THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT
WHAT'S THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT?
At once a high-stakes financial thriller with a global cast, gripping
cautionary tale on
the perils of rapacious greed, and thoughtful human drama about reclaiming
essentials, Montreal-born writer-director Kim Nguyen's The Hummingbird Project
a story for our up-to-the-minute times - where a millisecond can determine
fortune or failure, and the next big technological advancement could wipe out
today's way of doing things almost instantly.
The story centers on high-frequency trader cousins Vincent and Anton Zaleski
Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard), second-generation Eastern European New
Yorkers who leave their Wall Street trading-floor jobs to construct a
stretching from the Midwest to the East Coast, guaranteeing faster trades. The
title suggests an inconceivable task: laying a cable in the earth that can
from Kansas to New York in the time it takes a hummingbird to flap its wings.
The Hummingbird Project also speaks to the ridiculousness of our monetary
- and the humanity behind getting rich quick. "Kim Nguyen has taken this
real-world concept of high frequency trading and placed two unique and unusual
people in the middle of it," says Jesse Eisenberg, who plays the irrepressible
protagonist Vincent Zaleski. "While ambitious in scope and a powerful commentary
on the absurdity of our financial institutions, at its core The Hummingbird
character-driven. This is the rare story about something timely and important in
which the characters propel the plot."
MEET THE FILMMAKER: KIM NGUYEN
With his eighth feature, Nguyen builds on a growing body of work that is
scope and scale yet intimate in its examination of ordinary people living in
extraordinary times, often at the mercy of nature, who connect and conspire amid
hurdles ranging from technology, time and distance to warfare and climate
"One of the most fascinating things about Kim is that he is so
different with each new project," says Salma Hayek, who plays The
Hummingbird Project's relentlessly driven hedge-fund boss Eva
Torres. "He creates these worlds and digs to the core of their
inhabitants to the extent that he's like an investigating
anthropologist. At the same time, his stories are rooted in
real-world concerns. He becomes part of the stories he tells."
Before The Hummingbird Project became an original screenplay and a movie,
Nguyen found himself fascinated by the idea of finance professionals digging
thousand-mile-long tunnels to try and eliminate milliseconds from their
stock-market trades. What he initially thought was sheer madness became in his
eyes a relatable and very human struggle - one that was rooted as much in the
natural world as the digital realm.
"I had this haunting image in my head of stock-market hustlers scrambling
swamps and muddy forests in their expensive suits, putting their sanity on the
for the almighty dollar," says Nguyen.
Researching the subject further, Nguyen discovered the 2012 Wired article
Bulls: How Wall Street Got Addicted to Light-Speed Trading," about
"quants" - the physicists, engineers and mathematicians-turned-financiers who
generate more than half of all U.S. stock trading. "In the pursuit of
returns," said the article, "sending a signal at faster than light speed
ultimate edge: a way to make trades in the past, the financial equivalent of
on a horse after it has been run."
By 2010, according to Wired, financial companies were spending $2.2 billion
trading infrastructure, the high-speed servers that process trades and the
fiber-optic cables that link them in a globe spanning network. A few years
Ngyuen began writing The Hummingbird Project, algorithms would lie at the heart
our personal and financial lives, anticipating and dictating our every whim and
One company specializing in trading infrastructure was Spread Networks,
in 2010 with the mission of providing Internet connectivity between Chicago and
New York City at close to the speed of light, using so-called "dark fiber," or
fibers, to make faster trades. The first fiber-optic line planted by Spread
ran 827 miles, from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where futures and options
traded, to the Nasdaq data center in Carteret, New Jersey, costing $300 million
By October 2012, Spread announced improvements to their line, decreasing the
round-trip time from 13.1 milliseconds to 12.98 milliseconds, giving Spread
a slight advantage over the average round-trip of 14.5 milliseconds. Because
has a higher refractive index than air, the round-trip time for fiber-optic
transmission is 50 percent faster than microwave towers - the technology used by
The Hummingbird Project's Eva Torres in her battle to outwit and out-earn the
Nguyen also read Michael Lewis' 2014 best-selling book Flash Boys: A Wall
Revolt, a non-fiction investigation into high-frequency trading in the U.S.
market, analyzing how the process is used to front-run orders placed by
According to the book, unethical trading practices transformed the U.S. stock
from the world's most public and democratic financial market into a rigged game
which virtually anything went - until a group of former traders at the Royal
of Canada banded together to change the game.
