About The Production
Principal photography began May 25, 1999 in several small towns in California's Mojave Desert. These included
Hinkley, where the actual contamination took place; Boron, home to both the Borax mines, where NASA frequently reroutes its shuttle landings; and the Barstow courthouse, where Judge LeRoy A. Simmons, (who officiated at the real pleading and discovery for the case), came out of retirement to reinact for the movie cameras his decision, which sent the case further into the legal system.
Following location shooting in the desert, the company returned to Los Angeles for two weeks filming on practical locations in and around Los Angeles before continuing to Ventura. California where, following ten days in a residential neighborhood, the movie completed production at the Santa Ventura Studios on August 5th.
"I push for using the actual locations unless there is a compelling reason not
to, explains Soderbergh about his decision to spend a month in the California desert filming in and around the town where the contamination took place. "When I first came to Hinkley, I was struck by how a big company could overpower a small town, how easy it would be for the residents to be forgotten. You know that you're shooting things that you can t buy, that you could only get by going to the exact place."
He continues, "When we were filming the barbecue scene and the town-hall meeting, I was very concerned that the way in which we conducted ourselves was such that the extras, many of whom had been involved in the actual case, would have a good feeling about their film experience. It was important to all of us that they come away thinking that being involved in the production had been a good thing."
Behind the camera, Soderbergh enlisted the aid of many crew members with whom he had previously worked. "Putting a crew together is a lifelong
process," he explains. "You have the idea that the perfect crew is one in which
everybody is on your wavelength and likes to work the way you work. It ends up being sort of a jazz ensemble."
Director of photography Ed Lachman had previously collaborated with Soderbergh on
The Limey. The appeal for him of shooting Erin Brockovich was that, "we were going to shoot a major motion picture with an independent approach."
He continues, "Stylistically, Steven wanted to film in a point-of-view manner, and because we filmed on location, we were able to shoot it in a very naturalistic way. In several scenes, people from Hinkley who had been involved in the case worked with us as extras and secondary actors. We were able to merge a narrative based on a real story with the reality of the world that was inhabited."
To accomplish Soderbergh's particular style and look, Lachman shot quickly and often in uncontrolled situations using an off-the-cuff approach. similar to the shooting of documentaries.
According to Soderbergh. "I wanted to come up with a style that wasn't too theatrical. I wanted it not to be
glossy, not to feel prepared. I wanted situations to feel like they were caught rather than staged."
As a result, the director had two cameras running which allows for accidents to happen and to be captured on film.
"You don't have to go back and say to the cast, 'you know that great thing that happened
unexpectedly, could you do that again'?' because that can kill a performance." Soderbergh says. "Also, there is a certain energy in filming in this manner because the actors know they had better be 'on' all the time."
"We tried to minimize the technical aspect of the film making and deal more with the performance and the reality of the world these peop
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