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KIDNAP

About The Production
After almost three decades in the entertainment industry and a string of internationally successful blockbuster movies, veteran producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura immediately recognized the potential in Knate Lee's boldly original spec script, Kidnap. A compelling and entertaining mix of heart-stopping action and gut-wrenching tension, the screenplay had what he calls "an essential intensity and emotional drive that was irresistible," as well as an unusual heroine who finds strength and empowerment in a crisis that would defeat many.

"This is a movie that has the best of both worlds - it's character driven and at the same time it's an action ride," says the producer, whose credits include the hugely successful Transformers, G.I. Joe and Salt franchises. "Women traditionally come to a movie for the emotion, but guys will love the pacing of it. Karla is fighting relentlessly for the life of her child and the momentum builds relentlessly, in terms of both emotion and action."

The script first caught the attention of Di Bonaventura Pictures senior vice president of Production Erik Howsam, who passed it on to di Bonaventura for his input. "Lorenzo and I agreed it was a unique piece of material because it was told almost entirely from the main character's point of view," says Howsam. "You don't see that very often. It makes the viewers ask themselves, what would I do if I were in that situation? Would I go that far? It is such a pure piece of storytelling, not simply plot driven, but very well delineated and dramatized."

Lee was on a solo drive from North Carolina to California when he came up with the premise for Kidnap. "To pass the time, I told myself a story about a car chase," he remembers. "I was thinking, what if I had to chase that guy over there? And what could he possibly have done that would create a situation in which I couldn't risk losing him no matter what? To me, the most powerful and universally understandable motivation would be the maternal instinct."

The script's action kicks into high gear within the first five pages and the energy keeps ramping up from there, says executive producer Bill Johnson. "It's a very straightforward concept. It picks you up, takes you on a rollercoaster ride and drops you off satisfied at the end."

At the center of the film is Karla Dyson, a suburban mom who surprises even herself with the lengths she goes to save her baby. "She starts out as a soccer mom in a minivan, spending the day with her son at the park," explains Lee. "She looks away for just a moment and he's gone. She tries to get help, but there's no time. She pursues the kidnappers but she can't keep up, so she has to hatch a series of plans to outsmart them. We're with her every second, from the messy, clumsy beginning attempts all the way to the end. At some point, we realize that this woman has gone from an average mother to a total badass."

The part required an actress who could believably convey both the helplessness Karla feels in the face of her son's abduction and the steely resolve that keeps her going when the situation seems hopeless. Finding the right actress for that role was essential, says di Bonaventura.

Fortunately for the filmmakers, Oscar-winner Halle Berry and her partner in 606 Films, Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas, found the premise as intriguing as they did. "I think the best ideas are born from more than one mind," says Berry, who is also one of the film's producers. "We've come together in a really good way on this film. Everybody has a unique perspective, which has made the whole project richer, deeper and more meaningful in so many ways."

"There is something incredibly visceral about the subject matter," adds Goldsmith-Thomas, who also serves as producer. "Karla is an ordinary woman who becomes extraordinary. Hollywood makes a lot of movies about superheroes, but we are celebrating the superhero in every woman. I think so many of us don't understand the power we have until something extraordinary forces it out."

Berry, who executive-produced the television series "Extant," worked tirelessly as both producer and actress to ensure that Karla was a fully fleshed-out character. "It was nice to be wearing both hats," she says. "I got to have real input into the story, into how the movie was shot and who was involved from start to finish. That's a really good feeling."

Goldsmith-Thomas, whose numerous production credits include Maid in Manhattan and the long-running TV series "The Fosters," says Berry is a natural-born filmmaker. "Halle's really good with script. She's so smart and she comes from character. It was her idea that Karla would not only rescue her child, but also rescue herself in the process by finding strength and courage she didn't know she had. One of the reasons Halle is extraordinary is that she always finds the truth in the character."

To direct Kidnap, the producers brought on Luis Prieto, a young Spanish filmmaker whose first project, Bamboleho, took home the Best Narrative Short Film award from the 2002 Tribeca Film Festival. "Luis is a very thoughtful director," says di Bonaventura. "He understands the nuances of each of the characters at a given moment."

