It was a long journey from sunny Southern California to Montreal, Canada, and I really didn’t know what to expect. I was warned ahead of time that November in Montreal can be quite chilly, but did I listen? No. UGO writer John Hutchins and I left the hotel to explore downtown Montreal and the locals looked at me like I was nuts walking around in shorts and a t-shirt. I really didn’t agree because I didn’t think it was that bad as we strolled down the streets of Montreal at night…until it began to snow, and then I thought they quite possibly might have been correct.
The next morning we got up and headed to the set. It wasn’t your conventional movie lot; in fact, it was just a giant hanger out in the middle of nowhere that had been converted into a soundstage. Inside, we walked through a large barn set and headed over towards an enormous rocky hillside built inside the hanger. At the top was a cliff that was forty feet off the ground, and green screen surrounded the entire thing. Director Renny Harlin introduced himself to us and briefly explained the scene they were preparing to film where the four lead boys leap off of a cliff and land unnoticed at a beach party below.
How is this possible? For those not in the know, The Covenant is about a group of five families from the 1600’s who possessed amazing powers of unholy origin. Four of the families agree never to use them, but the fifth refuses and disappears without a trace. Now it’s modern day and a member of the fifth family has made himself known again, and he’s still hungry for power.
After about an hour of preparation they were ready to shoot the scene. To set the mood they cranked on some soundtrack music, and the first boy leaped off of the cliff doing his best Kate Beckinsale Underworld landing at the bottom; then the other three followed. They glanced around as if it was nothing and walked out of frame. We were treated to this over and over again; I lost count how many times.
After a long while they took a break from filming to come and talk to the press. They took us back inside the barn set and sat down with the cast and crew of The Covenant, and director Renny Harlin let us in on what was being shot in the barn. “We’re going to be shooting here for nine days our big end fight sequence,” he explained. “You see the tracks in the ceiling? Those are all flying tracks. There is going to be a big sort of flying circus type of a fight sequence. Nothing like the Matrix, I’m not putting down the Matrix but it’s been done.”
This brings us to the topic of wire work, which is plentiful in The Covenant and affected each actor differently, but Harlin insisted it was a better way to do the effects because you could use the actual actors. “Its much easier when you use stunt people and then cut to a close up of an actor, but I wanted to give the audience something that they would really be blown away with,” Harlin explained of the challenges and benefits using the actual actor’s verses stunt people. “The audience is getting more and more sophisticated so you can’t fool them the same way that we used to do fifteen years ago, so I wanted to create scenes and shots where we use all of the possible technology to really put them in the situation, to really give the audience that experience and not just some guy in a rubber suit. This really is the person doing it. Of course it makes it harder, but it’s worth it.”
It’s definitely a challenge for all involved, as actor Sebastian Stan points out about their preparation. “We have been working on the flying stuff for about a month or so, and this is one of the first days that we are starting the actual filming of it,” he told us.
“The wire work is not so bad,” actor Steven Strait continues. “At times it gets a little tight around places you don’t really want it to be tight around. It’s okay; it’s not a big deal. When you first try it, it’s something to get used to diving head first off of forty-foot platforms!”
Though the boys had their fun, actress Laura Ramsey got to have a more unique wire experience: “I’m training for that right now. It’s going to be shot under water. I’m going to be in the air floating and they want my clothes and hair floating, so they’re going to shoot it under water and then digitally put it in the bedroom. I’m training to use the respirator like if you went diving under water. I’ll be in a harness doing circles underwater with the wax up my nose so there are no bubbles. The other scene, when I’m in the barn floating, I’m going to be harnessed but I’m supposed to be straight across laying and it’s really hard on your back, so they made a cast of my body so I can lay straight.”
All that wire work is no doubt stressful, but flying is only a small indication of the powers of the lead characters in The Covenant, as Steve Strait details: “It is a manipulation of energy is the best way you could put it, in terms of flying and moving things and anti-gravitational stuff; it’s all energy manipulation. After they turn eighteen, if they use their power too much it can kill them. The metaphor for abusing your gift or your power could be applied to so many different things.”
Renny Harlin rounded out our brief time on set describing some of the challenges involved in making The Covenant. “One thing that is especially hard about this movie is that it is almost all nights. It’s a very kind of dark, stylized movie and almost all of it takes place at night or in rain, stuff like that. Because we wanted it to be moody and have this special visual feel to it, it required a lot more from [cinematographer] Pierre Gill, a lot more than the normal movie, which is at least half in daylight. I think we have only two scenes that take place in the daylight.”
After we wrapped up the interviews, they went back to jumping off the cliff some more, and since there was nothing new to see, we headed back for a night on the town. To be honest it was really hard to judge what kind of movie The Covenant will be based on what we saw, but the recent trailers that have appeared online give the indication that it’ll be something a bit different than the standard genre fair.