Coming to theatres this weekend from director Eric Heisserer and Pantelion Films comes a remarkable story that takes HOURS.
This film tells the story of Nolan Hayes (Paul Walker) and his wife Abigail (Genesis Rodriguez) who are expecting the early arrival of their baby. As Hurricane Katrina approaches Nolan loses his wife. There is no time to deal with her passing when he is introduced to his daughter.
In an incubator as the hurricane approaches strength, the power continues to go in and out. Needing 48 hours and the hospital evacuating, Nolan finds a generator that must be cranked every few minutes so his newborn daughter can survive.
It is in that time Nolan faces Mother Nature and time – and neither are forgiving!
FINAL WORD: Walker as Nolan Hayes carries a heavy weight and brings such intensity and an understandable hostility that is so sad. Having no time to truly deal with his grief, the character is an emotional hot mess. Walker performance is in every moment of these jumbled emotions. It was nerve rattling watching it as I became nervous with the character and exhausted by the films end.
Carrying the film once the hurricane strikes there are such tender moments that with the snap of a twig become crazy intense. With the cranking of the generator and the beeping of the watch there isn’t much time to relax so be prepared to go on an emotional roller coaster that has no intention of stopping until it gets every last possible drop of human emotion from you.
Rodriguez as Abigail doesn’t have a large role in the film but each scene she is in is the soft place for Walker’s character to fall. There is one scene in particular (I don’t do spoilers!) the exchange between these two actors is completely lovely.
I had the opportunity to speak with director Eric Heisserer about the story, choosing his lead actor and the intensity of being on the hospital set.
Thank you so much for speaking with me today Eric.
Absolutely, thank you.
This is such an original idea, where did it come from?
The doctors and nurses at Charity Hospital in New Orleans had to manually crank generators for the hospitals ICU equipment during Hurricane Katrina to keep patients alive. I knew then that was the story I wanted to tell only through the lens of a father and his newborn child.
It’s amazing to me that a thought like that can really get the imagination going. This is a big chance to take telling this story because it’s being carried almost entirely by one person.
Yes, it was a big risk. I didn’t expect Paul Walker to be that lead either. I had been for the right man for over six months. My producer Pete Safran had done another movie with Paul and called from the set of VEHICLE 19 and said, “I think you need to meet with Paul Walker, I think this may work out really well”. I went into that meeting thinking how can this guy be who I need him to be. My experience with Paul had been mainly through the FAST AND FURIOUS franchise which are fun movies but don’t necessarily showcase Paul in the dramatic role I needed here. After that first lunch where I sat with him I discovered that; a) he had a personal connection to that character and he was drawn to the character for emotional reasons and not for just for the challenge or intellectual exercise of the part but also because he had something to prove – not necessarily to the world but to himself that he could do something else and work new muscles. That spoke to me since that was why I was doing the movie, doing something else with my own life. I needed to do something that scared me and he was in the same position and we bonded through that.
Taking the risk of putting this film together it’s almost as if with Paul it’s go all in or go home.
Using the real hospital setting that had to be so eerie for you. I know it’s one thing to put something down on page but then see it come to life it sort of does something to you don’t you think?
It does, it changes you, and it changes your perception not only as a filmmaker but also as a storyteller.
How did you keep it all together?
I relied heavily on the crew and cast around me. One of the things I said at the production movie a week before we started filming was that everyone in the room had made more movies than I have. This was definitely a group effort and as captain of the ship I had to make sure we were all doing the same thing. I also encouraged everyone to provide their support and help in the effort. It’s not just my film, it goes down to the gaffer and grips that made this film what it is.
The hospital is also a cast member. How did you manage to get that eeriness?
That wasn’t too hard. We got permission to shoot at a hospital that has been abandoned since Katrina. It is in East New Orleans and set up shop in there. There was no power running to the place, no air conditioning and there was a lot of left over equipment, computers, books, materials, furniture – it was all still there after seven years. So there is this eeriness in the film when you are shooting a scene that is so authentic and between takes you can wander around and it feels like your in your own personal horror movie. It’s just naturally scary.
You kind of said it in that there is a horror movie feel and some of your cast provide that horror! Those guys sneaking around the hospital freaked me out. It’s bad enough I talk back at the screen when I’m on my own but you had me hollering at the creepy sounds, the beeping etc. It provides such a high anxiety level.
Yes, you understand what he’s fighting for every minute.
With Paul’s performance, when he looks at his daughter and says, “I don’t know you” that just felt so harsh.
