ROMAN J. ISRAEL. ESQ.
Shooting in Los Angeles
Carrying on from his work on Nightcrawler, Gilroy is chronicling the city of Los
Angeles in corners that rarely show up on screen - locations like Skid Row,
downtown courthouses that process hundreds of people every day, and L.A. jails.
The production filmed entirely on location - no soundstage work - mostly in
downtown Los Angeles, with the only exception being two days where production
filmed in the Mojave Desert.
To help bring his vision to the screen, Gilroy teamed with key members of his
production crew: director of photography Robert Elswit, editor John Gilroy,
production designer Kevin Kavanaugh, and costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck.
Black says that the unifying characteristic in these artists is in approaching
their work from character, rather than from story or aesthetic. "Robert tries to
get into the character's head - every shot is either Roman's point of view or
looking at Roman. Similarly, Kevin can design the proper apartment, but every
location is coming from character. John, the editor, is Dan's twin brother, and
Director of Photography Robert Elswit teamed with Gilroy to create the
photographic look of the film. "Bob is a crucial part of anything I've done.
He's not just a cinematographer - he's a storyteller," says Gilroy. "Every scene
is a story, and he challenges you at every moment - why is the character saying
this, why is that plot point happening. And from those conversations, he brings
choices in lenses and film stock and camera angles to create the extraordinary
look of the film."
Production Designer Kevin Kavanaugh, who also previously teamed with Gilroy on
Nightcrawler, notes, "On Nightcrawler, we made a choice not to shoot any of
downtown Los Angeles, but on Roman J. Israel, Esq., it was almost the opposite.
I was excited that we would be portraying downtown LA."
Kavanaugh says, "Dan's strength is his writing ability-that's his bread and
butter. That ability to write a scene so easily gives us - me, Robert Elswit,
our DP, and Francine, the costume designer - the freedom to show Dan what the
scene he wrote can look like, the direction he can film in this world that he
wrote on the page."
"It was important to show the scale and history of these Los Angeles
institutions," says Kavanaugh. "For example, the Sybil Brand Institute is such
an LA icon - the women of the Manson Family were housed there."
"This is a very Los Angeles kind of story, which will show that Los Angeles is
changing as well," Kavanaugh continues. "Different people in different economic
brackets are moving to the downtown area. We have a bunch of scenes in different
parts of Los Angeles that maybe people forgot, or never knew; hopefully, after
people see this movie, they will think about that spot because they recognize it
and will want to see it for themselves."
Some of those places include the Fashion District in downtown Los Angeles, the
Staples Center, and Langer's Delicatessen, an iconic restaurant for over sixty
years that is located across from MacArthur Park.
"I loved filming in the streets of Los Angeles," says Colin Farrell. "You meet
it where its heart already beats. It's alive; it's chaotic! That's beautiful
because it adds texture, it adds an immediacy that helps the story."
"I always wanted to put Denzel's character in very real-world situations," says
Dan Gilroy. "Everything we are doing with this movie must register as real. If
it doesn't register as real at every second, if there's any artifice at all, we
start to tip off the tightrope."
In fact, Gilroy and the producers were so committed to showing these worlds as
they are that in some cases, even the extras and background actors were played
by the people who knew these worlds best. "In one scene, Roman is in court when
he talks back to a judge and is found in contempt. Our bailiff in that scene,
Jocelyn Ayanna, had been a lawyer and knew how the courts operate," says Fox.
"Not only was she the right actress for the role - we loved her performance -
but she was on hand to lend us her expertise and experience to get the scene
"When you cast actors who have real-life experience in the roles in which they
are cast, they have a certain patter that not everyone can imitate," says the
film's casting director, Victoria Thomas. "Jocelyn had experienced a kind of
unemotional, monotone way of reciting courtroom procedure, and she captured that
in her performance."
Even in roles in which the actors would not have real-world experience,
diversity was the watchword. "Dan and I wanted the people in the movie to look
like they lived in Los Angeles - not the Westside but downtown, the East side,
South LA, the desert which is the part of Los Angeles," says Thomas. "We wanted
to cast people who don't always get seen on the big screen as representative of
the diversity of Los Angeles."
Thomas says there was one additional criterion to consider when casting the
smaller roles. "I have worked on several films with Denzel. Anytime you are
casting a movie with Denzel in it, you have to consider whether or not the actor
cast opposite him can go toe to toe with him. Someone may be good but
inexperienced, and you have to consider whether or not they will be intimidated
by him. That speaks to Denzel's presence and power as an actor."
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