Frustrated by an uneven playing field brought on by high-frequency trading,
young traders in Flash Boys - some of whom consulted with Nguyen on The
Hummingbird Project - decided the best way to change a rigged system was to
build a new exchange from scratch, one that was dedicated to investor and issuer
protection. The result became IEX, or Investors Exchange, a transparent stock
exchange that has gone on to trade 229.2 million shares at a collective value of
nearly $11 billion.
WRITING THE SCRIPT
Nguyen's challenge as screenwriter as he began outlining The Hummingbird
was to make cinematic nebulous financial concepts that were impenetrable to most
audiences. His approach was to tell a story about the people behind trading
algorithms and fiber-optic lines, the speed demons who take an unethical
to high frequency trading - discovering in their pursuit of vast wealth that
lives are not made richer in the process. A cautionary tale for our cutting-edge
the project positions two scheming underdogs up against the behemoth of global
capitalism, symbolized by the ruthless and merciless hedge fund manager Eva
Fictionalizing elements from his research, Nguyen composed a 134-page
screenplay centering on a trader and a quant who try to upend and game the
financial system by planting a 1,000-mile-long line from Kansas to New Jersey
the driven visionaries in Flash Boys.
Much of The Hummingbird Project's story plays out on the open road, with
and his hired crew of diggers and drillers troubleshooting the line as it
across the American heartland. With Vincent in the field wheeling and dealing
land rights, boring through granite mountains to keep the project heading in a
straight line, his cousin Anton barricades himself in hotel rooms around the
writing algorithmic code to outpace Eva Torres' microwave-tower technology.
"One thing I didn't want to do is make another movie set on the trading
Nguyen. "I wanted to tell a more visceral story on the subject, centering on the
traders who were making millions and even billions in the race to build these
enormous infrastructures and gain a couple of milliseconds' advantage against
By setting his story in 2011 and 2012, when the technology was still in its
stage, Nguyen effectively made The Hummingbird Project a period piece, one set
recent past that already feels dated.
"By the time the movie came out, I knew the technology would
already be obsolete," says Nguyen. "This is in many ways a
historical movie, because the technology has changed so
dramatically since I began researching the story. While I loved the
idea of building a 1,000-mile-long tunnel for a fiber that's not much
thicker than a strand of hair, I also felt there was something to be
said about the madness of our financial system and how broadly it
affects our lives."
Nguyen also opted to make The Hummingbird Project an immigrant's tale set in
digital age, telling the story of second-generation cousins of Eastern European
descent who are trying to attain the American Dream after successful careers on
Wall Street. After "burning it all down" on the trading floor, Vincent and Anton
for an event greater net worth.
"As a Montreal native I've always loved stories of immigrants coming to Ellis
and New York City, with all the richness and diversity that entails," says
"Nowadays when we talk about Trump's America, it feels like he's trying to make
forget about those second-generation immigrants that made America what it is
today. There's a texture to that diversity, and I wanted to add soul to the
making my main characters the descendants of Ellis Island immigrants."
MEET THE CHARACTERS
Cousins and best friends, Vincent and Anton Zaleski have risen through the
the financial sector as trader and quant, respectively. At the story's outset,
themselves frustrated not only with their jobs but also their positions in life.
Fast-talking and entrepreneurial, Vincent wants to get rich quick and take down
competition - including his former boss Eva Torres, who will stop at nothing in
own right to implement and patent the technology for faster trades.
Anton, in contrast, is an introverted quant more comfortable crunching
a computer terminal, quietly longing for a simple country life far from the
of the financial sector. In an early scene, after finding an investor to fund
fiber-optic scheme, Vincent and Anton quit their jobs in Eva's firm and brazenly
embark on the adventure of a lifetime - trying to beat the very system that
Vincent rents drilling machinery and negotiates land rights while Anton
algorithm that will hopefully yield them untold riches.
