Times of isolation can often lead people to find solace in their lives, and contend with the obstacles they’ve have to overcome. But when people are thrust into life-altering and threatening situations, when they’re left to rely on their own inner strength and agility to survive, they come to embrace the positive attributes in their lives. That’s certainly the case with the sole character in the new action drama, ‘All Is Lost,’ played by Robert Redford. Writer-director J.C. Chandor’s follow-up to his Academy Award-nominated feature film debut, 2011’s ‘Margin Call,’ explores the extreme lengths people will go to in order to protect themselves, but also reverse their wrongs towards their families.
‘All Is Lost’ begins with Redford’s nameless character, called “Our Man” in the end credits, as he leaves a message most likely intended for whatever family he has. After saying “I’m sorry,” he adds that he always tried to love, to be good, to be right and that he fought to the end.
Cutting back eight days earlier to when Our Man’s struggles first began, his 39-foot sailboat, named the Virginia Jean, has collided with a large metal ship container full of sneakers, which leaves a hole in its side that allows water to pour into the cabin. After slowly pump water out of the Virginia Jean, and manages to create a temporary patch to hold the boat together. But he realizes he has further problems when he notices his electronic equipment has been ruined. To make matters worse, a storm quickly approaches and turns the boat upside-down.
The boat’s leak reopens, forcing him to abandon his ship with limited supplies. Using a large inflatable covered raft, and manages to navigate north into the Indian Ocean shipping lane. Pointing toward the Sumatra straits, Our Man hopes to not only be spotted by a passing vessel, but to save his soul, as well.
Chandor and Redford generously took the time recently to talk about shooting ‘All Is Lost’ during a press conference following the Press and Industry screening of the drama during the 51st New York Film Festival at the Film Society of Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater. Among other things, the writer-director and actor discussed how Chandor sent Redford the script about two weeks after he finished it, and was prepared to give the acclaimed performer an in-depth presentation about the film, but Redford was already instinctively attracted to the role; how the filmmaker would yell the actor cues while they were shooting, some of which Redford didn’t even know were coming; and how Redford wasn’t given much time to prepare for the shoot, but still shot many of his own stunts.
Question (Q): What was the process of casting Robert in the film?
J.C. Chandor (JCC): I sent him the script maybe two or three weeks after I’d completed it. It’s a 31-page document in script form, and it is very much the film that you guys just saw. Obviously not a lot of dialogue, but it was very descriptive, beat by beat, scene by scene, moment by moment.
I walked into his office prepared to make a very in depth presentation about why he should do the film, and as you can probably tell, he was teasing me, “For a guy who wrote a film with no words in it, you sure talk a lot.”
Robert Redford (RR): When I met with J.C., what I think is interesting for me on a personal level, is that it was just one of those rare situations where you go on instinct. You put yourself very quickly in the hands of somebody else because you trust them. I think the word is trust.
I got the script from J.C., and it had a lot of things that I was very impressed with and attracted to-no dialogue, and it was bold. It also was detailed in a way that I felt this person really knew what they were doing, and they had a very firm grip on their vision. There was a very strong vision. So, when we met, I was already inclined. I just needed to know he wasn’t nuts.
Q: JC, what was the process of directing a movie like this, which featured non-stop action and very little dialogue?
JCC: The film’s not a silent film, but we were able to kind of act and direct it the way you would a silent film. We could yell out cues that maybe Robert didn’t even know were coming sometimes. Some of them were sounds and things that he’s constantly reacting to. Sometimes, I would yell those in, and we started to move placement around so that he wouldn’t know when some of these were coming at him.
Q: There’s a scene in which Robert’s character throws a piece of plastic into the ocean, but in real life, he’s very conscious of the environment. How did that sequence come about, and can you speak about shooting it?
JCC: We all giggled. This wonderful environmentalist man who’s done everything he can in his power to look after this planet and make us aware of what we’re doing. He cut the piece of plastic and literally throws it over his head. We all laughed, saying, “We just got Robert Redford to throw a piece of plastic into the ocean!”
Q: Did you develop a back story for the character at all?
JCC: We tried!
RR: That was another thing that attracted me to the film. It was slightly existential, which meant that you could allow space for it to be interpreted by others. An audience could come in and decide how they felt. I went through the normal motions of an actor asking a director, “What’s on your mind? Do you have anything you want to talk about in this story?” He was pretty evasive.
I thought, “Huh…” He wasn’t answering fundamental questions, which I wasn’t happy to ask anyway. I just thought I had to ask those questions. But there was a reason why he was being slightly evasive. What he had on the page was exactly what he wanted. Once I hooked into that, I liked it a lot.
Q: Robert, how did you prepare for the role?
RR: There wasn’t much preparation. I just went into it. I trusted myself in the water, although I didn’t know what was going to happen in the water-being thrown overboard and being tossed and turned and so forth. But I wasn’t afraid of that.
There wasn’t a lot of time to prepare. The other thing was that J.C. and the crew had been there, and done such a fine job of prepping for such a low budget, as it is an independent film in a sense. Having a very low budget means having very little time. They were so well-prepared that it was just a ready-to-go situation. All I had to do, which was actually helpful as the actor, was just be in it and go with what came. So, no, there was not a lot of research.
JCC: He’s being a little humble. He’s in amazing shape in his normal life, and he swims constantly. So, he came into it…it’s not like he had to train. All of that swimming, I think there is one shot in the entire film that isn’t him and that is one that is dreadfully dangerous. The stunt man probably shouldn’t even be doing it. Everything else in the water is him, and that was something that I wasn’t expecting. But he’s a wonderful swimmer and comfortable in these claustrophobic…
RR: You thought I was comfortable.
JCC: He’s a good actor! Most people would have probably excused themselves.
To watch videos of Redford and Chandor discussing ‘All Is Lost’ from the New York Film Festival press conference, watch the Part I and Part II clips on YouTube.