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POSSESSION

About The Look
With a narrative that flows between two different eras, the filmmakers sought out a production team that would excel at depicting both.

Neil LaBute had recently worked with French-born cinematographer Jean Yves Escoffier on "Nurse Betty," and had found that "it was nice to have a film about American values filtered through somebody else's sensibility. I wanted the same for Possession: I was attracted to the idea that Jean Yves had not shot a period film, and I hadn't either, so I felt that while I had written some traditional scenes, we could shoot them in a less traditional way. Also, I do have a shorthand with him and was confident he would bring a certain vocabulary to the shoot and open up the movie visually."

To get ideas for the less traditional look for which they were searching, LaBute and Escoffier looked at a number of films dealing with roughly the same periods. Traditional costume dramas and television features (including Ken Russell's 1967 telefilm "Dante's Inferno") gave them an idea of the PreRaphaelite spirit. They also pored over photos and paintings from the U.K. and the U.S. to find the right kind of haunted images. LaBute notes, "I think that people in the present are haunted by what they discover in the past. That quality was very important for Possession — it's not a piece that depends on big crowd scenes. Most of my work has involved small groups of people and big empty spaces, and Possession is more than anything else an intimate epic, both in the Victorian and modern scenes."

Tops in their respective fields and both Academy Award winners, costume designer Jenny Beavan and production designer Luciana Arrighi formed another duo on the Possession team. Both have extensive experience recreating different periods for film. Together, they sought to find the right balance of colors and threads that transition one period into another, for characters that seem to link one story to the other, combining rather than isolating the Victorian and modern periods. Arrighi says, "For me, the most interesting part of filming Possession was the switching from past to present in the same room. So there would be certain antiques there, a little presence of time past."

Beavan's costumes reflect the difference between present and past by using clothing that reflects the characters' psyches: "Roland has a scruffy but considered look, and Maud wears clear, clean clothing. Their dress mirrors the way they think. Whilst Ash is a traditional poet, Christabel blows him away, so we used a Pre-Raphaelite influence to create her look. We found a style that was based on an ethnic/medieval robe taken from Pre-Raphaelite painters and adapted it into different fabrics for different occasions."

In post-production, another Academy Award winner, film editor Claire Simpson, collaborated with LaBute to further finesse the narrative's segues from present to past and back again. This part of the process often entailed picking up on elements of Arrighi and Beavan's work, as well as the actors'.

"One of the most satisfying aspects of the entire process was an across-the-board commitment by cast and crew to utilize our own talents rather than relying on computers to save the day," says LaBute. "We didn't want to create atmosphere or enhance shots through false means on this picture. Even when trickier moments presented themselves, such as two p

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