Production Notes – “Red Eye”

Published: 2005

From director Wes Craven (the “Scream” franchise) comes “Red Eye,” a suspense thriller at 30,000 feet, starring Rachel McAdams (“The Notebook,” “Wedding Crashers”) and Cillian Murphy (“Batman Begins,” “28 Days Later”).

Lisa Reisert (Rachel McAdams) hates to fly, but the terror that awaits her on the night flight to Miami has nothing to do with a fear of flying.

Upon boarding the plane, Lisa is pleasantly surprised to find that she is seated next to Jackson (Cillian Murphy), the seemingly charming man with whom she had shared a drink—and perhaps even a brief flirtation—in the airport terminal. But moments after takeoff, Jackson drops his façade and menacingly reveals the real reason he’s on board: He is an operative in a plot to kill the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security…and Lisa is the key to its success. If she refuses to cooperate, her own father will be killed by an assassin awaiting a call from Jackson.

Trapped within the confines of a jet at 30,000 feet, Lisa has nowhere to run and no way to summon help without endangering her father, her fellow passengers and her own life. As the miles tick by, Lisa knows she is running out of time as she desperately looks for a way to thwart her ruthless captor and stop a terrible murder.

“Red Eye” is directed by Wes Craven and produced by Chris Bender and Marianne Maddalena. The executive producers are Bonnie Curtis, Jim Lemley, JC Spink and Mason Novick. The screenplay was written by Carl Ellsworth from a story by Ellsworth and Dan Foos.

Director Wes Craven, who is best known for such classic horror films as “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and the “Scream” franchise, adopted a more subtle approach to keeping audiences on the edge of their seats in his new thriller, “Red Eye.” “This is definitely not a horror film; it’s a psychological thriller,” he states. “There aren’t people being chased by a maniac with a butcher knife, and nobody wears a mask—except in the sense of presenting himself as one thing and then turning out to be something totally different. After all,” he smiles, “you never know who you are going to sit next to on a plane.”

It was that central and almost universally shared experience that first sparked the imagination of screenwriter Carl Ellsworth. “All sorts of characters come on to airplanes. Sitting there, watching them come down the aisle, we’ve all had those thoughts like, ‘What’s that guy about?’ or ‘Oh, I don’t want that person sitting next to me.’ The story originated out of that.”

Ellsworth offers that he also found inspiration in the movie “Phone Booth,” whose protagonist spends virtually the entire film trapped in the title’s set piece. “You could say that movie is a claustrophobic thriller in that there is a sniper holding a guy hostage in a phone booth.” Nevertheless, he observes, “There is still a considerable amount of space between the good guy and the bad guy. I started to think about how I could condense that space even more. Could I have my protagonist and antagonist literally trapped together, side by side, and sustain the action and suspense? With ‘Red Eye,’ I think the answer is emphatically ‘yes,’ because the tension for me is generated out of this very compelling conversation between these two individuals, Lisa and Jackson, which starts out innocently enough, but then suddenly develops into something much more sinister. I’m hoping audiences will go along for the ride—a different type of ride because it hinges on the words that pass between these two people, but a ride just the same.”

Most of that ride takes place within the confines of a plane at 30,000 feet, which executive producer Mason Novick says adds to the inherent tension. “If you’re on a plane, there’s truly nowhere to go. We didn’t have to invent a scenario for why the doors are locked or why they can’t get out for this reason or that… Lisa is stuck in that little seat with this guy who is threatening her with this horrific plot, and there is nowhere to run. It makes it very claustrophobic and ‘in your face.’”

Ellsworth notes that he also had to find a way to keep Lisa and Jackson in a virtual vacuum, even as they are surrounded by 150 fellow travelers. “You might think that with a planeload of people around her, Lisa might be able to find some help during this ordeal, but Jackson has planned for those contingencies. So even though she could theoretically scream for help, it’s just not going to happen.”

