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JOHN WICK

Out of Exile
Filmed in New York City and nearby Rockland County, John Wick captures some of the area's most iconic landmarks and locations, from the idealized pastoral vistas of John's marital home to the cavernous concrete canyons of Manhattan. The settings, say the filmmakers, are meant to be familiar, yet not of this world and, perhaps, not quite like any world audiences have seen before.

"This movie has real style," says producer Basil Iwanyk. "There is an intensity to the visuals that is based on some of the iconic conventions of the graphic novel."

The filmmakers invented two separate and contrasting worlds for John Wick. First, there is the very private, rural world of John's life with Helen. "That is very organic and warm; very cinema verite real," says Leitch. "Once he crosses back over, he enters the hyper-real world of the assassins, where the situations are heightened and the characters are a little over the top. Everything in that world is pushed a bit."

Production Designer Dan Leigh jokes that there were not two worlds, but two of everything on John Wick. "There were always a couple of opinions," he says. "I approached the story as more of a fable, which ties into the graphic-novel idea. The visual manifestation of that is something that transcends reality. The light is a little bit different. There's texture in the air. There are unexpected objects everywhere."

"Derek doesn't provide a lot of details about the world, which is one of the things we liked about it," says Leitch. "He provides plenty of clues, but there's still so much mystery."

The clues include gold coins that serve as currency and the exclusive institutions that shelter the assassins and their assets. "We've constructed a very specific, interesting, well-rounded world," says Iwanyk. "Everyone wears a suit. Everyone looks sharp."

It's a world that takes patience and cunning to gain entry into. "Most of it is never seen by other people," says Nyqvist. "It exists not just in New York but also in Rome or Paris, wherever you go. It has different rules than the regular world. You have to know who is who to get in, and once you are there, it's like a very brutal chess game. This world is very hard and very strict. It's a life-or-death commitment."

The hub of the New York underworld is the aforementioned Continental, an uber-stylish hotel and bar. "The Continental is the meeting place for all the high-end bad guys," says Stahelski. "It is the Switzerland of the movie. You go there to make your contacts and your deals. Anything off those sacred grounds is fair game, but when you are at the Continental, you behave."

The strict formality of the underworld appealed to Reeves. "Everyone is really sophisticated. We deal in gold coins. Ian McShane's character, Winston, runs the Continental Hotel and speakeasy where the assassins go to relax. It's a very tasteful safe house. The whole world has romance and civilization."

The Continental is not a hotel that can be found in tourist guidebooks. Production Designer Leigh had to construct the elegant hostelry from several sources. "We had to put together different elements that added up to what Chad and David envisioned," he says. "They wanted the exterior to look like the Flatiron Building, the iconic three-sided building on Fifth Avenue. We found a similar facade for the exterior and we didn't have to do much to it. Inside was a different story. We used a classic early-1920s art-deco lobby and updated it with different kinds of textures and patterns and lighting that are very contemporary. The result is a very stylized idea of a lobby, as opposed to something that's completely realistic."

Every visual element was selected with the utmost care, according to Leitch. "We are trying to create an entire world by choosing the right costumes, choosing the right hair-in really making things feel a little off."

Working with Director of Photography Jonathan Sela, the filmmakers developed a signature style that depends on the scope and depth of anamorphic widescreen to create larger-than-life panoramas. "Using the anamorphic format helped us find the right feeling for both worlds," explains Leitch. "In the more organic early world, we have beautiful landscapes on these epic frames. In the assassin world, we created great flares and sprawling city views. We didn't do any of the things we normally do cinematically. There aren't a lot of fast cuts. We didn't use a long lens or a shaky cam and there are more long takes. Because Keanu could do the stunt work himself, we didn't have to try to hide stunt doubles."

Stahelski and Leitch took an active role in developing a hybrid fighting style for Reeves' character that involves martial arts and gun work, working with 87eleven's top stunt coordinators. "It's something we don't think people have seen before," says Iwanyk. "We like to call it 'gun fu'."

As skilled as Reeves is, the training for John Wick was among the most intensive Stahelski and Leitch have ever implemented. "On a movie this size and shot in this way, we had to be able to change things as we went along," explains Stahelski. "It was essential for him to be proficient in a variety of techniques. He spent four solid months getting in shape, learning judo and jiujitsu. We wanted to use practical grappling martial arts and mix in guns, so we created a new style of close-quarter combat."

Playing an assassin opened up an enormous toolbox for Reeves to reach into. "In terms of weapons, I had the chance to work with tactical pistols and long guns," the actor says. "The action sequences are really ambitious. Chad created longer, mise-en-scène scenarios instead of using just quick cuts, which I was really excited about. The choreography became very complicated. It's bang, bang, bang and then throw someone, stab them-all sorts of fun stuff. I also did some stunt driving with the wonderful and amazing Jeremy Fry. I got to slide a car around and do some drifting."

The training took place in 87Eleven's dedicated training facility. "There are weights, wires, weapons, green screens and trampolines for training," Reeves says. "It's a dojo of action design."

The actor's commitment to training was awe-inspiring, says Iwanyk. "Without question he was more committed to physical training for the movie than any actor on any movie I've ever worked on," the producer adds. "He started months before shooting began, five days a week, eight hours a day. He carved out his entire summer to become John Wick."

When shooting finally began, New York City provided a dramatic backdrop for the high-style, big-action story. "We always knew this movie had to take place in New York," says Iwanyk. "Manhattan just naturally feels hyper-real. The buildings, the architecture, the scale of everything and the variety all worked for us."

"New York is an important element in the underground experience," adds Reeves. "There's something gothic about the city, mysterious and beautiful. We found locations that are hyper-New York because of the framing, the lens and the color."

Similarly, when John transforms back to John Wick, the visuals lead the way. His sharp black suit is the first signifier of his return. "If we speak about John Wick's suit, we have to speak about our Costume Designer, Luca Mosca," says Reeves. "He gave the clothing so much subtle meaning. All the different shades of black that Luca used gave it a lot of overtones. It's funereal and it's priestly. It's also very chic, but it doesn't call attention to itself. When I put the suit on, it definitely affects me."

Mosca brought an inspired touch to the elegance and sophistication the filmmakers asked him to incorporate in his designs. "People in this movie dress extraordinarily well," the designer says. "It's a little bit of a fantasy world, visually speaking, with beautiful homes, extreme money, sophisticated objects and fine art. I had to make a statement with every character.

"For John Wick, we needed to find him a sort of uniform to be worn almost throughout the entire movie," Mosca continues. "Then we had to tailor it perfectly and make it sleek and timeless enough to fit into this perfect world."

Looking back on the experience of directing John Wick, director Stahelski says, "Making a movie is actually fairly easy. Making a good one is much harder. It was a huge learning experience and I'm very proud of it. We stretched our schedule to the absolute limits. We fought for what we believed in, and chose to make a story-driven, character-driven action movie. That's why I chose to do it. This was an opportunity to do something that wasn't just about cars, explosions, fire and fights. Yes, John fights; yes, he shoots guns; and he drives a car very fast, but the focus was always trying to do something cinematically different."

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