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About The Production
When producer Joel B. Michaels saw Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier's Academy Award nominated film, After the Wedding, he was stunned by the powerful human drama of the story. "What attracted me to the piece," he recalled, "was that it dealt with the gray areas of life, and the idea that what is morally right or wrong can get muddied. We humans are nearly all guilty of manipulations both large and small, but even with the best intentions, bending the truth to fit your personal narrative often results in great damage."

Michaels aggressively pursued the rights to the film from the film's Danish production company, and after a long-fought battle against larger production companies, finally acquired them mid-2007. He had an early adaptation of the script written, and then spent years trying to find the right director. In 2016, a friend suggested he contact Bart Freundlich. Michaels knew the director to be a master of stories with knotty emotional landscapes, and that he had a well-deserved reputation as an actor's director.

"Bart immediately understood the intention of the film, and spoke to me about the story in the way that I always envisioned it," said Michaels. We had a series of conversations, and I found that he tapped right in to the psyche and the psychology of all of the characters."

Freundlich found the intensive character development and very modern way the high drama unfolded, to be compelling. "It's a story that lives in the real world," he said. "One that I think we all recognize. I was fascinated by, and wanted to further explore that human frailty, and the joys derived from people we form relationships with over the course of our lives. At the end of the day, we're all on this journey, but we don't really have a choice about where it takes us fully."

Freundlich and Michaels also discussed a critical aspect of the story. Bier's film had two male leads but Michaels felt that the film would work significantly better with the leads being played by two women. Freundlich took a beat, and then whole-heartedly agreed with Michaels that between the dearth of significant, multifaceted leading roles for women, and the country's current climate regarding power dynamics and gender, the switch made the story more current. Freundlich got to work adapting the script.

"The original story was like nothing I'd worked on before," he said. "It had many layers, and a plethora of different, three-dimensional, character perspectives. So, it was an exciting opportunity to tell a story that takes on what it means for these women to make certain high-stake choices, and then have to deal with the many consequences of those actions."

Julianne Moore had loved the Bier's film, and when Freundlich, to whom she's married, began adapting the story, she thought the role of Theresa could present an interesting acting challenge.

After Freundlich completed the script, Moore committed to playing Theresa. "Casting is never easy," noted Michaels, "but with Julie on board, she made it a whole lot easier to sign the rest of the cast. She and Bart were instrumental in bringing Michelle Williams and Billy Crudup to the film."

Freundlich says it was the first time he got the exact actors he'd been picturing in his head, while he was writing the script. He's long been impressed with Michelle Williams' soulfulness and craft, and has done two previous films with Crudup, who is also a close friend.

Michelle Williams was deeply drawn in by the emotional peaks and valleys that are inherent in the story. "I'm always keen to do something that I haven't done before, and that I don't quite know how to do," she said. "It felt exciting to stretch for Isabel, and for that growth to be a little bit painful, because I wound up in new places each time."

Williams was also so moved by the depth of Isabel's loyalty to the children of the orphanage, that she told producer Harry Finkel she'd be willing to spend her own time working in a similar environment before shooting began.

The notion of what makes a "good" father in the film loomed large for Crudup. He and Freundlich have often had long discussions about their roles as fathers. The film's themes of what a parent wishes to pass on to their children, how they want protect them, and how they sometimes fail as parents, really resonated with both of them. Crudup acknowledged that exploring creatively what had so far been personal interactions between friends, felt natural during filming.

"It's always incredibly gratifying to work with Bart," said Crudup. "He has an intuitive understanding of how monumental things most often happen in small scale. Almost every conversation we had about Oscar was about me diminishing the extent to which I'm revealing his inner turmoil. And doing that the right way, is in no small part due to Bart's knowledge of how he was going to chart that course."

Moore was an early supporter of casting Abby Quinn as Grace. "She is marvelous," enthused Moore. "And because I had been involved in this movie, as a partner to my husband, I saw all of the auditions. She stood out for me right away. She was completely effortless, and open and lovely to watch. I remember thinking, 'Oh please, let it be her.'"

With an abbreviated schedule and very little time for the actors to rehearse prior to shooting, Quinn was concerned about effectively portraying Grace in the context of the character's close familial relationships, but her fears were soon allayed.

"Right after meeting Julie and Bart I knew it would be okay," laughed Quinn. "I spent several hours hanging out at their house. We talked about their kids and where they grew up. Just being with them and talking about our lives, gave me the chance to build a relationship with Julie, and understand what Bart wanted from the character, before we ever got in front of a camera."

"What I found with Billy Crudup, Michelle Williams, Julianne Moore and Abby Quinn, is that these are actors who embraced the conflict and the contradiction," Freundlich added. "They were 'happy' with the endless peeling back of the layers of what could be going on. They strove to uncover the subtleties of how much these people were aware of their behavior, and how much of it was unconscious."

