Legion

Legion

Paul Bettany is back on the big screen this week in Legion, which is directed by Scott Stewart.

An out-of-the-way diner becomes the unlikely battleground for the survival of the human race. When God loses faith in humankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse.

Humanity's only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner with the Archangel Michael (Bettany).

The big skies and endless desert panoramas of the American West provide the vistas against which Legion’s epic story plays out. "I’d been reading a lot of Sam Shepard plays and short stories," Stewart says.

"I had an image of a mythic West that may exist only in our minds. This is an homage to that Western landscape."

Stewart assembled a book of photographs that represented his visual plan for the film. "I went out to the desert and photographed abandoned gas stations and road signs with bullet holes in them, things that symbolized lost Americana and the decaying West to me."

When he began to meet with actors, their agents and managers, he took the book along to showcase his vision for the film. "It was important to me to convey the overall look of the movie," says the director. "I wanted to show people what I saw in my head.

"It looked like a graphic novel," he says. "It combined elements of a supernatural action thriller with classic big-sky Westerns. I was just doing what made sense to me. It was a campaign to convince the world that I was going to treat the genre with a lot of respect."

The film’s production designer, Jeff Higinbotham, took on the task of realizing those photographs as the backdrop for the movie. "We tried to create a gritty desert vernacular that mixes mid-century painter Edward Hopper with the contemporary photographs of Gregory Crewdson," says Higinbotham. "

Scott knew what he wanted, which was a pleasure. Sometimes a director doesn’t know what he wants until you show him something and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want that thing.

"Our goal was to make it visually seamless," he continues. "We wanted to find a desolate, isolated area for the diner, a place that time had forgotten. When people watch this picture, I want them to say, where is that diner?"

Stewart decided early on to shoot Legion in a setting that would emphasize the film’s sense of isolation and dread. "Just on a story level, an ‘off the grid’ location made it logical that they would survive the initial onslaught," he explains. "As the film progresses they are so cut off from the world they have no idea what, if anything, is left of it."

The filmmakers searched far and wide for a location that looked like an iconic truck stop in the Mojave Desert. "Everybody knows what that’s like, right?" says Stewart.

"Try to find one.  We had to build it in New Mexico. It looked like it had been there for 50 years. People would actually stop and try to buy gas."

Higinbotham built the set on a windswept swath of land outside Galisteo, with interiors on a small soundstage flexible enough to accommodate the various special effects and stunts that were required.

The construction crew completed work in less than one month despite snow, 50-mile-an-hour winds and rain. "This was one of the first locations I saw," he says. "And I knew that this was the spot.

"It had great vistas in all directions and a physical concavity that suited the situation. If you filled this area with water, it would pool at the diner and that’s kind of what happened to our characters."

Stewart was fortunate to find a director of photography, John Lindley, who shared many of the same visual references and inspirations. "He helped craft a very elevated look for the film," says the director.

"Early on we decided our motto would be ‘No boring shots.’ That meant we were always pushing ourselves to create images that were as graphic as possible to tell our story. In many ways, the film looks like a comic book come to life."

They also agreed that the look of Legion would evolve as the story progresses, says the director. "At first it has a very lost-American feel, like a Hopper painting. But as things progress, the color begins to drain and the look becomes more apocalyptic."

To amp up the tension in the film, Stewart and Lindley developed visual strategies that keep the audience slight off kilter. "John is skilled at so many things, but in particular, he’s really great at getting in and focusing on the detail," says Stewart.

"He gets right in the middle of the action. I chose to focus on details first and then widen out.  It’s the opposite of the classic approach in the American filmmaking industry, where you start with an establishing shot and then you go in.

"We always had the camera either really low or really high, almost never at eye-level," says the director. "It shifts the perspective and becomes a much more dynamic image. We also used overhead shots to create a sense of scale and give us what we called God’s point of view on the events." 
 
"It’s the best looking film I’ve ever made," says Lancaster. "I give a lot of the credit to John Lindley. He recognized a chance to do something that a little bit different with this film. It had lots of challenges to it that he embraced. And he’s done a brilliant job." 

Even the costumes were conceived to reinforce the film’s visual scheme. "I am a big believer in using color to help the story," says Stewart. "

We came up with the idea that all of the ‘normal’ people in the story would be wearing muted ‘non-colors’ gray, olive-drab, beige while the possessed would be clad in bright colors that pop off the screen."

