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BREAKING IN

About The Production
Revenge Is a Mother: Breaking In Begins

The premise for Breaking In came to Craig Perry several years back when he was collaborating on another film with Jaime Primak Sullivan, one of this thriller's executive producers. "Jaime was working as a publicist, so we would bat ideas back and forth all the time," recalls the producer.

He admits he was always impressed by his colleague's tenacity, a trait she shares with their story's heroine. "Jaime is remarkably creative and always coming up with new ideas. Then one day, out of the blue, she called and pitched me this one. "I said, 'Wow! Well, I don't think this part works...but the very root of it is just fantastic!' So, we began to develop from that nugget of a concept, and things moved very fast."

Alongside his fellow Practical Pictures' producing partner, Sheila Hanahan Taylor-together known for their landmark, blockbuster American Pie and Final Destination franchises-development began, and they reached out to Will Packer Productions' Will Packer and James Lopez to discuss a potential collaboration.

"One of the reasons why we partnered with Will and James was that they have the hot hand on so many films, and we loved what they could bring to Breaking In," shares Perry. "He and James started their partnership at Screen Gems and now, as producing partners, they have created movies that squarely hit the target that we were interested in creating a film for. We were very lucky that they saw in the project what we saw in it."

Together, the quartet of producers brought the package to Universal Pictures, where Packer has a first-look deal, and pitched executives the premise of a mother trapped outside a virtual fortress, who will not rest until she gets her kids back-would-be killers be damned. After a number of writers were considered, it was a unanimous decision to bring aboard Non-Stop writer Ryan Engle to pen the screenplay.

Engle crafted the tale of Shaun Russell, a mother who was attempting to tie up loose ends at her recently deceased father's vacation home-at the same time struggling with difficulties in her own marriage. When Shaun travels with her two children to her estranged dad's remote house, she stumbles into a threat that could easily mean the end of her family. She has a split-second decision to make...a simple one for any mother trying to save her children: rescue them...or die trying.

What made Engle's screenplay especially poignant for Packer was that the protagonist was trying to do better by her children than her father ever managed by her. "Shaun wants her relationship with her kids to be something positive, unlike what she grew up with," the producer explains. "She makes sure that family is the most important thing. She's a career woman who has a lot going on, but family is at the centerpiece of her life; it's her purpose. Shaun's drive is all about those kids. Mama Bear will do anything to protect those cubs."

When actress and producer Union was considering tackling her latest project, she found herself drawn to a production that brought three things: the opportunity to work with her long-time friend and often collaborator, Packer, producer of her hit comedy, Almost Christmas; the chance to bring life to the script from Engle, whose Liam Neeson-headlined thriller shook audiences; and the ability to join a seasoned group of fellow producers who shared her passion for giving a much-needed voice for women in front of and behind the camera.

Perry explains their logic in asking Union to become their Shaun: "Gabrielle was the perfect choice to play this character because not only is she a spectacularly talented actress, but she has intense physicality. We knew she would be capable of rising to the occasion and of handling the stunts, but she also has sheer presence...against guys who have dismissed her because she's a woman. They have no expectations that she'll be able to deliver on any of the challenges they throw at her."

Adds Hanahan Taylor: "Gabrielle is a strong-willed woman who is sublimely intelligent. The combination of all these factors make her a formidable foe for the bad guys. It's not the other way around."

Packer loved the idea that the crew was building a narrative in which the tried-and-true was upended. He reflects: "In these type of movies, you either have somebody trying to break out or you have somebody trying to get into to steal something. Rarely do you have a situation where you're trying to break in to save your family. This time, it's not about bad guys trying to get in; it's about our heroine, Gab Union, breaking in to save the day."

Union walks us through where we find her character, and the threat that immediately awaits this family: "Shaun and her two kids are visiting her dad's home to clean out his place after he dies. There were some bad guys her father was involved with, and they have come for $4 million they believe is in the house. In the process, they kidnap her children. She ends up on the outside trying to fight her way inside to get her kids back."

