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SMOKIN' ACES

Production Design And Shooting
"So, in less than an hour, we're going to have anywhere from 40- to 50-odd field agents arriving in Lake Tahoe, without the slightest inkling as to why. Is that correct?” —Agent Richard Messner

On the design of Aces, executive producer Robert Graf comments, "In terms of structure, this film is like a farce. There are a number of people converging at the same place, at the same time, with people coming and going, paths crossing, elevator doors opening and closing—all in an attempt to reach the penthouse where Buddy is hiding out. There's a big gun battle, mayhem ensues, with fire, chainsaws, machetes and choreographed sequences.”

Though it sounds exhausting to map out, the designers, cinematographer, editor and assorted crew were all up to the challenge of making Carnahan's world come alive. Here's how…

Camera Work

Vital to Carnahan during production was continuous input from his crew.

Cinematographer Mauro Fiore, who first worked with the director on a short film for BMW, remarks, "If it's something inspired by the moment, there's no problem breaking whatever was talked about and letting improvisation take over. Joe is both a very visual person and a very concept-oriented person. I might have an idea about a location, and it has to make sense thematically in the script. Once we figure it out visually and thematically, we're pretty much done.”

"It's great having a collaborator like Mauro,” returns Carnahan. "He's such an intelligent, film-literate guy. We had a lot of conversations about how we wanted to shoot the characters.”

"Joe's intention is to shoot these scenes and not cut away and see the actor look like the hero just because he cuts it together in the editing room,” says Reynolds. "He leaves the camera on, just allowing the action and the emotion to unfold.”

A crucial scene between the killer Acosta and FBI Agent Carruthers, however, highlights the camera difficulties for the director that could penetrate any shoot. Shot entirely within the four walls of an elevator car, cinematographer Fiore admits of the scene, "It was very challenging. Often, you can attack a scene with two cameras in those action sequences. We weren't able to do that in those elevators, because of the mirrors everywhere.”

Adds Carnahan, "I deliberately went out of my way to storyboard that so—as Ray (Agent Carruthers) becomes suspicious of who this guy is—the shot is a two-shot, but it's his reflection that goes on infinitely as Acosta's reflection. You're looking at this money image of him on the elevator wall in front. You owe that to an audience to try to do these types of things.”

"A lot of the camera moves are long, continuous moves that make the whole story flow together,” observes SFX coordinator Larz Anderson. "It's a very effective way of telling the story. It also makes it a real challenge for us. With all these shots that have these long, intricate moves, there's not a chance to hide all your wires or your tubes— even the easier effects become much more challenging. Our wireless setup has helped us quite a bit to make some very complicated shots possible.”

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