Richard Kelly, the writer-director behind Donnie Darko and Southland Tales, is back to mess with our heads once more with The Box, based on a Richard Matheson short story. It’s the tale of a couple (James Marsden and Cameron Diaz) visited by a mysterious stranger (Frank Langella) who presents them with a box. On the box is a button. And every time they press the button they get a million dollars. The downside? Somewhere in the world, someone dies.
If that sounds like an episode of The Twilight Zone — well, it was one. But Kelly, characteristically, has greater ambitions, and has expanded the story, telling us more about the couple (and keeping the original Seventies setting) as well as their investigation of the dangerous, deformed Langella. It’s also Kelly’s first feature shot on digital, using Panavision’s Genesis camera, which brought a new freedom and flexibility to his work, as he recently explained to AICN:
There are two shots in the film that were shot with film cameras because we had to go up to maybe 120 frames-per-second, really slo-mo stuff that we couldn’t do with the Genesis. But it’s completely digital other than that. It was a huge asset, too, in terms of the performances. Jimmy and Cameron would love to do serious takes, where, for instance, in the Corvette on the way to the rehearsal dinner – and, actually, that got cut out of the film – or sitting across from each other at the kitchen table having a discussion about the button unit or lying in bed having a discussion as they’re watching Johnny Carson… they would just love to run the scene as many as like six or seven times without me saying cut. So they’d run it, start over, run it again, and we’d just run the tape out. I ended up getting more takes on this film – and I had more days and a bigger budget than I’ve ever had to work with, which helped, too. But I ended up getting more takes on this film than I ever have because you don’t have to reload.
It was also because of Langella’s face and the digital f/x work. Eliminating scanning from the process helped a great deal. We had to send all of his face shots to multiple f/x houses, like to India to have the clean dots removed from the clean part of [the face], and out to Venice Beach for a gradient. There are only 300 visual f/x shots in the movie. It’s not like a visual f/x movie. I mean, there is a science-fiction element to the film, and there is some stuff that is clearly CGI in the story sense that you know you’re looking at something otherworldly. But there’s also Langella’s face and a lot of wide shots of Richmond, Virginia where we very meticulously transformed all of the buildings and all the architecture back to the way it was in 1976. And we added 1970s digital cars. And snow. A lot of digital snow we had to add in places. There are a lot of invisible CGI shots all throughout the movie. There’a a shot we did in the mirror of Arthur’s Corvette; he’s pulling away, and you see a kid at the valet [making a peace sign] in the rearview mirror. It’s an impossible shot to get that we had to digitally sandwich in.
It’s a fascinating, wide-ranging interview and really worth a read.