About The Production
The story behind Replicas came to life through an idea that producing partner
Stephen Hamel shared with Keanu Reeves. Both had an enthusiasm for telling a
story that raised interesting questions, while still playing in the genre of
which both are huge fans. As Hamel describes, "Replicas was born from my
interest in the benefits and dangers of emerging technologies that could
overcome fundamental human limitations as well as ethical limitations of using
such technologies. Specifically, that human beings may eventually be able to
transfer their consciousness from one body to another."
The goal was to create a dynamic where the hero (Keanu) is faced with both
enormous intellectual and emotional stakes, simultaneously. In this convergence,
Hamel felt there was something deeply moving and perturbing. Once he wrote the
story, he brought together their core team, including genre producer icon
Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, to further develop the project, and help produce the
film. After finding genre writer Chad St. John, who had the same thoughts and a
great alignment with the producers (a story that tackles science vs. ethics) it
quickly turned into a script. Lorenzo Di Bonaventura, Nachmanoff adds, "has a
long history of involvement with science fiction and with Keanu, dating back to
The Matrix and Constantine. He has a very strong understanding of how to make
this kind of movie and he was invaluable in helping us shape the story,
particularly at the script and editing stage." Nachmanoff came on board shortly
after to direct and of course the movie was on its way with the Start of
Principle Photography set in Puerto Rico on July 10th 2016.
"As a fan of grounded science fiction, this story really appealed to me,"
explains Nachmanoff. "The idea of taking a serious idea and turning it into
commercial entertainment has always appealed to me. I believe we are approaching
a time, in the not too distant future, when we will indeed be able to unlock
some of the mysteries of how the brain functions. This will raise increasingly
thorny ethical dilemmas - where is the line between AI and human consciousness?
Is there a threshold for prolonging human life? Should there be? I found these
underlying questions provocative, but most of all I liked the characters and the
story and I was excited to tell it," says Nachmanoff. Reeves adds to this: "Part
of the film's entertainment is that there is something to speak about."
Nachmanoff continues, "One could say that the movie is a modern-day twist on
the Frankenstein myth - a man of science uses his skills to defy the laws of
nature with unintended consequences." Tonally it was an interesting world to
play in. The subject matter could be perceived as quite dark, but the new
technological sci-fi element created an interesting balance. "Much of the film
takes place at night so there is a certain Gothic darkness to the tone of the
movie. But we were shooting in the tropics where it is very lush, green and
alive. I wanted to embrace both of those worlds to create a visual palette that
would put a fresh spin on the thriller genre.
The cinematographer, Checco Varese, took bold risks with the lighting and
letting settings be a bit more dramatic, particularly in the basement where
William is growing the pods," Nachmanoff adds. Regarding the production design,
"I wanted William's world to feel a bit messy and chaotic; so Johnny (our
production designer) and his team built environments with texture and detail.
The idea was to convey the feeling of a chemistry experiment in the basement.
A big part of that was the design and construction of the clone pods which
were built by Rafy Perez, our SFX supervisor." Puerto Rico had a lot of local
crew and the whole team was pleasantly surprised with how hard everyone was
working to create this world. "Before we started the shoot, we all assumed that
these would be too complicated to create in Puerto Rico and would need to be
built and shipped from LA or someplace on the mainland. But Rafy simply blew us
away with his inventiveness and ability. The pods each weighed over 500 lbs.
when filled with water and our actress actually was in the pod for the filming.
Turns out Alice Eve can hold her breath a really long time!" says Nachmanoff.
With the production being set in Puerto Rico, the team had its unique
challenges. They came to set with the recent passing of the Zika outbreak that
had hit Puerto Rico's tourism industry, but the spirit and energy remained high
and the team quickly learned of the strong tradition of Independent Filmmaking.
