Don't Say a Word - Making the Movie

Last Update: 24 September 2001

Gary Fleder's moving camera complements the skills of cinematographer Amir Mokri and production designer Nelson Coates. Fleder worked with both Mokri and Coates to create what the director calls a "muscular, scrappy feel," paying homage to the gritty, textured filmmaking style of the great seventies films from directors Martin Scorsese, Alan J. Pakula, John Schlesinger and William Friedkin.

"Movies have become increasingly slick and lacking in texture," Fleder observes. "I wanted to move away from this trend of slick, monochromatic settings, and move towards lots of color and contrast. My directive to Amir and to Nelson was, 'I want to see the texture of peoples' faces - of the tiles and of the paint peeling off the hospital walls. To embrace the shadows."

The use of light and shadows plays a critical role in the film, during which the story's life-and-death struggles are played out in a single day. "The light becomes like a sun dial, providing a sense the we're shifting from morning to mid-day to evening," says Fleder. "Every time Nathan enters Elisabeth's room, the shadows change angle, shape and intensity, adding to the emotions of the piece."

Mokri's lighting and Coates' designs create contrasting environments and emotions. The Conrad home is rich in light and texture and imbued with warm colors; while the harshly lit, shadowy Bridgeview Hospital, has cooler tones of blues and greens.

The Bridgeview scenes, filmed at a shuttered Toronto psychiatric hospital, were particular design favorites. "I love the shape and color of Elisabeth's holding room at Bridgeview," says Fleder. "It's sparse without being self-conscious, and the placement of the windows allows sunlight to move and play across the actors' faces."

For a Gothic sequence set on a remote New York Sound island, Coates designed a set built in a Toronto warehouse. The filmmakers trucked in more than 4,000 tons of topsoil, which they sculpted into contours, planted with 38 trees surrounded by shrubbery and girded by cement containment blocks. To lend an autumnal feel, silk leaves were individually wired to the trees. Coates also added humidity (via misters) to allow the actors' breath to be visible on the unheated set.

Against foreboding landscapes like this, Nathan Conrad wages a desperate battle against time, a young woman's horrific memories, and his daughter's kidnappers. Michael Douglas says his character's journey is one audiences won't soon forget. "When I read Andrew Klavan's book, I thought it was a thrill ride, full of great characters and non-stop suspense," he explains. "I think the film will give audiences that same kind of roller coaster ride."

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