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Is ‘The Revenant’ the Most Hellish Shoot of All Time?

Is 'The Revenant' the Most Hellish Shoot of All Time?

Long reads still reveal the rewards of shoe-leather reporting, writerly craft and attention to detail.  ESPN contributor Chris Connelly, now editor-in-chief of Grantland, used to write and edit at the late, lamented monthly magazine Premiere (as did I), where writers would hang out for days with cast and crew on the set during production and write, at a leisurely pace, a long feature months later. Now Grantland is one of the few places left in the media landscape that devotes time to long-reads with actual reporting.

Connelly has shared the fruits of the time he spent in the editing room of Alejandro Gonzalez Iñárritu’s much-anticipated frontier saga “The Revenant” (Fox, December 25), shot in the Canadian Rockies with precious little natural light by the great back-to-back Oscar-winner Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki. Connelly also got on the phone. 

So, it seems, did another former Premiere writer now at The Hollywood Reporter, Kim Masters, who paints an even more vivid portrait of the arduous shoot. So negative is her version of what the cast and crew endured that G. Iñárritu had to defend himself. The proof will be in the film, he suggests–no green-screen short cuts. But, I think, his reputation as a demanding hard-ass on the level of Michael Mann or James Cameron, who Masters has also covered critically in the past, will be cemented as well.

Her story conjures up memories of “Titanic” and “The Abyss,” an experience for which Ed Harris–no slouch–never forgave Cameron. The other issue is the question of budget overruns, which can happen when an ambitious filmmaker like G. Iñárritu graduates from Fox Searchlight which has budget caps to the big-studio level where more money is flowing. There are no guarantees that this movie will be any more commercial than another art-house folly–Alfonso Cuaron’s “Children of Men,” which cost $76 million (or far more, plus marketing) and grossed just $70 million worldwide. 

Set in the 1820s, “The Revenant” is based on the legend of a mountain man who survived a bear mauling after being left to die and trekked 300 miles to wreak his revenge. In silence. “Actors were not in sets with green screens and laughing,” G. Iñárritu told Connelly. “They were miserable! And they really feel the fucking cold in their ass! They were not acting at all!”

“To pull off these complicated sequences, like a ballet, movement needed to be precise,” said DiCaprio. “When it came down to that nail-biting moment to capture that magic light, every day was like putting on a mini-piece of theater. If we lost that one hour, if we didn’t accomplish what we had to accomplish, we were there the next day. And oftentimes many of these locations were very remote. So it was a very intense set, because we knew we only had one shot every single day. Otherwise … we would be back there again.”

Entertainment Weekly rarely runs its longer form stories in the magazine, which keeps things tight–but they are putting them online. Anthony Breznican’s excellent on-location story on disappearing drive-ins is worth a read. 

And so is Rolling Stone’s return to another genre that was a Premiere staple: the oral history, anniversary interviews with as many participants in a movie as possible, in this case, Larry Clark’s “Kids,” which 20 years ago introduced new talents Rosario Dawson, Chloe Sevigne and yes, Harmony Korine–as well as some street kids who, sadly, are no longer with us. That was a really dangerous set. 

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