Chaos Theory: The Production
"This movie has a lot of twists and turns, but at the same time it is really very simple," says director Marcos Siega.
"It's a story about love and forgiveness. I believe that if you truly love someone, you'll forgive them almost anything, but usually not without some trials and tribulations. What's the saying? 'That which does not kill us only makes us stronger.' That is certainly the case with some of our characters."
As often happens, the story of "Chaos Theory" was inspired by true life events in the life of screenwriter Daniel Taplitz.
He confides, "There was a point in my life when I was diagnosed with cancer. I didn't necessarily want to write about that, but I was interested in writing about what somebody does when they're metaphorically pushed off a cliff both physically and emotionally - how one piece of information can potentially change their life and how they might have to reconstruct that life."
Taplitz continues, "The story is told from the perspective of Frank, who starts out in total control of his life, which is very ordered and meticulously planned out. But he could never have planned for the emotional crisis that hits him and that, in turn, leads him to start living his life randomly and by whim. But those choices have even greater repercussions."
Producer Frederic Golchan, who first bought the rights to the screenplay, relates that the central themes of the story are what drew him to the script. "I thought it was such an original story told with heart and humor, and I loved the 'voice' of the script. I also thought it was about something very meaningful--love and commitment. I think there are two kinds of love. There is the kind you give freely and unconditionally, like the love of a parent for a child, the love Frank has for his daughter, Jesse. And there is the kind of love you have to work on, which is more like the love between Frank and his wife. But if you truly care about each other, it will work out in the end and be even more rewarding. I think Frank is trying to give his prospective son-in-law, Ed, a better understanding of the commitment he is getting into, although at first you're not quite sure what his motives are."
(L-R) RYAN REYNOLDS as Frank Allen, TY OLSSON as Evil Ferryman and CHRISTINE CHATELAIN as Tracy in Castle Rock Entertainment's and Lone Star Film Group’s "Chaos Theory," distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. Photo by Doug Curran
Golchan recalls that when he met Marcos Siega, he knew he had found the right director, starting with their shared belief in the project. "Marcos had incredible passion for this film. He also has a specific style and a very strong sense of aesthetics, which I appreciated. He knows what he wants and how to shoot it, so he works very, very quickly."
With the director set, the next order of business on "Chaos Theory" was casting, beginning with the man at the center of the story, Frank Allen, an efficiency expert who lives to plan rather than plans to live. But Frank could never have planned for the detour his life was about to take.
Ryan Reynolds, who stars in the role of Frank, says he leapt at the opportunity to portray someone whose life is unraveling before his eyes. "Playing this kind of character--a person who's vulnerable, a control freak whose life disassembles in a way he can't control--really appealed to me. A lot of people look for some kind of order in their life, some sort of way to keep it all together. They have these maladaptive coping mechanisms, which, in Frank's case, is writing everything down. In a way it's like Frank placed all these emotional scaffolds around himself. He believes that unless he keeps things in a very organized and ordered way, he's going to lose himself. I think what he discovers is that you just can't avoid chaos, life is going to throw you curveballs no matter what you do and no matter who you are."
They say opposites attract, and that would certainly be the case with Frank and his wife, Susan. Susan, who would rather live life as it comes, has grown frustrated by her husband's seeming inability to allow for the slightest deviation from his routine. Her lighthearted albeit misguided attempt to thwart Frank's obsessive time management becomes the catalyst for a series of events that not only derail Frank's life but threaten to destroy her own.
Susan is played by Emily Mortimer, who offers, "Susan thought she wanted this nice, happy home, but now that she's got it, she's finding it actually rather confining in some ways. And here's Frank, who drives her nuts with his index cards and schedules, and she thinks, 'Is this the rest of my life?' So she tries in some small way to change things up a bit by changing the clock. But instead of turning it back, she mistakenly moves it forward by 10 minutes. Then everything backfires and it's like chaos has been unleashed. Susan has this urge to live life to the fullest and be adventurous, but at the same time she has a real desire for the harmony and coziness of a family life. I think the whole journey for Susan is trying to work out how to unite those two sides of her life and to realize what truly matters to her."