Wendy Partridge, Legion’s costume designer, created an array of subtle gradations on neutral colors for the main characters. "It was a very intricate and delicate process that turned out to be very fulfilling," she says.

"The hardest thing to do in costuming is to create a single outfit each character has to wear throughout the entire movie. You have only one chance to create that image and, once you’ve created it, you have to live with it for the whole film."

In addition, as the story progresses, each actor’s outfit had to begin to show the wear and tear of the extreme situation. "The physical deterioration had to mirror the mental and physical stress of the characters," she notes.

Music was also crucial in establishing the mood of the film and underscoring the dramatic action. "I’m not a fan of movies that look like music videos," he says. "I prefer music to either run as counterpoint to the visuals or to help tell the underlying emotional story.

"The jukebox in the diner is almost another character in the film. It plays older music that adds to the feeling that this place is lost in time."

He was aided in his effort to create a strong musical identity for the story by music supervisor Chris Douridas, who also worked on American Beauty and the Austin Powers movies.

"Early on I decided we would only hear songs from practical sources, such as the jukebox or from car stereos," Stewart says.

"The jukebox is almost a Greek chorus for the film. The songs Chris came up with serve as a very compelling counterpoint to what's happening on screen."

Legion is out now.

Paul Bettany is back on the big screen this week in Legion, which is directed by Scott Stewart.

An out-of-the-way diner becomes the unlikely battleground for the survival of the human race. When God loses faith in humankind, he sends his legion of angels to bring on the Apocalypse.

Humanity's only hope lies in a group of strangers trapped in a desert diner with the Archangel Michael (Bettany).

The big skies and endless desert panoramas of the American West provide the vistas against which Legion’s epic story plays out. "I’d been reading a lot of Sam Shepard plays and short stories," Stewart says.

"I had an image of a mythic West that may exist only in our minds. This is an homage to that Western landscape."

Stewart assembled a book of photographs that represented his visual plan for the film. "I went out to the desert and photographed abandoned gas stations and road signs with bullet holes in them, things that symbolized lost Americana and the decaying West to me."

When he began to meet with actors, their agents and managers, he took the book along to showcase his vision for the film. "It was important to me to convey the overall look of the movie," says the director. "I wanted to show people what I saw in my head.

"It looked like a graphic novel," he says. "It combined elements of a supernatural action thriller with classic big-sky Westerns. I was just doing what made sense to me. It was a campaign to convince the world that I was going to treat the genre with a lot of respect."

The film’s production designer, Jeff Higinbotham, took on the task of realizing those photographs as the backdrop for the movie. "We tried to create a gritty desert vernacular that mixes mid-century painter Edward Hopper with the contemporary photographs of Gregory Crewdson," says Higinbotham. "

Scott knew what he wanted, which was a pleasure. Sometimes a director doesn’t know what he wants until you show him something and he’s pretty sure he doesn’t want that thing.

"Our goal was to make it visually seamless," he continues. "We wanted to find a desolate, isolated area for the diner, a place that time had forgotten. When people watch this picture, I want them to say, where is that diner?"

Stewart decided early on to shoot Legion in a setting that would emphasize the film’s sense of isolation and dread. "Just on a story level, an ‘off the grid’ location made it logical that they would survive the initial onslaught," he explains. "As the film progresses they are so cut off from the world they have no idea what, if anything, is left of it."

The filmmakers searched far and wide for a location that looked like an iconic truck stop in the Mojave Desert. "Everybody knows what that’s like, right?" says Stewart.

"Try to find one.  We had to build it in New Mexico. It looked like it had been there for 50 years. People would actually stop and try to buy gas."

Higinbotham built the set on a windswept swath of land outside Galisteo, with interiors on a small soundstage flexible enough to accommodate the various special effects and stunts that were required.

The construction crew completed work in less than one month despite snow, 50-mile-an-hour winds and rain. "This was one of the first locations I saw," he says. "And I knew that this was the spot.

"It had great vistas in all directions and a physical concavity that suited the situation. If you filled this area with water, it would pool at the diner and that’s kind of what happened to our characters."

Stewart was fortunate to find a director of photography, John Lindley, who shared many of the same visual references and inspirations. "He helped craft a very elevated look for the film," says the director.


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