It was a huge risk but it was also the start point of his character arc. At that point he had just lost the love of his life. Now he was left with someone he didn’t know and hoped he could connect with. It’s also why we wanted to make sure the last line goes with that as well.
That last line was a tearjerker. I was so moved by what you put together that I really want others to experience it. A lot of films kind of force our emotions yet this film gives us permission to have every emotion possible, in fact encourages it. You had to have seen something in Paul that really spoke to you, what was the secret?
The secret was hard work. It was about each of us putting in our 50%; hopefully I met him half way. Truthfully he probably did the lion’s share of the work on a lot of this that started with both of us realizing that it was going to take a serious amount of trust between the two of us to get that performance at the end of the day and only 18 days to shoot it.
Is that how long it took?
Yes, we had a very narrow window and it was either that or the film wouldn’t be made at all. With the understanding of the shot there was a lot of set ups per day, sometimes 60 a day and in order to do that right we had to get what we could in as few takes as possible. To work on that ahead of time Paul and I would get together three days a week for a few hours each time and it was to talk, not rehearsal. It wasn’t going over lines, it was about him telling me his history with hopes and fears and things that haunted him and things he loved. It was quid pro quo and I shared some secrets that only he and I had. We made a decision going into this movie that we would essentially become really good friends in a shake and bake scenario and with that trust then get the performance out of him that he wanted and get out of me the kind of direction that would make the film a stand out piece for both of us. It was a lot of me holding him up at times and him holding me up the rest of the time.
Once the hospital is cleared and before nastiness happens you have that whole segment of time where he is talking, but at the same time the running, the watch, the machine, the stairs, the roof – that had to have been for both of you working together, such a struggle to piece it together to make it so emotional.
Exactly, this is a film that’s hard to categorize in one bucket. Neither of us believed it was a straight thriller because it had too much heart for that and dramatic element; it wasn’t a stand-alone heart warming drama either. This had a kinetic energy to it, this had a nervousness and this constant literal ticking clock for Nolan so we had to work on the right amount of action and quiet breathing time where he can just lay things out and talk about his wife or his father and share with his daughter.
When he started talking for longer periods there was something in my head that screamed ‘that’s more than two minutes!’ I kept looking at the clock behind him to see!
Yes, there are a handful of times where we defy the normal measurement of time and stick to movie time. There are a few places where we break that law only to try and serve the emotional truth of the scene. The rest of the time my producer kept an eye on that.
Watching Nolan get to know his daughter the baby seemed so real. I think it had to do with the fact that you didn’t try to cheat the viewer by only showing far away shots. He physically interacts with the baby and that makes a big difference.
That’s good to know, really it is.
I don’t want to say too much about the ending but wow, it’s so emotional. Now that you’ve gone through the process of writing, creating and filming – is it still the original idea you had?
There is an interesting thing that happens when you go through this process and that’s whatever version it turns into starts becoming the official version in your head. It was one movie that I imagined on the page, when we shot it, it became this different organic idea and then once in post it was a slightly different version of that. It becomes the 3.0 version of what I wanted to tell. I captured the spirit of it plenty of times. This is the version I’m proud of and it’s a good representation of Paul’s performance and Genesis as well. As Abigail she did an amazing job.
You are right about Genesis performance because the hospital scene, those few moments are so lovely and Nolan needed that.
This is my love letter to parents everywhere.
Did everyone, including Paul, have an opportunity to see the finished film?
Yes, we all together had something of a premier at SXSW earlier this year.
Thanks for talking with me today Eric, it was such an honor.
Other cast include: Nancy Nave as Sandra, Shane Jacobsen as Marc, Natalia Safran as Karen, TJ Hassan as Jeremy, Oscar Gale as Hector, Lena Clark as Lucy, Yohance Myles as Dr. Edmonds, Judd Lormand as Glenn, Kerry Cahill as Nurse Shelly and Christopher Cook as Lenny.
TUBS OF POPCORN: I give HOURS four tubs of popcorn out of five. I will be honest and say I wasn’t sure what to expect from this film and what I got was an amazing surprise. The film is gritty, heart breaking, funny, charming, hard hitting, filled with nervous tension and a mark for time I haven’t gotten over yet.
There aren’t snazzy special effects, any chaos, car chases or super heroes falling out of the sky. Instead, it is a realistic look at life, death, survival, and the rawness of humanity, panic and self-preservation of two all wrapped around a man discovering what it means to be a father. This is a total experience for the senses and with that said bring tissue, this is a film that deserves to be seen.
In the end – every second counts.