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The Best Laid Plans
The story of Takers begins with Gabriel Casseus, an actor who had never written a screenplay before. After a night at Hollywood's fabled Mann's Chinese Theater, Casseus was struck by an inspiration. "The idea for the movie came to me complete from beginning to end,” he says. "But I didn't know how to write a script. By chance, I had read a script written by Peter Allen a couple of years earlier. I'd never met the guy, never heard of the guy before, but after I read it, I said to myself, I'm going to find this guy and I'm going to write a movie with him.” 

Casseus tracked down Allen in Los Angeles and proposed they collaborate on a screenplay about a high-tech, high-style crew of bank robbers. "He had some very specific ideas,” recalls Allen. "Gabe wanted it to be about a multiracial crew of guys who wear sharp suits and commit designer crimes, meaning they never get caught. He described the robbery that opens the film in great detail. And I said, ‘Okay, we can run with this.'”

Allen gave his partner a window into an urbane world that suited the story to a tee. "To me, Peter represents Gordon Betts, the older master thief played by Idris Elba,” says Casseus. "Peter is very old school and classy, with that sophisticated Dean Martin-Frank Sinatra mindset.”

Allen and Casseus crafted a complex narrative that gives equal time to both sides of the law, pitting the ingenious, charismatic crew against an equally cunning, unrelenting lawman. "You have to have worthy adversaries to keep things interesting,” says Allen. "Your cops are only as good as the guys they're chasing.” 

As the pair fleshed out their ideas, Casseus continued working as an actor. When he won a role in director John Luessenhop's feature debut, Lockdown, he knew he had found the perfect advocate for the project. "John and I became friends and I gave him the script,” says Casseus. "He responded to it and took it to Clint Culpepper at Screen Gems, who made it all happen.” 

With encouragement from Culpepper, Luessenhop and his partner Avery Duff polished the script. "Having someone like John Luessenhop take a pass at our script was exciting,” Casseus says. "He completely understood what we envisioned. He was always thinking about how the story could be improved. He brought an amazing sense of the visual to it.” 

Executive producer Glenn S. Gainor consulted with Luessenhop during the development process, which took a number of years. "Getting this movie made is a dream come true for John,” Gainor says. "We discussed the script for months on end. And it's a tribute to Clint Culpepper and Screen Gems that it did. It really was one of those journeys you hear about in which the script is waiting and waiting until finally, there it is.”

Luessenhop and Duff reinforced the quirky characterizations that Casseus and Allen infused in the script. "Even though it's essentially cops and robbers, John and I spent a lot of time making sure that you could empathize with everybody,” says Duff. "Every movie has a plot, but this one's got heart as well and that's what separates it from a lot of the other movies of this genre. Every one of these characters is complicated. Once the audience knows a little bit about who they are, they're more likely to think, gee, I hope he gets away. It allows you to go along on the ride with them. 

"When we started the process, we were convinced the audience would be more engrossed if they started out rooting for one side, then found themselves rooting for the other,” continues Duff. "So we began on the side of the police who are supposed to stop crime. Then it turns out that the other side is so cool, so hip, and so much fun, that we enjoy being with them. But they are on a collision course and that's really the tension of the movie.” 

The completed script is part high-concept crime caper, part character study and non-stop action. "The script is fun because it's so full,” says Luessenhop. "It is an action picture but, at the same time, there's a great deal of emotion. All good pictures, whatever the genre, should be able to tie into the humanity of the characters.”

That forced Luessenhop to divide his time between working with actors in dramatic settings and creating the more visceral spectacle of the film, a combination of tasks he relished. "It's packed with intimate personal stories mixed with tremendous action, set against the huge canvas of Los Angeles,” says the director. "I loved dealing both with the people, and these tremendous stunts and great camera work. It's thrilling when it happens in front of you, and you can say, ‘Yes, we got that!' And I got just as excited when someone like Matt Dillon hit a home run in a scene. I wanted to just jump up and hug him at the end of it.”

As a writer, Luessenhop made sure to give each of his leading actors a moment worth cheering for. "Every character has a heightened moment in the film, where they achieve something or resolve something. That's one of the things I'm most proud about the story and I think that's what attracted a lot of our actors.” 

Filling the dual roles of writer and director gave Luessenhop a distinct advantage with the cast, says producer Will Packer. "John was able to truly articulate who these characters are,” says the producer. "He has a great way with actors. On a show like this, we had a lot of testosterone—eight main male actors. So it was good to have somebody like John, who has a very calming spirit. He's even-tempered and very clear about what he wants. He talks to everybody with respect and I think they respect him because of that. And he's an extremely hard worker—the first one on set every day, the last one to leave.” 

Luessenhop credits Packer with giving him both the freedom and the support he needed to make the film he envisioned. "Will Packer added so much to this movie,” says Luessenhop. "I don't believe we ever would have achieved the cast we have without him. I was in charge of directing, and I made my own decisions, but he was always available to bounce ideas off or suggest improvements. He was always there in the trenches, trying to make the hottest movie possible.” 

Packer has a long history with Screen Gems, serving as producer for films including Stomp the Yard, Obsessed and This Christmas for the studio. But he says Takers represented a new opportunity. "As a producer, this is my first full-blown action movie. We had a lot of set pieces that had to be carefully prepared for and thought out and designed. I enjoyed overseeing a project of this size and scope for the first time.

"The audience is going to fall in love with our crew,” says Packer. "And I think they'll take this journey with them. Through triumph and failure and love gained and lost, we're with them every step of the way as they're trying to pull of this one last impossible job.” 

Luessenhop hopes audiences will walk away with an experience that transcends genre. "The thing I would be most proud of is for people to see more than karate or cars or explosions,” he says. "I hope it has some emotional resonance after the visceral component fades away.”

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