featured Gemini Man

Clone Wars: Ang Lee Talks ‘Gemini Man’ and the Future of Filmmaking

October 11, 2019Ben MK

Few filmmakers in Hollywood can truly be called visionaries. But no matter how you cut it, Ang Lee fits into that category. From Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon to Life of Pi, Lee has proven time and time again that he's willing to take creative risks in order to tell a good story. And now with Gemini Man, Lee is taking that leap of faith yet again, using HFR 3D technology and a fully computer-generated recreation of a 23-year-old Will Smith to pit the actor against his younger self in a tale that's equal parts sci-fi, action and human drama.

Lee recently stopped by the TIFF Bell Lightbox in Toronto to discuss Gemini Man on-stage at a special screening of the film. The following is an edited and condensed version of that conversation.

You've said that you wanted to try and develop a new aesthetic for digital cinema, and your recent films seem to be really progressing that new aesthetic. But how would you describe what that is?

Lee: Life of Pi was the first [time] I [did] 3D filmmaking. And because of that I had to use digital. Like everybody, I looked down on digital [because] there's no aesthetic. We've been imitating film, because that looks beautiful to us. While I was doing Pi I tried to imitate film as much as I can. And I was doing 3D but I was trying to be as 2D as I [could]. That was the hardest movie. [laughs] I was freaked out for two weeks before we started shooting.

I learned very quickly [that] when you have two eyes come to a point, they have to agree with each other somehow. And I began to think that things don't add up. Why do we do 3D but our head is really 2D? Why do we light this way? Why does it have to be 24 [frames per second]? And eventually, I realized you need more information to absorb dimensionalized filmmaking. People say it's realistic — it's immersive. But in that space, at least to my eyes, perception is even less solid, it's more elusive. It's a very strange thing.

Gradually, I found digital cinema probably has something to do with dimension, and you have to create something [that] we think [is] beautiful. What it is, I'm still searching. I think the first step is to have it look more like life, so you want to be more realistic. I don't think that’s the end result — eventually we're [moving towards] a new illusion. It just feels like with digital cinema there's tremendous beauty to grasp.

There are a number of technical innovations that you're working with in Gemini Man — the de-aging, the fully computer-generated character, the high frame rate, the 3D. Can you talk about what they do to enhance the story?

Lee: I think to tell a story, you need structure. We're very much locked into a feature film kind of structure, and it seems like the shot itself has a lot of story to tell. It's very much its own thing. I would like to create a narrative that's quite different from [the typical] kind of storyline. I think that might serve dimensionalized movies better. I'm still experimenting, but I would like to see a different way of telling stories; not only linear, more intuitive, and with more detail. Not just an actor telling you how they feel, but more wandering around. I would like to see more freedom, to be honest with you. I think there's a lot of potential. I'm searching, but I'm also making a very expensive movie. [laughs]

The Cartagena [motorcycle chase] sequence is really remarkable. Given the technology that you're using, did you have to shoot that sequence differently than you would if you were shooting conventionally?

Lee: What we do is kind of experimental and very expensive, so you have to do a lot of planning. You have to be extra diligent. I dare say that's the prettiest action scene. I don't know if that's the most exciting scene, but that's the prettiest action sequence. When I was shooting it, I was nervous the studio was going to get on my back and say, "It looks pretty, but where’s the action?!" [laughs]

We didn't have much time, we didn't have a second unit; I shot everything. So I scouted the place, worked on the plot in my head, then I go with the production designer and the action choreographer. We come back to work with a storyboard artist and previsualization, then we go back [with] a big crew a couple of times to Cartagena to see the do-ability. It's very complicated. It was a big job. We put all the equipment — 3D rigs, two cameras, computers and everything — onto an eBike. And the whole scene was very much shot [using] the eBikes, because we could not get the cars up there. That's how we developed the sequence where the bike whips [Will Smith] around. They call it bike-fu. [laughs]

And to see it with this kind of clarity — you can't fool people about the speed. Normal chase scene tricks don't really work, so I do a lot of straight-on, head-on [shots]. The shots are longer and it's busier, because you have a lot more stuff to look at.

What about the casting — Why Will Smith for this role?

Lee: Will Smith is a no-brainer. You want a good actor? Will's been the biggest movie star for the last twenty years. I don't think there's many people like Will Smith. In the beginning, I felt he's a little on the younger side, but he's Will Smith. [laughs] It's great to have him, and every bit of this is Will's performance, translated into the younger self. It's not an exact equation because the old skin doesn't do the same thing as the young skin, but he still had to drive it. He's a good performer that way. But [we had] to fight the temptation to do Will Smith [as] he used to be like, which is very different from this part. We want[ed] to go there, because people would be very happy to see that. The problem is he's a much better actor now, [laughs] and this is a more sensitive role.

Do you see a through line between the films you were making in the '90s and the early 2000s — that were so much about social nuance and pushing against society's rules — and what you're doing now with a film like Gemini Man?

Lee: People ask me that a lot. I think it's perhaps [because] I'm a naive kind of person. I grow very slowly. I'm very easy to trust people. I like to have faith in something. But like natural law, it always changes. The essence of life is about changing. What made me want to train a tiger on a floating raft across the Pacific? There seems to be a zone that I'm pursuing.

When I started out with family drama, that was the biggest adventure to me. Then I did Sense and Sensibility. That was really more scary than this. I spoke broken English and I was directing Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant. But I survived that, and I thought, "There's a lot of things I can do," so I ventured into different things. A lot of my movies deal with fear and insecurity. You cannot verbalize it or make sense out of it. I like theatres — that's my temple. I try to bring people back to that ritual.

Gemini Man is now in theatres.

You May Also Like