As Nachmanoff states, "This was not the easiest shoot, but the crew rose to the
challenge. With the exception of our production designer (Johnny Breedt) who is
South African and our DP (Checco Varese) who is Peruvian, almost everybody else
was local. A mixture of English and Spanish was spoken on set but in the end
everybody managed to communicate very well."
Remembering back on the hardest day of the shoot, Nachamoff reflects that it
had to be the stunt-heavy day in the rain at night. "We were shooting the scene
down by the river where the family dies in the car crash. It was summertime, so
we only had a limited number of hours of darkness. Plus, we were working with
minors who had to be finished by midnight. The location was in the jungle, so
everybody was covered in bug spray. The location was hard to access, even though
we had built a road to move equipment to the river's edge. It was so muddy, we
had to transport actors to and from set on ATVS. Additionally, we had to do a
stunt where we threw a van into the river. Keanu had to walk in the water
carrying a child. At the same time, the scene called for rain so the SFX team
was pumping water from the river into giant hoses, which were attached to rain
heads atop a seventy-foot crane. Unbeknownst to them, there were tiny shellfish
in the water that clogged the rain heads. So, the whole rig had to be lowered to
the ground and they painstakingly opened and cleared out every rain head - a
process that took two precious hours. Meanwhile a few of the actors were sick
and one threw up that night. By the time the sun came up, everybody was ready to
go home." Reeves adds that he liked that moment; it was the pivotal point for
his character to go on this journey, while going through "the real emotional
highs in terms of trying to bring them back and trying to keep it a secret and
how your safe space becomes this secret lab. I loved that journey."
Replicas will be a timely film for audiences. For Keanu Reeves fans, it's a
chance to see him in a different role than just pure action. This film is a
family story at its core, as Hamel explains, but it's also a sci-fi thriller, so
fans of that genre will still really enjoy it. Nachmanoff adds that a lot of
movies look at scientific advances with fear, i.e. Skynet in the Terminator
franchise. This movie takes a slightly different point of view in that the
science is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It is more of a classic story
about human nature and forces us to ask the question: what would you do if you
were in William's shoes? Who wouldn't try to save his or her family?
Jeffrey Nachmanoff is a director known for his work on genre movies that are
character driven and deliver a message. He has a skill for getting emotionally
truthful performances from his cast in a grounded yet supernatural way, and
working with the right talent was important to him and the producers.
"Keanu has a phenomenal work ethic. I knew his reputation for preparing for
physical roles (such as the stunts in John Wick) but I was impressed at how that
preparation extends even into the research for a role like this. He was
constantly reading up on neuro-science and bringing new ideas for scenes and for
the science underlying our story. Obviously, we can't yet map the human mind,
but there is a tremendous amount of existing research on the function of the
brain and Keanu read a great deal about it," says Nachmanoff.
Stephen Hamel adds, "In Replicas there was an opportunity for Keanu to play a
compelling character in a story that we felt had not yet been told in this way.
I love movies that ask lots questions. Movies that oblige the viewer to be
confronted with severe ethical and emotional dilemmas, while delivering a very
entertaining experience. Replicas does exactly that."
For Keanu Reeves, playing a role in this type of genre is different from his
previous work. It was the complexity and traumatic events of the character
William that intrigued his acting instincts: "I'm playing a husband and
scientist who loses his family. As we all have lost people in our lives, there
is something very relatable there. And then the tormenting thought of - how can
you bring them back - was definitely the connector that made this character
attractive and powerful to play," says Reeves.
The choices that were made for each role came together nicely. Casting
director Sharon Bialy did a stellar job scouting local talent in Puerto Rico.
"Working with the rest of the cast was an amazing experience too. Puerto Rico
has very talented actors who were always giving their best," says Nachmanoff.
Adding some lightheartedness in a more serious sci-fi genre was a conscious
choice, and who better to do this than Thomas Middleditch. "He proved to be a
great partner and his part provides some much needed levity to the film," Reeves
says. Nachmanoff adds: "He was a great improviser and a lot of his comic asides
in the movie are things he came up with spur of the moment. At the same time, he
impressed me with his dramatic chops as well."