"Vincent is the salesman of the operation who's more ambitious than he is
thoughtful," says Eisenberg. "He doesn't just want to succeed in the financial
he wants to beat it by going around the establishment."
Adds Eisenberg: "He's interested in winning regardless of the consequences to
or the world around him, and while he's a smart guy, he doesn't always think
he speaks. Without his cousin Anton, he would probably be selling fake Gucci
handbags on the streets of New York City."
Skittish and reserved in the face of Vincent's brash, live-wire
is a balding husband and father who happens to be a math genius, capable of
order in the chaotic flow of numbers and data that course across his computer
terminal in a given second.
"He's socially awkward and probably on the Spectrum," says Skarsgard. "His
life is to be around the people he can tolerate, and there's not that many -
his wife and kids, and Vincent, who is his best friend and cousin, as well as
connection to the outside world. He can shelter Anton in a way that allows him
focus strictly on writing code and coming up with new algorithms."
At its heart a David & Goliath story, Vincent and Anton are the underdogs who
up against a much stronger adversary in the form of their one-time employer Eva
Torres. Symbolizing rapacious capitalism at its most extreme, the flashy,
foul-mouthed Eva will stop at nothing to gain the competitive edge over her
"She wants to be the most unique person in the business," says Hayek. "She
get to places before anyone else and break new ground in technology so she can
ahead of the game. It's not just about the money for her - this is a movie about
obsessions, and Eva's obsession is devouring and co-opting genius."
Playing out like a high-stakes thriller that substitutes the trading floor
American terrain, The Hummingbird Project becomes a glorified arms race across
the country, over hills, rivers, highways, and private farmland, to implement
new technology before Eva can erect her own.
"The more I learned about high frequency trading over the course
of this project the more absurd it seemed," says Eisenberg. "It
reminded me of gambling in a casino in that it's possible to make a
lot of money but the odds are not in your favor - and it
contributes very little to anything I think is valuable."
The Hummingbird Project reaches its apotheosis when Vincent - suffering from
serious illness - finds himself negotiating drilling rights with an obstinate
farmer who won't yield his land, giving Eva the advantage in their race for
trades. By pushing himself to the extreme, and finding himself pitted against a
Luddite, Vincent discovers that his relentless pursuit of financial gain is an
untenable and even unhealthy pursuit.
"Vincent begins the story with what he believes is his purpose in life but
of discovery switches course at a certain point and becomes more about
his priorities," says Nguyen. "The stakes of the journey are resolved but they
completely different than when his journey started."
Nguyen includes a voice of sanity and reason in the form of chief engineer
Vega (Michael Mando), the project manager of Vincent's vision, who maneuvers and
operates the heavy equipment in the field. "If Vincent is the mouth of the
and Anton is the brains, Mark is the heart of the project in that he has to make
as chief engineer that everything is steady and stable - including Vincent,"
Mando, who is most familiar to audiences for his television work in shows like
Orphan Black and Better Call Saul.
"They're digging this elaborate straight line across the country and someone
stay level-headed - that responsibility falls on Mark," says Mando. "He joins
Vincent's team because he sees this as an opportunity to create something bigger
than himself. A kind of bromance develops along the way between Mark and
Vincent; at the end of the movie Mark discovers his true purpose - more than
finishing the fiber-optic line - is to save Vincent's life."
MEET THE CONSULTANTS
One challenge for Nguyen in bringing The Hummingbird Project to life on page
screen was distilling hundreds of pages of dense, often complex scientific
information on trading, drilling and coding into a palatable screenplay and
Another challenge was keeping up with the rapid-fire changes in technology that
threatened at every turn of the process to make the project instantly obsolete.
"When you're writing about a subject like high-frequency trading, which moves
fast and is changing constantly, you can't write quickly enough before the
advances and the next innovation emerges," says Nguyen. "I had no idea how
complex bringing this story to the screen would be."
