Monday, September 03, 2007

Joe Wright: 'I said I needed $4m more for Dunkirk, they said no'

24/08/07 Director Joe Wright tells David Gritten (from The Daily Telegraph) how he achieved the spectacular Dunkirk scene in his acclaimed film, Atonement.

(Pictured above - Director Joe Wright with the author of the novel 'Atonement', Ian McEwan.)

"Atonement includes an astonishing five-minute tracking shot conveying the wastefulness of war as Allied troops gather on the beach at Dunkirk, waiting to be evacuated.

"The budget was $30 million [£15 million] - not enough money to do the scene as written in the book, which included air attacks from Stukas," says Joe Wright. "I told [producer and Working Title co-chairman] Tim Bevan I needed $4 million more.

He said: 'I'm not giving you more than $30 million for an art film.' That was a liberating moment for me. So now I had one day and 1,000 local extras to create the whole disaster of that part of the war in one location. It was a case of necessity being the mother of invention."

Originally, the scene was written as a montage, requiring 40 set-ups, with time-consuming pauses between each one. But Wright decided to spend most of the day at Redcar preparing for a single shot.

The scene contains startling images: horses being shot, Bibles being burned, drunken soldiers, a huge beached boat and terrified refugees. James McAvoy's Robbie and two other soldiers stumble through this nightmare, with a camera operator walking backwards in front of them, a heavy Steadicam strapped to him.

"We had that route planned," says Wright, "and walked it through with the actors. We started at 6.30am, and rehearsed and rehearsed. I must have walked the route 150 times. We spent all day getting the extras in place.

"The scene wouldn't have had the emotional power had it not been for the community of Redcar, who were so dignified and put their heart and soul into it."

Shooting began around 5.30pm, when the light was ideal. The team did three takes, and were trying for a fourth when the Steadicam operator's legs gave out. Still, they got the shot they needed.

"It was an extraordinary day," Wright says now. "One of the best of my life."

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