As for Alice Eve, Stephen Hamel says, "We were lucky to have Alice join our
team. She is somebody who lives in the genre world. She provided a warmth and
humanity which is so important in the film." Nachmanoff jokingly adds "she is
also really good at holding her breath for a long time and a very good sport
about getting into a clone pod. Her 'birthing' scene is one of my favorites."
John Ortiz is a terrific actor who has been in so many great movies over the
years. Nachmanoff says, "It was great to have a chance to work with him and let
him go full villain for a change. He is beloved in Puerto Rico - we couldn't get
through a meal there without somebody asking for an autograph."
THE LOCATIONS AND THE DESIGN
"When we came to Puerto Rico to make this movie the island was reeling from
the twin blows of the Zika outbreak that had hit their tourism industry, and a
financial crisis which left the economy in tatters. But the spirit and energy of
the Puerto Ricans remained undaunted" (Jeffrey Nachmanoff). While the shoot had
its challenges, the beauty of Puerto Rico shined through, and turned out to be
the perfect location for a "Caribbean" look. Its lush, vibrant greenery gave it
the tropical look it needed. At the same time, this movie needed to feel
authentic yet somewhat separated from the real world, says production designer
Johnny Breedt (Eye in The Sky, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom). Nachmanoff adds,
"I felt that if we want the audience to buy into the sci-fi premise of this
movie, it was important to create a sufficiently impressive visual environment
for BIODYNE" (the lab). That meant building and designing a set to the standards
of a Hollywood movie, even though Puerto Rico didn't have existing stages big
enough to do so.
After a great deal of searching, the production decided to shoot in an
abandoned office building. This didn't come without complications, when it
turned out that the roof leaked, production had to hire a roof repair while
shooting. With 6 weeks of production prep, there wasn't enough time to finish
the lab by the time production started, which meant that the art department had
to work around the clock to complete the set, and production had to schedule
those scenes at the end of the shoot. "The paint was still drying when we shot
there," Nachmanoff recalls.
"We had to contend with the usual array of production challenges plus a few
new ones, such as insects in the jungle and indigenous frogs (called coquilles)
who were so loud they interfered with dialogue recording. At one point during
the production a fire at a power plant knocked out the entire electrical grid
for Puerto Rico for almost two days. Hotels were evacuated, the Internet was
down. But we kept shooting (using a generator), in spite of the fact that many
crew members went home to houses lit by candles with no working A/C in the
tropical heat. It was that type of hard work and perseverance that really
impressed me about the crew."
Although there were some challenges in the pre-production and production
phases, it paid off. The look and design was exactly what Nachmanoff was trying
to convey. The movie has its own style. "I think Jeffrey and Checco
(Cinematographer) created a nice interplay type of dance with the audience,
letting them in when it's intimate and then using some kind of graphic novel fun
cinema angles when it's more of a sci-fi genre movie. This, along with a unique
color palette, created a style of its own compared to previous work I've done,"
CREATION OF THE ROBOT
The fun visual opportunity that spoke the most to the VFX team and Jeffrey
Nachmanoff was developing a fully CGI robot. The robot became a fundamental
character in the movie and needed to look distinct. "We have seen a lot of
humanoid robots in film and TV, so it's not easy to do something new. I was very
inspired by the movie Ex Machina in which they created this fantastic sense of a
robot by using additive VFX to the actress. Instead of copying their great
creation, we switched to a fully CGI model, which evolved over the course of
many drawings and multiple artists" (Nachmanoff).
The design and development process began with Trevor Harder (Underworld,
Ghost Rider) who is based in Montreal. His designs made the Robot come to life.
"The designs were then constructed at Maldito Maus in Argentina and then the
bulk of the robot was moved to Reaktor in Puerto Rico to add the finishing
touches. They say it takes a village." (Nachmanoff).
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