'Expendables' helmer has an eye for detail

When Sly Stallone talks, people listen.

The director and star of “The Expendables” knew exactly how he wanted this past weekend’s B.O champ to look, and while shooting it, he used his powers of persuasion to make sure every detail lived up to his expectations.

The film, shot in Brazil and New Orleans, required complicated logistics and coordination among the teams handling location work, stunts and cinematography.

Brazil photography came first, mostly for exteriors. The production then moved to New Orleans to shoot to bulk of the scenes. The challenge was to find Big Easy locations to match the exotic and visually specific settings in South America.

The task fell to location manager Ed Lipscomb and his key assistant, Greg McNamara, who’ve worked as a team in New Orleans since the city was hit by Hurricane Katrina. “Sly was very precise,” Lipscomb said. “He wanted us to get creative and find the right places.”

“He was never completely satisfied,” McNamara added. “He pushed us to dig deep and find some great locations.”

For example, much of the action set in a fictitious Latin American island takes place in an underground tunnel. None could be found in Brazil, so the search took place in New Orleans. “That’s not easy here either because much of the city is below sea level and has no basements,” Lipscomb said.

But eventually the location team came upon Fort Macomb, a dilapidated, Civil War structure overgrown with brush that happened to have ideal dungeon-like underground spaces.

Stallone did some scouting on his own to find the tattoo parlor that serves as a social club for the film’s action stars. “He just took off down the street in the warehouse district,” said Lipscomb, “came across something he liked, and then we went after it and got it for him.”

During the shooting, Stallone was adamant his stars be front and center, even in dangerous scenes requiring multiple stunt performers. “His brief was, ‘I’ve hired action stars, and I’d like to see them in the action,’?” stunt coordinator Chad Stahelski said.

“With him it’s, ‘Yes, sir,’ so we designed sequences that kept the stars in the action much of the time. That’s Jet (Lee) and Jason (Statham) running through explosions and doing their own fight scenes. But you’re dealing with guys who already do upwards of 90% of their own stunts; you choreograph around their strengths so they stay in the sequence.”

The explosions in “Expendables” were real, except for some CGI work on the climactic blow-up of the island castle near the film’s end. Staging such a large, elaborate production in Brazil wasn’t easy. “They’re not used to doing stuff on that scale,” cinematographer Jeffrey Kimball said. “It was a challenge to find the right equipment for our purposes, but we struggled through and made it work.”

But on the whole, the d.p. relished the film’s high-octane combat and action. “I like to blow things up,” he said. “I got my wish with this one.”

Bookings & Signings

Murtha Agency has booked production designers Guy Barnes on ABC Family’s “Lemonade Mouth,” Merideth Boswell on F/X pilot “Outlaw Country,” Charisse Cardenas on Brad Furman’s “The Lincoln Lawyer,” Stephanie Carroll on Mark Mann’s “Generation Um,” Jess Gonchor on Bennett Miller’s “Moneyball,” Marcia Hinds on Will Gluck’s “Friends with Benefits,” Arthur Max on Ridley Scott’s untitled “Alien” prequel, Keith Neely on CBS’ “Hawaii Five-O,” Naomi Shohan on Kathryn Bigelow’s “Miraculous Year” and Adam Stockhausen on Wes Craven’s “Scream 4.”

Jacob & Kole has signed d.p.’s Thomas Del Ruth (“Flipped”) and Andrew Huebscher (“818″). Agency has booked d.p.’s Larry Fong on J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8,” Mauricio Rubinstein on Mark Mann’s “Generation Um” and Rogier Stoffers on Michael Sucsy’s “The Vow” and costume designer Nancea Ceo on MTV’s “The Hard Times of RJ Berger.”

Paradigm bookings: editors Wendy Smith on TBS’ “Glory Daze,” Victor Dubois on FX pilot “Outlaw Country,” Melissa Kent on Michael Sucsy “The Vow,” Michael Trent on Jeremy Leven’s “Girl on a Bicycle,” Julia Wong on Catherine Hardwicke’s “Red Riding Hood,” Aram Nigoghossian on Aimee Lagos’ “96 Minutes” and Robert Komatsu on Matt Russell’s “Seven Days in Utopia.”

Paradigm also booked d.p.’s David Klein on Kevin Smith’s “Red State,” Kenneth Zunder on Artie Mandelberg’s “Chasing the Hawk,” Giovani Lampassi on NBC’s “Next” and Michael Goi on ABC’s “Mr. Sunshine”; and production designers Suzuki Ingerslev on HBO pilot “All Signs of Death” and Eric Weiler on Lifetime’s “Marry Me.”

Murtha Agency d.p. bookings: John Aronson and John Bartley on NBC’s “Undercovers,” Robert Brinkmann on Fox’s “The Good Guys,” Fred Elmes on Yaron Ziberman’s “A Late Quartet,” Glen MacPherson on Paul W.S. Anderson’s “The Three Musketeers,” Zak Mulligan on Jenny Deller’s “Future Weather,” Brian Pearson on Steven Quale’s “Final Destination 5,” Amy Vincent on Craig Brewer’s “Footloose” and Robert Yeoman on Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids.” Plus, 2nd unit director/d.p. Alexander Witt is booked on Justin Lin’s “Fast and Furious 5″ and Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First Class,” and Steadicam/camera operator Ralph Watson is booked on ABC Family’s “Lemonade Mouth.”

peter.caranicas@variety.com

Read previous columns at Variety.com/Caranicas

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