Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) in TriStar Pictures thriller THE CALL. Photo By: Greg Gayne. Copyright: © 2013 SPWAG, All rights reserved.
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The Call (2013)
Opened: 03/15/2013 Wide
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Trailer: Click for trailers
Genre: Suspense Thriller
Rated: R for violence, disturbing content and some language.
There are 188 million 911 calls a year. This one made it personal.
When veteran 911 operator, Jordan (Halle Berry), takes a life-altering call from a teenage girl (Abigail Breslin) who has just been abducted, she realizes that she must confront a killer from her past in order to save the girl's life.
In the high-stakes, edge-of-your-seat thriller The Call, a thin thread of survival separates a teenage kidnap victim from her only hope: a compassionate, steady voice on the other end of a cell phone marshaling all the resources she can to find her.
Veteran 911 Emergency Call Center operator Jordan (Halle Berry) has the kind of job that's not for the faint of heart: navigating the public's distress in order to save lives. But when a young woman's frantic report of a prowler ends tragically, Jordan is devastated. Reassessing her life, Jordan wonders if perhaps she's experienced her last fraught-filled phone call. With a supportive cop (Morris Chestnut) for a boyfriend, maybe it's time to step back, enjoy life, and teach others the ins and outs of her high-pressure profession.
That lifeline to strangers isn't over yet, though. When average American teenager Casey (Abigail Breslin), is abducted by a serial killer (Michael Eklund), she manages to place a 911 call from the trunk of the killer's car.
Jordan, leading a group of new recruits through the massive Call Center operation, is in earshot of the call. It's an all-too familiar scenario for this experienced public servant, but before long, Casey's situation reveals itself as eerily, shockingly familiar. There's only one thing Jordan can do: take charge in a way she's never done before. She must turn Casey into a partner in helping them track down the killer, and prove that this call is Jordan's calling.
TriStar Pictures and Stage 6 Films present in association with Troika Pictures, WWE Studios and Amasia Entertainment, A Troika Pictures and WWE Studios production, The Call, starring Halle Berry (Monster's Ball, Cloud Atlas), Abigail Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine, New Year's Eve), Morris Chestnut (Identity Thief, Think Like a Man), Michael Eklund (The Divide), and Michael Imperioli ("The Sopranos"). Brad Anderson (The Machinist), directed the screenplay written by Richard D'Ovidio (Exit Wounds, Thir13en Ghosts), from a story written by Richard D'Ovidio & Nicole D'Ovidio & Jon Bokencamp (Perfect Stranger).
Jeff Graup, Michael J. Luisi, Robert L. Stein, Michael A. Helfant, and Bradley Gallo are the film's producers. William C. Gallo, Philip M. Cohen, Dale Rosenbloom and Guy J. Louthan are executive producers.
Rounding out Anderson's team are director of photography Thomas Yatsko ("Fringe"), production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone (The Expendables), film editor Avi Youabian, music by John Debney, costume designer Magali Guidasci, and casting by Sheila Jaffe and Vanessa Spencer.
Making the Call
The Call writer Richard D'Ovidio was inspired to write the script after his wife Nicole listened to a news segment on NPR (National Public Radio) about 911 call centers. Explains D'Ovidio, "I was intrigued by the story and wanted to find out more. I realized that I have never seen a movie or TV show about call centers. The public knows very little about the profession or what actually happens on a daily basis. We only hear the actual call on the news sometimes and rarely ever know who the operator is or what steps they took or what emotions they might have had at the time of the call."
D'Ovidio spent time at LA's downtown call center, sitting with operators and listening in on calls. "Every time a call came in, my stomach would drop, but they were so calm!" he says. "I didn't know what to expect next, and they were just pros. I found that they were the glue of the city. They held the police, the fire, the ambulances -- nobody moved in the city without them."
From the various true stories D'Ovidio culled, a scenario was imagined that dealt directly with a fear of the screenwriter's: claustrophobia. "I wanted to write a contained thriller, and I figured shooting in a trunk with somebody and keeping the screws tightened would be a great way to carry through the suspense."
Only later would D'Ovidio find out that his scenario was all too real. "It actually happened to a girl," he reveals. "After we had written the script, we went down [to the Call Center] and they started telling us a story about this girl that was put in the trunk of a limo, and they tried to locate her all around the city."
