ABOUT THE MOVIE PRODUCTION
The filmmakers were surprised but delighted that Strathairn would consider the supporting role of Joe Lobruto, especially as he accepted the part on the heels of his 2006 Oscar® nomination for Best Actor for his portrayal of Edward R. Murrow in Good Night and Good Luck.
In discussions with Hoblit, Strathairn explained that he envisioned Willy Beachum being tugged in different directions, as though from a series of bungee cords, each held by people in his life pulling from the other end. Always up for a challenge, Strathairn thought it would be interesting to be a character manipulating one of those cords.
“Lobruto is a small part,” says Glenn Gers, “but it’s a powerful one. He is the opposite of Nikki and he’s pulling Willy in the other direction. He is Willy’s conscience waiting to be found.
“David is one of my favorite actors,” says the writer, who was only too thrilled to watch Strathairn interpret his lines. “It’s wonderful to see him being celebrated at last. He brought a real decency to the part, which is what Willy needs to see when he’s dealing with the consequences of taking the wrong path.”
“Lobruto likes to think of himself as Willy’s mentor,” says Strathairn, “not just as his boss. He’s proud he made the choice to be a D.A. and not go for the big bucks at some huge firm, so there’s a flint edge between Willy and him that motivates Lobruto’s behavior.”
“Willy and Lobruto have each other all wrong,” says Ryan Gosling. “Willy thinks Lobruto is a self-righteous public servant and Lobruto thinks Willy is a sellout, a punk. Their relationship is about figuring out how right or how wrong each is about the other.”
Strathairn is another of Gosling’s acting heroes. “I love David’s work,” says Gosling. “It was an honor to work with him. He’s very inclusive in terms of his process, which was great for someone like me. He’s a gardener in real life and that describes exactly how he works; he rolls up his sleeves and really gets his hands dirty.”
“I’ve never done a role like this where you’re essentially a messenger,” says Strathairn. “There’s a lot of exposition brought to bear through the D.A.’s office about the case, about Willy and his journey. The challenge is in adding to the mix and not being a boring, utilitarian information center.
Cliff Curtis portrays Rafael Flores, the detective on duty fated to catch the Crawford attempted-homicide case. Unfortunately for Willy, the only people Flores dislikes more than criminals are lawyers. Known for his role in Whale Rider, Curtis is used to playing a wide variety of ethnicities and nationalities. A chameleon, Curtis is quickly becoming a master at different regional accents. His dedication to acting and his curiosity to learn more about his character enticed the filmmakers to expand the role.
“Cliff is electrifying,” says Gregory Hoblit. “His presence and personality are unusual, and he has this deadpan way about him, but because his accent is pretty distinct, we had to really work on that. He didn’t really have a frame of reference in terms of being a cop, so he was ferocious about getting it right. No actor was as intent about the process.”
By all rights, Detective Flores and Willy Beachum should be comrades in arms, strategizing to put the criminal behind bars, but they soon find themselves in a stalemate, frustrated at the lack of hard evidence for what should be a clear-cut conviction.
“Flores and Willy are completely different personalities,” explains Ryan Gosling. “They’re from different backgrounds with different life perspectives but they have to work together on this case. They kind of blame each other for the situation they’re in.”
Another small but important role is that of Nikki’s father, Judge Gardner. Hoblit remembered Bob Gunton from his performance as the warden in The Shawshank Redemption and knew that casting director Deborah Aquila was old friends with the actor. “Bob is stolid,” describes Hoblit. “We needed someone who was credible and like Jennifer Crawford, memorable. When Deb brought up Bob, it was an easy choice.”
Since his days working with Steven Bochco on “Hill Street Blues,” Hoblit has strived for verisimilitude when it comes to telling stories about the law. “I want to make it right,” he says plainly. “I want to get all the cop stuff right, the courtroom drama, the law. Over the years audiences have become sophisticated and they know if you are playing fast and loose with them, or not.”
Obviously laws are different in every state, but the filmmakers took great pains to be authentic in their depiction of the action. Not only is Hoblit experienced in crime drama, producer Chuck Weinstock is himself a “lapsed attorney” who worked as a lawyer under Mayor Koch and Mayor Dinkins in New York City. The filmmakers also relied on the services of attorney Bob Breech, who previously worked for Hoblit on the popular series, “Hill Street Blues” and “L.A. Law.” According to Hoblit, Breech has “great story sense.”
