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SEASON OF THE WITCH

About The Production
Producers Charles Roven and Alex Gartner of Atlas Entertainment have been responsible for bringing dozens of films to the screen, from high-finance crime capers (The International) and dystopian thrillers (The Dark Knight) to action comedies (Get Smart) and musical fantasies (Idlewild), but the script for Season of the Witch took them both by surprise.

The script arrived on the producers' desks with the built-in buzz that comes from winning one of the world's most prestigious writing competitions, the Nicholl Fellowship bestowed by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. Always on the lookout for an unusual story told in a unique way, the producers were hooked by the film's idea of an "all-hell-breaks-loose” supernatural action adventure played out against a painstakingly created 14th-century backdrop. "Once we read it, we couldn't get it out of our heads,” says Roven. "It's not just a period film. It's an action adventure that takes place in the period. The writer, Bragi Schut, peopled it with relatable, three-dimensional characters. So beyond its wonderful genre elements, there's more than enough meat on the bone to keep it interesting.”

Gartner adds, "Chuck and I search out scripts with original premises. The combination of elements is what set this story apart for us. Calling it ‘a supernatural thriller set in the 14th century' is saying it all in terms of the genre pitch, but there's so much more going on. It will terrify audiences, but because it has great characters, it feels completely real.

But Season of the Witch is no history lesson, notes Gartner. It's a rip-roaring adventure filled with bravura performances, exciting stunts and unforgettable vistas. "It's gorgeously realized, full of great action and downright scary,” says Gartner. An extended shoot in a little traveled part of the Austrian Alps provided the film with breathtaking, untouched backdrops and created physical conditions for the filmmakers that mirrored the characters' difficult journey.

"The extraordinarily scenic locations made it all worthwhile,” says Gartner. "There are mountains, daunting gorges and beautiful fields leading up to great cliffs. It gave us a feeling of what the world must have been like back in the 14th century with huge, open spaces, and long distances where you see nothing but nature and impressive geography.”

Experts in weaponry of the era and one of the world's top stunt coordinators collaborated on the film's battle scenes, which range from the Crusaders' epic siege of a Turkish citadel to gritty trench warfare and a startling confrontation in the soaring scriptorium (library) of a Romanesque abbey. Performers braved precarious drops of 200 feet or more to stage complex scenes involving teams of horses and painstakingly choreographed stunts, all in service to the story's ambitious scope.

After the months of physical training, onerous shooting conditions and an exhausting schedule, Nicolas Cage, who stars as Behman, is excited by the finished film's skillful mix of character study and genre thrills. "The movie is complicated and beautiful,” he says. "Dominic Sena did a remarkable job conceiving and photographing a film as original and exciting as this one. When the movie comes to the climax, you're as surprised as the characters are by what you're seeing. I think it makes for a great ride.”

Director Dominic Sena, best known for hard-edged contemporary films including Gone in Sixty Seconds, Swordfish and Kalifornia, brought an eye honed by years as a cinematographer to the film. "In his earlier films, Dom demonstrated a flair for telling a story both visually and through the characters,” says Roven. "He brought a lot to the table in terms of both script enhancements and visual language.”

As envisioned by Sena, Season of the Witch combines the authenticity of a historical epic with the drama and pacing of a contemporary supernatural action thriller, as it takes audiences into a dark and dangerous world where faith may be the only defense. The mix of intimate character-based drama and all-out genre thrills hooked Sena.

"This is about six people on a dangerous journey through rough territory, and we get to know the characters along the way,” the director says. "The story is told on a very human scale, and it touches on issues of good and evil, of religion and redemption.”

After more than 10 years in battle, Behmen, the weary ex-Crusader played by Nicolas Cage, has realized that the reasons he was sent to war are not what they appeared to be, but he finds returning home just as disheartening. "Behmen and his friend Felson think the worst is over,” says Sena. Instead, they find themselves in the middle of an epidemic that has wiped out more than half of the population. When they finally come to the cardinal's palace, that's the first vestige of civilization they have encountered. Instead of a quiet retirement, they're enlisted to take on an overwhelming task.”

Behmen and Felson, who left their mission without notice, are coerced into taking a girl believed to be a witch and the source of the Plague to a distant abbey where a ritual will be performed that will end the epidemic. "They're not sure she isn't being set-up,” says Roven. "There was a lot of belief in witches and enchantment at the time, but the trials weren't exactly fair. When they discover that this so-called witch is just a young farm girl who looks like she's been grievously mistreated, they want to make sure that she gets a fair trial.”

Schut, who also created the television series "Threshold,” was inspired to write Season of the Witch after asking his father, a history buff, what he thought was the worst time to be alive on the planet. "He told me it was probably the 14th century, during the ‘Black Death,'” Schut recalls. "By some estimates, three-quarters of the population died in the most severely affected areas.”

As Schut researched the period, he also became fascinated by the Crusaders, "knights of God” who spent years in service of the Roman Catholic Church, battling to return control of the Holy Land to Christian hands—and fill the church's coffers while doing it. He conceived a story about two weary warriors who return from the Middle East to find everything they know destroyed by a mysterious illness, a scenario that likely played out all over Europe.

"Europe was just coming out of the Dark Ages at this point,” Roven points out. "Most of the people lived in abject poverty and ignorance. When this disease came, they couldn't figure out what was causing it or how, but entire communities were being completely wiped out. As has happened throughout history, when something couldn't be explained, people became very superstitious. The cause of it was your neighbor, the farm girl down the street, the butcher, the innkeeper.”

"It takes place in a time when people believed that supernatural events were commonplace,” says Gartner. "And yet, it's filled with relatable elements in terms of what is happening in our world. The characters are questioning things that many people question today. "As a filmmaker, I always want the story to resonate with today's audience,” says Roven. "A lot of things are going on in the world today that have shaken our foundation of beliefs. When we question our beliefs and we don't have answers for things, we still have a tendency to look for scapegoats.”

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