Needless to say, when the script fell into the hands of the producing partners at Troika Pictures, eager to find the right movie to launch their company, it was an instant hit. Says producer Robert Stein, "When I read the script, right away I thought it was a fantastic thriller, and exactly what we were looking for as our first project."
His producing partner Michael Helfant quickly recognized the powerful appeal of the story for audiences, as a chance to show 911 operators as heroes. "They serve a really critical function in our society," says Helfant. "There's a great line from the movie that says, our 911 centers have to be very secure because if they go dark, we're in trouble. I don't think there's really been a feature film that highlights the role of the 911 operator."
WWE Studios President and Producer Michael Luisi said, "I've known Robert and Michael for over twenty years, and when they approached me about partnering on this project, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity for WWE Studios. We had also just worked with D'Ovidio on another project and were confident that with the right director and cast, The Call would be something special."
Finding the right director for The Call was crucial to making the project work as something commercially viable as a nail-biting suspense movie, but authentic as a portrait of the job 911 call centers do, and anchored by great performances. Producer Bradley Gallo says all signs pointed to director Brad Anderson. "Where's the indie director who gives you the character performances, can handle the dark material, then add a commercial script so he gives you a little different version? That's what we were looking for, and Brad is perfect for that. He can go as lighthearted as Next Stop Wonderland, he has the horror of Session 9, and the character-driven The Machinist. Then we met with him, and he's kind of a serious guy, and we say, 'What's your vision of this movie?' And he comes out with exactly what he's going to do, and we were just floored. It was a done deal."
Says Brad Anderson, "I read the script, and the novelty of the story and the world it depicted attracted me to the project. 911 calls have always fascinated me. We hear the calls but never really know what goes into the call. We only get bits and pieces. This film will answer a lot of those questions."
It was also a chance to exercise skills in the suspense realm that seemed completely unique. "Most of the story takes place in the course of one day, a couple of hours. It's almost kind of a real-time type scenario and it's very contained, literally contained. I mean, much of the action occurs at the call center, and in the trunk of a car. I was sort of interested in the idea of how to tell a story, dramatically and visually and cinematically, in such a small space. It posed a lot of challenges, but that was part of the draw for me, as well."
Who's On the Call
In The Call, Jordan is a veteran 911 operator at the top of her game, but becomes involved in a 911 call gone awry. Unable to save the caller, it leaves her shattered. An emergency responder must stay in control at all times, so Jordan decides to address her shaken faith by voluntarily taking herself off the call center floor. Settled in her new position as a call center trainer, she happens to hear the call from a distressed teenager who's been kidnapped. The current training operator is struggling to manage the situation, and despite her personal struggles, Jordan knows she must step in to help. But she has to find her emotional bearings and overcome her insecurities first.
Producer Robert Stein recalls Michael Helfant's first words to him about casting the movie. "He said to me, 'Halle Berry has to star in this movie.' And you know, Michael was absolutely passionate about Halle being in the movie, and we went and started a two-year odyssey of romancing Halle to get her to come into this movie."
Berry says she quickly related to the script when she read it, as a thriller and as a character piece. "I love this genre of film," says the Academy Award®-winning actress. "I love to be a little bit scared, but also [films with] a cerebral content to it, as well. Jordan is at the top of her game. She's established in her job. She's one of the best operators in the Hive, which is what the 911 center is called in our movie. She's a happy girl, but then things happen and she starts on a different journey, a life-changing experience."
Says director Brad Anderson, "We really needed an actress with a caliber of talent that could pull off that sort of emotional rage. Halle made several visits to call centers and she was really interested in getting to know the call operators to develop her character. She was really intrigued and passionate about the process."
Berry found talking to real 911 operators an invaluable tool beyond her usual process of breaking down a character and creating her own inner life for the role. "I've always wondered who these people are and what they look like," says Berry. "And I think that's one of the elements that makes this movie interesting, because everybody says, 'Who are those people? What kind of training do they have, and how do they stay so calm under such pressure?' So it's been kind of nice to put a face to all these people that do this job."
With Halle Berry as Jordan, the filmmakers got their dreams fulfilled again when their first choice for the role of Casey, Abigail Breslin, eagerly jumped on board. "She's the right actress for the role," says Helfant. "I think audiences are going to see Abby in a way that they haven't before."
