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SOURCE CODE

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Inventive visuals and imaginative realizations of technology that doesn't yet exist are becoming a trademark for filmmaker Duncan Jones. He credits his early work directing commercials for honing his ability to tell stories effectively through pictures. That experience, he says, has given him a greater appreciation of the aesthetics of each shot.

For Source Code, Jones worked with a stellar team to realize his ambitious visuals, including director of photography Don Burgess, who also served as cinematographer for Forrest Gump, Spiderman and Castaway, among many other well-regarded films. "Our experiences have been completely different,” says Jones. "He has masses of experience in film, whereas I have a limited amount. What I do have from working in commercials is the understanding that there are requirements above and beyond your own creative vision for things. But I think we both found ourselves surprised by the challenges involved in this film's limited settings.”

Jones worked closely with production designer Barry Chusid to create the various sets. "Barry and I talked for a long time about how to get the most out of our designs,” says Jones. "We needed three separate, specially designed environments: the train environment, the pod and the laboratory where Goodwin and Rutledge are based.”

Chusid has successfully brought film worlds to reality that range from a Revolutionary War-era farm (The Patriot) to an apocalyptic near future (2012) and a fantasy underworld of vampires and their slayers (Blade). He says he approaches all of his creations, however exotic or unfamiliar, from a practical point of view.

In this case, he started with a simple fact: they needed a train. "Well, what exactly is the train?” he asks. "Is it a modern train? A period train? European trains look too modern, but some of the older trains that are in use in America look too old. We didn't want it to seem like he was traveling to the future or to the past.”

Their first decision was whether to use an existing train, or to build one from scratch. But the filmmakers quickly decided that they would have to contain the environment on a stage to maintain the continuity of what both the passengers and audience could see outside the train windows.

The inspiration for the train they built came from a very realistic proposition. "We came up with the idea that the Metro train in Chicago got TARP money,” Chusid says. "If they got X amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars per car, what would they do? That was our jumping-off point. It would honor the Metro train in Chicago, but it would be our version of it.”

The train car was constructed to be easily disassembled, to facilitate camera placement and allow virtually unlimited movement. "It is like a Lego,” says Chusid. "It comes apart in a million different pieces so you can shoot from every angle. All the heights and the widths and the proportions were adjusted to make them appropriate for our purposes.”

The car became one of the primary settings for the film, standing in for different parts of the train throughout the shoot. "It was a beautiful thing,” says Jones. "And it was a bit of a monster. While it made much more sense to build something this versatile, the set imposed its style on us. But we went with it, and eventually it became very organic and natural to work with.”

The train was assembled atop a large gimbal, a device that allowed the filmmaker replicate the movement of train along the tracks. Every time the train moved, the exterior had to be carefully matched to the angle from which the scene was shot. "Everything that you see outside of the windows is green screen,” says Jones. "Our visual effects supervisor Louie Morin went to Chicago and shot all the footage. We needed to be able to fill in the green screens no matter what angle our camera was shooting. There was an awful lot of working out what we were going to do in advance to make sure that what he shot out the windows would match the environment on the train.”

The lab environment where Goodwin and Rutledge are based is a prime example of the way Jones and his team used images to tell the story in the film. "Everything in the lab set was designed to support the narrative,” says Chusid. "We brainstormed ideas for telling the story of the source code program visually within that environment. There are clues everywhere you look. Goodwin spends all of her time sitting in one spot. If you were able to scan all 360 degrees of the room from Goodwin's point of view, you would see the story of what's been happening to Colter. Over the course of the movie, we reveal it little by little, as the pieces of the puzzle start to come together.”

The pod that enables Colter to cross time and space gave the filmmakers the most creative freedom. "It's very minimally described in the script, so we had a great deal of leeway as far as what we could do with it,” says Jones. "It's a strange environment and it's probably the one where we had the most opportunity for artistic interpretation.

"One of my fears when I was reading the script is how do we keep this interesting?” he says. "You can't have a guy in a box the whole time. We came up with a space like a helicopter cockpit. The difference is that it changes subtly over the course of the film to reflect Colter's emotional states.”

In the end of, all of the decisions Duncan and Chusid made for the film were based in the emotional and physical reality of the Source Code story. "Duncan and I didn't spend a lot of time talking about the science fiction part of the movie,” Chusid says. "We are both very pragmatic guys, so we just thought about the practical issues.”

And by doing that, says Jones, they were able to keep the film's technological inventions in the realm of the possible, allowing the human story to remain front and center. "The story ultimately is about relationships and about how people bond. That's where I wanted to keep the focus. And as long as it flows, as long as there's continuity and logic, that will be what the audience is left with. It's about Colter and Christina, and Colter and Goodwin. All the rest of it is important in relation to that.”

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