A massive Brinks truck careens around a corner in LA’s fashion district, destroying the quiet of the mid-January afternoon. The armored car accelerates to full speed, blasting through a floor-to-ceiling sheet glass window and into the center of a bank. Wood, plaster and shards of glass spray across the floor. As the dust settles, writer/director Andrew Niccol (Gattaca, Lord of War) yells, “Cut!” Later in the afternoon, Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried pull open the bank’s vault and pass out strange silver rectangles embedded with digital clocks to a swarming crowd of extras. Timberlake yells, encouraging the mob to act quickly, but take as much time as they need. Welcome to the world of In Time.
While visiting the set of the film, which hits theaters October 28, I got to participate in group interviews with Niccol, producer Eric Newman, Timberlake and Seyfried, learn about the film’s unique high-concept, and watch nine-time Oscar nominated cinematographer, Roger Deakins, as he shot his first film on digital. Read on for a write up of the set visit and the 20 things to know about the film.
- This is Niccol’s third science fiction noir following Gattica and SimOne.
- According to Timberlake and Seyfried, there is more running in this film than any other movies they have ever seen except for Run Lola, Run and Forrest Gump.
- Timberlake describes the shoot as the most difficult job he has ever had. It was more physically draining than world tours.
- Though you can live forever in this world, people can still die from normal means. Heart attacks, car crashes and murder still exist. One key quote from the film is, “The poor die and the rich don’t really live.”
- The concept of saving time permeates deeply into the costume design of the film. For example, people in the poor parts of the world use Velcro instead of laces on their shoes.
- Previous titles for the movie include I’m.Mortal, and Now.
- Niccol says that though the film is not explicitly set in Los Angeles, the fact that it shot there is thematically important because it is a city of youth.
- There was some resistance to casting Timberlake because of icon status, but Niccol decided that by setting the film in the future, it stripped the baggage of his star persona.
- Newman describes the look of the film as, “Futuristic-retro” and compares it to Brazil and Time Bandits.
- Murphy plays a member of a futuristic police force called the Time Keepers.
- The majority of the effects and stunts in the film were achieved practically with digital used to extend sets and alter the skyline.
- Niccol wore almost a uniform to work every day of the shoot. Newman described it as looking like, “A fascist policeman.” During a scene featuring many of the Time Keepers, Niccol would stand in the center of the group to discuss the scene. His normal dress fit right in with their costumes.
- This is Deakins’ first film to be shot digitally. He used the the ARRI Alexa camera. Early world is that he will use the same system for James Bond 23.
- This will be the fifth film commercially released in the US to use the Alexa after Prom, Final Destination 5, Spy Kids 4 and Drive. Martin Scorsese used it with a 3D rig to shoot Hugo, Paul W.S. Anderson did the same for The Three Musketeers. Lars Von-Trier’s Meloncholia, and Joss Whedon’s The Avengers also employed the Alexa. The first film shot with the system was Ronald Emmerich’s Anonymous.
- The Alexa allows for real time, or near real time play back of color-timed video on large color calibrated monitors.
- Seyfried’s character doesn’t show up until the midpoint of the film.
- Seyfried’s character initially becomes a bank robber to get back at her father. She’s only stealing time that belongs to him, but as the plot unfolds she finds herself involved in a larger cause, which Newman describes as, “Redistribution of wealth.”
- Wilde plays Timberlake’s mother in the film even though she is three years younger than him in real life.
- Four of this film’s cast members previously worked together on Alpha Dog (Timberlake, Seyfried, Wilde and Kartheiser).
- Refreshingly, neither Timberlake, nor Seyfried reported any interest in a sequel or discussion of it during production of the film.
In Time, which also stars Cillian Murphy (28 Days Later), Alex Pettyfer (I am Number 4), Olivia Wilde (Tron: Legacy) and Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men, Angel), is the fourth film by Niccol. As with his previous efforts, Gattaca and SimOne it is a sci-fi noir with an extremely high concept at its’ center.