As she considered Breaking In a vehicle in which to both produce and star, Union appreciated the dichotomy between the beleaguered character she would portray and the villains she'd face-as well as the seemingly unsurmountable odds facing them all. "The guys that Shaun's up against are the worst of the worst," she reflects. "They're bottom-feeders who have no problem preying on a woman and her children. They're desperate, have no moral compass and there's no boundary that they won't cross." For the multihyphenate, this premise offered a wealth of opportunities. "Shaun's not used to dealing with people like this, but they're also not used to dealing with a woman who's willing to do anything to protect her kids."

The character's fear is, without a doubt, what she needs to hold onto in order to survive. Indeed, Shaun's biggest strength is that she's terrified. When you're that afraid, there are no boundaries. She knows that there are no limits you can put on a situation that stands between you and your children's safety; that premise stoked Union's desire to explore the role.

The actress/producer adds that what drew her to Breaking In was the premise of one woman versus four men, a metaphor of the challenges women have long faced-personally and professionally. "In real life, those are the odds we're normally up against," she notes. "You factor in a woman of color, a black woman, and the odds are generally not even that kind."

Union appreciated that Engle's tale was one of life imitating art and art imitating life. "Your back is always against the wall," she says. "You're daily faced with micro-aggressions that test your resolve, and you're being asked-in every capacity-'What will you do to get to the next step? How far are you willing to go? What are you willing to sacrifice?' What I love about this film is that we take life and turn it on its head. We get to show women that, even though the odds are always stacked against you, you can also come out on top."

She underscores how important it is to have heroines like Shaun for audiences of all backgrounds to experience. "Growing up and seeing kick-ass women on film or in TV, it was incredibly rare," Union relays. "Having a ball-busting woman of color? Unheard of. So what's changed? Olivia Pope, Annalise Keating-every character Lupita has played, and those characters are making people money. People are finally recognizing that heroes come in all shapes and sizes, and we want to see them reflected accurately on screens big and small. If it makes dollars, it makes sense."

The bonus was being able to partner once again with Packer, whom Union shares, is plain and simple, family. "Working with Will is like working with my brother. He knows when I'm going to love a take or hate it. Our relationship is incredibly collaborative, and we don't put each other in positions to fail. We make sure that we're creating winning situations for not only each other, but for everyone involved in our projects."

Packer returns that, as an accomplished actress and seasoned producer of television and movies, Union knows what performers need from their producers. "She understands execution on a film like this. Gab was great from a casting standpoint, as well as from a physical-production/on-set standpoint. She made sure all the other actors were aware of what was going on and were comfortable. She was also very instrumental in making sure that we were efficient in the time we would spend on set. She comes with a different perspective than a lot of producers. The other thing is that Gab's just plain smart. She is somebody who really understand business."

J Is for James: Director McTeigue Joins

When deciding on a director for the story of Shaun Russell and her children's harrowing night, the producers knew they had to find a filmmaker who inherently got her. In sum, Shaun is your average mom going about her business and trying to juggle life, while dealing with the death of a father to whom she hasn't spoken in years. When she is backed into a deadly corner, the tale becomes one of Shaun's evolution. With obstacle after barrier in her path, she must rely upon her wiles, smarts and physicality-all the things that she uses every day as a normal member of her family-to free her kids and escape this hellish night.

To helm Breaking In, Union and her fellow producers landed on director James McTeigue. They felt that his keen eye and knack for sharing daring stories of fascinating women-obvious in visually sumptuous fare from V for Vendetta to Sense8-was ideal for the look and feel of their thriller. "James is a kind, sweet man, who is so prepared," lauds Union. "It's the most amazing combination to have in a director; the fact that he's incredibly collaborative on top of that is a godsend."

Perry offers that one of the things the production team was searching for in a director was someone who not only had a wealth of experience shooting movies, but who had a great eye for rapid action. "We wanted a filmmaker with an understanding of how to build suspense and the capacity to work with actors. James has demonstrated over his long career that he's profoundly capable of doing both."

For McTeigue, the opportunity to work with his Breaking In team was too good to pass up. "I was excited by the chance to collaborate with Will and James because I'd known them for a long time. I thought the script was really good, and I'd been trying to work with scriptwriter Ryan Engle for some time. Once I'd met Craig's team and knew how enthused they were about the script, I was ready to jump into the production of the film. I really responded to the reverse-Panic Room-feeling of the screenplay."