The film's portrayal of a woman finding her untapped personal power was the primary reason Prieto agreed to take on the project. "The relationship between mother and child is primal," he says. "She will do anything to get him back. You don't see a woman in a role like this very often. It's a movie about empowerment. I also love that you never know what's going to happen next. Karla is figuring it out as she goes along and you can see that in Halle's eyes. It's powerful."

The movie begins in an idealized world in which a mother and son go to the park for a perfect weekend day. "When Frankie, the son, is kidnapped, what was beautiful becomes a nightmare," says Prieto. "I wanted to reflect that transformation from beauty to darkness, from light to dark in the look of the film. It's no longer something bright and beautiful. And I needed an actress who would be able to go from that moment of brightness to a very dangerous place. Halle was the perfect choice."

Berry was impressed with the director's sensitivity to a very female point of view. "The action is so testosterone-driven and so male, but Karla is reacting as a mother. Luis found a way to meld the two elements. That's not easy to do."

The director also had the ability to remain calm under pressure, a quality that kept an ambitious shooting schedule running smoothly, says di Bonaventura. "Luis has a very steady hand, which we needed. The pressure to complete this in only 20 days was intense. Someone more excitable would have worn himself out immediately. Luis is very methodical and puts his energy into creating a rich world full of authentic characters."

Seeing his first screenplay come to life has been a thrilling experience, according to Lee. "The movie has some amazing, over-the-top action elements," he says. "But it always remains a realistic first-person experience. We almost never have information that Karla doesn't have. We never see what's happening inside the kidnapper's car. There's no way out for 90 minutes, so you won't be thinking, 'this is an awesome action scene,' you'll just be terrified!"

As the film progresses, di Bonaventura believes moviegoers will become completely invested in Karla. "A couple times, it seems like she's just about to get what she wants. And then the hope vanishes. It's a roller coaster of emotions and the audience will be brought along for the ride with her."

Mama Bear at the Wheel

As Karla Dyson, Halle Berry is in virtually every frame of Kidnap, from the intimate everyday moments she shares with her son to the film's jaw-dropping stunts and action set pieces. The actress is equally convincing at both extremes, says di Bonaventura, providing the character with a rich and believable emotional life.

"Halle is truly one of the most beautiful women in the world, but in this film there's also an Everywoman quality about her," the producer says. "She shows you the vulnerability of the character, and then the gradual dawning of empowerment as she finds the strength to take on the villains of the piece. Karla is probably the last person who would think herself capable of doing what she has to do. She chases down two dangerous people who have grabbed her kid, driving like a crazy woman in a minivan. There are some near misses, some car crashes and some things that jolt the audience, but the real ride is what's going on inside Karla's mind."

From acclaimed dramas to international blockbusters, Berry approaches all of her roles with the same commitment, observes producer Gregory Chou. "Her performances are raw and relatable. Karla's whole arc is figuring out who these people are, why they're targeting her and how to get her son back."

Berry, herself a mother of two, describes her character as an average mom who has to do something extraordinary to save her child. "I think every parent around the world will relate to the superhuman strength she is capable of when her child is in jeopardy," she says.

The character's desperate situation combined with Berry's taut performance elevates the movie, according to executive producer D.J. Gugenheim. "What I responded to in the script was that Karla starts out as just another mom in a park and this horrific situation empowers her to do things she never dreamed she could. Halle's awesome in the role. She just brings it in every scene. She is always dialed in and the result is a nonstop, thrilling action ride."

Young actor Sage Correa makes his major film debut in the role of Frankie, Karla's son. 'We tested a lot of young children, but Sage really stuck out," says Howsam. "His innocence and purity made him the perfect kid to play Frankie."

The youngster remembers being both nervous and excited when he auditioned for the role. "When I heard I was going to do some lines with Halle Berry, I was scared I wouldn't remember my words," he says. "But Halle was so nice to me. On the first day, she gave me a magic set with different tricks in it. After that, it was so fun to run around until the mom rescues Frankie - AKA me. I hope to make another movie with her someday."

He may yet, says producer Joey Tufaro, who believes Sage is a future superstar. "He was completely into his character and you could see how he took to Halle."

Despite his character's dire situation, Correa was always upbeat on set, according to Gugenheim. "He's just so lovable," says the executive producer. "The second he's taken, your heart goes out to him. It's devastating because he's a great little actor."