The Look and Feel of After the Wedding:

Realistically zigzagging from extreme poverty in Calcutta to extreme wealth in New York was no small feat. The shooting schedule was tight, and the budget not large, but Michaels, Finkel and Freundlich assembled a remarkable team of craftspeople to create the stunning visuals, that beautifully illustrated the chasm between the lives of Isabel and Theresa. Beginning with the practical locations in New York, location manager Jillian Stricker worked closely with Freundlich and the production team, to find and secure spaces that were wholly emblematic of Theresa Young's life, and which also stood in stark contrast with everything Isabel represented.

"Bart impressed that the locations were critical to telling the story," said Stricker. "Everything that got represented through a space was supposed to transform the audience, especially when it came to Theresa and Oscar's estate. That house had to say everything about the characters."

Stricker lucked out with several of the Manhattan locations. Freundlich and Moore are such fixtures in New York, which their connections alone assisted in nailing down the office, hotel and restaurant spaces, which were largely located in both the Bowery and Ludlow Hotels. Finding the right oceanfront estate however, was not so easy.

After many false starts, Stricker was led to the home of Carter and Susie Bells. Sitting right on the bay, the house was exactly what they were looking for. And in a lucky turn of events, Susie Bells, a renowned landscape designer, and author of twelve books on the subject, had been passionate about designing the gardens around her own estate.

To ensure the visual integrity of the film, Freundlich relied upon director of photography, Julio Macat, with whom he'd worked before. "I was so happy to have someone who I have a shorthand with," said the director. "We felt that it was very important to have a kind of luxurious look to the movie. I wanted the world that Isabel is thrust into, to feel like something you wanted to be surrounded by."

The film gave Macat an opportunity to experiment with novel ways to light and shoot the classically composition, wide screen shots, that enhanced the dramatic points of the story. "We were shooting in the 70-millimeter format on these beautiful Alexa 65 cameras that record in 6.5, 6.5K resolution," he said. "When you look through those cameras, it's like breathing underwater. It's just beautiful and wide, and a little over exposed. It was very exciting to do such a deeply personal, intimate movie with this super wide scope feel. I was also working with a new way to use white light and break it up into colors. I could do everything from subtly changing a character's features to creating more elegant shadows and reflections."

The editor, Joe Krings, who'd also worked previously with Freundlich, was tasked with creating the film's rhythm. "He always has an eye for truth, Freundlich said. "He'd watch the performances and approach things from the perspective of the character, and just refuse to allow there to be a false moment."

Production designer Grace Yun, who was working with Freundlich for the first time, impressed him from their first meeting. "She immediately took the story and told me how it inspired her," he said. "She sees things in a 360° way, it's almost like she was seeing a virtual reality of the script."

Yun presented Freundlich with everything from decorating plans for the estate to pictures from her last trip to India, as well as complete color palettes for the characters. "Bart and I discussed keeping things kind of serene, so I focused on tones that were neutral and soft. I laid down grays, and grays with blue and purple undertones. The goal was to keep it quiet but to include a layer of character dressing, because there's so much in the script that's emotionally stirring."

She enjoyed a close collaboration with Macat and costume designer, Arjun Bhasin. "They're both very open and generous," she said. "We frequently talked about the color palette, and what color temperatures worked best in certain scenes, as well as the themes and concepts that run through the design. I often found myself planning for things that, in terms of Julio's composition, would fit nicely in the frame."

When designing the costumes, Bhasin remained alert to creating clothing that not only made the characters inhabit what they were wearing, but that what they were wearing belonged in the space they were living in. "That's what Grace and I do," he said. "We work together to make the space and the costume feel like one complete character."

For Isabel's palette, Bhasin used only colors, textured fabric and garments that were sourced in India. Careful to not be heavy handed, the character's simple clothing was imbued with subtle indigos and turmeric. When creating looks for Theresa, Oscar and Abby, he used soft neutrals and sumptuous fabrics to convey quiet wealth, and the kind of moneyed comfort most often found in exclusive enclaves.

Even the costumes for Abby's elaborate wedding, which included a live fire-works display, took a backseat to the physical environment. "While the wedding was richly detailed, we also wanted it to be very personal, and simple," Bhasin said. "The garden was the star of the location, so I created a story with the clothes, and the people at the wedding were an extension of the garden."

When the team finally traveled to India to complete shooting, they were confronted with a whole new set of complex issues. It was monsoon season, and Calcutta was off limits. They were able to secure locations in the southern city of Karaikudi, in India's Tamil Nadu state, not too far from the Equator. Karaikudi had its own extreme challenges, which to the benefit of the movie, lent authenticity to Isabel's world of the orphanage and breathtaking colors. "The conditions of the working environment were challenging," said Michaels. "It was hot and unbelievably humid, which only contributed to the challenges, but we finessed it."


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