The director underscores that films in this genre typically have a male protagonist, and what was unique was that this had a female character in the lead role. "This turns the idea of a home-invasion movie on its head; it's about Shaun trying to break in to get her kids out. More than that is that, there's a female at the heart of our story."

He responded to Union's reflections about the trying state of the film industry...as well as inherent sexism in our day-to-day lives. "Women are generally underestimated and should be running the world, instead of a lot of men," believes McTeigue. "Women do incredible things every day; that goes unsaid and unnoticed. This film shines a light on some of the things that we take for granted from women."

In Union, McTeigue found the ideal collaborator. "Gab has a distinct empathy that audiences respond to; when they see her, they very easily key into who she is as a person...and by default who Shaun is as a mom," he states. "You'll feel this empathy that connects you to the character and how she has to elevate her mentality-and her physicality-to deal with what's been put in front of her."

Packer agrees, not holding back his enthusiasm for the captain of their ship: "James directs the hell out of this movie. He came in from day one with a very specific vision of how he wanted this project to come together. He knew that he wanted to have the viewer on the wire's edge...never comfortable. He talked about how he wanted to light the film, how he wanted the camera to move and what he wanted the score to feel like. He wanted Breaking In to feel like a thrill ride every second, and that's exactly what he's done."

Nobody's Victim: Casting the Thriller

When it came to securing her fellow actors for Breaking In, Union believed it crucial to be a part of the casting process and help select the troupe. This was no more important than in finding the young talent who would play Shaun's children, Jasmine and Glover. "Specifically, with Ajiona Alexus," Union notes. "I was obsessed with her performance in 13 Reasons Why; I just had to have her. I made sure we got the star that Ajiona is."

Alexus not only appreciated the faith in her abilities she received from her producer and leading lady, she loved the story's focus on a mother and her daughter not being simply damsels in distress. She echoes Union when she says, "What I liked about the thriller is that women are in control and kick ass. They're saving the family, and I was very excited to see women taking a more powerful role in a film like this."

Asked to describe where we find her character, Alexus observes: "Jasmine is one of those stubborn teens who is always on social media, with headphones listening to music. She would rather stay with her friend and boyfriend than go on a trip with her mom and younger brother. But when she gets here, her relationship with her mom and brother grows. She has a lot inside her, and we see that with what they go through in the house."

That evolution brings the character from annoyed teenager to grown-up young woman. "Jasmine has the initiative to take what her mom taught her and to protect her younger brother," reveals Alexus. "She sacrifices herself several times to save him and do what it takes to get out of the house alive-instead of being a scared little girl. She is no longer worried about taking care of herself first; she has to grow up very fast."

Cast to portray Glover, Shaun's son who is fascinated as much with his high-tech drone as he is bugging his sister, was Seth Carr, who memorably portrayed the devastated Young Kilmonger in Black Panther. "My mom says I'm 10 going on 40," the burgeoning actor laughs. Fortunate, as that's just what his director needed from him. "Glover's a know-it-all. He has this swag, but he also has a nerd in him. He was a fun character to play."

Like his on-screen sibling, Glover appreciated the support he found from his fellow cast and crew. "Gabrielle is the coolest person you'll ever meet. End of story. She's a cool friend to have and sometimes you just need a big star to just give you the confidence that you need, to keep progressing in your life as an actor." He states that he felt similarly toward his director. "When James wanted you to do something over, he would just tell me to take a deep breath and try again. He's a good friend to have when you're all frustrated."

While Shaun's character brings the passion, it's her children who are her heart; the two thespians who give their all to the production were loved by their producers. "Ajiona and Seth are amazing kids," raves Packer. "They were great to work with on set, but the thing that they bring is a real vulnerability. You feel the stakes and the emotion with these kids as they're going through everything. At the end of this movie, you're like, 'Oh, my gosh, what did I just go through?' A big part of that is because when you look into the eyes of those kids...you can actually see the fear; it's palpable."

When selecting the foursome to portray the very real threat to Shaun ensuring that her children get out alive, the filmmakers searched for performers who could keep this deadly cat-and-mouse game going for the entire production.

