The Call Set Visit Report - Part One: Writer Richard D'Ovidio on His Inspiration, Research, and More!
In August of 2012 we hit the set of the then-shooting Sony TriStar flick The Hive, now titled The Call, in Westlake, CA, to chat with the film’s writer, Richard D’Ovidio. Read on for the skinny on the suspense flick, which releases theatrically March 15.
Arriving to the set of the Brad Anderson (Session 9, The Machinist) directed feature, which stars Halle Berry and Abigail Breslin (Carrie), we found the production in full swing, shooting on location in an office building in the upscale California enclave. Set against the backdrop of a 911 call center, the flick finds Berry playing ‘Jordan’, a 911 emergency operator who must face her own fears in order to save ‘Casey’ (Breslin), a teenage girl abducted by disturbed killer ‘Michael Foster’ (actor Michael Eklund).
Erected within the extensive central lobby in the center of the two-story structure was a rather believable recreation of the City of Los Angeles’ Metropolitan Communications 911 Dispatch Center (known as ‘The Hive’), courtesy of production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone. After a brief walk of the perimeter, we were situated on the second story interior balcony of the building’s lobby in order to watch Anderson oversee a particularly long take, in which Berry’s character fielded a nearly twelve-minute call from ‘Casey’, who in narrative was trapped in the trunk of her captor’s car.
Manning call stations, twenty or so extras portraying call dispatchers (some legitimate 911 operators) buzzed about the star, as Berry interacted with not only her supervisor, actress Roma Maffia of "Nip/Tuck," but also the teenaged voice on the phone in an effort to ascertain the caller’s location (in reality, Breslin was reading against her offstage). It was a cool scene, with Berry ratcheting up D’Ovidio’s scripted tension nicely.
Retiring from the set, we sat down with D’Ovidio, whose previous horror efforts include the 2001 feature Thir13en Ghosts (which he co-penned) and the upcoming Victor Garcia-directed feature Gallows Hill, to discuss his inspiration for the The Call, his research into the source material, working with director Anderson, and more.
“My wife was listening to an NPR segment, and she heard a 911 operator talking about her job,” offered D'Ovidio of the script, which is based on an original story by him; his wife, Nicole D'Ovidio; and Jon Bokencamp, “and I thought, ‘That’s a world we’ve never seen before in a film.’ You never get to see the other side of it. [They were playing some actual calls on the news segment, and] listening to the calls, I got a chill up my spine as I envisioned what was going on [on the other end of the phone], and I thought that it would be a great world to play into.”
Sticking to the adage ‘write what you know,’ D’Ovidio did some leg work in his research, going as far as to visit the ‘MCDC’ (the Metropolitan Communications Dispatch Center) in downtown Los Angeles, and he stated of that field trip, “It was pretty amazing. The call center has bulletproof windows, and there’s a moat around the outside, and it’s designed to withstand an 8.5 earthquake. They have two backup generators. I mean, if they are down, the city is pretty much on hold. I really think the job they do is pretty important, and it just hadn’t had a light shone on it yet.”
Originally conceptualized as a television series, “The operators couldn’t be the ones kicking in doors and going out into the field,” stated the writer of The Call, “so [the concept] morphed into a movie. I thought that it would be a great place for many, many stories, but this story is the one we settled on, which extended from the [scripted] pilot and became a feature.”
As for the breadth of the script, particularly in the arc of Berry’s character, “She does stay in ‘The Hive’ until the very end, when she becomes very proactive, when she takes it onto herself to do some investigative work, using the tapes [of the calls] she took,” revealed D’Ovidio. “She listens to the calls again and starts to piece together little things she’s heard on the tapes [in order] to figure out where the girl is.”
“The story is told from her perspective, and also from Abigail’s character,” he continued. “You meet Abby on one side of the story and Halle on the other, and they converge, so every ten pages I had to take the story in another direction because it seems very repetitive and one-note [if you were to follow only one perspective], and we tried to keep the stakes high and to escalate [the tension] every ten pages. I’ve written things before with Joel Silver, and the rule is that every ten pages you either need to blow something up or to create a twist. So that was a great school for me.”
As for his decision to posit his leads as female, the writer stated, “I wanted strong women [in the roles]. If you go down to these call centers, they are [staffed by] ordinary people who are thrust into these extraordinary situations every day, and when you listen to these calls, the operators are so calm. With Halle, she was the perfect person for the role because she can be ordinary and she can be glamorous, but she does a great job at playing a call operator because when you look at her, she brings such emotion to it, and you see so much behind her eyes, that her wheels are turning, and that she can figure it out. I think it was appropriate here, since most 911 call operators are women, [to make the operator a woman, too]. I’ve [also] written a lot of male heroes, and I thought that in switching the gender, it would lend itself to female empowerment, and while I don’t want to give away the ending, I wanted the two [characters] to rise up together.”
Regarding the cast’s commitment to The Call, “Halle went down to a call center to prepare for the role, and she sat down with them to learn how they work, and she’s been fantastic,” effused the writer. “So has Abby. They’ve taken it to a whole other level. Abby just turns it on when we need it, and it’s pretty amazing to watch the takes. They are intense.”
We asked D’Ovidio of his writing process, particularly regarding his openness to collaboration.
“Halle came in with some great notes and Abigail and Michael, too, and it started to flesh things out,” he said. “I’m not one to say ‘no’ to a great suggested line of dialogue. It just makes me look better as a writer! I feel it’s a very collaborative process, and some of the happiest accidents happen when you just listen to people. When someone comes up to you and says, ‘Why don’t we do it this way?,’ I think that it’s important to listen.”
“I feel very comfortable with Brad Anderson as well,” continued D’Ovidio on working with the director, “because he is a fantastic writer, and he looks at the script from not only a directorial point of view, but from inside out, so he and I went through it page by page, and he understood the transitions and the segues, first from a writer’s perspective and then a director’s perspective.”
As for Anderson’s attachment to The Call, D’Ovidio revealed of the film’s genesis, “We had worked with Joel Schumacher, who was attached as the director for a bit, but things didn’t work out, and I was excited when Brad came on. What he has done here, with the budget he has had, is just incredible. This is the type of movie where he shines. The budget looks three times what it is, and he’s good at that. Look at Session 9, which is just a great film, [a film that] even when there’s no action, you just can’t take your eyes off the screen. And the first thing he did with The Call script was to say, ‘Let’s go through this and make sure it’s real.’ And he pulled in 911 operators as consultants and LAPD, and we went through every line and just made sure everything could happen, and that alone makes me feel better because I know, if anyone questions it, that it is real.”
Our thanks to unit publicist Tiaka Hurst, whose professionalism remains unmatched, even in the most challenging of situations.
Check back tomorrow and Wednesday for interviews with The Call’s Michael Eklund and David Otunga!
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