He turned to consultants in a variety of fields to help make the project more
comprehensible to a general audience, including a high-frequency trading expert
accustomed to dealing with billion-dollar money flows on a daily basis in his
career as a Wall Street options trader. "We talked with experts of every
expertise you could imagine," says Nguyen. "From quantum physics masters and
fiber-optic physicists to directional-drilling specialists who routinely dig
hundred-mile-long, four-inch-wide tunnels for a living."
One such expert was Haim Bodek, a former Goldman Sachs trader turned industry
whistleblower whose knowledge of algorithmic-driven high frequency trading
helped Nguyen make otherwise arcane financial terms digestible to the novice
viewer. After working at Goldman Sachs in the late '90s, where he was a
options trader, and UBS, where he was the global head of volatility trading,
the son of an award-winning physicist who discovered the quark - formed his own
high frequency company called Trading Machines, which at the height of its
in the early 2000s accounted for half a percentage of all U.S. options trading,
number for such a small firm.
When Trading Machines began losing money, Bodek set about reverse-engineering
his own algorithms in an effort to find out why he was hemorrhaging cash. What
discovered alarmed him: traders were rigging the game by manipulating the order
in which trades were placed electronically - an especially shrewd trader could
effectively jump the line and profit in the millions without anyone knowing.
Bodek tipped off the Securities and Exchange Commission on the practice,
his corrupt rivals by exposing what became known as the largest heist in Wall
History. Nicknamed "the Edward Snowden of finance" by the Russians, Bodek was
quickly blackballed by the industry for blowing the whistle on high frequency
trading. Wasting no time, he reinvented himself as a consultant advising
on how not to get swindled in the marketplace.
"Wall Street is a zero-sum game," Bodek told Vice magazine in a 2014 profile.
are winners and losers, and if you're a loser, you have no one to blame but
- you simply aren't good enough. Someone else is smarter, faster."
For Nguyen, Bodek was instrumental in helping shape the characters of Vincent
Anton Zaleski, having known and worked with traders and quants for much of his
Wall Street career. "Vincent and Anton are two individuals who think they can
the system," says Bodek. "Kim did a terrific job of highlighting the
and in some ways the self-defeat of characters like them as they go up against a
strategic, manipulative, hyper-intelligent hedge-fund manager like Eva Torres."
After reading the script and consulting with Nguyen prior to production, what
impressed Bodek the most about Kim's storytelling was the unique and
unpredictable dynamic that emerges between Vincent and Anton as they try to
game the financial system to their advantage - to say nothing of the humanity
emerges as they try and fail to buck the system.
"I played a role in my previous career that was much closer to Vincent's
always butting heads against people like Anton, who is highly intelligent but at
same time missing an entire dimension of reality," says Bodek. "Their
felt very familiar in terms of the people I worked with, and the extreme
the face of cutthroat competition felt especially true to life when you consider
elitism and million dollar bonuses in play within the industry. It gets very
preserve your humanity."
A good portion of The Hummingbird Project involves heavy machinery - in
particular the directional-drilling equipment Vincent must track down and place
the hands of Mark Vega in order to facilitate his dream of laying a 1,000-mile
between Kansas and New Jersey. Vincent's audacious scheme entails drilling
through mountains, streams and flatlands, requiring a machinery expert who could
not only explain the drilling process but also provide the requisite machinery
"In many ways our journey to the screen was as quixotic as
Vincent's own journey, because we had to locate the machines,
transport them to set during production, and make it look like we
knew how to operate them," says Nguyen. "In order to achieve this
effectively, we had to bring 20-ton digging machines to the middle
Nguyen found that person in the Quebec-based Daniel Di Chiaro, whose company
Foraction Inc. is the leader throughout Quebec and Ontario in the process known
horizontal drilling. Di Chiaro vetted the script for accuracy and attended
production meetings in his capacity as General Manager of Foraction, informing
and crew on which machines would be required during the shoot. He also taught
Michael Mando how to operate them.
