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Directors on Their Teams: J.C. Chandor on ‘All Is Lost’

On Monday, “All Is Lost’s” Robert Redford won the actor prize from the New York Film Critics Circle, and he’s been the focus of most media attention for the film. But this drama is far from a one-man show. The pic was written and directed by J.C. Chandor. There is an irony that “Lost” was budgeted at $9 million but filmed in the $60 million “Titanic” tank in Baja California. Chandor salutes his crew, saying the low budget was possible only because of their ingenuity and hard work.

Cinematography: Frank De Marco, Peter Zuccharini

It was really a joint effort. The three of us were in Mexico for three months prior to shooting. We realized quickly that the movie works best in a first-person experiential way. Any time we’d get more than seven or eight feet away from Mr. Redford, we realized the movie works better when you were in the moment. It was tricky, but we embraced those limitations. The whole thing was shot in this kind of over-the-shoulder looming style where you were always in the boat with him. We didn’t want people feeling seasick, so the camera is a stabilizing force, but everything else is moving. The hope is that you get the feeling of being there.

I’d worked with Frank before on “Margin Call,” and Zuccharini was the underwater guy. He was coming off the “Pirates” movies and “The Life of Pi,” with a fascinating new camera housing, which was a key technological advancement. There are no more reel changes, which underwater is a nightmare.

Editing: Pete Beaudreau

Editing 101 is point/counterpoint: You have to have one thing happen for the next scene to make sense. But due to the limited nature of our locations and a cast of one, we had a big problem to solve.  We had a three-hour, 45-minute version that actually worked, but it was ridiculous. We got it down to 2:20, but then we cut more. The entire film is essentially a series of jump cuts — the character puts on a slicker, he goes to the door — but we wanted it to feel like there were no jump cuts. Pete used every trick in the book in terms of movement and sound cuts so we could maintain a semblance of a normal narrative at a manageable length. This film had to take rules that filmmakers only use occasionally in a film — and use those as the absolute norm. Most of the reviews didn’t even mention Pete. It’s almost absurd, but it shows that we did a good job. Pete has an invisible hand.

Sound: Steve Boeddeker, Richard Hymns

Steve was the mixer and designer. Richard was essentially our godfather, overseeing the whole process. We realized halfway through our edit that the original personalities weren’t right — they were waiting to do everything at the end, with temp tracks. Thank God Mr. Redford mentioned a couple of guys at Skywalker. Richard Hymns (supervising sound editor) and Redford are quite close, and Steve Boeddeker expressed tremendous excitement. (Boeddeker is credited as sound designer/sound re-recording mixer/supervising sound editor.) Their library is so extensive, and we brought a whole library of stuff that we recorded while filming, and so they were able to catch up very quickly. Steve did all the design work to heighten what we knew we needed. The last phase was feathering in the music, which is such a tricky thing. I always refer to it as a delicate flower.

Music: Alex Ebert

Alex is this amazing guy and is in this 12-piece band, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes. So he’s a composer and has this singular bandleader vision. I thought it was a neat combination. Much to his chagrin, it took a lot longer than he thought it would. We worked months to find what instrumentation would work. Piano felt far too narrative; you always imagine who’s playing it. So it was a long search, and he came up with these beautiful Tibetan bowl themes. And he started feathering in those themes. Late in the third act, Redford does things as an actor he’s never done before, so to have the right musical accompaniment was so important, to find the right balance. The film needs music, and I let Alex loose.

Screenplay: J.C. Chandor

The script started in fall 2010, when I was editing “Margin Call.” The letter (which Redford’s character reads in voiceover) opens the film, and that was the first thing I wrote. I was on a train going back and forth between editing in New York and Providence. There were all these boats, which are middle class, being loaded (on carts) to be put away for the winter. There was something depressing about these boats that spend much of their lives not doing anything. The letter slowly started to have a narrative built around it. When you go to Sundance with your first movie, you’re not sure you’ll have a chance to make another. I’m superstitious, so I started writing 10 days before Sundance, as a placeholder, hoping I’d have a chance to make a second movie. And then there was a meeting where Redford welcomed all the filmmakers. That’s when he started to seep into my mind. I realized maybe he was the Guy. So I wrote September to March and gave it to Redford in March. It’s a 31-page document. Those 31 pages got him formally attached, got the film financed, got the film fully crewed up. A lot of them had come off the big “Pirates” movies, but there was something about the script; they understood what I wanted. And they loved Redford.

Directors on Their Teams runs Monday through Friday. On Thursday: Ralph Fiennes.

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