Effects draw audience to ‘Ghost Whisperer’

Show embraces all kinds of digital technology

When Variety first reported that a major studio “inked video and ad helmer Michel Gondry to direct its screen adaptation of the TV series ‘The Green Hornet,'” the year was 1997 and the studio was Universal.

Now, 14 years later, in what must rank as one of the longer gestation periods for a movie, it was Columbia, not U, that finally released “Hornet” to a respectable estimated haul of $40 million for the long weekend.

The film’s complex evolution includes several postponed release dates and director shifts. Stephen Chow was for a time attached to co-star and helm but was replaced in the first role by Jay Chou and in the second by comeback kid Gondry, who in the interim directed smaller pics like “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and “Be Kind Rewind.” “Hornet” marks his big-budget debut.

Gondry brought a different sensibility to the film, said location manager Mike Fantasia, who negotiated lower fees with property owners and service providers to enable the shoot to take place in Los Angeles rather than in a state with more aggressive tax-incentive program.

“It took a while for a lot of us to get Michel’s vision,” said Fantasia. “He wanted new L.A., not old L.A. We’d pick one location, he’d want another. We’d say, ‘Holy shit.’ But his locations ended up working great.”

“Michel is French and I’m Australian, so we could see the city through different eyes,” said production designer Owen Paterson. “In my mind, L.A. was always the film’s fourth character,” following lead and co-writer Seth Rogen, supporting actor Chou and their Chrysler Imperial “Black Beauty” super-car.

During the three-month shoot, Paterson and Fantasia helped set up many of the film’s action sequences in such landmarks as the CAA building in Century City and the pressroom at the L.A. Times — and proceeded to smash those properties to smithereens via the magic of CGI.

“Films are a marriage of art and finance,” said Paterson. Like Fantasia, he felt pressure to control costs while creating interiors that would seamlessly blend with the exterior shots and integrating the outdoor vfx with practical on-set smash-ups. “Hopefully, everyone will look at it and think it’s all in one place. That’s the trick of filmmaking.”

Part of that work fell to editor Michael Tronick, who made rough cuts as the shooting took place. “I always try to keep up with camera,” he said. “If they shoot a scene on Monday or Tuesday, I’ll get the dailies and have that scene cut by Friday.”

But Tronick was most challenged when it came time to integrate the film’s elements after principal photography was over, including the main-unit work shot by d.p. John Schwartzman, the action shots of second unit director and stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong and the vfx sequences.

Many of the people whose input he needed — including Rogen, co-writer Evan Goldberg and producer Neal Moritz — had scattered, so Tronick used a Web-based approvals system. “It was difficult but exhilarating,” he said.

Bookings & Signings

Sandra Marsh & Associates has signed special effects supervisor Chris Reynolds (“Agora”). Agency has booked producer Sam Mercer on “Snow White and the Huntsman”; production designers Rick Heinrichs on “Dark Shadows” and John Myhre on “Snow and the Seven”; d.p.’s Dan Lausten on “Dibbuk Box” and Lukas Strebel on HBO’s “Luck”; costume designers Yvonne Blake on “Letters to Evita,” Sharen Davis on “Looper,” Lizzy Gardiner on “A Few Best Men,” Isis Mussenden on NBC’s “Outsourced” and Carlo Poggioli on “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”; and editors Christopher Bell on “Sinbad: The Fifth Voyage” and John Scott on “Singularity.”

Paradigm has signed production designer-producer Craig Siebels (“Burn Notice”) and production designer Sharon Busse (“Scoundrels”). Agency has booked producer Joseph Zolfo on HBO’s “How to Make It in America,” exec producer Sam Hoffman on “Moon Rise Kingdom,” d.p.’s Christian Sprenger on MTV’s “Death Valley” and Giovani Lampassi on TBS pilot “The Wedding Band,” editors Robert Dalva and Jeff Ford on “Captain America: The First Avenger” and costume designer Roland Sanchez on the “Jack Ryan” reboot.

Want to comment or suggest a column topic?Email peter.caranicas@variety.com

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