"The details Daniel gave us were among the most useful because they were
things we could actually film," says Nguyen. "He transformed our limited
of horizontal drilling into evocative scenes, telling us which machines were
appropriate for particular shots. We couldn't afford a lot of them, so Foraction
graciously loaned them to us. Like five-year-olds, we got to play with Daniel's
Among the equipment Di Chiaro loaned the production was a Sikorsky
used to transport heavy drilling equipment into remote areas; the device
costs $80,000 a day to rent. Another piece was a carbide drill, which makes an
appearance later in the film when Vega and his crew attempt to plow through a
Finally, Nguyen met with some of the IEX traders immortalized in Michael
Flash Boys as ethical saviors of the financial services industry. "When I met
their offices at One World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, everyone was wearing
jeans and T-shirts - they looked like teenagers," says Nguyen. "On the day I was
there something like three billion dollars had passed through their film in a
trading day, which is between 2 and 5 percent of the entire U.S. trading value -
that's how big IEX is."
CASTING THE LEADS
When it came time to cast The Hummingbird Project, Nguyen knew he wanted
Eisenberg for the role of Vincent Zaleski, the irrepressible schemer who risks
everything to ensure his financial future. Familiar to audiences for his Academy
Award-nominated turn as Mark Zuckerberg, the fast-talking Facebook entrepreneur
in David Fincher's The Social Network, the Queens-born Eisenberg has forged a
stellar career playing neurotic motormouths, including roles in two Woody Allen
"Jesse talks so fast in his performances but what's amazing is that
you understand every word he utters - there's something in his
projection and pronunciation," says Nguyen. "Producers and sales
agents were worried because our script is quite long - it's 134
pages - but I knew Jesse would be talking super fast in his scenes.
The running time is only 110 minutes and we owe a lot of that to
Nguyen sent the busy actor the script, not expecting immediate interest or
To the filmmaker's surprise, Eisenberg replied within 24 hours, eager to sign on
Vincent. It was the character's loquaciousness that attracted him to the role.
"Vincent is a salesman who wins arguments by talking around his opponents - if
pauses to think, he could be vulnerable to counter-argument," says Eisenberg. "I
liked how he spends most of the movie living in the delusion that his project
flawless, as he tries to convince people to invest in his vision. He literally
to take a breath."
Nguyen also wanted Eisenberg for his East Coast roots, and the New York
that made the performer a memorable presence in the Manhattan-set Roger Dodger,
the actor's debut, and the Brooklyn-set The Squid and the Whale, among others.
"Whatever was written in the script, I knew Jesse would filter in a lot of
New York energy that also factored in his immigrant heritage," says Nguyen.
Vincent, he's from a second generation of Eastern European immigrants, and feels
New York to me. It was a deep relief when he said yes quickly to this project."
Wrapping up another project only two days before Hummingbird began filming,
Eisenberg spent his lunch breaks on the previous set going over his Vincent
lines - which were numerous. "I had more dialogue in this movie than any other
project I've done," says Eisenberg. "The scenes were very long, and Vincent
much of the movie. By the time filming started, I'd had about two months of
familiarity with the dialogue, which allowed me to modulate the speed of
without having to think about the next line. It made it easy to play Vincent."
Casting the role of Anton took a bit more time. After Nguyen watched
Alexander Skarsgard give a bruising performance in friend and Montreal
Jean-Marc Vallee's HBO series Big Little Lies, playing abusive husband Perry
in a role that won the actor the 2017 Primetime Emmy Award for Best Supporting
Actor in a Limited Series or Movie, the writer-director knew he wanted to cast
as Anton Zaleski.
Going back through the actor's body of work, he watched Marielle Heller's
Diary of a
Teenage Girl, in which Skarsgard - virtually unrecognizable from his more
conventional roles - played a 1970s philanderer who seduces the film's young
female protagonist. "That movie convinced me even more that I wanted to work
with him," says Nguyen. "At first I didn't even know it was Alexander, he's such
chameleon in that movie. But he also gave a great performance, bringing out all
polarities of the character, good and bad. He completely transformed himself."
After accepting the role, Skarsgard was eager to transform himself anew as
Zaleski. Gaining weight, donning a bald cap, and wearing the pinched, anxious
expression of someone who spends hours each day behind a computer screen
writing code, the 42-year-old actor loses himself once again in his performance.
