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LIMITLESS

The Worlds Of Eddie Morra
At his first meeting with the producers of Limitless, Neil Burger laid out his ambitious vision for the film. "The first element for me is the performance,” he says. "How do we connect emotionally to the characters that guide us through the movie? Working with actors is one of the real pleasures of my job. As in my other movies, the goal is to get great and different performances out of the actors. In this case it was to shape Bradley Cooper's role through all the phases of his wild journey and support that performance visually.

"Eddie does some very suspect things over the course of the story but I wanted the audience to be completely with him and always on his side,” the director continues. "Bradley has a winning personality—we love the guy—so that was half the battle. Then it was just a matter of subtle details in the performance and in the way we shot it to draw the audience in and make them feel complicit in his choices”.

Burger established different visual and performance languages for each phase of the story to give the audience the feeling of being inside Eddie's head. "It's one look when he's regular Eddie,” explains the director. "It's another when he's coming on to the drug; a third when he's on it and another when he's off it. Each phase has a particular color palette, camera movement, design concept and acting style. I wanted the audience to always feel what he was feeling, to be zooming along with him.

"The visual effects were another component,” Burger continues. ”How does he process information when he's on the drug? How does someone with extraordinary abilities sort through the noise and distractions of contemporary life and pull out the key and information? How do we show that so the audience gets some insight into the workings of his supercharged mind?”

Burger devised a number of techniques and strategies to achieve his goal. "I used methods I hadn't seen before to give the film an almost hand-made feel rather than a digital one,” he says. "And I wanted them to feel organic to his character, to have an emotional connection to him. I studied fractals, which is a self-replicating kind of design. I came up with a 360-degree vision to reflect his abilty to see everything from every perspective, and invented a visual method for showing how he remembers everything he's ever seen and heard. I wanted everything to have an intensity that reflects Eddie's experience, but also retain a certain whimsy. There's a dark humor throughout the film that is there in the visuals as well.”

Working closely with his creative team, the director developed the different looks for the film, reflecting both the squalor of Eddie's pre-NZT days and the bright and shiny new life he finds through the drug. "When we first meet him, he's an ordinary guy who's failing,” says Burger. "He's living in New York, he's got no money and it's a pretty crummy life. I wanted to show even that in a new way, to make it beautiful in its own way, but with the edge and energy he's experiencing.

"The design of the film, the camera movement, the composition, all needed to support the performance,” he says. "They needed to express Eddie's state of mind. As you watch the movie, you can't really put your finger on it, but you feel it. When he's not on NZT, everything's gritty and harsh and unpleasant. When he's on that drug, everything flows effortlessly.”

Burger and director of photography Jo Willems built different visual vocabularies for Eddie's two states of mind. "We shot ‘regular' Eddie with a hand-held camera and longer lens,” says Willems. "It's raw and it's messy, so it's not always pretty. The lighting is a little dirty. We didn't want to make him look too good.”

With the drug, Eddie undergoes a complete transformation. "He feels like he's in total control, so the camera is much more controlled,” says the Belgian cinematographer. "The visuals are much more polished. The lighting is softer. We used wider lenses, and it's all a bit more precise. It's as if we're inside his head. Because we were developing a character in a visual way, we weren't afraid to be very subjective with the imagery and pull the audience in.”

Burger and Willems also developed some ingenious and surprisingly simple ways to communicate the effects of NZT. "Neil is so strong visually, he didn't need to use a lot of effects,” says Kroopf. "The ones he did use are done in a different style than people are used to. They are very evocative and emotional, as opposed to technical. They're all about how the world is perceived in a different way when you're on this drug, so they have a very visceral quality.”

For example, to demonstrate Eddie's rapid assimilation of all the information around him, Burger and Willems created the illusion of 360-degree vision. "The cameras were ganged together to show 360 degrees of his perception squeezed into our film frame,” says Burger. "I like the idea of it metaphorically. He can see everything, as if he has eyes in the back of his head. It creates a very surreal, intense image.

"I wasn't trying to come up with the newest visual effect,” says Burger. "I was trying to invent techniques that felt expressive of Eddie. Sometimes that meant a very simple in-camera effect, other times we did invent new looks. The point was to direct it, from performance to visuals, in such a way that you know what it feels like for him.

Production designer Patrizia van Brandenstein collaborated with Burger to create the contrasting physical environments. "From the beginning, Neil had a very strong vision,” says Von Brandenstein. "I think his work has shown him to be a very visually oriented filmmaker. The key word was always ‘underscore.' We wanted to support the story, not overwhelm it.

"The film has enormous contrast and emotional moods,” she adds. "Eddie's journey takes him from the bottom to the top. We question his reasons for making the journey and we question his reasons for wanting to stay there. But in the end, I think we have enormous sympathy for him. The moral choices our hero makes are very interesting in the modern world.”

For Eddie's Chinatown tenement, van Brandenstein uses a murky palette of tertiary colors that contrasted sharply with the primary reds and yellows of local street life. When his world changes, so do the colors surrounding him. "We see what an opportunist he is and how amoral his choices actually are. That's reflected by the coolness of modernist sensibility, with washed out blues, extremely pale greens and a great deal of gray. New York architecture is essentially the gray of slate, granite and steel, which is a very cool tone.”

Limitless was shot on location in New York City and Philadelphia. Burger, who lives in New York, put together a binder full of reference photos that represented his ideas on how to use his hometown as a backdrop. With only two weeks to shoot in the city, the shoot took on a rough and tumble atmosphere. "You can try to control everything in a movie and that can be great,” the director points out. "But it can also kill the energy of the surrounding environment. We just let the street be what it is, with people passing by. Bradley Cooper would cross streets in the middle of the block, as you do when you're in New York. We had a very small crew following him, trying to keep it as real as possible.”

Filming at as many as six locations a day, the crew tried to keep a low profile. "We would just send them off to shoot as much as they could,” says Kroopf. "And it really worked out. It has

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