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About The Production
Just as DARK PHOENIX is thematically and tonally different from all the previous X-Men films, the look of the movie is equally distinct. "After almost twenty years of making a certain style of X-Men film, it was time for a change," says Simon Kinberg. "I felt like a grittier tone was appropriate to this story because I wanted it to be more intense and intimate and personal. My job was to make sure that everybody understood that we were making a different kind of X-Men movie than had been made before, an X-Men movie that would feel more real, would feel more relatable hopefully to audiences, and would feel subversive again."

"This is my third X-Men movie in a row," adds Todd Hallowell, who is both a producer and splinter unit director on DARK PHOENIX. "Simon wanted to approach this one in a very different way. He said that the more real the world it can be, the better it is for the story. We've tried to approach it that way and that's had an effect in the art direction, production design, costume design, props and everything. Everybody's been very aware of that mantra."

DARK PHOENIX was shot over six months beginning in the spring of 2017 in and around Montreal. Production designer Claude Pare (It, Rise of the Planet of the Apes) took the realistic approach that Kinberg wanted to heart, crafting a moodier look for the film. "The first thing we talked about was we wanted this movie to be grounded in reality," Pare says. "We wanted a palette that was darker, not as colorful as the previous films. Simon has a really good eye-he's very aware of what things should look like."

"Claude is one of those people who is so inspired about the way he goes about creating worlds, whether they're real worlds or imaginary worlds," says Kinberg. "Whether they be alien planets or a lower-class suburb, he's really meticulous. At the start of this process, I told Claude that I wanted to create this world physically. I didn't want to do green screen or set extensions and fake it. I wanted the actors to be able to feel the sets in a tactile way and the audience will also feel the story in a more tactile, immediate, real way."

Among Pare's tasks were constructing the neighborhood where Jean had lived as a young child. She goes back to the modest street to solve a mystery about her past, but the trip becomes the site of an explosive standoff between Jean and the X-Men, resulting in Raven's untimely death.

"One of my favorite sets is Jean's neighborhood," says Kinberg. "It's six small houses with a little bend at the end and a rickety bridge. Each house has a different identity created for the people that live in it-there's the fisherman, the truck driver, the angry married couple. Each had detailed ideas about who these characters were, what their front lawns look like and what toys or trash would be around their houses. All of that detail accrues for the characters, the actors and the audience."

The neighborhood street was constructed entirely from the ground up. "We started with a field of gravel," Pare says. "We created a neighborhood that is very lower- middle class. I wanted to have a bridge in there to show that people drive by, but they don't stop there. At the other end of it, I wanted to have this field of electrical devices with pylons and towers and wires. We poured an asphalt road, but just had gravel leading to the lots, no sidewalks. All the houses were prebuilt in the shop, and we assembled them on site. The set dressing team did an amazing job putting in all the electrical wires hanging over each of these houses, the cables, the gutters, everything. It was just unbelievable."

Just as much effort went into creating the fictional country of Genosha, an island nation where Fassbender's Erik lives peaceably among exiled mutants including two new characters, Selene (Kota Eberhardt) and Ariki (Andrew Stehlin). The community was constructed about an hour outside of downtown Montreal. "It's a refuge for mutants who don't have anywhere else to go," Fassbender explains. "It has a classic commune vibe-people living off the grid, being self-sufficient."

That tranquility is interrupted when Jean arrives, seeking Erik's counsel on how best to manage her newly acquired powers in the wake of Raven's death. "The Dark Phoenix side of her is enjoying hurting people, enjoying this violence, and I think she thinks that Erik might feel some kinship to that. She comes to seek permission of a sort. But of course, Erik's history is a lot different. He partakes in violence because of a vengefulness that's in him. It's not that he gets much satisfaction out of it."

When the authorities trace Jean to Genosha, the refuge becomes the site of a battle of wills between Erik and Jean-and Erik is stunned to see the full range of Jean's abilities. The sequence includes what is essentially a psychic tug of war over a military helicopter, much of which was staged practically. Second unit director and supervising stunt coordinator Guy Norris (Mad Max: Fury Road) played a major role in coordinating the details for the shots. "I looked at it like we were making a war film that just happens to have superheroes in it-so, being grounded in reality as much as possible and with in-camera stunts and action, which I love doing," Norris says.

"There was a real chopper on the ground spinning with things exploding around it," Kinberg says. "The crazier thing is that the chopper that Michael and Sophie are fighting over that's dipping and coming back and forth, that was also a real chopper." The helicopter, which weighed approximately 4,000 lbs., was suspended from a cable and held aloft by duel crane arms that were digitally painted out of the frame during post-production. "You could control it coming back and forth whenever you wanted Sophie to be winning or Michael to be winning that battle for control of this chopper," Kinberg says. "They were interacting with a real helicopter, with men jumping into it. Sometimes, it's within 10 or 15 feet of Michael Fassbender. That's all real."

