I AM NUMBER FOUR Set Visit; Director D.J. Caruso’s Next Film Starring Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, and Dianna Agron

     October 11, 2010

Alex Pettyfer is freaking out.  He’s just discovered he can shoot light from his hands and it looks like he has flashlights shooting out from inside his skin.  He’s sitting in a small janitor closet in a High School hallway and I’m standing very close to director D.J. Caruso (Eagle Eye, Disturbia).  We’re all looking at the monitors.  Timothy Olyphant, who plays Pettyfer’s guardian, walks into the closet shortly after Pettyfer and he’s telling him to relax.  As Olyphant gets him to calm down, the light emitting from his hands starts to dim until it finally goes away.  While the effect is being done practically, it looks real on the monitor.  I’m impressed.  I watch take after take of Olyphant and Pettyfer trying to get it right.

But let me back up a second.

At the beginning of July, I got to visit the Pittsburgh set of DreamWorks upcoming sci-fi action-thriller I Am Number Four.  Since we’ve covered the film extensively while casting was underway, I’d like to think most of you are familiar with the project.  But don’t worry, after the jump I’ll tell all you newbies about the movie and also recap my two nights on set.  As Dianna Agron said during her interview, “It’s Rebel Without a Cause…with aliens.”  Curious?  Hit the jump:

Before we get started, DreamWorks has released a teaser trailer and you should watch that first.  While studios often release teaser trailers that are very close to a real trailer, what you’re about to watch is a great example of how to tease an audience:

See what I mean?

Before we get into what it was like on set and what I got to see, a bit on I Am Number Four.  The movie stars Alex Pettyfer, Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand, Callan McAuliffe, and Jake Abel and it’s being produced by Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg.  As I already said, behind the camera is D.J. Caruso and the script was written by Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and Marti Noxon.  It’s based on the book with the same name.

While I hate having to try and teach you some terms from the I Am Number Four universe, there are a few  things you kind of have to know before getting started:

— Lorien is a planet.

— The Lorien Guard sent nine children to Earth to protect them.

— People are trying to kill the kids.  They being chased by Mogadorians.  Kevin Durand plays the leader of the group trying to kill thm. The Mogadorians are a group trying to take over the galaxy.

— The Loriens on Earth have powers.  They’re called Legacies. Powers include invisibility, being able to shoot beams of light from your hands, and many others.  As you get older, you get more Legacies.  No one knows how many Legacies you might eventually get.

— You can only kill the Loriens in order.  There are 9 of them on Earth. That is why the Mogadorians are after Alex Pettyfer…it’s because he is #4 and the first three have already been killed.

— Every Lorien on Earth has a Sepan (a guardian). Sepan’s are like Navy Special Forces.  They can kick plenty of ass, but they don’t have any super powers (Legacies).  Timothy Olyphant plays Alex Pettyfer’s Sepan.

While I know that’s a lot to take in…all you really need to know is a group of aliens have landed on Earth.  They’re trying to survive.  People are after them.  The one that’s being targeted currently goes to High School in Ohio.  He’s recently met a girl.  All he wants is to fit in and to stop moving around.  Just as he finally gets happy, he starts to get his powers (legacies) and the Mogadorians have finally found him.  This is I Am Number Four.

As some of you might know, the movie is based on the book.  The plan is for a series of books to be released, and it’s pretty obvious DreamWorks is hoping this first movie is a big hit so they can make more of them.

However, when we spoke to D.J. Caruso on set, he told us some things were changed in the movie because the book wasn’t finished when they started on the production.  That, and movies always change certain aspects of a book to help tell the story on screen.  One of the big differences was what Alex Pettyfer’s character knows.  As Caruso said:

One of the differences is that in the book, he knows everything. In the movie, he figures it out about three-quarters of the way through.

Caruso also told us:

In the book, you’ll get a lot more of the history of Lorien and where he came from. In the screenplay, we deal with it on kind of a level where there’s a lot of mystery, so I think God willing Movie 2 is going to be the second half of this book in a weird way, because there’s a lot more of the history of where he came from and how he got there. I was more interested in him trying to figure out who he was. Who he wants to be and who he ultimately is are two different people and I think that was sort of the dramatic conflict that I liked. This is a kid who really thinks he wants to stay in a small town and fall in love with this girl but at the same time, his destiny and what he’s supposed to do are not going to allow him to do that.

