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A Cinderella Dream Unfolds
Telling the story of a man who really existed in a time most Americans think they know posed challenges to Howard and his team. Yet for the director and director of photography, Salvatore Totino, there lay a simple dictum. Totino relates, "Ron wanted the film to have real grit to it and real sense of life. So we were very focused on making the audience feel they are part of the fights, as well as immersed in the New York City of the 1920s and ‘30s.”

For the boxing, this meant shooting the fights utilizing an array of cameras and angles, in order to capture the intimate nature of the sport—which is essentially a two-man challenge.

The filmmakers' commitment to reality came at a price, though. The close-up intimacy of the cinematography meant that the actors and fighters had to go to the very edge of physical contact…and sometimes over it. The danger level was quite high as boxing choreographer Nick Powell notes. "When you're trying to really sell a no-holds-barred punch for multiple cameras the only way to do it is to get within a hair's breadth of the other person. 

Which means that sometimes actual contact was made,” admits Powell. "Ron called them ‘happy accidents,' because it made for such tremendous realism. It was very exciting visually—unless you were the guy on the receiving end of the punch!”

The man mostly on the receiving end turned out to be Crowe himself, whose intense commitment to the verisimilitude of the boxing sequences meant that the actor took a number of jarring blows to the head—and suffered repeated concussions and multiple cracked teeth in the process. During the fight where Braddock faces Lasky (as played by Mark Simmons), Crowe was subjected to such a powerful, direct hit that Giamatti's reaction—a look of pure horror—was reality itself. Giamatti offers, "Everyone could hear the glove connect with Russell's head and quite honestly I don't know how he continued with the fight. I fully expected him to go down.” [Both of these shots are in the final cut of the film.] Even the camera operators, especially those doing handheld work in close proximity to punches, could be in peril. The multi-camera approach also meant there were days when Howard handed his astonished editors—long-time collaborators Dan Hanley and Mike Hill— as much as 30,000 feet of footage. "They were a bit freaked out at first,” admits the director.

"We were giving them far more footage then they'd ever imagined we'd shoot, and also far more options. But they quickly developed a system for evaluating the fights and compiling the greatest moments, building the scenes from the exchanges they most loved.”

Meanwhile, as Russell Crowe was learning to box, a group of professional fighters who had been cast as his opponents—including Art Binkowski as Corn Griffin, Troy Ross as John Henry Lewis and Simmons as Art Lasky—had to learn to pull their punches. "We forbade them from doing any full contact training while we were filming,” explains boxing/stunt coordinator Steve Lucescu. "We knew that one slip could have devastating results.” Still, says Troy Ross: "Real boxers are not used to throwing fake punches so it was quite a learning process for us. You worry that if you learn to hold back too well, you might never win in the ring again!”

Perhaps the biggest difficulty in training the pro boxers in the film was getting them to simulate knockouts by Jim Braddock. No boxer wants to hit the ground willingly. "Some of these guys have never been knocked out in the ring so they sure didn't like the idea of it,” notes Lucescu. "Sometimes we had to remind them, ‘Read the script, you're going down!'” Whether it was the willingness to stand in the way of a rocketing glove or to fall to the rubber, it all added up to the authenticity Howard was seeking. Summarizes the director:

"We spent an enormous amount of time analyzing, designing and choreo


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