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THE HUMMINGBIRD PROJECT

Production Information
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 life's essentials, Montreal-born writer-director Kim Nguyen's The Hummingbird Project is 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 (Jesse Eisenberg and Alexander Skarsgard), second-generation Eastern European New Yorkers who leave their Wall Street trading-floor jobs to construct a fiber-optic line stretching from the Midwest to the East Coast, guaranteeing faster trades. The film's title suggests an inconceivable task: laying a cable in the earth that can transfer data 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 pursuits - and the humanity behind getting rich quick. "Kim Nguyen has taken this massive, 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 Project is 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 global in 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 change.

"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 through swamps and muddy forests in their expensive suits, putting their sanity on the line for the almighty dollar," says Nguyen.

SPEED DEMONS

Researching the subject further, Nguyen discovered the 2012 Wired article "Raging Bulls: How Wall Street Got Addicted to Light-Speed Trading," about speed-obsessed "quants" - the physicists, engineers and mathematicians-turned-financiers who generate more than half of all U.S. stock trading. "In the pursuit of market-beating returns," said the article, "sending a signal at faster than light speed provides the ultimate edge: a way to make trades in the past, the financial equivalent of betting on a horse after it has been run."

By 2010, according to Wired, financial companies were spending $2.2 billion on 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 later, as Ngyuen began writing The Hummingbird Project, algorithms would lie at the heart of our personal and financial lives, anticipating and dictating our every whim and maneuver.

One company specializing in trading infrastructure was Spread Networks, founded 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 optical fibers, to make faster trades. The first fiber-optic line planted by Spread Networks ran 827 miles, from the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, where futures and options are traded, to the Nasdaq data center in Carteret, New Jersey, costing $300 million to construct.

By October 2012, Spread announced improvements to their line, decreasing the round-trip time from 13.1 milliseconds to 12.98 milliseconds, giving Spread traders a slight advantage over the average round-trip of 14.5 milliseconds. Because glass 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 Zaleskis.

Nguyen also read Michael Lewis' 2014 best-selling book Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt, a non-fiction investigation into high-frequency trading in the U.S. equity market, analyzing how the process is used to front-run orders placed by investors. According to the book, unethical trading practices transformed the U.S. stock market from the world's most public and democratic financial market into a rigged game in which virtually anything went - until a group of former traders at the Royal Bank of Canada banded together to change the game.

Frustrated by an uneven playing field brought on by high-frequency trading, the 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 Project 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 approach to high frequency trading - discovering in their pursuit of vast wealth that their lives are not made richer in the process. A cautionary tale for our cutting-edge times, the project positions two scheming underdogs up against the behemoth of global capitalism, symbolized by the ruthless and merciless hedge fund manager Eva Torres.

Fictionalizing elements from his research, Nguyen composed a 134-page original 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 like the driven visionaries in Flash Boys.

Much of The Hummingbird Project's story plays out on the open road, with Vincent and his hired crew of diggers and drillers troubleshooting the line as it stretches across the American heartland. With Vincent in the field wheeling and dealing over 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 country, 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 floor," says 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 their competitors."

By setting his story in 2011 and 2012, when the technology was still in its nascent stage, Nguyen effectively made The Hummingbird Project a period piece, one set in a 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 the 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 strive for an event greater net worth.

"As a Montreal native I've always loved stories of immigrants coming to Ellis Island and New York City, with all the richness and diversity that entails," says Nguyen. "Nowadays when we talk about Trump's America, it feels like he's trying to make us 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 movie by 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 ranks of the financial sector as trader and quant, respectively. At the story's outset, they find 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 his competition - including his former boss Eva Torres, who will stop at nothing in her own right to implement and patent the technology for faster trades.

Anton, in contrast, is an introverted quant more comfortable crunching numbers at a computer terminal, quietly longing for a simple country life far from the madness of the financial sector. In an early scene, after finding an investor to fund their 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 shaped them.

Vincent rents drilling machinery and negotiates land rights while Anton perfects the 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 system, he wants to beat it by going around the establishment."

Adds Eisenberg: "He's interested in winning regardless of the consequences to him or the world around him, and while he's a smart guy, he doesn't always think before 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 determination, Anton is a balding husband and father who happens to be a math genius, capable of seeing 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 goal in life is to be around the people he can tolerate, and there's not that many - basically his wife and kids, and Vincent, who is his best friend and cousin, as well as Anton's connection to the outside world. He can shelter Anton in a way that allows him to 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 come 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 former underlings.

"She wants to be the most unique person in the business," says Hayek. "She wants to get to places before anyone else and break new ground in technology so she can stay 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 for the American terrain, The Hummingbird Project becomes a glorified arms race across the country, over hills, rivers, highways, and private farmland, to implement the 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 a serious illness - finds himself negotiating drilling rights with an obstinate Amish farmer who won't yield his land, giving Eva the advantage in their race for speedier 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 his journey of discovery switches course at a certain point and becomes more about realigning his priorities," says Nguyen. "The stakes of the journey are resolved but they are completely different than when his journey started."

Nguyen includes a voice of sanity and reason in the form of chief engineer Mark 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 operation and Anton is the brains, Mark is the heart of the project in that he has to make sure as chief engineer that everything is steady and stable - including Vincent," says 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 has to 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 and screen was distilling hundreds of pages of dense, often complex scientific information on trading, drilling and coding into a palatable screenplay and movie. 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 very fast and is changing constantly, you can't write quickly enough before the science 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 former career as a Wall Street options trader. "We talked with experts of every scientific 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 successful options trader, and UBS, where he was the global head of volatility trading, Bodek - 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 success in the early 2000s accounted for half a percentage of all U.S. options trading, a huge 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 he 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, outfoxing his corrupt rivals by exposing what became known as the largest heist in Wall Street 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 investors on how not to get swindled in the marketplace.