Ellsworth’s screenplay eventually came into the hands of producer Marianne Maddalena, who is a longtime associate of director Wes Craven. “I read it and I thought it was wonderful,” she states. “It was exactly what I had been looking for—a nice, tight little thriller—but at that point in time, Wes was exhausted. We were filming ‘Cursed,’ and he was planning his marriage at the same time. He was overwhelmed, so when I told him about ‘Red Eye,’ he said, ‘I can’t; I’m too busy.’ I said, ‘Just read it. You’re going to love it,’ and, just as I said, he read it and loved it.”

Craven confirms, “I am always most attracted to a project by the script, and the first time I read the script for ‘Red Eye,’ I felt it was a page-turner. It just compelled you to see what was going to happen next. You know, a director can do nothing if he doesn’t have a good script, and this screenplay by Carl Ellsworth was remarkably well constructed and very original. I felt it was a great opportunity to show my stuff in something other than a horror movie, and yet the story had all the elements for suspense and the kinds of surprises I enjoy using to keep people on the edge of their seats.”

“It was a great day when we got the phone call that Wes Craven was interested in the script,” Novick recalls. “Everyone was excited, saying, ‘This guy is a legend.’ Most of us grew up watching his movies. As soon as we heard he wanted to do it, we knew we had to make it happen. From there, everything went ahead very smoothly.”

Working on his first feature film, Ellsworth states that having Craven at the helm was “a privilege, a real dream come true. Wes brought so many things to the script that added to the scare factor. He’s just the master.”

Maddalena comments that, in addition to drawing on Craven’s gift for generating fear, “Red Eye” also tapped another of the director’s strong suits. “I thought this was a perfect movie for Wes to direct because, if you look at most of his movies, they are character-driven thrillers. They may happen to have Freddie Kruger or, say, the ghost from ‘Scream,’ but really they are about young people surviving these horrible situations and finding the strength to fight back against whatever is going on. He is really an actor’s director, and this was such a good opportunity to work with great actors in a dramatic situation. For much of the movie, it’s really just two characters together on a plane, so it was great for him to be able to concentrate on that…on performance.”

“The story of ‘Red Eye’ is built entirely around two principal characters,” Craven remarks. “Lisa is a young businesswoman who appears very much in control of her job, but she starts to reveal, in small increments, that she has a terrible secret that makes her especially vulnerable to what’s happening to her on that airplane. She hides it very well, but the man in the next seat, Jackson, is an astute judge of character. Jackson is a very interesting character because everything is cut and dried to him. If you give him a job, he’ll do it and move on without looking at the moral repercussions. He actually considers himself to be extremely honest. He just lays it out the way it is. You may not like it, but that’s how it is.”

One of today’s fastest-rising leading ladies, Rachel McAdams stars in the role of Lisa Reisert. She says that the close-quartered interplay between Lisa and Jackson was what immediately drew her to the project. “The psychological mind play between these two characters in that confined space was the element I was most attracted to in the script. It struck me as an incredible acting challenge to have to sit in one spot and be held hostage without letting anyone else know what is going on. It’s a pretty dire situation: her father’s life is at stake, her life is at stake, and if she helps Jackson carry out his plot, she is as much a murderer as he is. She has to think her way through this incredible scenario and figure out a way to save the people she loves and herself.”

McAdams notes that when we first meet Lisa, the only thing on her mind is work. “She is focused on one aspect of her life right now, which is her job. Because of the nature of her work in the hotel world, Lisa is a troubleshooter and very resourceful; she’s used to handling all kinds of problems. But in her personal life, she’s a little closed off, a little suspicious of intimacy. She is dealing with the death of her grandmother, who was kind of her mentor, and there are problems in her past that she’s still trying to come to grips with. I think she has cut herself off from the world a little bit; she’s cast her personal relationships and even her relationship with her father aside, and her work has become her life.”