“I think of it as the bastard child of Gattaca because at the time I thought the holy grail of genetic engineering, of course, is to find the aging gene and switch it off,” Said Niccol. “But then the implications are so huge that I thought, ‘that’s another movie.’ And it turns out, it has become another movie.”
The film is set in a near-future world where technology has stopped aging dead in its’ tracks. Everyone gets to be young forever, at least everyone who can afford it. The ultra-rich enjoy a life of leisure, spending their days in bodies that will remain in peak form for eternity. Meanwhile, the poor subsist in a permanent state of servitude, literally living paycheck to paycheck.
“I think if you go away from the present then it’s easier to say something because people think, ‘Oh, it’s not really about me now,’” Said Niccol. “But of course it is.”
In this world there is no money, no debit, no credit, just time. A cup of coffee is four minutes, a steak dinner might cost an hour or two, and that flashy sports car? It could shave years off your life. The specter of death hovers in the form of a digital readout implanted into the forearm of every man, woman and child on the planet, informing them of exactly how much time they have left to live.
“[The digital readout works] Through the electricity in your pulse,” said Niccol. “So it’s the natural electricity in your body and it’s in every cell of your body. So that it’s not as if you can cut your clock off. And it’s like a device, because you would not know the time anymore. It would be hell for you. You’d just constantly have to replenish your time like I have to fill up my car because I have a car with a bad gas gauge.”
Timberlake stars as a member of the underclass who is gifted over a century of time moments before his mysterious benefactor commits suicide. When the authorities come to believe that Timberlake robbed and murdered the man, he becomes public enemy number one.
While on the run, Timberlake takes Seyfried, a child of privilege, as his hostage. As Seyfried discovers the deeply corrupt nature of this seemingly utopian world she turns from hostage to cohort, helping Timberlake in his quest to prove his innocence.
“[My character] just wants adventures,” said Seyfried. “She’s young and she’s got no one around to share the same feelings with and her dad is overly controlling. And basically she just wants to get out. And she sees this guy coming from – she doesn’t know where he’s from – but he seems like trouble, in a good way. And then all of a sudden she has no choice, because he takes her hostage. And I think at first it’s really scary, because this is not how she would have gone about getting out of her life. But at the same time, she’s exhilarated by the danger and the experience and also the possibilities.”
“It just goes from moment to moment to moment,” Said Timberlake. “Which I thought was appropriate because it is a story about how time is constantly slipping away.”
In Time is more than a bit of an outlier. Films like The Matrix, Minority Report and The Day After Tomorrow have trained modern audiences to expect one of two approaches to science fiction: it’s either something to be taken with absolutely no humor, or it’s a shallow excuse for big explosions. In contrast, Niccol’s film recalls an earlier time when sci-fi stories could discuss heavy modern issues with a slightly absurdist tone.
“The movie is going to open up with me waking up and walking into the kitchen,” said Timberlake. “And any other movie you see where I and Olivia Wilde are the first two actors you see, you go, ‘Oh, they’re together.’ But I walk into the kitchen and I say, ‘Good morning, Mom.’ So I’m sure it will be a shock for many audiences.”
“It’s kind of a futuristic-retro,” said Newman. “There’s a tradition of that. That’s what Terry Gilliam always does, this kind of high-tech low-tech world of Brazil or Time Bandits or whatever it is.”
And though it requires a willful suspension of disbelief, there is something sublime about a film that builds an entire world out of literal takes on abstract language. What is that digital readout glowing on Timberlake’s forearm if not a biological clock? They say too much red meat shortens your life; here it does that literally. You go to the bank to save time and if you’re convicted of a crime, you don’t serve hard time, they simply deduct it from your account. If you screw up at work and lose your job, your boss just might kill you. Some people even have all the time in the world.
And, just like The Twilight Zone, one look at the trailer proves just how unnerving such a seemingly broad concept can be.
“I think it’s the most sort of literal demonstration of living in the moment,” said Niccol. I kind of like that I can tell that story.”
For more on In Time: