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Ender's Game Set Visit Preview
A close-up of Ender's monitor. Lift-off. Ender vs. Bonzo. A Formic ship. My eyes slid from one image to the next as I tried to take in as much as I could while waiting for our promised production art tour. We had only been on set for 5 minutes and I'd already seen enough to last a lifetime. The first part of our visit, a 1.5 hour visual treat led by producer Roberto Orci, was being held in a conference room which seemed to be used for planning; story boards from the film covered all four walls and I knew that if I had enough time I could go along on Ender's journey simply by making one lap around the room.
But I'm getting ahead of myself.
On May 22, 2012, a group of journalists, bloggers, and other online media representatives were invited to New Orleans to take a tour of the Ender's Game set, myself included. This was a huge opportunity, more than any of us dared hope for, and I spent the entire 8 hour flight nervously grinning at the stewardesses and going through the preparation materials in my head.
“Business or pleasure?” the man sitting beside me asked as I stared out the plane window at the Atlantic ocean below. After a pause, I told him the truth.
“I'm not entirely sure.”
We met in the lobby of our hotel at 8:15 Tuesday morning. After a short introductory session with Ryan Fons, our Summit contact and guardian for the day, we piled into a van and headed to the Michould Assembly Facility, the NASA complex where the majority of principal production was taking place. The ride was was filled with nervous questions: How do you pronounce Asa? Are we going to get to touch anything? Can I keep this press badge?
But the biggest questions I was secretly keeping to myself. “What if they've ruined it?” I thought. “Will I be able to continue on with Ender News if I recognize nothing from the Ender's Game I love in what I see today?”
I needn't have worried.
Production Art Tour
Unit publicist Diane Slattery greeted us at the door of the facility and took us straight inside to meet Bob Orci and begin a tour of Ender's Game production art. I could instantly tell they weren't really planning on hiding much from us; the room we sat down in was filled with concept images and early story boards, a goldmine of plot points and spoilers. If it weren't for the promise of further excitement, I think a few of us would have stayed in the room well into the evening, scribbling in our notebooks and exclaiming over our luck.
The tour felt somehow invasive: Suddenly, after many false starts and teases about a movie possibly being made, everything that had previously only existed in my head was splashed on a wall for everyone to see. But it looked good. What stuck out especially for me was that – unlike in so many big blockbuster movies today – most of the sets and scenery were not being added in during post-production but were actually built, tangible surroundings the actors (and luckily we!) could touch and interact with.
An hour and a half later, when the lights came on and Orci stood up, I was suddenly deeply aware of how much my imagination had let me down. Everything I saw in that room looked 100x more impressive than anything I'd ever come up with in my head. The Buggers? The Battle Room? Formic technology? I had not been prepared for how cool it all looked or how hard it was going to be not to share everything I knew on Ender News immediately.
Over the course of the day, we had the opportunity to speak with many of the actors and professionals involved in Ender's Game, including stunt coordinator Garrett Warren, production designers Ben Procter and Sean Haworth, and costume designer Christine Bieselin Clark -- who, by the way, has no regrets about including socks in the film. All of these people were more than kind and went into great detail about their work on the project. What we saw and heard from them was very convincing.
Here's a hint: I think they'll be able to handle the pressure.
We also spoke to director Gavin Hood who talked extensively about the challenges of adapting such a popular book to a movie. It was clear right away that he understands our concerns that a film may not do justice to Ender's story and is doing everything he can to preserve what fans love about the novel. I look forward to giving you more details about our conversation with him, as it was this part of the visit that rid me of every last fear that the source material might not be taken seriously.
Gavin Hood is a true fan of the novel and I am 100% certain this will come across on screen.
When Asa, Hailee, and Gavin were called back to set, a fleet of other Battle School students and staff flooded the room: Aramis Knight (Bean), Khylin Rhambo (Dink Meeker), Suraj Partha (Alai), Conor Carroll (Bernard), and Nonso Anozie (Dap)! We even had a surprise appearance by Stilson actor Caleb Thaggard who quietly made his way into the press conference at one point, all grins. We spent ages casually talking to them about all aspects of the movie and their various experiences: it was an hour filled with laughter, jokes, and a lot of fun.
And Pop Tarts, somehow. There was a lot of talk of Pop Tarts.
Near the end of the tour, we also found out that Sir Ben Kingsley was kind enough to free up some time to speak with us about the film and his role as Mazer Rackham. He sat down with us in full costume and make-up, calmly answering all of our questions and assuring us that the heart and soul behind Ender's Game was being faithfully preserved.
Everyone we spoke to took a lot of time out of their day to answer all our questions and a lot of what they revealed was intensely exciting. Ender News will definitely be sharing these tidbits with you when the time is right!
Filming and Set Visits
At one point, we were directed to an area of the set everyone referred to as the “video garden,” a dimly-lit area filled with monitors where actors and their family could sit and observe what was currently being filmed, and we had the cool opportunity to plug into headsets and watch Asa Butterfield and Hailee Steinfeld in action. I'd never realized how many times one scene could be shot, and how exhausting it must be when it's a scene that involves running!
Not only did we get to experience the sets via the monitors, but we also visited them in person! The most impressive areas we explored during our visit were, in my opinion, the control room on Eros and the set for the epic final scene. I would love to tell in detail about how they are going to pull this off, but we'll have to leave that for upcoming set-visit pieces. But one thing is for sure: none of you are ready for how amazing it's going to look on the big screen.
All in all my impression of the project could not be better and I'm so pleased I have had the opportunity to visit the set and report positively back to the Ender fan base. The story I have loved for over 10 years will definitely be coming to life with this movie and I can't wait for you all to experience what I saw last year in New Orleans.
Over the next couple of months leading up to the release of the film, you can expect detailed reports from Ender News about what we learned while visiting the Ender's Game set, including interviews and specifics about set and costume design.
We have so much to look forward to in the coming months, and the whole team at Ender News is very excited to share all the major revelations and small tidbits of the Ender's Game project with all of you.