Cuaron Faced New Challenges in ' Children of Men' Alfonso Cuaron's latest movie is Children of Men, a dystopian tale about a civilization that has lost the ability to reproduce, until one woman becomes pregnant. Michele Norris talks with Cuaron about a shot in the film that lasts about six minutes, without a cut. Cuaron describes the challenges of choreographing the shot.
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Cuaron Faced New Challenges in ' Children of Men'

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Cuaron Faced New Challenges in ' Children of Men'

Cuaron Faced New Challenges in ' Children of Men'

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Sometimes, films are famous for one long shot. Orson Welles's "Touch of Evil," Martin Scorsese's "Good Fellas," Brian De Palma's "Snake Eyes." Each of these features extended segments uninterrupted by edits, feats of filmmaking that require incredible choreography.

Well, add another film to that list. Alfonso Cuaron's new film, "Children of Men," includes one amazing action sequence, seven minutes long, shot in real time.

In a moment, we'll talk with him about what it took to create that scene. First, a bit of background about Cuaron. He's Mexican, best known for the movie "Y tu Mamá También" and the third installment of the "Harry Potter" franchise. "Children of Men" takes place in the year 2027, humankind has become infertile.

(Soundbite of movie, "Children of Men")

Unidentified Woman: Diego Ricardo, the youngest person on the planet, was 18 years, 4 months, 20 days, 16 hours -

NORRIS: The film begins with the death of the last person born on Earth. Civilization is dying out, unable to reproduce until unexpectedly a young woman becomes pregnant. And that's where we get to that one long shot.

The film's hero, Clive Owen, has to navigate a refugee prison camp in the midst of battle to save that pregnant woman.

(Soundbite of movie, "Children of Men")

Mr. ALFONSO CUARON (Director): That shot happens in this refugee camp based upon a lot of Middle East with a little bit of the Balkans, mostly Baghdad. And what happens is that the camera follows Clive Owen's character throughout the streets, throughout the battles into this building that is being shelled. And the camera never cuts.

(Soundbite of movie, "Children of Men")

Mr. CUARON: When you're doing these long shots, I can choreograph to the inch every single moment. But once that you're rolling camera, everything falls in the shoulders of your actor. Because things are going to go wrong and it's how he reacts with things going wrong that create a moment of truthfulness.

(Soundbite of movie, "Children of Men")

Mr. CLIVE OWEN (Actor): (As Theodore Faron) Look around you. It's the uprising. Come on!

NORRIS: So this is almost like a urban choreography. Because he's running. He's dodging bullets. He's ducking bombs, and you say you choreographed this to the inch?

Mr. CUARON: You choreograph to the inch, but then such a long scene and there are so many elements. You have explosions. You have extras. You have stunts. You have tanks. So something is going to go out of synch.

(Soundbite movie, "Children of Men")

Mr. CUARON: You see a very dynamic camera in which the camera is running together with the camera man, pretty much just trying to find shelter, a place where they can protect themselves from the bullets.

NORRIS: And so you have a camera man who is running along with Clive Owen, sometimes running backwards, sometimes running backwards upstairs.

Mr. CUARON: It's amazing.

NORRIS: I was going to say that if he's that agile and has that kind of athletic ability, he belongs in the Olympics.

Mr. CUARON: He is absolutely amazing. I don't know how he did it. I don't know how the assistant director and the stunts coordinated the cues. It was one of those situations of if a train is riding at 200 miles per hour in this direction and a motorcycle is going in this other direction at 50 miles per hour, when they're going to collide. At school, I never sorted those out.

And it was all these cues were about when do you release the tanks so it arrives in the perfect moment and then explodes this entrance of these building just in time that Clive Owen is about to enter the building.

We prepped this shot like for 12 days. And then we shot for two days, but only there was only one take that was complete.

NORRIS: What happened in the other takes that didn't quite work? What was wrong?

Mr. CUARON: In the first one, there was just - we blew it immediately.

NORRIS: What happened?

Mr. CUARON: Yeah, in the first one, I think, some of the explosions start to happen before the soldiers even start shooting their guns and stuff. The second time around, actually we went very far and George fell.

NORRIS: George Richmond, your photographer?

Mr. CUARON: George Richmond. The third time around everything was a disaster, like people crossing where they were not supposed to cross. And the last time around, that was the last chance I had to do that scene, because we were losing the location. And the sun was fading, and suddenly blood spilling into the lens. That was completely not designed. Actually, the moment in which the blood is spilling into lens, I yelled cut, but there was an explosion, so nobody heard me. And then I realized if they had heard me, and they have cut, I was not going to be able to shoot the scene. So I just let it go. And at the end of the scene, Clive Owen and Manuela Vasquez, the cinematographer, they were so excited.

And I said yes, guys, but there was blood in the lens. And the two of them they turned at them, but that was a miracle. And then I realized it was true. It was about embracing those accidents, embracing those things that I could have never designed originally.

NORRIS: Where were you in all of these? Because this is a three block stretch that Clive Owen has to traverse -

Mr. CUARON: That's right. I have this little monitor running around them and in some instances hiding for a little while the camera was going around. And then reappearing and chasing them, trying to catch up with them.

NORRIS: So you were chasing a few paces behind?

Mr. CUARON: Yeah. Sometimes, farther away because there was no place to hide.

NORRIS: Alfonso, if you were trying to make a provocative statement in this film, in essence, what is that statement? What are you trying to say with this film?

Mr. CUARON: More than a provocative statement, for me it's an exploration. It's for each member of the audience to come out with their own conclusions about hope. For me, the film's about hope.

NORRIS: Oh, but it's so uncomfortable. I mean, there's - parts of the film are really hard to watch.

Mr. CUARON: I think that part of reality is really hard to watch. And that was the whole point. At the end, it's an adventure, but an adventure that takes you through the state of things, that's a lot of these things are very uncomfortable to watch. And at the end for you to make your own conclusion that if after you witness what you witness, there's room for hope. And if there's room for hope, what do we do with this hope?

NORRIS: Alfonso Cuaron, thank you so much for coming in to talk with us.

Mr. CUARON: Thank you, Michele.

NORRIS: Alfonso Cuaron's film is called "Children of Men." And by the way, that shot we've just been talking about, it's almost exactly as long as this segment.

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