Filmmaker Neil Marshall talks 'Centurion'

Filmmakers fear bad weather, but helmer Neil Marshall welcomed it when he shot the aerial footage for “Centurion,” his over-the-top, blood-and-gore story of the Roman Empire’s ninth legion, which, according to legend, vanished while warring against the savage Picts in Scotland in 117 AD.

Magnolia’s Magnet arm released the film on VOD on Saturday and will open it theatrically on Aug. 27.

Scotland’s wild, spectacular landscapes play a major role in “Centurion,” and Marshall wanted to show them off with panoramic aerial photography. The only concern: He shot scenes on the ground with the main actors in harsh, wintry conditions from February through April 2009, and according to the production schedule, the aerial photography was skedded for the spring.

“We were afraid it would be all glorious sunshine and grassy valleys,” d.p. Sam McCurdy said. “Fortunately we had huge snowfalls in the U.K. last year, and when we flew the helicopters it was windy and cold, with lots of snow on the ground.”

That’s the look Marshall hoped for. “I wanted to flip the Roman Empire on its head,” he said. “Instead of sandals, sunshine and dust, this story is all about snow, rain and wind at the farthest reaches of the empire. It was a dangerous place, and we wanted to show exactly what the Romans had to deal with up there.”

His films are known for brutality and violence (“Dog Soldiers,” “The Descent”), but Marshall is also the son of a history buff and grew up steeped in the lore of Northern England. Hadrian’s Wall, built by the occupying Romans to keep the Picts at bay, runs through his hometown of Newcastle.

That also happens to be where McCurdy grew up. The two men, who both now live in London, didn’t meet till they were in their 20s. They became close friends and McCurdy has shot all of Marshall’s films.

The d.p. was involved with “Centurion” from the early script stage. At first it was conceived partly as a documentary travelogue. “At one time we had no budget, no actors,” McCurdy said.

However, once Michael Fassbender — coming off his turn in “Inglourious Basterds” — became attached, a kind of domino effect took place; other actors joined and “suddenly we found that the production could bring in a lot more money than Neil and I had originally thought,” McCurdy said.

Armed with a budget of about $10 million, Marshall and McCurdy were able to shoot on 35mm film. “These days, digital would be the way to go because you can run longer and the cameras are lighter, especially for helicopter shots,” McCurdy said. “But for this project, Neil and I wanted a raw, organic kind of feel. We did tests with digital and it didn’t seem as visceral.”

Marshall is now developing a horror film with Sam Raimi, “Burst 3D,” his first 3D project. “It’s all about people exploding,” he said. “If it’s up to me, Sam (McCurdy) will be shooting it.”

The d.p. would seem to have an inside track. He shot “Streetdance 3D,” a surprise hit in the U.K.

Signings & Bookings

The Mirisch Agency has signed costume designer Marilyn Vance (“My Best Friend’s Girl”), d.p. Laurent Bares (“Hitman”) and editor Barrie Wise (“CSI”). Agency has booked producers Joe Caracciolo Jr. on David Dobkin’s “The Change-Up” and Douglas Curtis on David Ellis’ “Shark Night 3D”; production designers Stephen Hendrickson on CBS’ “The Good Wife,” John Kasarda on Fox’s “Running Wilde,” Patrizia von Brandenstein on Geoffrey Fletcher’s “Violet and Daisy,” Stuart Wurtzel on Mark Waters’ “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” and Cary White on ABC’s “My Generation”; and vfx producer Karen Murphy on Juan Solanas’ “Upside Down.”

Mirisch has booked editors Debbie Berman on Don Handfield’s “Touchback,” Anita Brandt Burgoyne on Savage Steve Holland’s “The Fairly Odd Parents,” Lisa Bromwell on CBS’ “Criminal Minds” spinoff series, Conrad Buff and Mark Goldblatt on Rupert Wyatt’s “Rise of the Apes,” Tod Feuerman on Lifetime miniseries “Marry Me,” James Herbert on Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes 2,” Kathryn Himoff on NBC’s “Outsourced,” Michael Jablow on Melanie Mayron’s “Meaner Girls,” Martin Nicholson on NBC’s “Outlaw,” Geoffrey Rowland on Jeff Bleckner’s “Let Them Shine,” Eric Sears on Steven Quale’s “Final Destination 5″ and Barrie Wise on CBS’ “CSI.”

Montana Artists has booked UPM Steve Wakefield on A&E’s “Breakout Kings,” costume designers Kelli Jones on TNT’s “Franklin & Bash” and Antoinette Messam on Syfy’s “Three Inches” and first AD Nilo Otero on Joel Schumacher’s “Trespass.”

Sheldon Prosnit commercial d.p. bookings: Shawn Kim on Bud Light, Matthias Koenigswieser on Nike, Marco Mazzei on Pantene, Christopher Probst on Lincoln and Stoeps Langensteiner on Jimmy Dean.

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