35 Things to Know About THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS: CITY OF BONES From Our Set Visit

     February 14, 2013


Valentine Morgenstern (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is holding Clary Fray (Lily Collins) down on a long wooden table.  He’s angry, and getting more frustrated with each passing second.  Standing close by is Jace Wayland (Jamie Campbell Bower), who is covered in tattoos, and he looks concerned.  After some time passes, Valentine screams “I want my cup!” A second later, he slams Clary’s head onto the table and turns around and hits Jace.  Immediately Jace says, “you said you wouldn’t hurt her!” and then grabs a long wooden staff to go in for the attack.  A second later, I hear director Harald Zwart call cut.

But let me back up a second.

About four months ago, I got to visit the set of The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones with a few other reporters when the production was filming in Toronto.  While on set I participated in group interviews with the cast and filmmakers, watched a few scenes get filmed, and saw firsthand how Cassandre Clare’s extremely popular young adult series was being brought to life.  And from what I saw on set, if you’re a fan of the series, I think you’re going to be extremely happy.  Hit the jump for more.

Before going any further, if you aren’t familiar with The Mortal Instruments, I suggest reading the official synopsis and watching the first trailer:

The Mortal Instruments is a series of six young adult fantasy books written by Cassandra Clare. In the series’ first book, the #1 New York Times bestseller The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones, set in contemporary New York City, a seemingly ordinary teenager, Clary Fray, discovers she is the descendant of a line of Shadowhunters, a secret cadre of young half-angel warriors locked in an ancient battle to protect our world from demons. After the disappearance of her mother, Clary must join forces with a group of Shadowhunters, who introduce her to a dangerous alternate New York called Downworld, filled with demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other deadly creatures.


the-mortal-instruments-lily-collinsWhile I’ve been on a lot of set visits, one of the things that always impresses me is when a production is willing to show visiting journalists footage.  Because while you can say and do all the right things, what it really comes down to is…does the movie look cool?

Since we were there on day 40 of 55, the production had tons of footage and they showed us a 5-minute sizzle reel.  While I won’t be specific regarding what we saw (although a lot of it is in the trailer), what really impressed me was how good it looked without any visual effects.  The reason for this was director Harald Zwart.  We were told that Zwart wanted to do as much as possible “in camera,” and that meant building big practical sets and making them come to life on soundstages.  While many movies rely on green screen and CGI, if you can do it in camera, it will always look better.  Also, by doing it in camera, if you need to add visual effects, they will always look better because the background is real.

Another thing that impressed me about the footage and the sets was the attention to detail.  It seemed like the production had spent the time making the sets feel lived in.  And as we walked around the library and Clary’s apartment, it looked like they had spent some real money to make everything believable.  Honestly, the production looked and felt a lot bigger than I expected.

the-mortal-instruments-lily-collins-jamie-campbell-bowerAfter walking through the sets and watching them film the scene that I mentioned in the intro, we were able to speak with the filmmakers and cast.  Since I know a lot of you just want to know the highlights, I’ve listed the “35 Things to Know About the Film.”

However, I know a lot of you will want to read or listen to the complete interviews, so at the bottom of this article are links to everything.

35 Things to Know About The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones

Harald Zwart:

  • Zwart wanted to ground the material by taking Cassandra’s magical ideas and almost scientifically explain them.
  • Zwart wanted to ensure that the film has emotional closure rather than just having the ending set up the next book/film.
  • Zwart thought of the film as more of an Amadeus than a monster movie in terms of his visual approach.
  • Zwart consults with Cassandra Clare when he gets stuck, asking her to write new pages when he wants a different solution to how to accomplish things.

the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-lily-collins-2Cassandre Clare:

  • The City of Bones underground city set incorporates thousands of different models of skulls of different ages.
  • Clare’s books were originally optioned by Michael Lynne and Bob Shaye, who executive produced the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
  • Clare became close with the casting director, which led to her becoming more involved with the creative decision-making, even though writers are usually out of the loop.
  • Clare wanted actors that “embodied the spirit or captured the essence of the character” rather than an exact match to their physical descriptions.
  • Clare stipulated that, since the character of Magnus is Asian in her books, a person of Asian descent must be cast in the role.
  • Fans of the book will be happy to hear that only some of the backstory has been lost in the adaptation, as Clare fought to keep all of the important scenes from the book in the movie.
  • Clare says that they were lucky to get Lily Collins, who is a fan of the books and brings a “grounded relatability to that character.”
  • The chemistry between Jamie Campbell Bower and Lily Collins made Clare so happy she cried.
  • The fanbase has had a significant amount of input into the film’s creative process since the producers took in-depth looks at fan art to get a handle on the visualization of the world.
  • The protagonist, Clary, is older in the movie than in the books, but her exact age is never mentioned.