Fassbender was also at the center of another spectacular action sequence that was shot on a reproduction of Fifth Avenue. Magneto (Erik) and Beast (Hank), determined to take revenge against Jean for Raven's murder, turn up the embassy where she is hiding out with Jessica Chastain's alien antagonist. To break into the building, Magneto raises a subway train from below the street and uses it to bulldoze an opening into the embassy.

"We built that whole New York street on a soundstage, so we could control it and blow things up," Kinberg explains. "That was quite an elaborate sequence to film. The moment where Michael comes in the embassy and the train car comes crashing in behind him, that is all real. That train car is on a rig-it's a real subway car that is coming at a pretty fast speed right behind Michael Fassbender with the wall exploding behind Michael. It ended up stopping inches away from him. We didn't expect the wall to crack above his head, but pieces of it came raining down on either side of him. Michael Fassbender-because he's such a badass-did not flinch or even blink. And thank God he didn't because we only had one take of that."

Even during the most complicated moments of the shoot, Kinberg kept his cool, something that Hutch Parker found especially impressive for a first-time director. "I was really struck by how comfortable he was in the role because it's a tough transition from writing or producing- or it can be," Parker says. "It was helped by the fact that he's had such a longstanding connection to the material, and it was helped by the fact that he's been a producer on so many of these movies. He's been up close and in the thick of it in every fashion. He knows these characters and specifically these actors so well. He had a real comfort and familiarity with it all. He was just having a blast and that's a very good sign."

Kinberg says he also felt secure in knowing he had found the right collaborators for every department. In addition to Pare, the filmmaker worked with costume designer Daniel Orlandi (Logan) to create all the looks for the characters, including the new uniforms the X-Men wear. "We went through a long process of getting the uniform just right-I wanted it to be true to the X-men comics," Orlandi says. "We went back to a couple of the comics and really studied them, looked at how sleek some of the suits really were, and graphic. We wanted them to be very modern, very simple."

Oscar-winning director of photography Mauro Fiore (Avatar, Training Day) was keen to help Kinberg achieve the naturalistic look the writer-director wanted for DARK PHOENIX. To that end, the film includes a great deal of handheld camerawork, a first for any installment in the X-franchise.

"In previous X-Men movies-and this is true for a fair amount of large-scale Hollywood movies and comic-book movies-they tend to use very smooth photography, crane moves and dolly moves, everything's slick," Kinberg says. "Here, instead of the camera being still and the characters being the motion, the characters are moving, but the camera is also moving a little bit. That creates the rawness we were talking about on set. It's a feeling that everything has a little bit of imperfection to it. The action is where the audience will feel it most, but even in dialogue scenes, you'll feel a bit of breath around the characters."

The same aesthetic prevailed in post-production when it came to finalizing the action sequences, whether set in outer space or midtown Manhattan, according to Oscar-nominated visual effects supervisor Phil Brennan (Logan, Snow White and the Huntsman). "With the big fight sequence that takes place with the X-Men using their superpowers among the general public in New York City, that was something, we haven't seen much of in X-Men movies before-the way the general public is affected," Brennan says. "It's a terrifying thing."

One of the most important tasks Brennan faced, however, was finalizing the look for the so-called Phoenix effect, the light that radiates from Jean Grey's skin as her otherworldly powers become dominant. "The Phoenix effect is really something we spent a lot of time on trying to get right," Brennan says. "As we progress through the film, the Phoenix effect shows up in many different forms and many different levels of intensity. The first little hints of the Phoenix effect are quite subtle. Toward the end of the film, when the Phoenix effect is in full force, it's much, much bigger. It affects her skin, it affects her eyes, it affects really all aspects of her emotions.

"It also affects the air around her quite considerably," Brennan continues. "There are shock wave-type components. There are particle components. There are smoke and fire and flames, of course-almost an internal lava effect. There are a lot of pieces to it that come together to create the final Phoenix effect. But it's all tied with Jean's emotion."

Adding to the undeniable impact of the film is Hans Zimmer's remarkable score. The Oscar-winning composer's work lent immeasurably to DARK PHOENIX, underlining the deep sense of unease at the heart of the story and helping to send audiences out of the theater entertained and deeply affected by Jean Grey's singular journey. "I love the way that he creates music that sometimes is almost not music, it's just sound," Kinberg says of Zimmer. "It's not sweeping and comfortable. It gets under your skin. It's really emotional when it wants to be emotional, but without being sentimental. That was exactly what we needed for this film."


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