McTeigue discusses his gang of bad dudes: "I wanted a group of very different people who somehow all knew each other. What we came up with Ryan was that Duncan and Eddie met in jail. They thought this would be an easy job. No one would be there; all they had to do was find a safe and get out. Then they enlisted two other people. One was a punk named Sam, the conduit between the assistant that worked for Isaac (DAMIEN LEAKE), who told them that the money was up at the house, and Peter, the tech guy. You feel like there is glue between them, but this bond is something that could very easily break if there was tension."

Billy Burke of Twilight and TV's Major Crimes fame was cast as Eddie, the undisputed leader of the cabal that is tearing apart Shaun's dad's home to uncover the hidden millions. Producer Perry discusses the character's arc: "Eddie's trying to figure out what to make of this woman that all of us have underestimated. His gang believes Shaun isn't capable of doing anything that would impact their plan, and he's enjoying the game...up to a point. It's that electricity between the two of them that gives Breaking In its charge throughout the entire film."

Burke relished coming aboard a film that allowed him to go full bad guy. The performer introduces us to his gang: "This green kid Sam-maybe in and out of the juvi system-comes to Eddie and tells him, 'My girlfriend told me about this old man who's got all this money hidden in his house; it'll be an easy gig...' He asks Eddie to put together a gang to go extract this money. Eddie hires Duncan, who is a tried and true badass to be the muscle, as well as Peter, a safe-cacker. We think it's the perfect gang, but it turns out not to be that way. They 100 percent underestimate Shaun."

As did many of his fellow actors, the leader of the pack had a big fan in his director, who appreciated his learned approach to the production. "Billy's very film literate," commends McTeigue. "He knows where the camera is at all times and how to hit his marks. He's about making the scene better and giving you unexpected moments. I would ask for different modulations in a scene; with an actor like Billy, you can give minute direction."

Brought in as Duncan, the "just-in-case" guy, was Richard Cabral, known for his work on TV's American Crime and Lethal Weapon. The actor admits that it remains crucial to him to never judge a character he plays; he merely hopes to reflect the experiences he imagines his character has survived. That, in turn, makes Duncan all the more chilling. "For a person to become a 'bad man,' something happened to him in his childhood," Cabral offers. "This is all Duncan's ever been taught. He's a man of the hustle, a man of the institutions who needs to survive. This is a way of life, and he's trying to get that extra dollar. The only way he knows how is through crime. In his mind, after this come-up could be the time that he could check out."

Supporting roles were rounded out by Pacific Rim Uprising's Levi Meaden as Sam, the youngest member of the gang-whose connection to Isaac's (Shaun's father) assistant leads them to the house-and Australian actor Mark Furze (Home and Away) as Peter, the safe-cracker who is the gang's signature hope of unlocking the safe that holds $4 million. Finally, Christa Miller of Cougar Town was brought aboard to play Maggie, one of Shaun's closest friends who shows up to assist with the closing of the house, only to find she has stumbled into a deadly confrontation.

Filming by a Sanctuary: Design of the Film

As the team prepared pre-production, it was decided that Saddle Rock Ranch, just outside the City of Los Angeles proper, would double for the Isaac Russell's Midwestern home. What was most unexpected was that the team would decamp next to an animal sanctuary immediately next door. From camels, giraffes and zebras-to rattlesnakes and tarantulas-the Breaking In team never knew what hairy adventurer would show up on their front door.

The production required a home that had enough room for them to manuever...as well as get crews and equipment around from point A to B. They needed space for the actors to engage in everything physical required of an action-thriller-running, falling off stairs and reeling off the roof. Fortunately, they found an amazing property in Malibu where they could shoot around the grounds and in the house. Everything the audience sees in the house was shot in this house.

While there were necessary temp modifications to make the home virtually impenetrable to would-be malfeasance-mainly pulley, polycarbonate carbonite shields that surround the house on all windows-the majority of the Malibu home was shot as is. "We were fortunate to find Saddle Rock Ranch as a location," notes Perry. "It had all the things that we needed to mount this production. It wasn't just the way the house was laid out, but there was such a beautiful environment that we were allowed to use as a backdrop for the film."