the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-5Producers Don Carmody and Robert Kulzer:

  • Warner Bros. originally had the rights to The Mortal Instruments.  Kulzer speculates that they were looking for the next Harry Potter, but had trouble with the female lead character and eventually let the property go.   Kulzer grabbed the rights and took the movie to Sony.
  • The producers had trouble finding a “great, successful director” because of the young adult adaptation stigma.  But Zwart, fresh off the $350 million success of The Karate Kid, came in and wowed Kulzer with a “whole pile of boards” and a very specific vision for the film.
  • They cast Collins when she was lesser known.  But delayed production made it easier to sell to financiers when Mirror, Mirror came out and they could say, “Look, there’s a fifty foot billboard and there’s Julia Roberts and there’s Lily Collins and she’s the lead in my movie.”
  • In the book, Clary is 15.  She is older in the movie because they wanted to target more of an adult audience.
  • Kulzer colorfully explains that they aged the character partly because “if you have a 15-year-old go oh my God I want to have sex with this guy, you go to jail.”
  • the-mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-castKulzer says, “The most loyal audiences right now are the young girls.”  He believes the studio system hasn’t embraced the female audience as much as they ought to.  Carmody and Kulzer seek out “strong, independent female characters,” as seen in Resident Evil movies and Silent Hill.
  • Author Cassandra Clare was very involved in the process of deciding what scenes would make it into the movie and what should be cut for time.
  • Here’s how Kulzer describes the many tone shifts: “It is epic, it is action, it is sci-fi.  It plays a little juvenile in certain parts, you know, where it has the Simon turning into a rat or the vampire bikes.”
  • There are six books in the series now, so the producers do have one eye on the franchise.  Because the Twilight and Harry Potter stars are now multimillionaires, it makes it harder to negotiate even with relative unknowns to lock them in to long-term deals.

mortal-instruments-jared-harris-lily-collinsLily Collins:

  • Collins didn’t meet the author until a few days before filming began.
  • The Institute set is exactly as Collins envisioned it in her head, and she got emotional the first time she saw it.
  • When Collins did her first screen test with Jamie Campbell Bower, she turned to the producers and said “That’s Jace.”
  • The filmmaking process on-set was very collaborative with the actors, as Zwart invited input from the actors regarding changes to their characters.
  • The script went through many changes since it was first written two years before filming began. The first drafts were more romantic, whereas subsequent drafts amped up the action/adventure aspect.

mortal-instruments-city-of-bones-lily-collins-jamie-campbell-bowerJamie Campbell Bower:

  • When Bower was first approached about the film, he didn’t know that it was a possible franchise.
  • Bower started training three months before filming begin. He didn’t want the character to look like a jock, he wanted to have more of a rock star build that was super lean.
  • Bower read the online reactions early on, and it made him want to prove to the fans of the books that he’s the right person to play Jace.

jared-harris-mortal-instruments-city-of-bonesJared Harris:

  • Harris says the role of Hodge appealed to him as a fun character.  Plus, he likes that there is a bit of Fringe in the story:  “There’s parallel worlds, there’s worlds going on next to each other, and this shadow world exists alongside the world that we live in and that we can see.”
  • Because Hodge used to be a Shadowhunter, he has a neck tattoo.  Harris wore the neck tattoo off set occasionally—his girlfriend is a fan.
  • Harris is heavily made up, with a prosthetic scar and a white wig.  He joked, “Which is a bit shocking. You look in the mirror and you see what you might be like a couple years from now.”
  • Harris says they take Hodge’s “moral conundrum” further in the movie than in the book.  He knows the difference between right and wrong, but he also act “purely to get his own ass out of the situation that he’s stuck in.”
  • Harris like the thrill of acting out a fight scene with Robert Maillet—whom he describes as “a fucking enormous man”—because he recognizes that he’d “crumble” if the man actually connected.

For more from our Mortal Instruments set visit:

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