Chambliss gets early start on 'Cowboys and Aliens'

When Steven Soderbergh and producer Greg Jacobs were in pre-production on “Che” in remote parts of Latin America, they drew unexpected inspiration while watching a DVD of Woody Allen’s “Bananas.”

Composer Marvin Hamlisch’s score for the 1971 comedy somehow seemed perfect for one of their upcoming projects, offbeat comedy “The Informant.”

“I said to Steven, ‘Let’s approach Marvin,'” Jacobs recalls. “He said, ‘You’re reading my mind.’ So I set up a meeting.”

Hamlisch, who hadn’t scored a feature since Barbra Streisand’s “The Mirror Has Two Faces” in 1996, experienced a composer’s equivalent of writer’s block when he started working on Soderbergh’s quirky picture. The director tasked him with creating a score that had to tip the film’s emotional scale from bizarre tale of corporate espionage to laugh-out-loud comedy.

“The first two weeks everyone was nervous around me, saying, ‘When are you gonna write the notes?'” says Hamlisch. “I kept saying, ‘I’m trying, I’m trying.’ But the score didn’t work in the conventional manner, where one tries to be supportive of the scene.

“I don’t know how other composers work, but for me, the most important thing is to figure out the score’s point of view. Once you get that, everything else follows.”

Hamlisch unlocked the creative flow by going into the mind of protagonist Mark Whiteacre, played by Matt Damon. “He’s bipolar, and I realized that doing a bipolar score was the way to do it,” says Hamlisch. “From his point of view, everything in his life was just fine, and everything outside it was the bad guys.

“The movie starts off almost like a film noir, very mysterious, then, seconds later, we see a bouncy, cheerful guy at the office (accompanied by) two flutes and a piccolo. For want of a better word, (the music) became another character in the film, the inner voice of a bipolar person, telling him, ‘Don’t worry, everything is fine. I’m right, and those bad guys over there are wrong.’ “

Where no cowboy has gone before

Production designer Scott Chambliss is hard at work on helmer Jon Favreau’s “Cowboys and Aliens,” even though the film isn’t scheduled to start shooting till summer 2010.

“As usual, I’m the first one on,” says Chambliss, who did the production design on this year’s “Star Trek.”

That film’s extraterrestrial trappings had little to do with getting him this latest gig. “We’re not doing anything like ‘Star Trek,'” he says. “This film is set in the Old West, with a lot of the setpieces we expect in a classic Western.”

As the film’s title suggests, Chambliss’ main challenge is to “smash two genres together, to show what the two worlds will look like, how they correspond and how they clash.”

So far, Chambliss has looked at lots of sci-fi films and is putting together “a visual jumping-off point to get the conversation rolling.” He hopes to bring on set decorator Karen Manthey, a longtime collaborator.

Signings and Bookings

The Mirisch Agency has signed cinematographers Billy Dickson and Andrew Shulkind; vfx supervisors Richard Edlund and Bill Taylor; editor Mark Goldblatt; and line producers Anthony Santa Croce, Doug Curtis and Buzz Koenig. Mirisch bookings: d.p. Lukas Ettlin on Jonathan Liebesman’s “Battle: Los Angeles”; production designer Stephen Hendrickson on CBS’ “The Good Wife”; and line producer Don Carmody and vfx supervisor Eric J. Robertson on Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil: Afterlife.”

Mirisch has also booked editors Kevin Stitt on the Michael Jackson film “This Is It,” Roger Barton on Joe Carnahan’s “The A-Team,” Wendy Bricmont on Thor Freudenthal’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” Lisa Zeno Churgin for Scott Stewart’s “Priest,” Virginia Katz on Steve Antin’s “Burlesque,” Walter Murch on “The Wolfman,” Alec Smight on CBS’ “CSI,” Tim Streeto on Noah Baumbach’s “Greenburg” and Steven Weisberg on Roger Michell’s “Morning Glory.”

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Paradigm signings: producers Rob Cowan (“Righteous Kill”), Steve Saeta (“Spider-Man”), Lou Phillips (“Zodiac”) and Butch Kaplan (“The Notebook”); d.p. David Harp (“The Closer”); and production designer Ricardo Jattan.

Bookings: Kaplan as post supervisor on Andrew Jarecki’s “All Good Things”; producers Mark Cooper on “The Diplomat” and Brian Bell on Miguel Arteta’s “Cedar Rapids”; d.p. Massi Trevis on “Cinderella 2000″; d.p. Greg Gardiner and editor Don Brochu on TV movie “The Business of Lying”; production designer Beth Mickle on Ryan Fleck’s “It’s Kind of a Funny Story”; and costume designer Deborah Everton on Andrew Meieran’s “Highland Park.”

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Dattner Dispoto has signed d.p. Fernando Arguelles (“Prison Break”) and booked cinematographers Paul Cameron on Malcolm Venville’s “Henry’s Crime” and Daniel Moder on “Highland Park.”

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Murtha Agency has booked d.p.’s John Aronson on Rosemary Rodriguez’s “Pregnancy Pact,” Gabriel Beristain on Roland Joffe’s “There Be Dragons,” Robert Brinkmann on Alex Zamm’s “Beverly Hills Chihuahua 2,” David Eggby on Jonathan English’s “Ironclad,” Glen MacPherson on Paul W.S. Anderson’s “Resident Evil: Afterlife,” Steve Mason on Predrag Antonijevic’s “Little Murder,” John Schwartzman on Michel Gondry’s “The Green Hornet,” John Toll on George Nolfi’s “Adjustment Bureau” and Oliver Wood on Adam McKay’s “The Other Guys.”

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