Reimagining A Genre
"Ron has always wanted to make a movie he could shoot quickly, in
practical locations," says Grazer. "And he has always wanted to do a
western. The Missing allowed him to accomplish both."
For the visual look of The Missing, Howard was searching for a
director of photography who could bring both scope and intimacy to the story.
Salvatore Totino had previously shot only contemporary films such as Changing
Lanes and Any Given Sunday. "And that was exactly what I wanted," says
Howard, "someone whose work was contemporary and psychologically driven.
The scariest, most suspenseful films are the ones that put the audience in the
mindset of the characters. That's what I wanted here. Salvatore did it
brilliantly in his other films, and he came up with some off-beat, arresting
images that made the audience feel they were right there with the
Totino brought an energy to his work that was critical to Howard's vision,
according to Grazer. "He is totally in love with the experience of shooting
movies and takes you as close to the experience as is humanly possible."
Totino also strove to re-imagine the genre through the use of innovative
camera angles. "I wanted to approach the western in a more unconventional
and suspenseful way because it's also a thriller," Totino says.
"Camera movement and different angles draw the audience into the film.
That's why I stayed away from standard (film) coverage and didn't rely on
over-the-shoulder shots or traditional masters. The idea was that the style
should underscore the emotions and the tension."
Totino's use of the Steadicam and, particularly, the hand-held camera also
freed him to capture nuances in the actors' performances that would heighten the
audience's empathy and give the action immediacy. "The hand-held camera is
very easy to adjust and reframe, so it allows you to be more spontaneous, like a
still photographer," Totino continues. "And Ron gave me incredible
latitude. We'd plan a shot and, a couple of takes in, I'd have an idea and start
to reframe and he'd let the scene keep playing. It was a fantastically creative
That kind of give and take in the creative process is essential to Howard's
brand of filmmaking, he says. "Giving people the freedom to explore helps
take the film further creatively. That's the alchemy of filmmaking," Howard
The rugged New Mexico locations for the film required ingenuity on the part
of Totino and his crew. One area was so muddy and remote it wouldn't support a
crane. Other locales were so rocky and uneven that any attempt to lay down
camera (dolly) tracks was impossible. In one instance, Totino mounted the camera
on a slider balanced by sticks to simulate the movement of a camera on a dolly,
the invention of his key grip Doug Cowden.
As much as it is a character-driven suspense drama, The Missing is
also the story of an arduous journey through New Mexico. "This story is a
true expedition that starts out in the high country and ends up at the Mexican
border in the high desert," says Howard. "Like the characters, we went
from snow to heat waves. That made the story palpable for audiences in grasping
the characters' transitory experience."
Mother Nature also contributed to the film's verisimilitude. Weather extremes
are part of New Mexico's tumultuous geological history, which shaped the state's
mammoth sandstone bluffs, rocky hillsides strewn with iron-rich boulders, sandy
arroyos and a collapsed volcanic crater that dips into the Jemez Mountains.
Early spring is mercurial, and during the two weeks of filming in the Valles
Caldera, ice storms and snowstorms gave way to freakishly warm temperatures,
resulting in layers of oozing mud. The weather could change from snow to clouds
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