"Flight," which Paramount Pictures will release Nov. 2 with hopes for both solid box office and Academy Awards attention, was made with a production budget of $31 million. That's a relatively small amount for such a film, something that was made possible partially by Zemeckis' digital know-how.
"The only movies worth doing are the ones that are risky," says Zemeckis. "This isn't risky in the budgetary sense, it's risky in whether the audience appreciate the roughness of it."
That "Flight" stars one of the few truly bankable, bona fide movie stars in Washington helps. The movie's poster boasts the handsome visage of the actor in a pilot uniform, surely an attractive fit for a star who has already known the distinctive look of a submarine commander, a train engineer and a Union soldier.
Simply the experience of being in a flight simulator aided Washington in finding his way into Whitaker.
"Just getting into the cockpit, it was like, 'Wow. I'm not going to fly, but I feel like a pilot,'" says Washington.
The actor has little interest in detailing his process, which he self-deprecatingly says "is just acting. Really, it's not that hard." But Washington, a renowned hard worker, concedes: "You do the homework. ... We should all be that way."
Zemeckis calls Washington's performance "breathtaking" and "up there with the greats."
"There's no fooling around," the director says of Washington. "He is very serious and he does massive amounts of work, and I don't quite know the process because it's none of my business. He writes in rehearsal. I'll be saying something, he'll be writing. Another actor will be saying something, he'll be writing."
Zemeckis still believes in motion-capture filmmaking, though the last attempt was a historic flop, Disney's "Mars Needs Moms." Zemeckis produced that film, after which his planned motion-capture remake of the Beatles' "The Yellow Submarine" was canceled. The future of moviemaking, he says, will be a "digital stew" of "moving digital images."
He'll sometimes catch his older films on cable TV and think: "Eh, it's pretty good stuff." Zemeckis would like to see "Flight" with such distance, but, even now, he feels satisfied.
"I like it now," he says with the kind of contentment of one who seldom allows it for himself. "I see the flaws, naturally, but I like it now."
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