"Anton didn't strike me as a character who cared about his appearance - he's not
very interested in other human beings, so why would he care about things like
appearance," says Skarsgard. "Fortunately Kim was very supportive in letting me
down my own path in exploring that through Anton."
For the role of Mark Vega, the devoted project manager who serves as a
force during Vincent's more mercurial moments, Nguyen cast Michael Mando, a
Montreal native best known to television audiences for his roles as Vic Schmidt
"Orphan Black" and Ignacio "Nacho" Varga in "Better Call Saul."
For Mando, the appeal of playing Mark Vega came from the character's deep and
profound bond with Vincent Zaleski; even when the wheeling and dealing character
is at his lowest ebb, Vega sees a human being, working tirelessly to get the job
while at the same time helping to keep his cousin going. "Mark is drawn to the
humanity in Vincent, he understands his desire to want to leave his mark on the
earth, but there's also an underdog quality that Mark relates to - and wants to
through, " says Mando.
A metaphysical aspect to Nguyen's story immediately appealed to Mando,
him bring a sense of depth and gravitas to Mark Vega, in direct contrast to the
and scheming of other characters. "This isn't a spiritual movie by any means,
many ways the mood is awe-inspiring, creating an aura that's never discussed,"
Mando. "There's these great shots of cables resembling umbilical cords being
into the earth, and we're surrounded by huge imposing trees. When we were
in the forest, talking about taking milliseconds off stock market trade, all
stood this backdrop of silent, majestic trees."
Nguyen had several actresses in mind for the role of Eva Torres, the
nemesis of Vincent and Anton. But when some free time opened in Salma Hayek's
busy schedule, Nguyen jumped at the chance to cast the Academy Award-nominated
Mexican-American actress, whose work includes roles in Frida, Beatriz at Dinner
and The Hitman's Bodyguard. In a story set overwhelmingly in the world of men,
Hayek landed what is perhaps the film's juiciest role - a powerful woman.
"Kim and I wanted to make sure from the outset that Eva was not a
angry woman in charge," says Hayek. "She's a woman who is very content in her
- not some robot. You can see the passion in what she does. When things get
dangerous, there are tantrums. But she's also heavily focused on strategy - she
doesn't take a lot of time to indulge in drama. Eva moves quickly, and this was
fun to play."
Like Skarsgard, Nguyen gave Hayek free rein to dress and coif her
own character, prompting the fashion-forward star to concoct a
garishly comic presence, redolent of Meryl Streep's work in The
Devil Wears Prada. Hayek herself came up with the idea of
streaking the tips of her hair white, to suggest power and control.
"Eva wants to be intimidating toward people but she dresses
simply, in a way that's not distracting," says Hayek. "Her hair tells a
different story, however."
Once her hair was colored, Hayek found herself ready to embrace Eva's strong
identity and furious pace. "I made the tips white because Eva moves so fast in
movie - like lightning," says Hayek. "So many women her age are afraid of
old, but Eva embraces it and even owns it, making a statement of her power
Hayek also took the role because Eva Torres was Latina. "She's smart, she's
she's a woman, and she's Latina, so she has to be tougher than everyone else,"
Hayek. "She plays it tough for much of the movie, but because she's a Latina she
the people that work for her as family, as her children."
Hayek had limited time to create a wardrobe for the character, calling in
designer friends and relying on help from costume designer Valerie Levesque.
Arriving the night before shooting began, hair freshly dyed with white tips,
began fitting outfits for a 6am morning call. "It was stressful, but we pulled
Adds Nguyen: "You have to tip your hat to Salma, she really influenced the
character looks and feels, creating a back story for Eva based on her Latin
heritage. She was ten steps ahead of me in how she wanted this character to
A Montreal native, Nguyen had little immediate knowledge of the American
landscape traversed by Mark Vega's construction crew over the course of their
journey. Although the production filmed in Quebec and Ontario during wintertime,
Nguyen familiarized himself with the American terrain by embarking on an
exploratory road trip with his production designer Emmanuel Frechette the
summer before filming began
The pair canvassed hundreds of miles across several states, including Kansas
Pennsylvania, taking pictures along the way and paying close attention to scenic
details they could recreate in the Canadian wilds. "We focused on the route the
characters would have taken in their journey, using a GPS device to keep us in a
straight line as much as possible," says Nguyen.
