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Stages And Screens
The filmmakers' plan for THE SPIRIT was indeed ambitious: it called for shooting the entire production using green screen technology and state-of-the art CGI programs to create a hybrid of motion picture and comic book. Miller had first been exposed to advanced digital filming techniques when he co-directed SIN CITY with Robert Rodriguez. "What's happened with computer technology and with CGI is timed perfectly for someone with my set of skills,” he acknowledges. "I tell stories with pictures. What I love about CGI in film is if I can think it, it can be there. And as much this technology speaks to the future, it also can bring back some values of the past. Not just the comic book values of the strange-looking city and the loud lighting, but also the values of classic noir. I wanted THE SPIRIT to have the starker, scarier look of those old movies.”

Del Prete carefully selected the top-flight crew that would help Miller realize his vision for THE SPIRIT. Says the producer, "We set out to find people who were very much simpatico with the concepts of the comics Frank had written. We wanted people who knew of Eisner and ‘The Spirit.' So Frank was surrounded by talented people who really were excited about working with him on this film. Every single team member was somebody who was very special.” 

That certainly describes Miller's key technical collaborators: the renowned director of photography Bill Pope, whose credits include SPIDERMAN 2 and 3, THE MATRIX trilogy and BOUND; and senior visual effects supervisor Stu Maschwitz, the founder of the innovative visual effects house the Orphanage, whose stunning work includes IRON MAN, NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM, SUPERMAN RETURNS and HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE. 

Pope jumped at the chance to join Miller for his first solo directorial outing. As he explains, "Frank Miller calls you up and says, ‘You want to do a movie?' Here's a man who's a master in another visual medium. You want to see what he does. What do you do if Julian Schnabel calls you up? You say yes.”

Maschwitz also served as the film's second unit director, and began advising Miller on the film's visual effects in pre-production. "Frank is abuzz with the energy that you feel in his artwork,” he states. "He's got a profound vision and it's amazing to see him work to bring these characters to life that he defines on the page with just a simple pose or gesture.”

THE SPIRIT began production in Albuquerque, New Mexico on October 8, 2007 and was the first feature film to be shot at the newly constructed Albuquerque Studios. Stages 7 and 8 were transformed into a huge green screen stage, a black screen stage and a stunt stage that could change from green to black. The ambitious 48-day schedule involved over a hundred actors and stunt players. 

For the actors and key technical departments, Miller created notebooks of the original Eisner stories that THE SPIRIT would draw upon. And the writer/director began each day by drawing storyboards that enabled actors and crewmembers alike to visualize the scenes they would be shooting. Comments Del Prete, "Frank made sure that all the people on this film really understood the original art, as well as his style of art. And he did create a hybrid of the two. There wasn't a day that went by that we didn't talk about Will.” 

Together, Miller, Pope and Maschwitz mapped out an adventurous visual strategy. "We decided to make THE SPIRIT even more stylized, more in line with Frank's drawings than even Rodriguez did,” Pope explains. "Stu and I were acolytes, in the sense that we understood Frank Miller and his sensibility. Our job was to translate what was in his brain, what was in his drawings, into a technical world. Frank's not a technician. What he is fantastic with, is finding that moment, that emotional beat at the core of every scene.”


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