“Bob knows the law inside and out,” says Hoblit, “and he understands how to get the best out of a scene dramatically while attending to all the legal aspects at play.”
“The politics, the etiquette of the courtroom, it’s all very complicated,” says Ryan Gosling. “Bob was a big help.”
The filmmakers also took advantage of technical advisor Peter Weireter, a chief hostage negotiator with the Los Angeles Police Department, and his colleague Sgt. Lou Reyes, who helped with several of the opening scenes. While the filmmakers did take some license, Hoblit is quick to point out that bending some rules can work, but only if filmmakers take care not to go so far as to do a disservice to the profession being depicted on screen, which in the end, does an even greater disservice to the script.
A major focal point in the film is the Rube Goldberg-like machines, big and small, which adorn Ted Crawford’s home and office. These brass and wood pieces serve as dramatic metaphors for the story as well as for the intricate workings of the sociopath’s diabolical mind.
Writer Glenn Gers came upon the idea of using a rolling ball machine in the story while playing with his five-year-old son who likes marble mazes. The marbles roll through a labyrinth of confusing tracks only to come out in unexpected places.
According to several versions of Webster’s dictionary, a Rube Goldberg machine is a device that “accomplishes by complex means what seemingly could be done simply;” or something “having a fantastically complicated, improvised appearance.
“These toys, along with the stunning piece of machinery that’s Crawford’s GT Porsche, even his house, they are all reflections of his personality and his inner wiring,” agrees Gregory Hoblit, likening Crawford to a surgeon or Swiss watch maker.
On the written page, the mention of a Rube Goldberg-like device requires the reader to call upon a vivid imagination, but it is an entirely more complicated endeavor to recreate such an apparatus for practical use. No computerized visual effects here.
“It’s always best when you can find an external sign to show the inner person,” says Gers, “but when I wrote the paragraph, I never really imagined the complex machine they would have to build. When I saw it on stage, I kept apologizing to the guys who had to build it,” he laughs.
Producer Chuck Weinstock and production designer Paul Eads began the search for any kind of gadget that might fill the bill by scouring the Internet. To their amazement, they discovered a variety of clubs and rabid fans all over the world whose hobby it is to design and build their own adaptations on Goldberg’s theme.
After long examination and discussion, the filmmakers settled on using Dutch artist Mark Bishoff’s sculptures as Crawford’s work. It had taken Bischoff, a music teacher, over ten years of loving labor to complete his intricate rolling ball machine.
“His work was stupefying,” says Hoblit. “To think he worked after giving cello lessons all day to create the caliber of piece he did, with the size of the tracks, the quality of the wood, the complexity of the pieces, all of us sat in my office, looking at his video, oohing and aahing. But then the question became ‘how are we going to get something that big out of his basement and across the Atlantic?’”
“We asked him to send us some samples of the rings, the balls, anything to use as a template,” recalls Weinstock. “He acted as a consultant through the manufacturing and assembly process. Whenever we had questions, he was there to help.”
The filmmakers and Bischoff reached an agreement in which Bischoff would furnish the movie with his designs in order to construct a smaller version of his much-admired piece. The artist even sent the production a small table-top piece to borrow for the shoot.
Executive producer Hawk Koch hired special effects coordinator Larz Anderson to build several configurations of Bischoff’s designs. Anderson and his team were honored and excited to step outside the normal realm of their duties of pyrotechnics, explosives and mechanical effects to build the 8-foot sculpture along with a same-size “stunt double” version. Together with Eads they designed the kinetic brass sculpture and its wooden base to compliment the dynamic architecture of Crawford’s unique house.
The large sculpture measures 8 feet high x 8 feet wide x 2 feet deep and uses two 12-volt electrical motors operated via remote control. The manual desktop version is about 14 inches x 32 inches x 12 inches wide.
“Working on this project was like being a kid again,” reports Anderson. “Everyone wanted to contribute their ideas. It’s not often you get asked to build a giant puzzle. It wasn’t an easy piece to move, especially once it was assembled, because it weighs about 250 pounds. But the hardest part was keeping people from touching it and playing with it or taking the balls once it was on set.”