While on set, I was also able to participate in a roundtable interview with Alex Pettyfer.  While he was trying to not reveal too much about what happens in the film, here’s a choice section of what he told us about his character and the movie:

I’m not an American little shit, which I am in Beastly. Johnny’s like this James Dean, Rebel Without a Cause, doesn’t really know his identity. It’s a really amazing movie ‘cause you’ve got all this action-packed stuff that kids are gonna love. I think every kid at 14, 15, 16, 17, maybe even now are always trying to find an identity and who we are as people. That’s what this movie’s about. John goes through this weird stage in his life where he doesn’t know who he is. He fits in in Florida, at the beginning of the movie, then in Paradise, Ohio, falls in love with a girl, then finally figures out who he’s meant to be, that’s a warrior. That’s just so cool, to have so many different dynamics to the same character is amazing to play around with. All I can say is it’s James Dean meets Jackie Chan in Rush Hour!

Also, while his character starts the film not knowing about the world he originally came from, Pettyfer revealed:

I think it slowly reveals itself as the movie goes on. I can’t give away too much, obviously, but there’s a few surprises for him that brings him back to a past life, which is what it is a past life because he’s from another planet. That kinda triggers these little motives in him that begin him to become this warrior.

When we spoke to Timothy Olyphant on set, we asked him if his relationship with Pettyfer is more of a father/son relationship or more like a brother:

It’s a little big of all of those things you know.  All those things wrapped up into one, there is a father son relationship, there is – although it is not easy because I don’t think Henri is that accessible to John as John would like, there is also a bit of a coach, teacher student that kind of thing, which I really like as well, it is like a father/coach situation which is a tough situation when your Dad is your coach, but that is the fun of it.

When we spoke to Teresa Palmer, one of the things she was very happy to tell us was how different this role was for her when compared to The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  She said:

In Sorcerer’s Apprentice all the guys get the action. All the guys are involved in the magic and I played the love interest. She’s the damsel in distress. So this is the total polar opposite of that because I’m the one heavily involved in all the action and doing all the martial arts and sword work and shooting the guns. So I get to have all the action fun in this film.

She went on to say that her character is more of a mystery in the beginning of the film, but by the end, she’ll be kicking a ton of ass:

I’m still more heavily in the film towards the end but you do see her popping in and out of the film. She’s very mysterious at first you don’t really know who she is or what side she’s on. You can’t tell if she’s one of the good guys or the bad guys.

On the training, Palmer told us:

I’ve done about a week’s worth of training for tonight’s specific scene. Tonight’s not as sword work, it’s just her reveal and you see her shooting a couple guns, and this is the first time you see her invisibility, the Legacy that she has. So I’ve been doing wire work for that basically. I’ll be on the ground and in a harness and attached to a wire and have to fly up and shoot the gun and it takes a little while to get used to that and make sure you’re in the right body positions. Even now I’m still learning on set. For the last half an hour they’ve been trying to teach me to roll on the hard ground. Because I have a tendency to really commit to it and get into it and I’ll throw myself into the roll, and they said, “You know there are no pads here. You really have to lower yourself into it otherwise you’re going to get concussed.” So we’ll see how it goes.

For full interviews with the cast, at the bottom of the article are links to the interviews, with more coming in the next few days.   But let’s get back to the set visit….

While most set visits take place on just one day, due to Timothy Olyphant not being on set the day we were scheduled to be there, I went straight from the airport to the soundstage so I could watch Olyphant work and also talk to him.

As I started to say in the opening paragraph, I got to see a scene that takes place in a hallway in the High School where Alex Pettyfer’s goes to school.  It’s also the same hallway I watched getting destroyed the next night…but that’s getting a bit ahead in the story.

While Olyphant comes across as serious and intense on screen (and sometimes in person), what I found fascinating was watching the way he works between takes.  As you might imagine, every actor gets ready differently, but I’ve never seen an actor joking around with people and having full conversations and then suddenly stopping those talks as he walks into frame and then delivers a line perfectly.  It was like he was standing off frame getting ready to say that one thing…but in actuality he was joking around the second before.  He didn’t do that on every take…but it happened a lot.

