Junket Report: The Curious Production of Benjamin Button


With all the positivity and praise surrounding The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, I’m sure you’re very curious about the production.  You probably want to hear Blanchett’s views on the script, Pitt’s take on Fincher, and anything Fincher has to say about anything.  Me too!  But that’s not to be, as the big three are a bit reclusive and I wasn’t definitely not invited back to Pitt’s pad after last years shrimp debacle.  I apologize again, Brad, Angelina, but I really thought you’d get a kick out of my shrimp cocktail joke.  I realize now that it was inappropriate at a child’s birthday party.

That awkwardness aside, I did have a chance to sit at a table with my colleagues and bounce questions at producers Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall, writer Eric Roth, and actors Taraji P. Henson, M. Ali, Jared Harris, Julia Ormond and Jason Flemyng.  Here are a few of things they had to say about Mr. Button and the curious circumstances surrounding his life.

The Curious David Fincher

benbutton_finchersmall1David Fincher is one of the more mysterious director’s in Hollywood and one with a reputation for visionary excellence and being a bit of a pain to work with.  At least, that’s what you hear, but that is not what anyone had to say.  Taraji, looking thin and beautiful (somewhat unlike her character Queenie), described Fincher as “nurturing” and “awesome.”  Jason Flemyng knew Fincher socially and actually scored his role by dropping off some reels for the director to watch, who promptly gave him notes, asked to see more, and then hired him.  Flemyng described “Finch” as naughty and funny, saying that the view many have him is completely off-base.

Producer Marshall, who knows a thing or two about working with big time directors, agreed with actor Jared Harris that Fincher wanted the best out of everyone.  Julia Ormond perhaps explained the aurora around Fincher best when she described the “phenomenal” directors thought process.  There is a lot of time to prepare, plenty of days to work on getting it right, so on the day, it had better be done right.  That is probably where the misunderstanding comes in about his demands.  Not unreasonable, when you think about the amount of prep time and how much rides on a schedule being kept to.

The Curious Filming Process

benbutton_shooting1There isn’t a doubt that the story of Benjamin Button one is epic in scale, an intimidating experience to be sure.  How do you eat a whale?  One bite at a time, is how Jared Harris described walking into the production.  The magnitude of the picture dictated a long shooting schedule, which wasn’t rushed according to Taraji.  The decade spanning film, unironically, needed to take its time to move forward.

Just how long was the journey to the screen?  Well uber-producer Ray Stark began trying to bring the project to the screen 18 years ago.  Fincher approached the project independently of that, with Brad Pitt as his first and only choice.  The ball finally started rolling with Eric Roth’s treatment of the script, which Fincer liked because it wasn’t overly sentimental.  Roth left behind some of the more farcical elements of the original short story in crafting his version, which was about small moments, grounded through the eyes of Julia Ormond, and able to jump in and out of Button’s life.  That said, the ball quickly stopped rolling when Fincher put Zodiac on the top of his “To-Do List.”   During the wait, many of the crew who had signed on declined further work, waiting to dedicate themselves to Benjamin Button, which was a special kind of film, according to Marshall, the artistic kind of movie that didn’t have big explosions, the kind of film that wasn’t being made enough.

The Curious Factoids

benbutton_taraji2Curiously enough, when asked about the process of auditioning for the film, virtually every single actor had the same response:  I’ll never get this part.  Brad Pitt, of course, was assured of his part, though there was some concern over how much he would be in the movie, due to the nature of the character.  Fincher constantly assured producers and backers that Pitt was in the movie virtually from frame one and in the finished project, he was not made a liar.

Pitt’s face was digitally inserted onto the bodies of actor doubles early in the film, a process that left the star locked in place, only able to move his head and face slightly.  The composited character spent much of his time interacting with Queenie, a fact that Taraji maligned.  She had always wanted to work with Brad Pitt, as he’s somewhat easy on the eyes, but much to her dismay during her chance to do so, she played a motherly character rather than a love interest.  Bummer.

In advertising the film, Kathleen Kennedy described the difficulty in merely cutting a trailer that could capture the crux of the film.  Next time you happen to see a commercial for Benjamin, take note of your clock – there are virtually no 15 second ads, as they were deemed incapable of conveying the film accurately.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button enters wide release on Christmas Day. As an added bonus, check out an interview with Brad Pitt about his role as Benjamin Button below:

Robert Fure is many things: horror expert, ruggedly handsome man of the world, witty prose composer, and writer of his own biography page. Beneath the bravado is a scared little boy, ready to grow into an awesome man and make lies about a scared little boy inside of him. Wait a minute...

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