Brad Anderson says, "I met with a few actresses for the role of Casey, but when I met Abigail she was so driven to play the role. She really related to the character's helplessness and fear of small spaces."
Casey's day begins like any other as a socially outgoing teenager: a carefree trip to the mall with her friend. When the pair go their separate ways, Casey reaches her car only to be suddenly attacked, drugged, and thrown into the trunk of the assailant's vehicle. Upon regaining consciousness, she's frantic and terrified by her cramped, unfamiliar, dark surrounding. But she ultimately gains her composure enough to figure out she's in a moving car and desperately needs help. When she locates the cell phone of her friend -- inadvertently left behind at the mall and fortuitously picked up by Casey -- she takes a measure of control and calls 911.
"Casey is definitely a different character than I've played before," says Breslin, who shot to fame as the pageant-obsessed child in Little Miss Sunshine. "It's been really intense, and that's part of the reason I wanted to do it so badly, because of how much of a stretch it was."
Aside from challenges like lots of screaming, and performing tense, involved dialogue scenes into a phone, there was having to act in a car trunk. Says Breslin, "It's pretty terrifying. Weirdly enough, I didn't expect it to be so dark. Your eyes don't ever adjust to the darkness. But everybody's being very gentle about it. I'm actually in two trunks in the movie, a Camry and a Lincoln. The Lincoln is definitely a lot easier: it's larger, and a little more comfortable, but" -- she adds, laughing -- "the Camry does have a few cup holders in the trunk!"
Berry is quick to praise Breslin. "She's such a phenomenal actress," says Berry. "I watched her for three days be in the trunk of this car and just tear it up. She's emotional, imaginative, and a consummate professional. She's a walking advertisement for what an actress should be as far as her ability. I can't say enough good things about her. She's got a really bright future."
Of her onscreen savior, Breslin is equally effusive. "She's been awesome," says Breslin of Berry. "So sweet, and she's such an amazing actress, so it's such an exciting thing to be able to work with her."
With Berry and Breslin attached to the project, the filmmakers needed to cast their bad guy, which went to Michael Eklund. Anderson had recently worked with Eklund on an episode of the television series Fringe, and knew he would be the perfect fit. Says the director, "We needed someone that could carry the role of a tortured psychopath and not shy away from it. Michael has the ability of getting into the skin of characters. I knew he would be able to bring this psychotic killer to life as well as incorporate a level of empathy for the character."
Anderson thought Eklund would be perfect for the role, but needed to get filmmakers on board. Recalls Eklund, "I wanted this role, and needed to prove to the filmmakers that I was the right guy for this. I had to audition, so I basically shot a mini movie based on the character and sent it off. Six weeks later, I'm filming."
Luisi recalls of Eklund's casting, "When we started casting for The Call, Eklund was clearly perfect for the role. He had previously starred in two other films for WWE Studios and I always felt that with the right part, he would deliver a breakout performance -- and he does exactly that in The Call. "
Eklund describes the part this way: "He's a family man, well respected in his community and on the other hand, he is a tremendously troubled serial killer with a fetish. A very "upstanding" yet dark and disturbed character. I was drawn to his layers." The character is so disturbing that Eklund had to dig deep and get into the killer's state of mind. "I have a map in my mind that keeps me on track with all his emotions. It's tricky but fun."
Casting also led the filmmakers toward Morris Chestnut as Jordan's supportive police officer beau, and David Otunga as his overzealous partner in trying to help Jordan find Casey. "The Sopranos" star, Michael Imperioli was also cast, as a limo driver whose day intersects with the kidnapper's. On working with director Brad Anderson, Imperioli says, "Brad's very clear on what he wants to do. He has a very keen visual sense. I'm also amazed at how fast he's able to execute these complicated set-ups and scenes and move through them, and keep the energy up and flowing."
Breslin uses the word "awesome" to describe her director. "I love working with him," she says. "He's so specific, and knows exactly what he wants, but he lets you try things and he's very open to talk about things. He's very calm, never gets hysterical, which is really nice, to just have somebody who is really level-headed throughout the whole thing. We're doing such intense material, and it's really emotional, really heavy, and it's hard to go to some of those places emotionally. So to have a director there who is aware of that and really attentive to what everybody needs and is thinking about is awesome."