"Wall Street is a zero-sum game," Bodek told Vice magazine in a 2014 profile. "There are winners and losers, and if you're a loser, you have no one to blame but yourself - you simply aren't good enough. Someone else is smarter, faster."

For Nguyen, Bodek was instrumental in helping shape the characters of Vincent and 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 beat the system," says Bodek. "Kim did a terrific job of highlighting the contradictions 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 that 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 character, always butting heads against people like Anton, who is highly intelligent but at the same time missing an entire dimension of reality," says Bodek. "Their interaction felt very familiar in terms of the people I worked with, and the extreme behavior in the face of cutthroat competition felt especially true to life when you consider the elitism and million dollar bonuses in play within the industry. It gets very difficult to 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 in the hands of Mark Vega in order to facilitate his dream of laying a 1,000-mile cable 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 during production.

"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 of nowhere."

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 as horizontal drilling. Di Chiaro vetted the script for accuracy and attended several production meetings in his capacity as General Manager of Foraction, informing cast 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 physical things we could actually film," says Nguyen. "He transformed our limited knowledge 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 giant toys."

Among the equipment Di Chiaro loaned the production was a Sikorsky helicopter, used to transport heavy drilling equipment into remote areas; the device typically 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 granite mountainside.

Finally, Nguyen met with some of the IEX traders immortalized in Michael Lewis' Flash Boys as ethical saviors of the financial services industry. "When I met them in 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 single 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 Jesse 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 movies.

"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 Jesse's fast-talking."

Nguyen sent the busy actor the script, not expecting immediate interest or feedback. To the filmmaker's surprise, Eisenberg replied within 24 hours, eager to sign on as 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 he 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 will be flawless, as he tries to convince people to invest in his vision. He literally can't afford to take a breath."

Nguyen also wanted Eisenberg for his East Coast roots, and the New York sensibility 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 authentic New York energy that also factored in his immigrant heritage," says Nguyen. "Like Vincent, he's from a second generation of Eastern European immigrants, and feels so 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 Zaleski 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 drives 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 delivery 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 Swedish-born Alexander Skarsgard give a bruising performance in friend and Montreal compatriot Jean-Marc Vallee's HBO series Big Little Lies, playing abusive husband Perry Wright, 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 him 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 a chameleon in that movie. But he also gave a great performance, bringing out all the polarities of the character, good and bad. He completely transformed himself."

After accepting the role, Skarsgard was eager to transform himself anew as Anton 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 go down my own path in exploring that through Anton."

For the role of Mark Vega, the devoted project manager who serves as a leveling 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 in "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 done 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 see through, " says Mando.

A metaphysical aspect to Nguyen's story immediately appealed to Mando, helping him bring a sense of depth and gravitas to Mark Vega, in direct contrast to the greed and scheming of other characters. "This isn't a spiritual movie by any means, but in many ways the mood is awe-inspiring, creating an aura that's never discussed," says Mando. "There's these great shots of cables resembling umbilical cords being placed into the earth, and we're surrounded by huge imposing trees. When we were filming in the forest, talking about taking milliseconds off stock market trade, all around us stood this backdrop of silent, majestic trees."

Nguyen had several actresses in mind for the role of Eva Torres, the vociferous 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 stereotypically angry woman in charge," says Hayek. "She's a woman who is very content in her life - 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 really 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 the movie - like lightning," says Hayek. "So many women her age are afraid of getting old, but Eva embraces it and even owns it, making a statement of her power through her hair."

Hayek also took the role because Eva Torres was Latina. "She's smart, she's fearless, she's a woman, and she's Latina, so she has to be tougher than everyone else," says Hayek. "She plays it tough for much of the movie, but because she's a Latina she sees the people that work for her as family, as her children."

Hayek had limited time to create a wardrobe for the character, calling in favors from designer friends and relying on help from costume designer Valerie Levesque. Arriving the night before shooting began, hair freshly dyed with white tips, Hayek began fitting outfits for a 6am morning call. "It was stressful, but we pulled it off," Hayek says.

Adds Nguyen: "You have to tip your hat to Salma, she really influenced the way this character looks and feels, creating a back story for Eva based on her Latin American heritage. She was ten steps ahead of me in how she wanted this character to look."

THE SHOOT

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 and 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, with its mountainous terrain, Amish farmland and picturesque river valleys - where the majority of the difficult construction occurs in the film - was almost identical to the terrain in rural Quebec where the production was scheduled to film. "It was striking 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 exciting they 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 locales in 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 had to build a road through the middle of a forest in order to move in one of the 20-ton drilling machines."

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 atop a 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 of 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 equipment into the water with it."

The crew that appears alongside Mando in the film was an actual directional drilling team, on loan from Foraction Inc. along with the equipment, including one engineer who had constructed a fiber-optic line from Montreal to Toronto. "I was literally filling this guy's shoes while he stood behind the camera making sure everything we did and said in the movie was authentic and accurate," says Mando.

For the drilling scenes, the production filmed five hours outside Montreal in the remote Quebec hinterlands. The team, including Mando, slept in rural motels of the 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 day's work.

"It felt strange at the end of the film, when we get to the hospital to meet Vincent, as 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 back 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 change - this week's hot technology will be irrelevant before the next big thing comes along, 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. Things are becoming so fast-paced that we are losing our sense of reality - and we feel it." 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 impossible to keep up - a human being can't biologically cope with the incredible numbers our 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 are plugged into lunar and sun cycles. Those cycles are slow - 29 days, 24 hours. Like Vincent Zaleski discovers, our obsession with milliseconds is bound to make people sick. Sometimes it's better to slow down - you'll get more mileage out of life when you do."

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