ARTICLE: An Inside Look At Shooting The Last Scene of Cosmopolis

The article accompanying the new photos from today has been translated and does a wonderful job of giving us a peek at life on the Cosmopolis set.  It’s very spoiler-y but illustrates how David Cronenberg, Robert Pattinson and Paul Giamatti work together to create the final scene of the movie.

Read the article after the cut

“On the week when David Cronenberg visits Portugal – he presents his last movie “A Dangerous Method” – Expresso releases a report done on the last day of shooting for his next movie “Cosmopolis”. Robert Pattinson is the lead in the 1st transatlantic production for Paulo Branco. The screen adaptation for the Don DeLilo novel, shot in Toronto between May and July, and arrives in theatres in 2012.

We arrive to Canada on July 11th, at the time when the Cosmopolis team just left the Pinewood Toronto Studios, where most of the movie was shot, to install itself on another compound. Mission: to accompany the last days (in fact they were the latest 24 hours) of shooting for Cronenberg’s new movie. We’re going to watch the last scenes of the movie that correspond to the last chapter in the book. Eric Michael Packer (Robert Pattinson), the lead character and Benno Levin (Paul Giamatti) the man who will finish it all have a decisive dialogue. Pattinson, a now mega-star due to his participation in the Twilight Saga. is working for the first time with this director. His character, Eric is a Manhattan golden boy. 20 years old. Stock market broker who has made a lot of money. On that morning of traffic jams, he decides to cross New York in his limo to get a haircut. Addicted to the logic power that runs the American empire, confident on his excess of confidence (?), he decided to bet everything against the valorisation of the yen. In the 24 hours in which the Don DeLilo novel runs Eric will lose his whole fortune. Haunted by real enemies and by the ghost of his own end e goes on a descent to Hell: is condemnation is irreversible.

Cronenberg lost no time in transforming this story in which finances dictate the death of the ego, as the narrative progresses it takes the nature of a hallucination. We are in “cronenberguian” terrain by excellence. The owner of the rights for the Don DeLilo piece, it was producer Paulo Branco who suggested this movie to the Canadian moviemaker. Branco occupied himself with the financial building of his most ambitious project to date, and his first North-American experience, in this French-Canadian production that cost 20 million dollars. When we arrived in Canada, names like Sarah Gadon, Samantha Morton, Kevin Durand, Juliette Binoche, Jay Baruchel and Mathieu Amaric have already passed by the Cosmopolis set…Pattinson and Giamatti were the ones who stayed for the grand finale.

Tuesday, July 12th. At 10am in the morning we pass by Giamatti in the hotel lobby in downtown Toronto. Walter Gasparovic, first director’s assistant for Cronenberg welcomes us half an hour later, somewhere in the city’s suburbs. Gasparovic has been working with Cronenberg since “eXistenZ” (1999). He’s part of a very loyal team that makes this shooting look like a family gathering. We get in on a studio department that’s no less that then thousand square metres. Parked outside are 20 trucks that support the cast and the technical teams (and as many for the next door studio where they’re currently shooting a “Total Recall” remake with Colin Farrel, but with no Verhoeven or Schwarzenegger). We should not think a movie is measured in how many trucks are outside, and if it does impress, let it be known that for a production like this the “apparatus” is only required for minimal services.

Inside the studio, Arvinder Grewal, artistic director, has built the last décor of the movie: the room in that dirty, dark building where Eric ends up at the end of the book – reflective of his state of mind. In this moment, Eric is already a destroyed man fighting his biggest enemy: himself. On the set is also the Polish photography director, Peter Suschitzky who’s been working with Cronenberg since “Dead Ringers” (1988) – in their own way, they’re inseparable too. In charge of the sound mixture is the experienced Jean-Paul Mugel. Also there are Ron Hewitt, head chief for the artistic department, Dug Rotstein, script supervisor (another “cronenberguian” who’s been with him for more than 20 years now), Denise Cronenberg, who’s been doing costumes for her brother’s movies since “The Fly” and, Caitlin Cronenberg, David’s daughter, a plastic artist who’s here as a set photographer and is the only person on studio allowed to carry a camera. That’s not to be thought of as strange, weeks before Pattinson was caught by paparazzi during an outside shoot (these photos would then appear all over the Internet). Caitlin is, therefore, the author of all the photos in these pages, which are being seen for the first time.
Our presence is noted. We appear at the end of a shoot that, until now, had not welcomed any press visits. Doing a report in this case is a thing to manage very carefully, a word too many and it might seem abusive. We’re not allowed in the bit of the set where they’re about to film. We have the script in our hands. They offer us chairs in privileged positions for the third monitor, the one that belongs to Jasper Vrakking, responsible for the digital treatment of image. The second monitor is occupied by Dug Rotstein. At the first is, obviously, Suschitzky. When Cronenberg’s on set, in front of the actors, he rarely ever looks at the monitors. He works, as always, with only one camera: he’s part of that moviemaker family that allows only one point of view.