As compelling as Berry is in her role, a hero is only as effective as the villain. For much of the film Karla doesn't see her son's kidnappers. She doesn't know who they are or why they have taken her son. "They're almost phantoms," says Howsam. "The monster that you can't see is much scarier than the monster that you do see."

The criminals, Margo and Terry, are played by veteran character actors Chris McGinn and Lew Temple with cold, casual viciousness. "Chris and Lew are perfect," says Lee. "If you saw them at the park, they would be really frightening. Karla has no way of knowing how dangerous they really are, which is an important element in the story. For a long time, they don't even speak."

Having a child snatched away in the blink of an eye is a nightmare under any circumstances, but Karla Dyson will soon learn that something far more evil and far-reaching is at play. When she - and the audience - finally realize the scope of what is happening, it is even more terrifying than first imagined. "These people are doing something that is unthinkable to most of us and yet they feel justified," says di Bonaventura. "They don't really see themselves as bad. That makes for really frightening characters.

McGinn says she was excited to have a chance to play someone truly evil. "It's unusual for this kind of bad guy to be a woman," says the actress. "To find the character, I played with the fact that people don't notice Margo - she blends into a crowd. But the more it happens, the angrier and more frustrated she gets. She and Terry are trying to make a big score to set themselves up for another life. And then everything goes out the window when they run into this woman who just won't give up."

The role gave the actress a chance to do things she has never done before in a film - like speeding across a bridge hundreds of feet in the air holding a knife to her hostage's neck while Halle Berry drives alongside. "And Halle and I have these fights that look so real that Luis would yell, 'Are you okay?' and we would be laughing. Between crazy car chases and physical fights and wild dogs and guns there's quite a bit of action."

As Terry, Lew Temple is also playing against type. "I'm normally loud and outgoing whereas my character is quiet and uncertain," he says. "There's something creepy about people who don't talk but just look at you. You don't know what they're going to do. Terry's very much that guy, where Margo is the brains of the operation - which is not a good thing. This outfit could use one more person.

"These two are not good people by any stretch," Temple adds. "Terry's got a little drug habit. His judgment is not that great. No one has ever fought back before and he doesn't have a clue as to what to do. I can tell you, it will become rather messy."

Hard Driving in the Big Easy

Kidnap was filmed in and around the city of New Orleans. With help from the local film commission, the production received permission to shut down bridges and highways for the extensive and spectacular chase scenes. Producer Joey Tufaro and his colleagues at Louisiana-based Goldstar Films were instrumental in scouting locations that fit Prieto's requirements.

"Luis had a distinct look in mind," Tufaro says. "We mapped out some of the best roads for our needs. The action spans a park and a parking lot to a shopping center and a rural setting. The next thing you know, you're on the interstate in the middle of one of the biggest chase scenes I've ever seen through one of the prettiest and most unique cities in the world."

For many of the stunt sequences, the filmmakers chose to shoot just outside of the city in more rural areas that provided space for Kidnap's elaborate stunts, as well as to create the illusion that Karla is alone, according to location manager Johnny Eastlund.

The Huey P. Long Bridge, spanning the Mississippi River a few miles north of New Orleans, was just one of the many bridges and roads where filming took place. The bridge's three 11-foot-wide lanes were ideal for one of the film's chase scenes. Named for the state's best-known governor, the bridge was described in the New Yorker as "a structure so vaulting and high that it seems to extend from one white, towering Gulf Coast cloud to the next." The massive sequence required 45 stunt drivers and multiple tractor-trailers to stage.

Other locations include City Park, where Frankie is abducted; downtown Slidell, a small city near Lake Pontchartrain; and the Nine Mile Point neighborhood on the West Bank, where production designer Sarah Webster found what the company called the "kidnap house."

"The house set has a very detailed, almost demented quality," says Webster. "It feels eerie and disheveled, adding to Karla's sense of desperation and confusion. I wanted the spookiness and subtle devastation to heighten the tension and fear."

Di Bonaventura and his fellow filmmakers were adamant that the driving sequences be shot without resorting to green-screen technology. "Shooting the movie on green screens would have been the easy way to do it, but it can make things feel inorganic," says di Bonaventura. "Doing it for real required that Halle do some of the driving scenes herself and she was game from the word go. That gives it an extra dash of realism. Halle is reacting to what's happening around her for real. Sometimes things got a little out of control, but that contributes to the authentic energy we wanted."

