DOWN TO EARTH
About The Production
Principal photography on the romantic comedy began, aptly enough, on Valentine's Day, 2000. From the minute the cameras rolled, the comedy was constantly evolving — material added or weeded out, and scenes fined-tuned at every opportunity.
"We were extremely fortunate to have a cast that was very funny and willing to go beyond the boundaries and give their all," says Chris Weitz. "Basically, some people are just instant offense, like Eugene Levy or Wanda Sykes, who is a hilarious stand-up comedian. We know we can just put them out there on the screen and they will be funny, and that's a great insurance to have.
The cast and crew alike embraced the creative and collaborative atmosphere on the set. "You've got to have fun every day, and we definitely did." says Rock. Adding to the sports metaphors, he said, "We were swinging hard with jokes all the time. Maybe this movie should be called a comedy romantic instead of a romantic comedy."
Filming was divided equally between New York and Toronto, with New York providing the exterior locations essential for the look and feel for the movie. "This is a New York story and it made sense to film as much of it there as possible," emphasizes Chris Weitz who, along with his brother Paul and Chris Rock, is a native New Yorker. "You can build the interior of a New York apartment on a soundstage and it will translate just fine on screen, but when you're looking to replicate the look and feel of the city's streets, only the real thing will do. There's a particular kind of energy to
filming on the streets of New York."
One of the major highlights of filming in New York was shooting key scenes at Harlem's fabled Apollo Theater. "The Apollo has just a wonderful atmosphere in which to shoot," states Paul
Weitz. "There's so much history there — Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Richard Pryor and Aretha Franklin all played there — the place is a hallowed shrine and we were honored to be able to film there."
For Rock, who has played the Apollo a number of times before, this particular occasion was a unique experience in that he was, for the first time, booed off the stage. "You know how a lot of baseball players just can't hit in Yankee Stadium? Well, Lance really sucks every time he plays the Apollo. He just freezes right up," explains Rock. "Which is not a good thing because the crowd at the Apollo is the toughest anywhere. When they like you, they're with you all the way, but when they don't, they can be vicious. It's like a gust of wind hits you from all those boos and knocks you off the stage. I had to keep telling myself it was just part of the movie."
A soundstage in Toronto provided the space for several sets including Wellington's state-of-the-art penthouse apartment, as well as the Gates of Heaven. Production designer Paul Peters and his team worked over six weeks to create the ultra modern 7,000 square foot, multi-tiered set which illustrated the sophisticated and discriminating tastes of wealthy industrialist, Charles Wellington. "The concept behind the apartment was to keep it very modern and at the cutting edge of technology," explains Peters. "Wellington is supposedly the 15th richest man in America, which is in the billionaire ranks, so nothing was too extravagant."
One of the key sets in the film was the set for Heaven. "When we were conceiving Heaven our first approach was to identify the cliches and steer clear of them. So the first thing we got rid of was dry ice. There aren't billowing clouds and shafts of light everywhere," explains Chris Weitz.
After many hours of brainstorming with Chris Rock and production designer Paul Peters, the filmmakers decided a good analogy for Heaven would be a nightclub everyone wants to get into. A very exclusive 1950's style nightclub, complete with velvet ropes, bouncers at the door and unlimited blue champagne. Jokes Chris Rock, "Heaven is a hard club to get into
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