For the entirety of the production, Union served in a double role on set. She walks us through this double-duty: "There's something I find incredibly gratifying about providing an opportunity for people to take care of their families, pay bills and live their dreams. With this film in particular, I was excited to help control the narrative, as well as the creative and filmmaking process. As a producer, having talent on the other side of the camera can help smooth out wrinkles and keep the lines of communication consistently open."

Even though there were multiple night shoots in Malibu-where multiple members of the cast were dangling from precarious angles-Union was the first to keep it light. Packer laughs: "Gab is somebody who's going to put on hip-hop and do a full lip-sync performance at 3 a.m. She did it on Almost Christmas and Being Mary Jane." He pauses, jokingly. "I am quietly putting together a Gab lip-sync concert album. Because she's always doing some type of performance-either on set behind the scenes in the trailers. It's her energy that is pervasive."

Heavy Rocks and Slippery Roofs: Camerawork and Stunts

When deciding who should lens Breaking In, McTeigue looked to fellow Aussie, Toby Oliver, to provide the thriller's momentum and desperation. To accomplish, they decided to shoot in anamorphic. "Toby is a brilliant DP who shot Get Out. We grew up in the Australian film industry together," shares the director. "Several years after we worked on Looking for Alibrandi, I moved to the States and did V for Vendetta and The Raven. Toby continued to live in Australia doing myriad of films, and then moved over. I reached out to Toby because he is a brilliant DP and we both share that Australian sense of humor, which is good when the pressure gets dialed up. We used anamorphic lenses to give the film a more cinematic feel."

Even though, moments prior, Shaun was a mom trying to deal with the everyday, she's now struggling for survival. All of that had to be strategically, systematically accomplished with a brilliant stunt team. From being chased by a crowbar-wielding psychopath and launching off the roof-to hurdling fallen maples and having her head smashed into a tree-Union had to tap into a cornered-animal feeling to get her adrenaline pumping.

For her fellow producers, there was never a doubt that Union could handle the physical demands of the gruelling shoot. "Gab takes care of herself so well," praises Packer. "I knew if I put her in a movie where she gets to kick ass, she would really kick ass. She's an amazing actor, so we thought, 'Let's combine those and see what she can do on screen.' This character is a perfect one for her and her skillset. She has to show emotion and vulnerability. But she also has to show a physical capability that she actually has, and she brings it to life in this movie."

One of the most intricate-and difficult-to-shoot-set pieces was the initial attack on Shaun outside the garage that sends the carbonate shields down and traps the kids behind the seemingly impenetrable walls. Fortunately for Union, she could rely on her equally badass stunt double, JENEL STEVENS, to step in when needed.

McTeigue explains that this cat-and-mouse sequence has its fair share of little pieces. "After Shaun is attacked and runs around the house trying to get back in to her kids, she is chased off. When she's followed, she runs into the woods, jumps over the fence and falls down a hill. This was a pretty cool stunt for all of us, and we had an endlessly long track rig with a remote head to track with her descent. She is then chased into a separate part of the forest, where one of the gang starts taunting her, and then they fight. She eventually overcomes him and cracks his head into a rock.

The producers and director appreciated just how game Union was for getting down and dirty and getting into the fight. But it would take a stunt-team army to match Union and her fellow actors' passion and physicality. "In my career, I've done like a lot large stunts. This is more fight choreography," shares McTeigue. "CHRIS O'HARA, our stunt coordinator, and I have an easy language and get to a place we want quickly. We had a great team of people helping us."

Hands down, the biggest challenge of the Breaking In production was its raw physicality. "The rooftop sequence was a huge challenge that took us a number of nights to shoot-on the side of a roof," explains Union. "They actually built a duplicate roof that made it safer, but still there was a significant drop-off if you were to fall. Trying to do it at 4 a.m., 5 a.m., as we were trying to make sure we had as much darkness as possible, was scary. It was one of the more treacherous, nerve-wracking scenes I've shot in my career."

While many performers are eager to weigh in with just how much extreme training they needed for a demanding shoot, the characteristically humble Union laughs off her physical preparation. Of course, that's easy to do for a lifelong athlete who has spent her years staying in peak shape. "A lot of people prepare for such a physical movie with stunt coordinators and self-defense training," states Union. "I went the opposite route. I did a lot of Pilates and cardio; I really dove in." With her characteristic laugh, she adds, "Pilates are very tough, kids."

