Last night I had the privilege of seeing Hugo a second time at my favorite* NYC theater, the Ziegfeld. It's an enormous "Old Hollywood" feeling place, one of the last of its kind so it couldn't have been a better setting for an all guild screening of a movie that's obsessed with the history of the movies just like Martin Scorsese himself. Let's call him "Papa Scorsese" today since he brought along nearly his entire movie "family" apart from cinematographer Robert Richardson (referred to as "Bob") who Scorsese joked was 'off filming a movie with this new guy called Quentin somebody (?)'
Everyone else was there: Legendary art director Dante Ferretti, legendary editor Thelma Schoonmaker, legendary costume designer Sandy Powell... well you get the idea...
NOTES FROM THE EVENT
Dante Ferretti, Art Direction
His job didn't change much in 3D, he revealed. He joked that the room we're sitting in is 3D. It took him six months to build the sets. He and his team built everything: the station, the glass movie house, even Papa Georges's (Ben Kingsley) apartment. With the look of the film they were attempting to base it not on realistic research but on images from the cinema and French cinema of the period specifically.
Ellen Lewis, Casting
She had not seen The Boy With Stryped Pajamas when the casting search for the lead role of Hugo began in New York, London and Los Angeles simultaneously. Someone sent her the movie and she met with Asa Butterfield the first week she was in London.
Many times, oddly, in casting children you find the child you're looking for in the first week or the last week. I don't know how to explain why."
They decided to have everyone speak in British accents after casting Asa because they didn't want to alter his voice and he was the first actor cast.
The visual effects supervisor -- his name escapes me in. Apologies -- had this to say about George Melies as the originator of special effects?
He didn't have anything to refer to besides his own imagination. Before I started the movie I had only seen Voyage to the Moon and I thought it was okay but then I started to really study his films, like that clip where he throws his head up into the stanza of music. That's genius. I had to play it back three or four times to figure out how he did it. He did this in 1905 so I felt rather small."
Sandy Powell Costume Design
Hugo's sweater was a vintage item she found and then she had to recreate it hundreds of time. Some costumes were vintage, some were created based from scratch, others based on costumes seen onscreen in Melies films that have survived. In the "Kingdom of the Fairies" sequence, her crew is onscreen playing the ladies in the costumes. Fun trivia!
Thelma Schoonmaker, Editing
She actually edited most of the picture in 3D, unlike most 3D films which are edited in 2D. They used flip-up glasses so that she and Marty didn't have to talk to each other through lenses.
Howard Shore, Composer
They tried to use only sounds and instruments from the turn of the century period. He composed both for the sextet in the film to achieve the necessary intimacy (the train station, where most of the film takes place, has a live band) but used a full orchestra to create 'depth' elsewhere. They tried to use only period correct train whistles and such in the music and sound effects but Shore admits he cheated on occassion.
FUN EXTRA TIDBITS
• Johnny Depp was filming Pirates of the Carribean: On Stranger Tides on the next soundstage and they kept trying to get him over for a day for a cameo but it didn't happen.
• There was a lot of discussion about whether to cast two actresses as "Mama George" given that she has to appear in flashbacks and as an older woman. They opted for 43 year old Helen McCrory (who is wonderful in the film but 25 years younger than screen husband Ben Kingsley) because she has "a wonderful maturity" but could still be believable as a younger woman.
• Martin Scorsese was evasive about a question involving the budget "there's no such thing as having the money to do something" but he did get a laugh with the punchline alluding to how expensive it was...
Because of the 3D, because of the sets, because of the green screen, because of the labor laws in England with children which required us to have access to the children for only 4 hours a day non-conseuctive, add to that dogs, throw in hundreds if extras ...and Sacha Baron Cohen. "
• One man in a Scorsese t-shirt (Scorsese loved!) asked "What advice would you have for ambitious young filmmaker?" Scorsese said he started essentially making comic strips and flip books when he was young and there was no access to cameras but today's young filmmakers in the digital age just need to pick up a camera and start doing it
Think about framing and how to tell stories. But beyond that... tenacity"
* Why is The Ziegfeld my favorite theater? Apart from its enormity (all movie theaters should be so enormous) and its Old Hollywood flair, which would be more than reason enough, it's the first place I ever saw Michelle Pfeiffer in the flesh (October 1999) and the first place I saw Moulin Rouge! (May 2001) and the first and only big screen on which I've ever seen Funny Girl (which they restored and rereleased in... was it also 2001? Can't recall) which is partially about the Zeigfeld Theater. So many reasons it's my favorite. It's a true palace of dreams.