To the good fortune of the scouting duo, the diverse Pennsylvania topography,
its mountainous terrain, Amish farmland and picturesque river valleys - where
majority of the difficult construction occurs in the film - was almost identical
terrain in rural Quebec where the production was scheduled to film. "It was
to us how homogenized everything has become in Canada and the United States,"
says Nguyen. "What we noticed in America was an abundance of flags and religious
signage, which we don't have in Quebec."
Adds Hayek: "There's so many different locations in the movie, it was
were able to film everything in Canada. You simply can't tell it's not the U.S."
The biggest hurdle for the production team during filming was a logistical one:
hauling in Daniel Di Chiaro's heavy drilling equipment to remote shooting
the thick of a harsh Canadian winter. "We had to bring machines into forests and
swamps," says Nguyen. "It was like going into a war terrain - at one point we
to build a road through the middle of a forest in order to move in one of the
Because they were shooting (and drilling) near rivers and
waterways, mud abounded on the set. When a camera crane was
required for a series of shots, the soil became too soft to support it
and the crane threatened to capsize. Unexpectedly cold weather -
14 degrees Fahrenheit on one morning - made shooting on the
river lethally dangerous for the actors. "Since the water was
rushing it wasn't frozen yet," says Nguyen. "If an actor or crew
member falls in the water, he has about 15 to 30 seconds to get out
or he could die from exposure."
During one tense moment, film equipment, including the camera, was sitting
floating dock on the river which began taking on a coating of thick ice as water
accumulated. "The coat started getting thicker and suddenly we had half an inch
ice over the platform, which is almost a ton of extra weight," says Nguyen. "The
platform was starting to sink underwater - threatening to take our film
into the water with it."
The crew that appears alongside Mando in the film was an actual directional
team, on loan from Foraction Inc. along with the equipment, including one
who had constructed a fiber-optic line from Montreal to Toronto. "I was
filling this guy's shoes while he stood behind the camera making sure everything
did and said in the movie was authentic and accurate," says Mando.
For the drilling scenes, the production filmed five hours outside Montreal in
remote Quebec hinterlands. The team, including Mando, slept in rural motels of
kind similar crews occupy during a job, waking up early to don their gear before
heading deep into the forest to drill with Di Chiaro's equipment - all in a
"It felt strange at the end of the film, when we get to the hospital to meet
though we were coming to this place where everyone is sick," says Mando. "We had
to go out to the middle of nowhere, through forests and swamps, only to come
to civilization and ask ourselves, what on earth are we chasing?"
A NEW AMERICAN DREAM
At The Hummingbird Project's conclusion, Vincent and Anton discover that the
object of their pursuit - whether money in specific or the American Dream in
general - isn't exactly what they thought it was when they set out on their epic
journey. "This is a story about our insecurity and our desire to be admired and
loved," says Nguyen. "As Vincent and Anton come to learn, sometimes we are blown
off course from what we are truly meant to achieve in life."
The cousins also realize they are inconspicuous in the face of rapid-fire
this week's hot technology will be irrelevant before the next big thing comes
whether neutrino messaging, microwave drones, or something as yet undiscovered.
But does it really matter in the grand scheme of things?
"One of the underlying themes of the film is the elasticity of time, similar
to the way
Einstein explains Relativity," says Nguyen. "There is something about our
experience of time that is so different depending on our emotional status.
becoming so fast-paced that we are losing our sense of reality - and we feel
Mando, who plays the film's most grounded and pragmatic character, sums it up
best: "When you measure .015 milliseconds to the human heartbeat, it's
to keep up - a human being can't biologically cope with the incredible numbers
technology has created. What's so interesting about this movie is through its
characters you realize this way of living is not designed for human beings, who
plugged into lunar and sun cycles. Those cycles are slow - 29 days, 24 hours.
Vincent Zaleski discovers, our obsession with milliseconds is bound to make
sick. Sometimes it's better to slow down - you'll get more mileage out of life
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