But no one could keep Hoblit, his cast and crew from spending long breaks between set ups, staring at the rolling balls as they made their way through the intricate maze.
“Greg would stand in front of any of those machines, start watching and that was it,” jokes executive producer Hawk Koch. “I’d say, ‘Come on, Greg, we have to work,’ but he couldn’t move. The machine has its own kind of rhythm; it lulls you into a meditative state. It’s pretty amazing.”
Hoblit imagined a giant erector set when he first read Gers’ description in the new script, but even he was unprepared for the beauty and immenseness of Anderson’s creation.
Hoblit admits that he decided to “swing for the fences” in making Fracture. In the hope of not “playing it too safe,” he attempted a pace and tone more “daring” than his previous work. In doing so, he has tried creating a contemporary film noir.
“For me it was unexpected,” Hoblit says of tackling a darker, more mysterious style. “As the script evolved my ideas became more pronounced, but I was not interested in doing something strictly noir. I wanted something sleek, to use refracted light, and I wanted to be specific in my use of color.”
Hoblit referenced the work of various photographers he’s admired throughout the years. An avid fan of Bruce Davidson, whose book Subway made a huge impact on the director, Hoblit pays homage to Davidson’s muted backgrounds, the neutral faces of his subjects and the unusual, iconic pops of color he uses in each frame.
When Hoblit began his search for a director of photography, it was imperative to find someone who could think outside the box, but not too far outside so that Hoblit would have to spend valuable time reining the cinematographer back in line. After discussing his ideas with some colleagues he found a daring new talent in Kramer Morgenthau, who had made a mark in commercials and low-budget films. Hoblit also saw a level of frustration in Morgenthau that could work to the film’s advantage.
“His juxtaposition of colors was great,” Hoblit says of Morgenthau’s work, “I had never seen anything quite that bold. And I liked the fact that he was eager to move out of the box he’d found himself in, which happens in our business. But he’s off and running now,” Hoblit says proudly.
“In terms of the look, Fracture is a story about class,” says Morgenthau. “Willy’s world is gritty, in the trenches, more like the D.A.’s office and even the courtroom to a certain extent. Crawford exists in a world of wealth and big, beautiful spaces. So we talked a lot about color versus a gray scale to create a contrast between the two.”
Once Morgenthau and Hoblit met with production designer Paul Eads, set decorator Nancy Nye and costume designer Elisabetta Beraldo, they developed the film’s overall look.
There are a preponderance of low-lit scenes and a good deal of night work both interior and exterior that the filmmakers would light with different hues of color to set the tone of each scene.
“The movie is fairly dark,” Hoblit explains, “but we also used vivid greens, oranges, reds and yellows. I wouldn’t say that there’s a color palette so much as there is a vibrancy of color always cutting through the darkness so that it’s unexpected and we don’t know where the color is coming from. Kramer and I were always negotiating with ourselves to make sure we didn’t tip over the edge into self-indulgence or idiocy,” he jokes.
“Greg is first and foremost about the story,” says Morgenthau. “He wants it to be truthful and logical. I think that’s why he’s been so successful. He doesn’t take anything for granted and feels as though it’s an insult to the audience to cheat or not have the environment or action as it would be in real life; that’s become a stylistic trait of his. Yet, at the same time, he’ll take the lighting to an expressionistic level, which is also my approach.”
Hoblit credits his producing partner Hawk Koch with the ease of the shoot. “Hawk puts together a brilliant game plan for getting a movie done,” the director says.
It was important to the filmmakers to shoot in Los Angeles for a variety of reasons, not only because of proximity to home, but also with the desire to help keep production in Hollywood. Despite a pack of naysayers at his heels, Koch was able to create a cost-effective budget without sacrificing quality.
“My challenge was to make our film look like a 60 or 70-million dollar film and not spend anywhere near that kind of money,” says Koch. “I’m proud that we could make a rich-looking movie, work decent hours and do it for a good price. We owe thanks to our D.P., Kramer Morgenthau, who can light fast and made every scene look exquisite. He’s going to have a name as one of the best in the business for a long time to come.”
Hoblit likes to make movies that look as though they are set in Anywhere, USA so that audiences can more easily identify with the characters. He credits production designer Paul Eads and location managers Richard Davis and Mike Fantasia with helping to make that happen.
