Interview: Producers Brad Fischer & Mike Medavoy Talk Shutter Island — "It's one of Leonardo DiCaprio's best performances ever…"
Fri, 19 Feb 2010 08:31:40
Martin Scorsese Videos
Shutter Island doesn't waste any time.
From Martin Scorsese's first foreboding frame, the viewer is thrust into the most delightful cinematic vision of hell that's ever been committed to the screen. It's delightful in the sense that there's a certain catharsis involved in watching a great actor like Leonardo DiCaprio give the performance of his career, and there's an even greater delight in watching Martin Scorsese create a modern masterpiece. Shutter Island is everything that a classic film should be—it's sensitive, vibrant, harrowing and unforgettable. It's definitely the best film of 2010 and possibly the best of the decade…
Bringing this vision to life wasn't easy. Shutter Island producers Brad Fischer and Mike Medavoy sat down with ARTISTdirect.com editor and Dolor author Rick Florino to discuss working with Scorsese to bring hell to life on screen, why this is Leo's best work and so much more in this exclusive interview…
I was moved, blown away and terrified all at the same time watching Shutter Island!
Brad Fischer: Excellent, it worked [Laughs].
How did you extract the darkness from the original story and bring to the screen? What was this process like?
Brad Fischer: There were three people that were most involved in drawing out that darkness. The first was Dennis Lehane, obviously. He wrote the novel, and I remember him telling me this story. He was in a particularly dark period himself, and he was telling me how he got up from a sleepless night and he started writing. He wrote straight for I don't know how many days, but when he was done, he looked at it and read it and thought, "My God, who wrote that?" It was almost as if the story came from somewhere else. I think Laeta Kalogridis adapted the book masterfully in what was a very challenging adaptation. She did a marvelous job of turning it into something that could be filmed. What Scorsese visually brought to the movie was amazing. Personally, as a fan of his and as a fan of the underlying book, Marty just brought so many different levels to it from the performances to all of the other nuances that he was able to define. He made it so visually rich and terrifying. It was just a joy to see that whole thing unfold.
Mike Medavoy: Essentially, Laeta tried to capture the book as best she could. I think it was really up to Marty to translate where the dark and light parts of it were. Obviously, there's a lot of darkness in it. Someone asked me, "What is your greatest fear?" I had to think about it for a second, and it occurred to me. That fear is losing your children before you go…God forbid, something happens to my child before I'm gone. That is at the core of this story.
The dreams are utterly brutal and beautiful at the same time.
Brad Fischer: Absolutely! Thematically in this movie, there's so much about the past and how the past of these individuals informs what's going on in the present. After all of the twists and turns that the story takes, it really is about getting to the truth. It's about getting to the truth of what's happening on this island—the mystery that these U.S. Marshals are there to solve. First, of course, they're there to solve the disappearance of this missing patient, which becomes something far more sinister. Then it's also about getting to the truth of the past and facing the past. That's not an easy needle to thread. Marty did an incredible job of making it work, constructing a film that makes sense and creating an emotional powerhouse.
Mike Medavoy: Aesthetics really belong to Marty. I think he had the style in mind from the time he read the script. Marty screened a particular director's movies before he shot it.
The past isn't easy for anyone to face, and that makes the film so psychologically rattling. Everyone can identify with this, as scary as that is.
Brad Fischer: For sure! I think a lot of people will be surprised by how moved they'll be at the end of the film. When I first read the book, my expectation was that this was going to be a great genre thrill-ride. It definitely works on that level, but there's so much more beneath the surface. There's so much more that's going on emotionally with these characters. For me, Teddy Daniels is one of the greatest characters that you could ever identify with because you get so emotionally drawn into his journey, what's happening with him and what he ultimately has to face. It's incredibly unique. I think it's one of DiCaprio's best performances ever.
Mike Medavoy: Think about the WWII scenes…Remember, you look at all the bodies and you get to the mother and the child. You've got to think about it when you walk away. This is my 314th movie. My favorites are the films where I walk away and go, "Boy that was a great ride and at the same time, I'm thinking about what I just saw. It tickles my brain." The whole allusion to the horrors of the concentration camps was interesting and disturbing. The twists weren't expected. It's a story within a story.
The film's exploration of insanity shows that these patients aren't very different from us. That's the scariest thing.
Brad Fischer: There's no one who's immune to being broken. The mind can be a very sensitive mechanism. As one character in the film describes, "As one gear slips, the whole thing can fly out of whack pretty fast." Your perception of reality, what's really going on and who you are is just as sensitive. One of the other themes that the movie explores is not only the nature of insanity but also how insane people and people with mental illness were treated. That evolved over the years. This movie takes place in a mental institution for the criminally insane in 1954 when things were quite different than they are today. All of those different themes and elements are interesting to see and think about.
Mike Medavoy: We know going in, of course, that they're criminally insane people. If they have quirks at all, you've basically explained it that way. I'm not so sure that half the world doesn't fall into that category of "insane" [Laughs], especially if you watch the political scenes. There's this almost slow descent with those interview scenes.
It's about the fear of losing yourself and losing control. The island could represent the loss of your mind and the loss of all control.
Brad Fischer: I think you're definitely right! When you're stuck on Shutter Island, there's a hurricane, you can't get off and you wonder if you're ever going to be able to escape. There are definitely parallels that can be drawn to the prison of the mind itself because that is your world. There's that geography and those boundaries. It can be a scary place with a lot of secrets and a lot of locked doors that sometimes you might not want to find out what's on the other side.
Mike Medavoy: Absolutely, that's the other thing. Who would want to be in jail? I can't imagine what that must be in like. You do lose control. Somebody else has control over you.
Some of the scenes are almost like paintings, but the imagery is so dark and evil simultaneously. It's quite the juxtaposition. There are these jarring satanic undertones.
Brad Fischer: It's throughout the whole thing, right? For me, one of the most fun parts of the film is finding out what's actually inside those places that you're going to. All of that detail is remarkable. Production designer Dante Ferreti turned this closed down mental hospital into a gothic nightmare. All of those little details helped to define that and make you feel like you're there. There's this old Civil War fort called "Ward C" that houses the most violent and deranged patients. You're not allowed to go there. There are all of these rules and regulations. You're like, "What the hell is happening inside that place? What's actually going on here at all?" It all boils up to that mystery.
There's a foreboding strangeness to the Boston scenery itself.
Brad Fischer: For sure! We were actually only on an island for two or three days. We were on Pettis Island in Boston Harbor where we shot the scenes of Teddy Daniels and Chuck Aule first arriving. Medfield State Hospital was the main closed-down facility that we used. We were in South Boston for awhile. We went up to Ipswich where we shot the Tudor Mansion where Dr. Cawley is with Dr. Naehring. It was definitely a challenge to assemble all of that geography and make it part and parcel of this one place that you're feeling this journey through, which I think is pretty seamless. There is a certain haunting feeling in those areas of Boston. Being at that institution, you're sitting inside these rooms where patients sat and God knows what was actually going on. It's dark, and it gets really creepy. It really got under my skin!
Plus there's nothing to do in Massachussetts which makes it even scarier.
Brad Fischer: [Laughs] Well there's plenty to do in Boston, but in the outskirts there are fewer options. Ipswich had the best Lobster rolls ever though [Laughs].
Check out Rick Florino's new novel Dolor available now for FREE here…