News Column

New Chandor film 'All is Lost' speaks for itself

October 27, 2013

YellowBrix

Oct. 27--"I think you would all agree that I tried. I will miss you. I'm sorry."

While he was editing "Margin Call," his first film and an eventual Oscar nominee, writer-director J.C. Chandor wrote these apologetic words. They were written in the form of a letter. It was not a personal letter to anyone but the spark of an idea.

He did not realize at the time that these words would be virtually all of the dialogue for his second film, "All is Lost," which opens in Tulsa theaters on Nov. 8.

"It was the first thing that I wrote, and it just laid there for a few months. This letter came to me, and I tried to figure out how someone gets into this predicament to write such a letter," Chandor said in a recent phone interview about his movie's only character.

"Then I worked to come up with the best mousetrap I could come up with."

His mousetrap is "All is Lost," which stars Hollywood legend Robert Redford -- and only Redford -- as a man alone on the Indian Ocean, sailing in his 39-foot yacht until a collision with a shipping container punches a hole in the hull, leaving him afloat and fighting for survival over several days.

The risks -- making an almost wordless movie, having his 76-year-old star perform nearly all of his own stunts -- appear to have paid off. "All is Lost" is one of the year's most acclaimed films and has pundits predicting Redford's first acting Oscar nomination since 1973's "The Sting."

It was an odd process in attracting Redford to take on the project, said Chandor, whose work in motion pictures was preceded by 15 years of shooting commercials, including one about a decade ago in Tulsa for Williams ("I loved the city while I was there for about 10 days shooting for the energy company. ... I remember that big trading floor that they had.").

Chandor traveled to the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, the prestigious annual gathering Redford founded as part of his nonprofit organization's mission to advance the work of independent storytellers in film. One of the events finds the indie filmmakers attending what Chandor described as Redford's "benediction/pep talk" for about 200 people in a large room.

"I'm sitting there listening, and I can't really hear him. It turns out this speaker wasn't plugged in all the way, and then came his voice, and my thought was, 'Is this the guy (for "All is Lost")?' " Chandor recalled.

"The audience can use these years they have with him on film (to connect with the silent character), but then I'd put him through these ridiculous situations."

These would include not only physical stunts, but also Redford being constantly wet during shooting, frequently from giant hoses shooting water at the actor.

"Then I thought, 'You're nuts. It's your first film and it hasn't even been shown yet' at Sundance," Chandor said.

Then "Margin Call" screened at the festival. The movie that would ultimately earn him an Academy Award nomination for best original screenplay made a name for the 39-year-old filmmaker.

He later completed his 31-page "All is Lost" script (compared to most at 100-plus-pages), and he sent it to Redford's agent, who Chandor recalls as replying with: "Hey, who knows?"

"I think it's Bob's wife who reads it first, and it's like a week later that I get a call and I'm sitting across from (Redford). You must realize that at this time, 'Margin Call' still hasn't even come out in theaters, so I'm just one of the thousands of filmmakers out there.

"I had prepared a huge talk, and maybe 10 minutes in he stopped me and said, 'OK. Let's do this. I just wanted to make sure you've thought this through, and you clearly have. I also wanted to make sure you're not nuts, and you don't seem to be.' (Redford) told me (what attracted him to the film) was the audacity of it, the test of it, and this from a man who has nothing else to prove."

As far as survival films go, some might imagine Redford alone on a boat and envision Spencer Tracy in "The Old Man and the Sea," but the structure is so different because of the wordlessness.

There were obviously times that some who were financing the film pondered the use of more dialogue. A brief attempt to do so convinced all to rely on that original 31-page script, Chandor said.

"We worked with partners who were believers, and yet there were those moments during post-production during which we all questioned, 'OK, is this our movie?' " he said.

"But we were all prepared to die on the sword. We had all taken this leap together. I was able to say, 'Guys, look back at that original document. We were able to make that movie, so let's go out there with the movie we set out to make.' And we never talked about it again."

Of course they didn't.

On "All is Lost," there's no need to talk when your movie speaks for itself.

All is Lost'

Opens Nov. 8 in Tulsa theaters including Circle Cinema and AMC Southroads 20

Director: J.C. Chandor

Running time: 106 minutes

MPAA rating: PG-13

Cast: Robert Redford

Michael Smith 918-581-8479

michael.smith@tulsaworld.com

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