When we get in the studio we see the white limo (a Lincoln) in which Eric Packer starts the movie. They explain to us that the adapted scrip was absolutely loyal to the original’s dialogues. Also here are remains from other décor: the yellowed barbershop Eric decided to visit, it reminds us of “Naked Lunch” (1991). It’s now 10:50 pm. Pattinson and Giamatti aren’t at the studio yet. In their places are two body doubles dresses exactly like the characters, Eric (in a black suit) and Benno (with a towel on his head), it’s with them that the technical team makes the last preparations for the shoot. Cronenberg arrives shortly after, we are introduced, he shakes our hands with a “make yourself at home” and a “you don’t work for “News of the World, right?” (the scandal about illegalities in the British newspaper had broken just days ago). He’s the friendly person who we had met before and who we met again two months later at the Venice Festival for an interview on “A Dangerous Method”. As for Pattinson and Giamatti, they’re only allowed inside when everything is ready to go.

That’s what happens at 12:15pm. Pattinson and Giamatti arrive on set. It’s all very fast, there’s no time to lose. 3 minutes later, absolute silence. The bell that “shuts everyone up” rings and the camera starts rolling, Cronenberg scream “action”, it’s the first take of the day: a dialogue drenched in humour and derision between Eric and Benno. Eric says: “You’re upset because you feel like you don’t have a role to play, there’s no place for you. But you have to question yourself: who’s to blame?” The 1st take goes all the way to the end but Cronenberg is not happy. The same with the second that fails: Giamatti bursts out laughing. Suschitzky measures the lighting again. It’s his first time working with an Alexa, the latest digital camera from Arriflex; arrived on the market in 2010 (it was the high tech response to the Red One by Canon). The third take starts: goes all the way to the end, all seems well. Cronenberg asks for a fourth that fails again. On the fifth, Giamatti explodes on a sentence previously quietly said: “I wanna be known as Benno!” Nobody expected that reaction, almost a scream, not even Cronenberg. Silence. Everything’s done, that take is the one that will make it. Suschitzky and Mugel do an OK sign.

At 1pm Cronenberg gives Pattinson and Giamatti indications for the next shot. He speaks to them about “Sleuth: Autopsy of a Crime” because, just like in the last Mickiewicz’s movie, it will be necessary to do the next dialogue in one single long take, no cuts. We make good on that time by asking Mugel what’s the sound design for the set, he explains us that he has four open ways, one mic on Pattinson’s lapel, another one on Giamatti and two others on “perches”. Cronenberg is following the chronology of the argument (and the book) and filming in sequence, like Eustache used to do, like Garrel does. He gets ready to shoot a central scene in the movie in which Eric/Pattinson shoots himself in the hand in front of Benno (like DeLilo wrote, “Eric didn’t know if he was suffering.”) The body doubles get back on set and the actors disappear. They come back at 2:15pm for the first take. Pattinson ends the scene by simulating the shot (and the pain). The tech for the Mr. X. company, in charge with the special effects is paying attention, later he will “add” blood to Eric’s hand and the sound of the gun going off in post-production.

2:40pm: the next scene is prepared, a shorter one this time. The long final dialogue for “Cosmopolis” between Eric and Benno still has a few pages to go. Giamatti adds to this scene a new dose of emotion. “That’s where the answer was, in your body, in your prostate.” Eric, just like Benno, who will be his executioner, has an asymmetric prostate and what he metaphorically means is “the importance of asymmetries, of skewed objects”, since Eric has already condemned himself, it was for blindly believing in the contrary: perfection. Cronenberg does two takes. Told like this, it seems that making movies is easy.

At 4pm, lunch break. Cronenberg tells us about the immense surprise of working with Pattinson. Of how this role can potentially change the young British actor’s career. An hour and a half later it’s back to work. The team is relaxed: they’re one week ahead of the predicted shooting schedule. Walter Gasparovic, in front of his monitor, looks in the rushes for the exact moment when Eric’s gun fell on set to avoid a fake continuity mistake (“the Internet falls on us if we fail at this”). After that Cronenberg smilingly informs us that he decided to shoot the last part in one single shot, but that implies, by a question of focus and depth of field, they have to intensify the lighting on set. Suschitzky doesn’t hesitate: “Let’s knock down some walls.” It’s the most important technical challenge of the day.