One of the challenges, according to di Bonaventura, was pushing a mundane minivan past its workaday limitations and into another realm. "The vehicle's limitations make the sequences unexpected, exciting and relatable," says the producer. "It was dangerous to some degree but we were able to find the right stunt drivers."

Berry, the veteran of multiple action epics, including the blockbuster X-Men franchise, says she loves physical roles like this one. "I was a gymnast as a kid, so whenever I get to do these things, I enjoy it. I certainly didn't do all the stunts in this movie, but I did a great deal. There's some serious precision driving, which I did not do - because I am the mother of two! But I have the most amazing stunt double, as well as racecar drivers and stunt driver."

Steve Ritzi, who had previously worked with Howsam and di Bonaventura as the stunt coordinator for GI Joe: Retaliation and RED, was brought on as second-unit director responsible for Kidnap's extensive stunt scenes. "We had a short list of possibilities and he was at the top," Howsam says. "There are a lot of incredible stunts and we wanted to keep it all as safe as possible. We needed someone who could design the action and was familiar with latest equipment. That's Steve."

Choreographing what is essentially a 90-minute car chase was right in Ritzi's wheelhouse, but he notes that Kidnap is far more than just its action sequences. Karla's situation and Berry's performance elevate the film into devastating and riveting new territory. "The character's emotional arc is the crux of the movie," he explains. "She starts out timid and terrified as she searches for her kid with no help from anyone. She gets stronger and stronger as she starts to gain confidence in herself. At the end, she's downright aggressive. That's what makes this movie different from a straightforward action-driving movie."

Prieto and Ritzi were able to work so smoothly together that it is virtually impossible to tell which shots are first unit and which are second, as the movie cuts back and forth fluidly between them, notes Gugenheim. "Luis shot elements and then showed Steve what he was looking for on the other side," the executive producer says. "Steve shot pieces and showed Luis so he could direct Halle. It was a lot of moving pieces but Luis was never flustered. He's a great director and a gentleman as well."

Prieto had a clear vision of what he wanted to see on screen, says Ritzi. "He had a lot to say about the stunts and the way they were shot. He was very specific about the ways in which they affect Halle's character and what they can reveal about her, so it's not just stunts for their own sake. Each section feels different. He and director of photography Flavio Martinez Labiano decided how they wanted to achieve the different looks and I came up with the right equipment to make that happen."

The equipment included a rig called a "biscuit," a traveling platform that controls the vehicle remotely, so that Berry could remain at the wheel of the minivan while an expert driver took over. "It's like a flatbed but it has a monitor," Ritzi explains. "You can look in every different direction. It gives you flexibility for your camera angles. Then there's the 'pod,' which looks like a go-kart that goes on top of the van. That driver can also control the van while giving the illusion that Halle is driving it."

One of the film's most impressive stunts sends an SUV careening down a highway at top speed before it rolls over multiple times. "It's part of a longer sequence where the kidnappers are tossing things out of their car to try and throw Karla off," Ritzi says. "She has to swerve to miss a toolbox, but there's a car right behind her, an SUV whose driver is unaware of what's going on. That SUV loses control and swerves in front of another vehicle, flips and tumbles over at least five times. It is hard to believe that there's actually a guy inside that vehicle."

Packed with action, emotion, adrenaline and personal triumph, Kidnap will have both men and women in the audience wondering if they would find it within themselves to do what Karla has to in order to save her child. "The pacing and the action build as Karla keeps fighting for her son's life and the stakes rise," di Bonaventura says. "She finds herself running headlong toward a cliff, hoping she's going make the landing, each step emboldening her to take the next. With no one else to help, she is able to find within herself the strength and self-reliance to take on some really dangerous people."

Her story will both touch and thrill the audience, according to producer Howsam. "I don't think there's a force more powerful than a mother's love for her child," he says. "It's such a primitive thing. We have tapped into that for this movie and added this high-stakes pursuit. Kidnap will pick people up and take them on a great ride. There won't be a moment to catch your breath. I've always loved films that keep you glued to your seat and this is one of those."

Berry believes the potent themes underlying Kidnap's non-stop action will help the film resonate with audiences of all stripes. "It's about female empowerment," says the actress. "It's about women. It's about moms. It's about the triumph of the human spirit and how far each of us will go to save the ones we love."

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