I was lucky enough to visit the set a couple of times during the shooting of Ben Gregor‘s All Stars. On one occasion, I saw the production of a big fantasy sequence for the film. It was one part fight scene, two parts dance number and it took place in an origami world peopled with paper samurai.
Now the film is complete, I asked Gregor to go over the whys and wherefores of that scene for us. Here’s some of what he told us – and after that, you can see an excerpt from the particular fantasy sequence we’re discussing.
They fantasy sequences weren’t originally in the script, but I wanted to put them in because I really related to the character of Jaden, who isn’t allowed to do what he wants to do, which is dance. I’ve always been into skateboarding and when I was a kid my dad would take away my skateboard and put it in a plastic bag in the attic so that I would do more school work. It never worked because I would just think about skateboarding more, I would end up reading about it or doing it in the garage. I wanted to touch on that with dancing and this kid that’s not allowed to dance but he just can’t turn his head off.
I’ve worked with Spike Jonze, and was really blessed to do that, and he has always done stuff and gone on little journeys and just kind of come away from the main story and played and then come back and it was always a really rewarding process for him. He inspired me to really have the balls to do these things.
I wanted to do a sequence where Jaden is in an exam and filling out these multiple choice boxes and then he imagines himself climbing, in a sort of Gondry-esque way, into the exam paper and drops down into an origami forest. This is because I knew I was shooting 3D.
No one was really getting to play with 3D because it was just being used to make big movies bigger – though, of course since then Ang Lee’s done that amazing Life Of Pi and Baz Luhrmann’s film looks amazing, so that’s all changed now, but at the time it was mainly just a science fiction thing.
So, Jaden climbs in and drops down into this origami forest and everything is kind of spooky and beautiful, and 2D trees in 3D looks really neat. A lot of filmmaking is seeing what would look cool, and it’s easy to get away from this because of character and dialogue – which is super important, of course it is – but just things that look amazing are still a big part of cinema. So we get a bit of a spectacle with him climbing and then you go into a big dance sequence.
I thought the fantasy sequences always needed to hark back to something that had happened to the characters in the main body of the plot. He’d been in a dance scene on the roof of a car park where he saw these guys dancing a kind of capoeira thing and then that’s evoked in this fantasy sequence.
He loses this fight, and it’s also nice in a dance movie to have someone lose. Dance movies tend to be about people winning, so I thought he ought to lose. He gets turned 2D, into a piece of paper, which was a sort of savage and brutal thing. I thought I would definitely get a PG because of that – but I guess because it’s clearly inside someone’s imagination, no one minds.
Simple things are vital when you’re working on a tight budget. It’s important just to be really, really minimal with stuff and restricting choices is good, so I said that we should use orange and white and nothing else and that really helped. The design and the wardrobe did a brilliant job on the samurai costumes. I looked at them and I thought “they’re beautiful but they’re going to fall apart,” and they didn’t, they were ok. I kept Jaden’s school uniform designed in grey and white so there was no other colour.
We didn’t do much post in this film because there wasn’t any money to do it, even though we had great post people doing the moon and the smoke. They had to be there to add light to the smoke and make it look kind of moody.
I really liked Sucker Punch and I studied Japanese at university so I’m always trying to get Japanese stuff in because my brain just goes there. My favourite film is Mishima, with the fantasy sequences in that – well they’re not really fantasy sequences, they’re sequences from the novel – but the main body of that film is in black and white and then there’s beautiful, luscious painted, lacquered gold sets where this other stuff turns out and you know you’re jumping between realities. This felt like the chance to do a sort of Sucker Punch or Mishima homage, which you don’t get to do a lot of in kids films, I guess. But I did it and everybody seems to like it. And you know a lot of kids really love because it’s out there and it’s mental and it’s kind of violent but adults also go “Wow, my brain’s not melting in a kids film. How has this happened?”
The music was tricky here and the composer did a great job. Mikey J did the music for this because I wanted it kind of minimal but kind of violent and kind of oriental but not Hong Kong Phooey-type cheesy.
I shot a lot of coverage and made sure to get lots of wide shots. My favourite shot in it is where there’s a Narnia-looking music box and you see the thing turning slowly. It’s beautiful and dangerous, and kind of Japanese-y, and I liked the combination of beauty and danger that you have in oriental stuff – bushido and The Matrix and stuff like that.
That particular shot, and the final Paper Jaden shot, are absent from this excerpt, unfortunately. This clip is taken from the earlier, dancier part of the scene, but it will give you some idea of how Gregor styled the sequence.
I’m sure it’s not just me that gets a Magic Roundabout vibe from this sequence.
All Stars is in cinemas across the UK from tomorrow. I thought it was charming and genuinely funny – thanks in no small part to Mark Heap, Ashley Jensen and Theo Stevenson – and if I had a kid under the age of 17 or so, I’d frog march them down to the cinema after our Saturday lunch.