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NO ESCAPE

About The Production

John Dowdle first conceived of the idea for NO ESCAPE while on a trip to Thailand with his father back in 2006. Just days before they set out for their vacation, a military coup had broken out in the country, leading John to feel understandably hesitant to travel there. Through the insistence of their dad, who maintained that the conflict was a peaceful one, they kept their plans and went on the trip. While there were tanks in the streets and a nationwide curfew was in place, the atmosphere didn't feel overtly dangerous and the trip went off without a hitch. Still, John kept wondering to himself what it would have been like if the situation hadn't turned out so well. The idea of being stuck as a foreigner in a nation wrought with conflict sounded terrifying to him; to be stuck in such turmoil with one's children, even more so.

And so when John returned home to the U.S., he pitched the idea to his brother Drew, who took to it instantly. The two were wrapping another film at the time, and the concept of NO ESCAPE immediately solved their problem of trying to figure out what they would do next. Collaborating was nothing new for them; in fact, it came easily. The had grown up together being very close in age and even sharing a room until John left for film school and Drew for business school. When they reunited post-college, both wanted to write, John wanted to direct and Drew wanted to produce. This made them, fairly quickly, a self-contained moviemaking unit. "We don't fight as much as you'd think; it's pretty harmonious in fact. It's hard to believe this is a job many days," comments John.

The brothers, who wrote the script together, came up with their first draft of the film in a quick six weeks' time. About to start pre-production on their sci-fi thriller QUARANTINE during summer 2007, which they also had written together and John was directing, they felt they had to get a screenplay in place before they became too distracted to tend to it.

They were certain of one detail: they wanted the lead character, Jack Dwyer, to be an everyman character. While it seemed easy and natural to gravitate towards a role crafted to fit a seasoned action star, Drew and John instead thought their vision for the film was rooted in the idea that Jack was someone like them, ill-equipped for the situation he and his family found themselves in. "We liked to say he's a man without a particular set of skills," explains Drew. "And we also wanted the element of having children right there in the middle of the danger. Not teenagers, but young children: the most precious cargo." The Dowdles had visited Southeast Asia with their entire family, including their sisters who were five and seven years-old at the time, many years before. In creating the plot of NO ESCAPE, they used the memory of their young siblings at the time to propel the story and emotion, picturing them in harrowing situations and letting their imaginations run wild. Their sisters, in fact, largely would inspire the characters of Lucy and Beeze-played by Sterling Jerins and Claire Geare-in the movie.

To say the film saw major hurdles in trying to survive the development process would be a vast understatement. John and Drew saw five different financiers, including one studio, come and go from the picture over a seven-year span. "It was a hard one to get made," recalls John. "The kids in peril gave a lot of people pause. We understood the tone and feel of it, but a lot of people were scared of the content until they actually saw it the way we made it."

They had gotten incredibly close to green lights on two versions prior to the one that would end up becoming the actual production, even coming within 24 hours of their flights to Thailand to start pre-production only to see the financing completely unravel on the goal line. "It was a surreal nightmare that was without question the most disappointing moment in our careers," says Drew. "Our representatives and everyone in our lives encouraged us to let it go, saying that it simply wasn't meant to be. We liked to joke that this movie was like a bad girlfriend - one that treats you terribly but for some inexplicable reason you keep coming back for more. And we did."

Despite a lengthy development process, the Dowdles were fortunate to secure commitments from great actors who they felt were perfect for the starring roles of Jack Dwyer, Annie Dwyer and Hammond: Owen Wilson, Lake Bell and Pierce Brosnan.

In regards to Wilson, he had passed their litmus test for casting the lead role with flying colors. Their criteria was two-part: people had to believe the guy was a great father, and they had to be shocked by the thought of him killing someone with his bare hands. They didn't want a performer who was highly trained or that audiences would identify as an action star. Wilson's skills as a comedian encouraged them to cast him, rather than deterred them. John explains: "My brother and I always have always admired comedic actors-if they can do comedy well, they can do anything well."

