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.
“He’s either going to say, ‘Hell yes, this sounds amazing,’ or he’s going to say, ‘Why in the world would I do that? I have nothing to prove. Why would I put myself through that?’ And to our great, great benefit, he said yes.”
For his part, Redford was drawn to the originality of the project, which he describes as a story about a man who takes “one heck of a journey and one heck of a beating.”
“I really liked the script because it was different,” Redford says. “It was bold. It was eccentric, and there was no dialogue. I felt that J.C. was going to go through with that vision, even though it was not all explained. But I trusted that he knew what he was doing, that he had it in his head. I knew I would be supporting that vision even while not knowing everything, and that was interesting and good for me.”
Perhaps surprisingly, Redford says he doesn’t get bombarded with invitations to star in the movies of the independent filmmakers he champions. Quite the contrary, in fact.
“There’s something kind of ironic in that, all these years after starting Sundance and starting the film festival, none of the filmmakers that I supported ever hired me,” he says, then adds jokingly: “They never offered me a part! Until J.C.”
With their one-man cast in place, the producers sat down with the list of necessities for shooting the film. At the very top: a handful of sailboats, and a place to sink them. As it turned out, shooting the story of one man and his boat actually required three boats—specifically, three 39-foot Cal yachts. While all of them serve as Our Man’s sailboat, the Virginia Jean, each of the three boats was used for a separate purpose: One was for open sea sailing and exterior scenes, another was for the tight interior shots, and the third was for special effects.
Finding three similar boats proved to be a challenge, however, says production designer John Goldsmith, whose previous credits include No Country for Old Men and The Last Samurai. “We scouted them at different times and purchased them in different ports. They all had to be imported, which was a logistical exercise in itself. I think we were two weeks into prep before all three were side by side, ready for us to work on.”
Once they had them, the filmmakers put the boats through their paces—and then some. “We did pretty much everything that you can do to a boat on film,” Chandor says. “We sunk it, brought it back to life, sailed it, then put it through a massive storm, flipped it over, and sunk it again. I think it’s paramount to have a pretty deep understanding of the way these boats work, the way they sail and sink, as well as all of the different kinds of sailing elements we use to help move the story along.”
Chandor and Goldsmith collaborated closely in crafting a kind of back story for the boat itself, which in turn helped inform the story of Redford’s character.
“J.C. and I had some fantastic conversations about what story we wanted to tell about Our Man that would be expressed through this boat,” Goldsmith recalls. “What kind of past has he had? Was he a military man? Is he a businessman? Is he a family man?”
Goldsmith says Chandor gave him detailed notes to guide the production design. For instance, the director told him he envisioned Redford’s character bought the boat at age 51, six years after the boat was built.
Ten years after that, the boat’s upkeep may have slipped a little due to the economic slump in the 1990s. Painting the back story in even greater detail, Chandor envisioned that Redford’s character retired seven years after that, then invested about $20,000 in updating the boat.
“So maybe he selected certain things like the cushions, which were tired, and reupholstered those,” Goldsmith explains. “Maybe he upgraded the window treatments, maybe a few pieces of electronics. So there’s this idea of layering of time and history in this boat. But it’s not an overhaul. It’s not a renovation. In that way, the design had to be really careful about not coming too far forward, but being sort of quiet.”
Given the solitary nature of the film, Chandor, at times, lets his camera linger on Redford and relish his quiet, simple activities in a way seldom seen on film.
“It’s rare to watch someone think,” Dodson observes. “Most movies are very ‘cutty,’ and I enjoy those movies. But this isn’t that movie. Yes, it’s got action sequences, but the camera is going to sit on him for a while. We’re going to watch him eat a can of soup, and watch him have a glass of bourbon, and watch him cook, and watch him stand in the rain.”
In one memorable scene, the sailor is chest-deep in water collecting supplies from his slowly sinking yacht. Then he takes a break to stand before the mirror and—for possibly the last time in his life—shave.
“You work against the odds in the weirdest ways,” Redford says. “But when the odds are so great against you, you fight hard to create some normalcy in your life, even though it may seem weird.”
Other scenes were intensely physical for the actor, who is known for doing many of his own stunts: from clambering up the sailboat’s 65-foot mast to being dragged behind the boat to swimming underwater through the submerged sails. And then there’s the opening sequence in which the sailboat collides with the shipping container and Our Man jumps from one to the other.