All is Lost, In Hollywood
All is Lost, In Hollywood
The production notes from the soon-to-released film starring Robert Redford offer some fascinating insight into how Hollywood brings one man's harrowing mid-ocean sinking to the big screen. This one will help the chandleries sell a few more liferafts.
ALL IS LOST: SYNOPSIS
Academy Award® winner Robert Redford stars in All Is Lost, an open-water thriller about one man’s battle for survival against the elements after his sailboat is destroyed at sea. Written and directed by Academy Award nominee J.C. Chandor (Margin Call) with a musical score by Alex Ebert (Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros), the film is a gripping, visceral and powerfully moving tribute to ingenuity and resilience.
Deep into a solo voyage in the Indian Ocean, an unnamed man (Redford) wakes to find his 39-foot yacht taking on water after a collision with a shipping container left floating on the high seas. With his navigation equipment and radio disabled, the man sails unknowingly into the path of a violent storm. Despite his success in patching the breached hull, his mariner’s intuition, and a strength that belies his age, the man barely survives the tempest.
Using only a sextant and nautical maps to chart his progress, he is forced to rely on ocean currents to carry him into a shipping lane in hopes of hailing a passing vessel. But with the sun unrelenting, sharks circling and his meager supplies dwindling, the ever-resourceful sailor soon finds himself staring his mortality in the face.
Filmmaker J.C. Chandor knew he wanted to make some form of open-water thriller long before his feature writing and directing debut, Margin Call, was nominated for a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar®. But it took almost six years for him to finally hit upon the startlingly original idea for All Is Lost , a harrowing nautical adventure that takes place entirely at sea and features a single nameless—and nearly wordless— character.
“It’s a very simple story about a guy late in his life who goes out for a four- or five-month sail,” Chandor says. “Fate intervenes, the boat has an accident, and essentially we go on an eight-day journey with him as he fights to survive.”
Chandor’s screenplay bore little resemblance to a typical movie script. Rather than the standard 120 pages, it was roughly 30 pages long. And it consisted entirely of prose description, with no dialogue. In fact, when Margin Call producer Neal Dodson got his hands on the slim sheaf of papers, he asked Chandor when he would receive the rest of it.
“When J.C. said that it was the whole script, I was both terrified and excited,” Dodson recalls. “The first film we did together was all about dialogue, and this was very obviously not about dialogue. I admit that my first thought was, ‘I don’t know how the hell we’re going to get this thing financed’—because it’s pretty audacious and pretty brave.”
Fellow producer Anna Gerb (Margin Call) recalls reading the script on her deck with Chandor present, and being blown away by the sheer viscerality of it.
“I read it and I looked at J.C. and said, ‘Wow. I’m seasick,’” she recalls. “As a producer, I like to be in control. Being in the middle of the ocean on a sailboat, putting myself in a situation where I am at the mercy of the universe is something I just couldn’t imagine. ”
Chandor, on the other hand, was intimately familiar with the universe of sailboats.
“Although I never sailed across the ocean alone, sailing is something I grew up around,” he says, “so I knew the basic palette I was working with.”
Chandor says the sheer simplicity of the story—and the filmmaking challenge it presented—drew him to make the film. The story has echoes of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, and as Dodson describes “ it’s an existential action movie about one man lost at sea, fighting against the elements and himself.”
A pivotal step in the film’s journey from script to screen was, of course, the casting of two-time Academy Award winner Robert Redford (The Sting). The iconic actor, director and creator of Sundance had met and been impressed with Chandor when Margin Call premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2011.
“I liked J.C. Chandor,” Redford recalls. “He represented, for me, the exact type of person that we want to support. He had a vision, he was a new voice on the horizon and he told his story in a very special way.”
When Chandor told Dodson that he wanted to cast Redford as the film’s sole character, referred to simply as “Our Man” in the script, the producer knew it was a longshot.
“I said, ‘Listen, he’s going to say one of two things when he gets that 30-page script,” Dodson recalls.