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The Spectacular Now; Behind the Scenes

Shailene Woodley and Miles Tenner as Aimee and Sutter in The Spectacular Now

I love going behind the scenes of movies, especially movies I love. If you read my take on The Spectacular Now, you know I'm a fan of current indie hit. Everything about the film, from the leads - Shailene Woodley and Miles Teller - to the look and feel of it, sang with authenticity. I've been curious about director James Ponsoldt's vision; and how he managed to make it come to life on screen. I found a two really informative looks online at the making of The Spectacular Now at Below the Line, The Voice of the Crew and at Filmmaker Magazine.

His Look Book

Nervous about adapting Tim Tharp's prize winning best seller, Ponsoldt's fears were allayed after reading Scott Nuestadter and Michael H. Weber's script. From there Ponsoldt layed out his own vision - including shooting in Athens, Georgia - in a 60 page 'look' book; a collection of images - art, stills from other films, examples of sets, costumes, even color preferences - used to help producers visualize where the director is going. 

"When he sat down with the producers, Ponsoldt came in with an incredibly detailed 60-page “look” book to illustrate the “hyper-personal” movie that he wanted to make. The book illustrated “exactly what the film would look and feel like, and what the film’s vocabulary would be.”
He also shared the book with his key department heads.

The Cinematographer: Jess Hall
Ponsoldt went in not knowing British cinematographer Jess Hall but knowing he wanted to shoot on 35mm film and that Hall had tons of experience with anamorpic film, and "worked really well with natural light."  As you can see ...

Jess Hall's cinematography enfuses the film with a timeless look and feel.

The quality of light, something indefinably hazy about the look, are part of what grounded the film in a almost gritty reality, and at the same gave it the 'timelessness' Ponsoldt talks about to Filmmaker -

"The director loved the “emotionality” and “texture” of the 35mm anamorphic film format, as well as the feeling of “space and scope that creates a timeless quality that doesn’t timestamp the film as right now.” 

The Production Designer: Linda Sena
The pair worked together on Ponsoldt's Smashed so they already had a good collaborative relationship in place. 

The stadium provides a remarkably romantic background; Sutter and Aimee are beautifully framed by the architecturally appealing windows by the tall slender tree trunks; highlighted softly by the glow of the stadium lighting.
 “We really share value systems,” said Ponsoldt. “It goes to honestly representing the characters and being aware of the socio-economics of the environment. All these things will affect what kind of furniture they are going to have, whether they are going to have new siding on their house, what kind of car they have. Linda is really fantastic about that. She is obsessive in the best possible way, very detail orientated and great at helping create a world.” He collaborated closely with her and the cinematographer to create the color palette, the look and the feel of the film.

The Costume Designer: Peggy Stamper 
Atlanta based Peggy Stamper did the non-costumey costumes. I'd really love to know her process; from the modestly cut yellow prom dress you see in the poster to the unflattering grey mens' cut t-shirt that a self-conscious girl like Aimee would throw on;  Stamper supported Ponsoldt's vision.

Ponsoldt told Filmmaker -
“She helped create a world for these characters that was honest, that was unpretentious, that really represented who they were, that didn’t comment on them, that didn’t make them look like little fashion plates,” noted Ponsoldt. “She was so wonderful to work with.”

Makeup:  Denise Tunnell
Judging by the no makeup look Shailene wears throughout most of the film - she gets gussied up with a bit of mascara and gloss for the prom - the makeup department's mission seems to have been let it all hang out. To the point where the actor's own eruptions were right there on screen. Exactly what Ponsoldt wanted.

It was important to Ponsoldt that Sutter and Aimee look like real kids, flaws and all.
He told the site -
"... the makeup on this movie was minimal to the point of non-existent. I mean we definitely had hair and makeup there, and they were great. But the goal really was to be an antidote to the depictions of adolescents in a lot of other films where there’s a fixation on fashion and music that really dates the films and makes the kids look like models. I told [the actors] right off the bat, there’s basically going to be no makeup. I’m casting you for who you are, your imagination, but also, the scars on your faces, your blemishes, your sweat stains — I want those to be part of the movie."

The Editor: Darren Navarro
Ponsoldt and Navarro were friends and cinematic soul mates prior to The Spectacular Now. The director has warm words for the vital partnership -
“Editors are the unsung heroes of film. They are storytellers. The best editors don’t just execute the vision of the director; they challenge the vision of the director. They bring out something that is more rich and expansive. Darrin was absolutely a collaborator helping shape the narrative of the film.”
At which point it seems appropriate to plug in the trailer and see that storytelling skill in action ... enjoy.

Ponsoldt is doing an adaptation of the musical Pippin next - WHAAAT?  Hell, who'm I kidding, I'll be watching.