The two sides of Susan's life are represented by the two most important men in her life: her husband, Frank, who is a model of order and organization; and the couple's best friend, Buddy, who lives a much freer existence...and who was once Frank's rival for Susan's affections.
Cast in the role of Buddy, Stuart Townsend notes, "Buddy is your good-time guy; he's a bachelor, drives a Porsche and doesn't take anything too seriously. When we meet him, it's a flashback to the New Year's Eve before Frank and Susan are married. Buddy fancies Susan and thinks it's mutual, so when she announces she's going to marry Frank, it kind of knocks the wind out of him. Through the movie, he is trying to get Frank to lighten up, but at the same time, Buddy has to grow up and face his own responsibilities. I see 'Chaos Theory' as a story about friendship and love, and what happens to even the best of friends when the two get intertwined."
Rounding out the main cast are Sarah Chalke as Paula, a seductive admirer of Frank's, who tries to takes advantage of him at his most vulnerable, and Mike Erwin as Ed, a young man who develops a severe case of cold feet on the day of his wedding to Frank and Susan's daughter, Jesse. Elisabeth Harnois plays the grown-up Jesse, while young Matreya Fedor plays Jesse at seven years old.
Before the start of principal photography, Marcos Siega took his cast through a two-week rehearsal period. He felt the extra time together was vital in shaping the relationships among his three main leads, which would later translate to the screen. As the chemistry between the three actors jelled, the director took the added prep time to work out his approach to filming their scenes together. "My style is not to have the camera constantly moving," the director reveals. "You don't always have to cut to a close-up when someone walks in the door, you don't need to cut to a reaction when someone's being emotional, you should be able to sit on the shot and feel it. On my last movie I decided to start applying that concept and shoot everything through one lens. I like how it makes the viewer feel like another person in a conversation because your depth of field never changes."
Siega credits his director of photography Ramsey Nickell with making the visual and technical aspects of filmmaking seamless. "I can't say enough about Ramsey. He's incredibly talented and he knows what I'm looking for so I don't have to over-explain. We have this great dynamic."
Nickell agrees. "I know it sounds cliche but Marcos and I definitely have a shorthand. Going into a scene, I already have a pretty good idea of what he's planning on doing and how he plans on covering it. After that, it's more about fine-tuning."
Working with production designer Sandy Cochrane and costume designer Tish Monaghan, Siega utilized deliberate splashes of color in both the sets and wardrobe as subtle indicators of what was transpiring in the story. "One of the things I did was to decide a color to represent chaos, so anytime Frank goes through something chaotic, we played with color," Siega explains. "The color that kept coming up was orange, so I looked it up on the internet and it's supposed to be the color for construction and hunger. Okay, the movie's not about food or construction but who cares?" the director laughs. "Orange is a good color and it works. I like to interject some visual cue so when you're watching the movie and caught up in the story, it's not going to jar you, but it will definitely create some kind of atmosphere that you will notice, even subconsciously."
Music is an integral element in films and, coming from a music background, Siega knows the importance of songs and score to help drive a story. However, he also likes to incorporate music on the set as a form of inspiration. With over 5,000 songs in his playlist, music could constantly be heard between takes from loudspeakers around the set. Leading up to shooting a scene, Siega chose songs that he felt would help both the cast and crew understand not only the tone but the rhythm of the scene.
On the screen, the song selection heard in "Chaos Theory," complementing the score by Gilad Benamram, was especially important. In addition to helping to set the tone, it also reflected the era, as the story takes place over the course of three different time frames: when Frank, Susan and Buddy are in their early 20s in the early 1980s; a few years later when Frank and Susan are married with a seven-year-old daughter; and in the present day on the now-adult Jesse's wedding day.
The wedding day scenes bookend the film, as almost the entire story is told in flashback. Frank, having caught his prospective son-in-law on the verge of abandoning Jesse at the altar, corners the nervous groom, sits him down and begins to recount the surprising trials and tribulations of his own marriage.
Siega says the device of telling the story in flashback lends itself to the universal experience of looking back at events with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. "You might not want to relive them, but with the passage of time, you can look back with understanding and even laughter. We all know that telling any story in hindsight can be really funny."