Ransom: The Making of Ransom

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"Ransom" began production in New York in January 1996, avoiding the city's snowiest winter on record by filming on sound stages in Queens, during the first two months of production. The apartment belonging to the Mullens, the well-to-do couple portrayed by Mel Gibson and Rene Russo whose child is kidnapped, was created at Kaufman Astoria Studios, while the kidnappers' lair was built at Silvercup Studios in Long Island City.

Director Ron Howard was intent upon presenting a balanced view of very different environments for the story's two "families"-the Mullens and the kidnappers. This contrast between two vastly disparate worlds, those of the "haves" and the "have-nots" that live in such close proximity in New York City, was key in designing the film.

For the Mullens' apartment, a duplex penthouse overlooking Central Park, the filmmakers opted to shoot on a sound stage rather than in a real apartment. A stage offered the advantage of being able to control the light so filming day or night scenes could be accomplished at any time. Also, a stage afforded the space in which the camera could easily move about, while walls or ceilings could be shifted in a way that would be impossible in a real home.

To create the Mullens' apartment, production designer Michael Corenblith studied floor plans of New York's pre-war luxury buildings and visited several authentic apartments on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Corenblith also had the challenge of "how to show extremely wealthy people in a very sympathetic and accessible way," he says. He therefore chose very warm tones in designing the apartment's interior, and used only natural materials in an open space filled with bright light.

For the kidnappers' Queens basement apartment, Corenblith built on another stage a cramped, dark space that expressed the kidnappers' desperate mood. "There's a strong emotional tie between these two groups of characters," Corenblith explains. "But we want to show their worlds as being as different as possible."

The apartments' exteriors, too, offer contrasting visual anchors. In Queens, we see the hulking utilitarian Triborough Bridge at the end of the street, while outside the Mullens' stands the graceful white Guggenheim Museum.

Similarly, costume designer Rita Ryack's overall concept for the design of the characters' clothes also ran along the lines of contrast between social classes. While Tom Mullen is very rich, he is also a self-made man and is therefore seen more often in casual clothes rather than in a suit. Ryack chose the simplest, most elegant silhouettes for Rene Russo's Kate Mullen character, and as the couple's situation becomes more dire, their clothing's palette darkens.

For the story's other household-that of the kidnappers-Ryack scrounged around used clothing stores in New York. "Some of what we bought was dirty and smelly and horrible," she says. "It was right off the backs of people who had donated it-used work clothes."

Ryack also stressed realism when dressing the film's other major characters. The FBI agents who move into the Mullens' household after the kidnapping, including Delroy Lindo's Agent Lonnie Hawkins, are dressed more casually than similar characters have probably been seen before in film. "There's a lot more freedom now at the FBI in the way they dress," Ryack explains.

For Gary Sinise's New York detective Jimmy Shaker, Ryack visited police stations and picked his wardrobe according to what she observed as appropriate attire.

In March, the production moved outside to film real locations in and around New York City. A scene where the Mullens attend a science fair with their son was shot at Bethesda Fountain in the middle of Central Park, where hundreds of real New York City schoolchildren played themselves and authentic science projects were used.

Another scene was shot at a working quarry in New Jersey, while the film's climactic action sequence, involving hand-to-hand combat between Tom Mullen and his nemesis in the middle of Madison Avenue, was shot entirely on location on the Upper East Side. This was the first time that ordinarily blasé New Yorkers had the opportunity to see Mel Gibson working on their streets, and hundreds lined every possible corner to watch and applaud their hero.

"I like filming here a lot," says Ron Howard, who had also shot "Night Shift," "Splash" and "The Paper" in the Big Apple. "The place has a lot of excitement, a lot of energy."

In fact early one morning, while "Ransom" was filming on the streets of Astoria, Queens, a real police chase drove right through the set. "When you're on the streets of New York there's a certain amount of rough nature to it that can help the tension of the movie," says producer Brian Grazer.

While director Howard wanted his film to be as realistic as possible, he also wanted the camera to tell the story in an unpretentious yet artful way. At producer Scott Rudin's suggestion, Howard hired cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski who had recently shot "Marvin's Room" for the producer and who was nominated for an Academy Award® for his work on "Red" in his native Poland. "It's pretty innovative the way the film is lit," Mel Gibson says. "They've created a kind of noir experience, but in color."

The camerawork that Howard favored for "Ransom" also heightened the story's suspense. "We used a lot of perspective changes and different characters' points of view," Howard says. "So the audience can always imagine themselves, somehow or another, in this predicament."

Howard feels that while "Ransom" is a departure for him in terms of subject matter, it is really quite similar to his last film, the acclaimed box office hit "Apollo 13." "Seemingly light years away, 'Ransom' is a closer cousin to 'Apollo 13' than anything else I've done in terms of trying to create for the audience a real nail-biting experience," Howard says. "I think that what really differentiates the film in the end are the twists and turns in the story, and the performances that these world-class actors have given," Howard concludes.

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