Placing the Call
Central to the effectiveness of The Call is its twofold realism: the experience Casey goes through, and the verisimilitude of the call center where Jordan works. Of the kidnapping scenes with Breslin, director Brad Anderson explains, "We literally shot her scenes in the trunk of cars, so we were able to bring the audience into her space and feel her claustrophobia and fear."
Producer Jeff Graup says, "The abduction is in real time, so we wanted it to be as real as possible, so the audience won't be taken out of the movie. We really wanted to have edge and grit to it, where the audience is feeling what Casey's feeling, which is impending doom. Brad is the perfect guy to get that mood out, because this journey is one where you want the audience to feel as uncomfortable as we were reading the script."
To that end, trunk sets were designed with removable pieces so cameras could be put where needed. A special probe lens was used so an even greater level of claustrophobic intimacy could be achieved. With realism the operative word during the shoot, Anderson aimed for a loose, hand-held style. "I'm not locking down the camera. I'm allowing the action to drive the camera as opposed to vice versa, and keeping everything spontaneous-feeling. I guess documentary-style would be the simplest way to describe the look. We're also shooting everything with a certain shutter speed that gives it a very kinetic feel, since eighty percent of the story, from the point where Abby's character is abducted, to the end, is just a continuum of amped-up suspense and drama. It just spirals into craziness, so we're trying to keep the look to match that."
With regards to the depiction of the Emergency Call Center, a busy, console-filled room called the Hive in the film, authenticity was a high priority. The filmmakers made several visits to two Los Angeles Emergency Call Centers. Says producer Bradley Gallo, "We all spent a tremendous amount of time there to make sure we got the technical aspects correct."
On capturing the real vibe of a call center, producer Jeff Graup says, "The way the 911 Center was portrayed was very important to us. A call center has never been seen on film. Everyone has either called 911 or knows someone who has, but no one really knows what it looks like or the process. We wanted to make sure that the entire set accurately reflects everything that goes on, from the calm to the stress."
Production designer Franco-Giacomo Carbone (The Expendables) replicated the call center in an existing office space in Thousand Oaks, CA, which was big enough to build the entire set, including over 12 operator stations and a phalanx of monitors, as one would see in a real call center. Eighty extras were used to give human weight to the "buzziness" of the Hive.
The company Playback Technologies was also recruited to get the on-set video playback elements of a screen-filled control room right. Says Playback Technologies president Steve Irwin, "We have a crew of guys responsible for getting the right content on the monitors. And with this large number of monitors, we try to keep them all on, and the whole room up and operating like an actual 911 center. One of our areas of responsibility is to make sure that the Arriflex high-definition cameras are able to photograph all the monitors, so color temperature, color balance, exposure, whether monitors are going to flicker when they're re-photographed, are all in control. We work with the director of photography to make sure everything looks as good as it can."
Anderson addresses the importance of the Hive set in terms of the story's emotional stakes. "It's been a challenge trying to create the scale we need for these scenes. Much of [Halle's] action is at a desk on a phone in front of a computer, but despite that, we wanted to set it in a location that, when you pull back, you realize the scope of it as opposed to just being an office space. The Hive we've created is as big as they tend to be, and has all the eye candy, as we like to say -- monitors and jumbotrons and things that help create the sense of urgency. This is our biggest location, and we wanted to get all the details right."
Not only did an actual 911 call center veteran consult on those details, the production used some real operators on the floor. "It's all driving to try and create that authenticity, that realism," says Anderson.
In the end, the filmmakers want The Call to entertain, with a story that not only pulses with excitement, but that resonates with themes of redemption and empowerment. Says producer Bradley Gallo, "Abigail's character is a goody two-shoes who doesn't really go outside the bounds of what you're supposed to do, and she has to overcome that and stand up for herself, to the point where she has to take on a killer. That transformation is an awesome theme. And Halle is playing a character who loses a girl on a call, is tortured by it, and has to get redemption through another call."
Screenwriter Richard D'Ovidio likes that the excitement of The Call is made more enriching by putting women front and center. "[Women] are always the ones being saved, and I like that the two of them save themselves and each other in the process, you know?" says D'Ovidio. "A lot of the 911 operators are women, and they're tough, they're strong, they're composed, and it's very impressive to watch."