually trapped, a very remote location, where we set up camp, and the crew slept out there for a week, for that portion of the shoot we needed to be out there in the canyon. The entrapment scenes were brilliantly replicated by our production designers using a process called Lidar Scanning which can map any complex 3D space. The space where Aron was trapped was actually too complex to draw in 2D, so we laid out the scans and recreated it in two versions, in vertical and horizontal in a giant warehouse in Salt Lake City, we spent a month with James trapped under this rock and then went out and shot in Utah on location.

 

What did you have to disguise, create or radically reshape in writing the screenplay?

(Simon Beaufoy) It was a very interesting challenge because obviously its a true story and there's a template there, he was stuck down there for 127 hours, and we wanted to recreate as much as possible in terms of the gear, and the same sequence of events and we had a responsibility to him to stick as close as we could to the actuality of it. We also discussed it a lot with him, and he saw every draught of the script and he had a lot of contributions to make, and we had a lot of discussions about the difference between actuality and fact. The possibilities of getting at a greater emotional truth that fiction allows you to do so in that sense and Aron absolutely understood that and allowed us access to bit of his past that frankly a less bold person would have said, well I don't particularly want to show this on screen, but he understood what we were trying to get at but obviously they have to be shaped like drama, unlike lift that is a messy thing, drama needs shape, it needs craft, it needs pushing into compression, a form. We were constantly walking a tightrope between drama and fact and I think we got it right because Aaron is very supportive of the film and that's always the challenge, especially when you have the real person, with his prosthetic arm sitting right net to you, you're thinking, I hope we got this right because its the defining moment of this guys life and luckily I think we have.

 

If you were faced with the same situation do you think you would have cut off your arm as well?

(Danny Boyle) I think one of our things going in was that we would all do it. Animals do it all the time and I think when everything is stripped away, yes anyone would do it. What's incredible about his story is that it appears that he has acquired super human strength to do this kind of thing but it actually makes clear than when stripped away, the individuals will to survive is often seen as just that, an individual thing, its a gene we all carry and contributed when it's individually needed, so yes, I think we would all do it.

(James Franco) and hand was dead, so essentially it was alleady gone anyway.

 

127 HOURS HITS UK CINEMAS JANUARY 7th 2010.