Despite the fact that southern California is home for most of the production team, shooting Fracture in Los Angeles presented many surprises and offered Hoblit and his crew a new look at the city.
“L.A. is an amazing place once you get past the bias about its being flat, sprawling and architecturally uninteresting,” jokes Hoblit. “L.A. is usually shot in harsh light, very washed out, but I loved giving it a three-dimensional, rich quality, even in some of the more rundown sections of town. It has so much color and personality.”
“It’s a bit of a forgotten city for the moment,” says Ryan Gosling. “It’s rundown, but there’s some amazing architecture and beautiful buildings that have been ignored since they were built at the turn of the century. But it’s beginning to be renovated and re-gentrified, so it’s an interesting time to be down there because it’s still a bit of a ghost town and it will never be like this again.”
Gosling was particularly thrilled to shoot at Disney Hall because, try as he might to find tickets to any of the sold-out performances since the hall’s opening, he came up empty-handed. “I was so irritated because I could never get tickets,” he says in mock despair, “but not only did I get in this time, I got to walk on stage, explore backstage, sit in the best seats, see the view from the roof,” he laughs. “I got a really unique tour, so I feel pretty lucky.”
Fracture was the first motion picture to utilize the main stage and auditorium of the Frank Gehry-designed performing arts center, where the company filmed mezzo soprano Vivica Genaux and her accompanist, Paul Floyd. They also shot several pieces of the sequence where Willy and Nikki first meet in the foyer area.
The Crawford home was another architectural wonder located in the Encino area of the San Fernando Valley, where the company spent several weeks shooting at a private estate. “The house sits behind these big gates like a cement and glass bunker with a buttressing overhang,” recalls Hoblit. “It must be 80% glass, supported by struts, but you can see from one end of the house all the way to the other, all the way through it, side to side, end to end, anywhere you go. It would be a little unnerving to live in a house like that, but fortunately it’s pretty well-hidden.”
The Sherman estate is protected on all sides by giant hedges, walls, gates, and a formidable hill that leads to a guest house and tennis court which perch high above the pool and backyard. It is also surrounded by a small orchard of orange trees, rose bushes, lavender and blooming flora. It has been used in films before, but has never been showcased to this extent.
Hoblit and Morgenthau particularly liked the reflections and double images that occurred when shooting through the house and its many layers of glass, a circumstance usually considered a mistake in traditional camera work. They frequently placed their cameras outside the house to film scenes going on inside, another rare occurrence for Hoblit, who calls himself a “stickler” when it comes to being close to the action, but in this case took advantage of his ability to use his cameras as the eyes of a voyeur.
Hoblit calls the house “camera-friendly” and says “it was just made to order; a real gift,” while Morgenthau believes the opposite, but attests to how good the house looks on camera.
“It was very film-unfriendly, but it was worth every bit of effort and heartbreak and stepping on top of each other,” the cinematographer says. “It was a classic, Schindler-influenced building, where the interiors and exteriors flowed from one to the other, but it was not easy,” he laughs.
Other locations used include the prestigious law firm, Jones Day, The Standard Hotel Downtown LA rooftop bar, Los Angeles City Hall and the now-vacant women’s prison, Sybil Brand Institute. The company also spent time at a private residence in Hancock Park, at RFK Medical Center in Hawthorne, in Santa Monica at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel and at Steelcase Furniture Showroom and Sales Office, and in Long Beach at St. Mary’s Hospital and West Coast Aircraft Charters, among others sites.
Hoblit hopes Fracture entices the same audiences who loved Primal Fear. “I think the film has wide appeal,” he says. “It’s entertaining, it’s got a brain, and it showcases a lot of wonderful actors who will probably expand their fan bases because it’s a different look into what they can do.”
Anthony Hopkins agrees. “It’s a well-made movie of the old school,” he says. “You want to know if Willy’s going to nail Crawford, but you’re more fascinated by the process of getting there.”
And even though executive producer Hawk Koch knows the ending, he vows, “I still can’t wait to sit in the theatre with my popcorn, watch the movie and just escape for a couple of hours. Hopefully audiences will agree.”
2007 Film Entertainment Magazine / EMOL.org. All rights reserved.