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Director Lenny Abrahamson Made ‘Room’ for Production Talent

Director Lenny Abrahamson filmed “Room,” about a mother and son’s escape from captivity — and the only place the boy has known — in 49 days in Toronto. The movie, distributed by A24, was shot more or less chronologically, mainly to help young actor Jacob Tremblay chart his character’s relationship with Ma (Brie Larson). Abrahamson spoke with Variety about his key artisan colleagues who helped deliver the goods on the critically acclaimed picture.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

“It was more subtle than a single shift (between the two halves of the story). You could say, ‘We’re going to go for certain colors within the room, and other colors outside.’ But if you impose rules like that, it’s at the expense of nuance. It’s like a writer saying, ‘I’m going to write a novel only using short words.’ In subtle ways, we made many shifts. We do spend a lot of time in the room. We wanted dense shots with faces and lenses that brought you close to the actors. In the second half, the umbilical cord between the two is stretched. So we separated them, put them in bigger spaces.”

Editing: Nathan Nugent

“In the room scenes, you know what’s at stake; you know who the enemy is. In the second half, it’s constructing a separation of the two characters. Much of the momentum and the tension is the pacing of the edit, the shifts in tone, the ellipses. There are a couple of montages then that are so important, creating the right tone and injecting a hard-to-define jeopardy and tension.”

“In the room scenes, you know what’s at stake. In the second half, it’s constructing a separation of the two characters.”
Lenny Abrahamson

Music: Stephen Rennicks

“He’s the person I’ve collaborated with longest. We’ve known each other since we were 9, and he’s done the music on everything I’ve done. ‘Frank’ (about a wannabe musician who joins a band led by a man who wears a papier mache mask) was so different from ‘Room.’ (Stephen’s) challenge here was to create something that recognizes the child’s perspective, but also has a balance between naivete and hope — also longing and sadness. That’s a very important but delicate balance. His real concern is the film, and he’s the only composer I know who will suggest not putting music in some scenes.”

Production design: Ethan Tobman

“For the room itself, we had one set. We experimented with the idea of several sets; we thought it might save time. But for (Jacob), who plays the kid, Jack, we felt it would be easier for him to commit to this pretend world if it was one place rather than several sets. Ethan’s great idea was to create a set where you could remove panels from the walls. Any section could move separately, so we could use it to get access into corners or other difficult places to get a camera. The other rule: We would never put the lens outside the dimensions of the space.”

Casting: Fiona Weir (U.K.), Kathleen Chopin (U.S.), Robin D. Cook (Canada)

“To cast Jack, we did a huge trawl. I saw photos and videos from all over. We searched for four or five months. One of the challenges is that young children change so quickly. You’d like to say, ‘Let’s start the search, and when we find the child, we’ll move ahead,’ but you can’t do that; it could be a year. So you set a date, cast everybody else, and hope you will find the right boy. It also was great to find Sean Bridgers. He’s fabulous as (captor) Old Nick. He brings an ordinariness — a weakness and anger — that were very important. He doesn’t do the obvious things.”

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