The unexpected call came in April 2007. No sooner had production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas started working on “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” than he found himself speaking to a deep-voiced Spanish producer. It was Fernando Bovaira, a power behind “The Others” and “The Sea Inside,” and partner of those films’ helmer, Alejandro Amenabar.
“He said, ‘We have a very ambitious project and we’re looking for someone who can handle it,’ ” Dyas recalled.
Not long afterward Dyas was on his way to Madrid to meet the producer-director team and learn about their plans for “Agora.” Set in 3rd-century Alexandria, Egypt, pic follows the life of the astronomer Hypatia, played by Rachel Weisz, as she strives to understand the nature of the universe while living in the midst of social and religious turmoil.
Newmarket will release “Agora” in New York on Friday and in L.A. on June 4.
The film — with elements of love, jealousy, violence and faith — is about nothing less than the nature of knowledge and man’s place in the cosmos.
Dyas got the job and his brief was to re-create teeming Alexandria — the intellectual center of its day — and its great library, a repository of learning in the Mediterranean world.
While still working on “Indiana Jones,” he spent weekends in research, and in October 2007, he relocated to Madrid and led a small team that created a scale model of the main location.
The production moved to Malta in early 2008 and construction began.
“Alejandro wanted a realistic environment without a lot of CGI,” Dyas said. “The sets were enormous. I took some deep breaths when we finished the model and realized what we were about to undertake.”
Three main sites were built from scratch: the library interior with courtyards and temples; its exterior with steps leading up a hill to an enormous entryway, where a greenscreen was placed to make the link between the two; and the city center of Alexandria.
“Alejandro’s demands were very challenging, but I was determined to get everything in front of the camera for him,” Dyas said. “As with any such project, budget was a problem. We had a good budget, but considering the amount we had to build, it was not very much.”
Dyas was also happy to work with costume designer Gabriella Pescucci, his collaborator on Terry Gilliam’s “The Brothers Grimm,” and praised her during his early conversations with Amenabar.
“There’s perfect understanding between us with regard to color, texture and what we want the film to look like,” Dyas said. “They already had Gabriella in mind, so my mentioning her was music to their ears.
“I put my soul into each film I do. I always leave a little bit behind,” said Dyas, who also designed “Superman Returns” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age.” Fortunately, he had enough creative energy left over after “Agora” to take on Christopher Nolan’s “Inception.”
Bookings & Signings
Mirisch Agency bookings: production designers Richard Hudolin on Steve Holland’s “The Fairly Odd Parents” and Paul Austerberry on Paul W.S. Anderson’s “The Three Musketeers”; vfx supervisors Jeff Okun on Catherine Hardwicke’s “The Girl With the Red Riding Hood” and Eric Robertson on David Frankel’s “The Big Year.”
More Mirisch: costume designer Mandi Line on ABC Family’s ” Pretty Little Liars”; d.p. Lukas Ettlin on Brad Furman’s “The Lincoln Lawyer”; editors Lisa Churgin on Julie Anne Robinson’s “One for the Money,” Stuart Baird on Martin Campbell’s “The Green Lan tern,” Roger Barton on Michael Bay’s “Transformers 3,” Barbara Tulliver on Jim Sheridan’s “Dream House,” Todd Miller on Simon West’s “The Mechanic,” Michael Sale on an untitled Paul Feig project, Steven Weisberg on Michael Apted’s “Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” and Mark Baldwin on TNT’s “Dark Blue” and CW’s “Nikita.”
Gersh Agency bookings: editors Sam Bauer on Adam Sherman’s “Crazy Eyes,” Alan Baumgarten on Reuben Fleischer’s “30 Minutes or Less,” Amy Duddleston on HBO’s “In Treatment” and Michael Kahn on Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse”; line producers Bill Carraro on Pierre Morel’s “Dune,” Jeffrey Chernov on Brad Bird’s “Mission Impossible 4,” Ged Dickersin on Richard Leeds’ “Foreclosure,” Mike Grillo on Marc Webb’s “Spider-Man 4,” Ron Schmidt on Wes Craven’s “Scream 4,” Todd Hallowell on Ron Howard’s “Cheaters” and Brent O’Connor on McG’s “This Means War.”
More Gersh: production designers Bill Brzeski on Nima Nourizadeh’s “Project X,” Rick Carter on Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse,” Rusty Smith on Todd Strauss-Schulson’s “A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas” and Therese DePrez on David Koepp’s “Premium Rush”: d.p.’s Mitch Amundsen on “Premium Rush,” Scott Kevan on Chris Gorak’s “Darkest Hour,” Sharone Meir on Adam Sherman’s “Crazy Eyes,” Steven Poster on Rob Minkoff’s “Flypaper,” Paul Sarossy on Showtime’s “Borgias” and Ken Seng on Nima Nourizadeh’s “Project X.”
Dattner Dispoto has signed d.p. Michael Green (“Law & Order: Criminal Intent”).