Directors & Their Troops: Angelina Jolie on Her ‘Unbroken’ Team

Unbroken” director Angelina Jolie says there is one reason she and Universal could assemble such a great team of artisans: Louis Zamperini, the World War II hero whose story the movie is based on.

“We were all there because we cared about the man; we were inspired by the story, we liked what the film was saying, and we admired the man. It was Louis’ film.” The film shot in 68 days for $65 million, fairly modest for an epic-scale piece that spans several decades and continents. Jolie says it wasn’t easy for the film teams, but everyone worked together: “We were all united. And everybody was so enthusiastic about everybody else’s work.”

Cinematography, Roger Deakins
“With everyone who came in, we talked about Louie, what he meant to us, what the film needed to say and how to communicate that to the audience. We wanted to make a film that feels classic: That’s Louie and that’s his generation. Also, we wanted to make it PG-13 for the sake of the audience as we covered the violence and horror. This is a very long, very tough story. In order to help an audience through it, we thought, Let’s make it as beautiful as possible. It’s really about the human spirit and faith, so let’s lean on that wherever we can.

“We wanted to have the different chapters, but all in the same film. They had to be different, but it had to be a natural progression into Naoetsu (POW camp), and the transitions had to be seamless. A lesser cinematographer might have made the different chapters almost like a gimmick. When you go back and forth with flashbacks, we made a choice not to have it switch (tinting) and grain. One thought was, ‘We’re going to strip color by the end of the film.’ Every chapter almost had a different color — the blue of the ocean, the green of the jungle or the sepia tones (of his youth). So that by the time we get to Naoetsu, let’s subtly have lost all color — but what’s beautiful is you don’t notice.

What makes for a great cinematographer is that all of Roger’s shots are extraordinary, but you don’t watch the film thinking, That’s a great shot. You’re just watching the film. There’s a purpose behind every shot. No shot was ‘grand,’ with a fancy camera move. It was always the story. He’s simply telling the story and helping carry the narrative forward.”

Editing, William Goldenberg and Tim Squyres
“I had never worked with two editors at the same time. And with lesser editors, it might be less of a team. These two are so talented and capable, with absolutely no ego. They would sometimes play — work on a scene at the same time and then compare at the end of the day, and sometimes the two would be just four frames off in some choices. They’d make discoveries and always share with each other. It was such a collaborative effort.

(On the most complicated sequences) It was always tricky how we would flash back to the Olympics. To make that work inside the plane crash, that was complicated.

The pacing of the raft was something we were always chipping away at, very slowly. You need to show 47 days at sea and the progression and all the levels of what’s happening to them as men, but you have a strict amount of time because it’s a long movie.

And of course the plank, the final scene, was one that took a lot of thought. We knew what it was early on, but we were constantly revisiting it. Subtle things would make such a difference: how long you stayed on the other men, whether the other men would look away or stay staring. Very big difference. If they look away, it gets depressing; and if they stay staring, they’re inspired by his efforts. It was a very complicated scene because it’s at the end of the movie, but it’s not an action sequence, it’s not a boxing match. It’s very simple and very intimate. So we kept working on it.

We kept making slight trims, slight adjustments, and how the music would shape it and make sure we were all in synch to make this moment rise and make sure the audience understood the deeper meanings of this moment. And it only worked when everything came together: music, edit, sound.”

Music, Alexandre Desplat
“It’s hard to describe how much Alexandre brought to the film. His music is so strong. Someone said to me, and I agree: He’s one of best composers for working with dialog, to really listen to the actors and how they’re speaking. He can sew music through a scene, rather than laying the music on top of it. His music is very clean, and it really helps the performances, because of where and how it comes in.

I wanted the music to be subtle. I’m very careful with music in a film. I don’t like too much temp. Sometimes you can put too much temp on while you’re editing and it’s a cheat. Or you start editing to the temp music. I like to make sure a scene works in silence. So I left it very bare. Working with Alexandre, the music didn’t get loud and bravado, but it got big and strong. He brought out the bigger nature of the film, allowing allow it to be a big movie.

Without Alexandre’s score (at the end of the plank scene), it became very upsetting when the Bird started to hit Louie. Alexandre was able to make the music inspiring; you realized when Louie was being beaten, his endurance meant he was actually winning. But it didn’t do that without Alexandre’s music.

Working with him changed the way I see things. Now, every time I watch a film I will watch it differently and I understand how much a composer influences a film. Somebody who’s not the right composer can overwhelm a film, and you’re so conscious of the music, you’re not watching the film.”

Production design, John Hutman
“We’d done ‘The Tourist’ together, and he’s known for doing ‘beautiful films.’ When I asked him to do ‘In the Land of Blood and Honey,’ that was his first war film, and he made a joke, asking why I thought of him for a war film. But it’s precisely because he does things so beautifully. For example, Omori (the POW camp where Zamperini meets the Bird). It’s beautifully built in the style of the Japanese, the way it’s laid out, the use of wood — there’s a real art to it. You can get sloppy and ugly for a war film, but John focuses on the history, the culture, the individual character of the people there. And like Roger, he has a consistency. With all the chapters in Louie’s life, there’s a unity.”

Makeup, Costumes
“Makeup was really difficult — to walk that fine line on the raft, to go far enough that it’s believable but not so far that it becomes grotesque. Naoestsu, the details of the black and coal on the men. It was the same with wardrobe. It was like a MoMA exhibit! We had 200 men, each with specific details, and they had to blend perfectly but be individual.

And wardrobe did an extraordinary job. We didn’t have a big budget, we had 200 soldiers, each with one outfit — one. So when we had to go from summer to winter to two years later, we had to find ways to make it seem clothes were getting dirty and more worn, but we couldn’t rip them. How do you do all this when you don’t have the resources? You have to pull together and work creatively. It was a difficult film for a lot of departments.”

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