Still, that's not to say that there wasn't a great deal of physically challenges to become the lioness that is Shaun. For Union, her energy came from multiple places. "I was able to take out all of my aggression during the making of this film," she shares. "The hardest part was stopping when James yelled, 'cut!' So many of us were raised to be nice women, and you don't react to every little slight or insult when someone underestimates you. So we keep a lot bottled in. Every time we were supposed to cut, I was still ready to kick someone's ass." To borrow partially a line from the Incredible Hulk, Union laughs, "I stay ready so I don't have to get ready; that's how I do."

For Union's co-star Mark Furze, whose character, Peter makes the mistake of attacking Shaun in the beginning of the story, the hardest day on set was when he was repeatedly "bashed" with a rock by his colleague. He walks us through the shoot: "Shaun jumps and grabs Peter and ends up smacking his head into a rock. It was a rubber rock, but I think we did it like 20 times that day. Man, we did it so many times just to try and get it perfect. I was just constantly smacking my head against this rubber rock...so that was fun. But hopefully it looks good."

Although safety was of paramount importance on set, Furze sheepishly admits, "I did cut Gab's lip at one point. I had to keep grabbing her around the mouth, and in between one of the takes we noticed she was bleeding. Still, she dealt with it very well and didn't hold a grudge. It was a lot easier for me than it was for her. She was rolling around on the cobblestones on the driveway, and I got to stand there and wrestle!"

Union and the actors who play the bad guys aren't the only ones who get to flex their muscles. Describing some of the more intense scenes, Ajiona Alexus shares: "Jasmine gets to show off some here and there. I was able to do a lot of climbing and falling and did some of my own stunts. I'm pretty athletic, and so it's cool to actually see that side of me in a film and actually do some action; it's something I've always wanted to do."

Not only was the shoot physically exhausting for the cast and crew, it was emotionally challenging. Alexus walks us through a particularly tough scene she had with Union, whom she calls her "big sister and soul mate." The young performer offers: "We'd had a very long day, and Gab and I had a very emotional scene. I went through the vent and came down in the other room to look for my phone to save us. I ended up running into my mom, and we just had this moment. She's like, 'You've got to get it together and do this for mommy; you got this. It was just so much emotion after four scenes back to back. At 2:00 in the morning, that's a little push."

Production wrapped, Union reflects on what Breaking In means to every underrepresented community member who longs and needs to see themselves seen on screen: "If you don't ever give a group of people a chance, you can always use that excuse of, 'well, they don't sell...' As soon as they started giving more people opportunities to be seen truly, they realized inclusion makes good business sense."

The actress and filmmaker ends with the message she hopes that others embrace after seeing this film: "I want audiences to walk away feeling exhilarated, and if their mothers aren't with them, call and thank them for all their sacrifices. All the badassery that has gone on in raising you continues to go on even after you're cooked. Hopefully, what people will recognize is what women-any kind of caregiver-will do to protect those that we love. And, hopefully, it'll also keep you on the edge of your seat. Tell your friends!"

Universal Pictures presents a Will Packer Productions production-a Practical Pictures production of a James McTeigue film: Breaking In, starring Gabrielle Union, Billy Burke, Richard Cabral, Ajiona Alexus, Levi Meaden, Jason George, Seth Carr and Christa Miller. Casting for the film is by Nancy Naynor, CSA, and its score is by Johnny Klimek. Breaking In's costume designer is Jason Sky Bland, and its film editor is Joseph Jett Sally. The production designer is Cecele M. De Stefano, and the director of photography is Toby Oliver, ACS. Breaking In's executive producers are Jaime Primak Sullivan, Jeff Morrone, Valerie Bleth Sharp. It is produced by Gabrielle Union, James Lopez, p.g.a., Sheila Hanahan Taylor, Craig Perry, p.g.a., Will Packer, p.g.a. The thriller is from a story by Jaime Primak Sullivan. Its screenplay is by Ryan Engle. Breaking In is directed by James McTeigue. A Universal Picture. 2018 Universal Studios.

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