Conversely, Brosnan's background as an action star helped John and Drew mold the character of Hammond to fit him perfectly. They wanted to stay away from a total reprisal of his 007 persona however and create something for him that felt a little less polished and more roguish. "Pierce obviously has tons of action experience, and we wanted to write his character very subversively with a lot of complexity and a back story that was very mysterious," remarks Drew. The Dowdles found Brosnan's work in 2005's THE MATADOR to be brilliant and, in a way, an inspiration for this role in NO ESCAPE.

Bell's first meeting with the Dowdles happened not in person but via Skype. "All they were doing was just laughing and smiling, and they were so warm," recalls Bell. "I immediately thought to myself, 'How could such nice people write something so dark?'" Bell, who also writes and directs her own material, was also taken with the prospect of getting on board with a film that was a little different than the projects she normally takes on. "I knew this movie would challenge me in a myriad of ways because it's so consistently emotional. The stakes are so high throughout that it's like an endurance test – not just emotionally, but physically."

After years of frustrating back and forth, John and Drew walked into the offices of Bold Films with their pitch one day in March of 2013. Bold was sold on the idea after just that single meeting. They were in on location in Southeast Asia by September that year, with John to direct and Drew to take charge of producing duties alongside him.

By the time the movie was ready to be shot, John and Drew were happier than ever with how the script had come together. Of all the studio and producer notes they had addressed over the years on multiple iterations of the project, when it came time to actually make it, they'd returned to something extremely close to the very early drafts. They had been told many times that the kids needed to be older, or that maybe only having one kid in the story was necessary, or perhaps none at all. "We essentially un-developed the screenplay, and I think that made it much stronger and more pure," says Drew. One element of the screenplay that the Dowdles were insistent on sticking to was not naming the country specifically at any point. While it was originally intended to be Cambodia in early stages, they intentionally omitted it because they felt that real world shifts in politics would affect the story unnecessarily and take away from the main idea. Explains Drew: "This is a story about a family in crisis going to a country that anyone would believe is safe, where there turns out to be a swell of unrest that just happens to hit the day they get there. We always wanted to make a family drama with action elements more than we wanted to make an action film about a family."

The filmmaking team had originally loved the look and feel of Cambodia for the movie because they saw it as a country that seems safe to visit but has a distinctly older feel to it. After spending a week in Cambodia for reference, the Dowdles then embarked on a ten-day road trip throughout Thailand with a location scout and line producer. Unfortunately, shooting in Cambodia ended up not being feasible for a number of reasons. John and Drew decided they were instead meant to shoot in and around Chiang Mai, Thailand, which is the northern area of the country near the Myanmar border. The location seemed to have everything they wanted in terms of look, along with the best resources and crews in the region. They scouted locations that made the city feel less modern and less first world than Chiang Mai actually was, and in the fall of 2013 the cast and crew spent 39 days in the area filming the movie.

In order to make sure that Wilson, Bell and their on-screen daughters Jerins and Geare made for a believable family unit, the Dowdles brought them to Thailand two weeks before principal photography to rehearse and spend time together. The group even traveled to a Thai nature park to see elephants together, making them as comfortable and connected as possible given the parameters of the shoot. Capturing the emotion and intensity that Wilson and Bell's characters would feel as parents was of the utmost importance to them as actors, along with the Dowdles. Wilson, who has two sons, used his paternal instincts to inform his performance. "There are scenes in the movie where we're put into intense situations and I'm literally trying to keep my family alive," he notes. "When you're doing those scenes, you naturally think of what it would be like if your son was in that situation. You definitely draw upon those things." While Bell wasn't a mother herself at the time - she is now - the bond she formed with Jerins and Geare was all the inspiration she needed. "I'm in awe of them as young people who have a tremendous amount of access to their emotions," she notes of her on-screen children. "Frankly working with them makes it very easy to feel protective because they are something to protect."

On the messaging that he and his brother John hope audiences take from NO ESCAPE, Drew concludes: "For us, the primary theme is that of the importance and strength of family. If a family bands together and works as a unit, there's nothing they can't get through. In the beginning of our story, our lead character feels like he's let his family down and that maybe they'd be better off without him. But through the clarity of crisis, he realizes the importance of his role. This movie for us isn't about surviving a coup d'etat; it's about a family banding together to survive."

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