DIVERGENT Set Visit Report Part Two: the Stunts and Costumes of the Futuristic Thriller

     February 16, 2014


Summit Entertainment has big plans for the Divergent franchise.  Based on the book series by author Veronica Roth, the story takes place in a society where people are divided into factions based on their personalities.  Tris (Shailene Woodley) is a young girl who doesn’t fit into any of the pre-assigned groups and faces grave consequences due to her status as a “Divergent.” Neil Burger (Limitless) directs the futuristic thriller Divergent, which opens March 21st, but Summit is already hard at work on the sequel Insurgent, recently bringing on Robert Schwentke (Red) to take the helm.

Last Spring, Collider was invited along with a handful of other journalists to the Chicago set of Divergent.  I shared the first portion of my set visit report last fall, but with the film opening in theaters next month, it’s now time to share the rest of what I gleaned from the visit.  During my time on set, I was lucky to get a look at how Burger and the stunt coordinators were filming the train jumps from the book and discuss their approach to the fight sequences, and I also spoke to the costume designer about crafting the look of the characters.  Read the full report after the jump.

divergent-shailene-woodley-theo-jamesIf you missed Part One of my set visit coverage, click here.

As a bit of a primer for those that may be unfamiliar with the source material, the world of Divergent is divided into five factions: Abnegation (the Selfless), Dauntless (the Brave), Candor (the Honest), Amity (the Peaceful), and Erudite (the Intelligent).  Once citizens reach a certain age, they must undergo testing to determine which faction best suits them, after which they are forced to decide whether to choose a new faction or stay put.  Each faction serves its purpose, and the futuristic society functions rather smoothly as a result—or so it would appear.

During her testing, Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley) discovers that she is “Divergent,” which means she will never fit perfectly into any one group.  She is told that this is an incredibly dangerous classification, and when she discovers a conspiracy to destroy all Divergents, she must find out what makes her status so threatening.

Filming the Train Jumps and Fighting Styles

Once we left the Divergent production offices in Chicago, we were taken to an exterior location where the second unit was shooting scenes of stunt performers jumping off of trains.  One of the biggest questions I had coming into the set visit was how Neil Burger and his team planned on portraying the many train jumps and hops.  The sequences are great in the book, but I worried that the team might rely too heavily on green screen and VFX that would cheapen the effect of the Dauntless jumping from a moving vehicle.  Consequently, I was happy to see that the second unit set up involved people jumping from an actual moving train with minimal VFX.

A rooftop set was built on the ground, and a train car was pulled on a track by a truck that would run along side the “roof” at about 10 mph or so.  The stunt performers had to time their jumps perfectly, as the train car was still a good five feet away from the roof and its ledge.  On one such jump, one of the stunt actors caught his foot on the ledge and nearly fell, quite eerily bringing to mind a similar sequence from the book.

divergent-shailene-woodleyThe film’s stunt coordinator, who was directing the train jumping sequence, came over and spoke to us a bit about the violent nature of the film.  The story involves a number of fight sequences, and the film’s style draws upon a number of martial arts like Muay Thai to bring a different kind of fighting style to the screen.  Most prominent is the use of “hammer fists” in the fights, which involves using the side of one’s hand instead of the front, which heightens the risk of breaking more bones in the hand.

Costume Designs

We were then taken to the main soundstages, which are actually built inside of a giant structure that used to be a steel mill.  Our first stop was the costume department, in which we saw a couple of actors being dressed for Factionless costumes—their first fitting.  Costume designer Carlo Poggioli explained to us that he and Burger spent a considerable amount of time coming up with the right look for each faction, and during the course of development he ended up making the costumes less futuristic than initially intended.

The key word I kept hearing was “realistic,” and Poggioli told us that Burger wanted him to imagine what kinds of fabrics might be the most prevalent 150 years from now.  He said that the toughest faction to nail down was Candor, because he tried to incorporate the faction’s black and white way of thinking into the costumes.  He showed us a number of costume design sketches from early on in the development, and it was interesting to see just how many different styles were attempted for each faction—at one point he tried to incorporate a transparent, plastic-like fabric into the Candor costumes.

divergent-shailene-woodley-ansel-elgortDivergent opens in traditional theaters and IMAX on March 21st, Insurgent will hit theaters on March 20, 2015, and Allegiant is slated for release on March 18, 2016.

Catch up on the rest of my set visit coverage below:


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