Another thing that struck me about the hallway I was standing in was how real it looked. The walls were covered with posters for dances and school spirit, and lockers were all over the place.  I definitely felt they were filming in a real High School.  In fact, if someone had bet me if we were standing in a real school, I would have taken the bet.  And lost.

What I didn’t see when walking in was I was standing on a large soundstage.  The reason…I was a bit tired. Due to taking a long flight to get to set and how I didn’t arrive until after midnight, I didn’t notice the building was a soundstage because as I approached, it looked like a long High School.  And as you walked in from the outside, you were almost immediately in the hallway of the school, so it threw me off.  Congrats to whoever build the set…you got me.

Due to the late arrival, I only spent a few hours on set.  I watched a number of takes of the same scene with D.J. Caruso working off an iPad.  He had all his storyboards and the script on his iPad, and I can tell you since the device got released, everyone on movie sets has one.

Between takes I got to speak with Alex Pettyfer when he was sitting in his chair.  Unlike some stars that stay in their trailer between takes, or distance themselves from people, Pettyfer was happy to chill out on set and we spent at least twenty minutes talking about Zack Snyder’s Watchmen and other movies he liked.  It wasn’t an interview, as I didn’t have a recorder out, it was just a get to know you conversation.  I’ve done a lot of set visits and it’s rare to have that kind of time with the lead actor and just talk for fun.

After talking with D.J. Caruso (off the record) and watching a few more takes, I left set to get some sleep.  Also, since I was coming back the next day, I figured no reason to pull an all nighter.

Since the production was on a night schedule, we didn’t arrive on set the following day until almost 5pm.  We started by sitting down with director D.J. Caruso and we actually spoke to him in his trailer.  While he was incredibly busy, he spoke to us for almost thirty minutes and was candid about how he got involved in the project and how his movie would be different from the book.  He also why they didn’t make it in 3D, revealed the budget was around 50 something million (at the time), talked about the movies he watched to prepare to make I Am Number Four, and a lot more.  The interview link is at the bottom and I really think it’s worth your time to read.

After the interview ended, we walked over to the soundstage and conducted a ton of interviews with the cast.  In between interviews and craft service snacks, we were able to watch a few scenes get filmed.  However, since the scenes are towards the end of the film, I’ll try and keep it very brief.

The scenes we got to watch included Alex Pettyfer and Dianna Agron trying to escape from some Mogadorian soldiers in the hallways of their High School.  The soldiers were wearing all black and they also had on some extremely high shoes.  I think the shoes added 6 to 10 inches to their height, which is going to make them look towering on screen.   Since the scene involved Pettyfer and Agron running, they were forced to shoot it again and again so they could hit some exact marks.  I believe they shot it five times.  Another reason they had to film it a number of times is while they were running, the camera was dollying back, so both the crew and the actors had to hit their marks at the same time.  Even though it’s a pain in the ass to get it right, when you see it on screen, it’ll look great.

On top of that scene, we saw Teresa Palmer wearing a really great outfit (pictured below) getting ready to slide across the floor and kick some ass.  From what I could tell, this was the scene where Teresa Palmer reveals who she is and what she can do.  For the scene with Palmer, they blew up a wall, which we got to see.  It was loud enough where most of the crew wore earplugs.  Since explosions are expensive and take a lot of time to reset, they filmed the scene with three cameras in an attempt to get it right. I think when you see it on screen, it’s going to look very cool.

While we were going to wait awhile so we could see Palmer fire off some rounds on a gun, with how late it was getting, we left set.

Final Thoughts

While I sometimes get nervous when as an audience member I have to learn a lot of names and technical terms to understand a movie (Lorien, Lorien Guard, Mogadorians, Sepan, Legacies) I really think director D.J. Caruso has a handle on the material and he isn’t going to make us feel overwhelmed while watching I Am Number Four in theaters.  I also think the film is going to take the Joseph Campbell hero storyline and offer a new twist that should make it a fun ride.

The fact is, I’m a big  fan of D.J. Caruso, Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg.  With those three names involved in a project, I’m always optimistic.

I Am Number Four gets released February 18, 2011.  I’d imagine the full trailer will be released very soon.

For more coverage from our set visit:

Director D.J. Caruso On Set Interview I Am Number Four

Alex Pettyfer On Set Interview I Am Number Four

Teresa Palmer On Set Interview I Am Number Four

Dianna Agron On Set Interview I Am Number Four

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