NINE LIVESis a moving exploration of the individual experiences of nine women as told through nine single unbroken takes. As characters from one story reappear in supporting roles in others, Rodrigo Garcia interweaves a grand tapestry of universal resonance that hinges on performances from an incredible ensemble. By depicting nine different characters at emotional crossroads, NINE LIVESexamines how we so often find ourselves captive in relationships, both past and present.
Sandra (Elpida Carrillo), is literally in prison and wants desperately to connect with her visiting child. Diana (Robin Wright Penn) confronts the sudden flash of a past relationship long after she has moved on to a new life. Holly (Lisa Gay Hamilton) can’t seem to move forward until her stepfather acknowledges the pain he has caused her. Sonia (Holly Hunter) reels from her boyfriend’s disclosure of an intimate secret to their closest friends. Teenager Samantha (Amanda Seyfreid) is caught in a static loop as the peacemaker between her parents. Lorna (Amy Brenneman) attempts to comfort her ex-husband after his wife’s suicide and finds herself implicated in the tragic death. Ruth (Sissy Spacek) considers straying from married life during a motel rendezvous. Camille (Kathy Baker) faces the limitations of her previously dependable body. Maggie (Glenn Close) allows her own life to be eclipsed by that of her young daughter, Maria (Dakota Fanning).
Filmmaker Rodrigo Garcia (Things You Can Tell Just By Looking at Her) plumbs the depths with these nine everyday women who meet the travails and disappointments of life with a resilience that is at once heartening and heartbreaking.
NINE LIVES is written and directed by Rodrigo Garcia. The producer is Julie Lynn. Executive Producer is Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. The cast includes Kathy Baker, Amy Brenneman, Elpidia Carrillo, Glenn Close, Stephen Dillane, Dakota Fanning, William Fichtner, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Holly Hunter, Jason Isaacs, Joe Mantegna, Ian McShane, Molly Parker, Mary Kay Place, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Aidan Quinn, Miguel Sandoval, Amanda Seyfried, Sissy Spacek and Robin Wright Penn.
In November, 2003, Writer-Director Rodrigo Garcia, Associate Producer Kelly Thomas and I had lunch at Victor’s Deli near Beachwood Canyon in Los Angeles to talk about our new project, NINE LIVES. The contained nature of the script and production requirements would allow us to move very fast . . . if we worked very hard. Barely more than a year later—light speed for developing, funding, and completing a picture—we are putting the finishing touches on the film.
Rodrigo’s earliest conception of the piece was to look at a moment in the lives of nine interesting and extremely different women. Rodrigo seems to me to be particularly interested in those men and women who are caught. Trapped in cages of their own making: past relationships, present relationships, the status of their neuroses, the status of their bodies, the opportunities that stand in front of them, the opportunities that have been wasted.
As these specific representatives of the human condition came alive in Rodrigo’s imagination, and as he began to commit them to paper, another thought arose. What if we were to shoot each segment in real time? One continuous shot; one continuous slice of life. And that is how the script was delivered.
The challenge of making an entire movie in nine, 10 to 14-minute shots became our blessing and our curse. Only nine locations—but nine locations that required very limited alteration, as well as expansive support for extended shots that moved in all directions. Only two to four days of work for any actor—but juggling the schedules of many busy thespians in order to fit them into a very short production period. Only three weeks of shooting—but days that called for a highly skilled, experienced, and very collegial crew.
The idea of the continuous take was, of course, particularly intriguing to our actors. Demanding in that there would be no stopping and starting, no coverage, no chance to pick up every nuance from many different takes. Thrilling in that it would be an opportunity for continuous performance, allowing each actor to really inhabit the moment in time without interruption. Indeed, more than one actor asked if we would “consider making it Eight Lives” if their piece didn’t work out! The cast members – all of them – were extraordinary. They were game and magnificently talented. Rodrigo always says that he never fully knows who the character is until the actor tells him. For this piece, that was particularly true, as these extraordinarily gifted performers all brought so much to our table.
The process was also a challenge for our technical team. Director of Photography Xavier Pérez Grobet worked hard with Rodrigo to give each extended Steadicam shot movement and pace without interfering with the characters’ stories. We enlisted two incredible Steadicam operators,
Dan Kneece and Henry Tirl, to take turns at this punishing job. And we shot the movie with Kodak’s Super 16mm Vision 2 stock, so that it would be physically possible to carry enough film for the extended takes. To get the film to its finished 35mm format required a lot of help from the digital intermediate team at EFILM and their partners at Deluxe. Xavier and Rodrigo became more innovative and daring with each subsequent vignette. Their choices became increasingly audacious as the shoot progressed, without ever sacrificing their invisibility.
The production period was 18 days – two for each of the NINE LIVES. The first day for each segment was devoted to layering in all the players: Rodrigo and the actors, then bringing on Xavier and 1stAD Darin Rivetti, then pulling in the Steadicam operators, sound, and other key crew before relinquishing the set to the design, grip, and electrical teams.
Understanding that we had wonderful and experienced crew at every level of design and execution on the film, we decided that the movie itself would belong to its makers: every member of the production team from the production assistants on up who worked the entire length of the shoot owns a piece of the film. Our sizeable cadre of interns was compensated with weekly “mentorship lunches” chaired by the NINE LIVES key artists, including Rodrigo, Xavier, Darin, UPM Jonathan McCoy, Costume Designer Maria Tortu, Script Supervisor Ingrid Urich-Strass, Production Sound Mixer Felipe Borrero, and Location Manager Carlos Aragon. The day that Glenn Close saw them all sitting with Ingrid and asked if she could do the same . . . well, they were stunned – but not too stunned to ask plenty of questions.
Eighteen days of production later (well, seventeen, since we rehearsed Glenn Close’s and Dakota Fanning’s piece at the cemetery on the same day that we shot Kathy Baker and Joe Mantegna at the hospital), we were on to a post-production that meant taking advantage (and I do mean taking advantage) of the above-mentioned EFILM and Deluxe, renowned composer Ed Shearmur, I Postini for editorial space, and ZTRACKZ down in Mexico City (courtesy of our Executive Producer Alejandro González Iñárritu) for our sound design and mix.
The film first screened at the Sundance Festival on January 19th, and now we are lucky enough to be the Centerpiece Premiere of the Los Angeles Film Festival. The festival experience is a wonderful one for us, as we feel that NINE LIVES is a film that benefits from communal viewing, and the discussion that ensues. Premiering at Sundance also led us to our fantastic distributor, Magnolia Pictures. We have tremendous faith in their ability to take our movie out to a theatre near you in the fall of this year!
Taking in NINE LIVES is, we hope, an active experience. Thank you for sharing your time, your energy, your eyes, ears, and souls with us.
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