8:50pm, Cronenberg finally prepares to shoot the scene. The dialogue is very intense and it’s going to take about 4 minutes with no cuts. “I still need to shoot you…” starts Benno. The first take fails. On the second one, Paul Giamatti goes almost to the end but breaks: his part is long and hard. Everyone’s mesmerized by the monitors, it’s a heavy moment and not a fly is heard on set. The third take goes even worse. The fourth is a success but Cronenberg is still not completely happy with Pattinson’s conclusion: the finale of DeLilo’s book is a cosa mentale, reflexive and distant; it transports itself into a twilight zone that goes way beyond the simple extermination of the lead character. It’s not easy to enclose a suggestion on a cinema plan. The fifth take is started. Cronenberg says go. Benno goes around a table and points a gun at Eric. “As it is, you’re already dead. You’re like someone that has died already, a hundred years ago, many centuries ago (…) I wanted you to save me.” Robert Pattinson closes his eyes like he’s never done before. He stays like that for a few seconds. High tension moment. He opens his eyes. Cronenberg yells “cut”. It’s a genius take, you can feel it in the air. For a moment, the team was suspended one foot above ground and now they exhale in relief. This is certainly the take that will make it to the movie theatres, sometime in 2012. The filming is done. On our way out of the studio, 11pm in Toronto, we meet Cronenberg again: “You know I could not cut that take while Robert had his eyes closed. I had to wait for him to open them. I could have waited forever. Grand maître. [The big master.]”

From the Expresso newspaper magazine. November 5th

So many things are amazing in that article. So many things! The intensity of the dilogue, the way Rob played the last shot and David giving the actors full control. Sounds amazing.

Grand maître indeed…

If you missed the photos and scans from this article, view them here.

Translation via

  • I love directors that just let you feel the character and “go with your gut” and then clean up after if needed. I just worked with a director who dictated how we moved, how we spoke…every bit of character development and backstory we created in the beginning was tossed out. I felt like saying to her, ‘honey. you really don’t need us….why don’t you just get up here and perform the whole show yourself?”

    Cronenberg is an actor’s dream!!

  • Aussiegirl

    Jesus. Even with the limitations of the English translation, I was riveted to this article. I love that so much of the dialogue from the novel will be used in the film. The dialogue and the descriptive language from Cosmopolis has resonated with so many of us. I mean, it is so powerful and well written that we quote freely from it and it is instantly recognisable.

    I have a feeling we may all need to take LSD before watching the movie. It is going to be a total existential trip. I can’t wait to wallow in it and talk about it for days/weeks afterwards.

    I want so much for Rob and his involvement in this project. This is the one that will really give him the credibility he longs for. Just hearing his ‘in character’ voice has convinced me that he has nailed Eric Packer to the wall. Having said that, I am equally excited to see Giamatti, Binoche, and Baruchel (all three I adore) and who I can see wearing the cloaks of their characters so completely. I am less familiar with Gadon but what I have seen (and heard *cough*) so far, show that she is going to be a pitch-perfect Elise.

    The final paragraph in this article? Talking about the final shot? Cronenberg waiting for Rob/Eric to reopen his eyes before calling “Cut”? Chills.

  • OMG, I could FEEL the intensity of that final scene….this is going to be amazing.

  • suziekew

    WOW. This was amazing to read – I feel so privileged to have had a glimpse into this final day of shooting (although I could have sworn Rob was already gone by July 11! lol). Cronenberg is indeed a master film-maker and I couldn’t agree more with Aussiegirl that this is the role that will give him critical acclaim, due in no small part to David’s artistic generosity at giving actors the room they need to interpret a scene and his genius in knowing what to use to best effect. And most definitely, even from the LQ trailer, you can tell that Rob has hit it out of the park with his portrayal of Eric. Gah, I’m so excited and happy for him that he got this amazing role with such a stellar cash and director…let’s hope we don’t have to wait a full year to see it!

    • suziekew

      cast, rather

  • “Frightening freedom”…how it makes sense to experience acting in such a way when playing a character who himself ,for all his wealth and knowing, is surprisingly unfree and is on a one day journey to liberation.
    So many things in relation to this movie have somehow coincided, this synergy of minds is even felt in the article. I truly believe it will be extraordinary.
    Thanks Marina for the translation 🙂

  • Waymazing spoilers! I can’t even find the right words to describe how happy I am about Rob working on this movie. What an amazing experience this must have been working with such a wonderful director who just lets you feel your way through it. I imagine that’s a nightmare for someone who needs micromanaging but Rob being the pro that he is nailed it!

    “You know I could not cut that take while Robert had his eyes closed. I had to wait for him to open them. I could have waited forever. Grand maître. [The big master.]“

    SERIOUSLY………CHILLS! *rubs hands together with glee*

  • Amazing article. I cannot express how much I love that Cronenberg gave Rob this role. It obviously was an awesome experience and I’m sure Rob learned so much from him.

    We have so much to look forward to in this movie. The waiting is going to be torture.

  • Kim

    Really good to read that. Fun to get an inside view and the feeling of it all. I love it that it is such a team, the whole production and everybody has to get ready and work together. I’m also glad that someone is getting these great roles that is not full of themselves, makes it all the better. And Cronenberg too, he’s a delight and gives revealing interviews. Guess I’ve been in the US clouds for awhile. Thanks.

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