That said, McAdams adds, “Her arc was very interesting to me—where Lisa starts and where she ends are two very different places, and the journey in-between is quite gripping.”

Maddalena reveals that McAdams was the only actress the filmmakers met for the role of Lisa. “She has a wonderful quality. She’s very beautiful but, at the same time, very accessible.”

Craven attests, “I had seen Rachel in ‘The Notebook’ and ‘Mean Girls,’ and knew she was actor of enormous range and great charisma—not to mention a fantastic beauty—and working with her was an enormous pleasure. She always came in totally prepared and was able to convey the deep and powerful emotions of this complex character very quickly. From the moment you see her on the screen, your eyes are just riveted on her. She’s funny, she’s vulnerable, she’s smart…she has a combination of beauty and wisdom and talent that is quite remarkable.”

Cast opposite McAdams, Irish actor Cillian Murphy adopted a flawless American accent to play an operative in a murder plot with the unfortunate name of Jackson Rippner. “There are obvious connotations about his name,” Murphy admits, “although I never really conceived of the character entirely as a good guy or a bad guy. He is very much a professional; he has been paid to get a job done. But over the course of the movie, circumstances keep changing and we see the situation slipping further out of his control. I tend to be drawn to characters who are in extreme situations where the scope of the drama is heightened, and this is definitely one of those roles. It was such an actor’s script—almost like a chamber piece with everything so contained within these two seats on a plane. I was instantly taken by it.”

Interestingly, planes were very much involved in the rather extraordinary lengths to which Murphy went to land the role of Jackson. Two days before his wedding, he flew from London to Los Angeles to meet with Wes Craven and Marianne Maddalena about the role. Appropriately enough, he read the script on the plane and the meeting took place at the airport—at Encounter, the instantly recognizable landmark restaurant at the center of LAX.
Maddalena says, “His wife-to-be was very nervous that he wouldn’t make it back in time, but it all worked out. We talked to him for about half an hour, he flew back to London and got married two days later. He was the first and last actor we met for the role. We just knew this was the guy, and he was fantastic.”

Wes Craven was also duly impressed, saying, “He had immense enthusiasm. He was bright, he was funny, and he had those blinding blue eyes. I got a sense of intelligence and intensity…and it was clear he very much wanted the part. I mean, if someone comes 5,000 miles to meet on a role, you know he’s really committed.”

Murphy offers that his commitment to the role was fostered by the opportunity to work with Wes Craven. “The script was so strong, and when you have someone like Wes Craven on board, you know you’re in good hands. He is so articulate in the language of film, particularly when it comes to building suspense. I totally trusted his judgment, especially with a character like Jackson, because you have to be careful not to give anything away too soon. At the start of the movie, he has to come across as charming and approachable; the challenge is to have that shift without attracting the attention of 150 other passengers. Wes understands the power of a look to notch things up just slightly.”

Rachel McAdams agrees. “When you have two people in one space for such a long period of time, you really have to heighten the drama. Wes can find moments—a look here, a glance there—that as an actor, you wouldn’t necessarily think are adding to the suspense. But when you get to know him, you can see his wheels turning and you know he’s using all those looks and glances to create a more intense scene.”

Despite Jackson and Lisa’s adversarial relationship, with much of “Red Eye” being a two-person drama, Craven needed his two central characters to have, what he calls, “a very complex chemistry. Jackson has to totally win Lisa over in a few short scenes. He’s charming, he’s caring and sympathetic; he makes wry, funny comments…he starts out as this great guy. Then he reveals himself to be part of this terrible plot that he’s put her in the center of.”

Rachel McAdams observes that there was a similar juxtaposition between the actor Cillian Murphy and his role. “At first glance you wouldn’t think Cillian would make a good Jackson because he’s so nice and cheerful and accommodating, but when the camera is on, he can really turn on a dime. He was very intense and focused, which was exhilarating, and a little frightening, too,” she laughs. “He was so great to work with.”

Murphy had equal praise for his co-star, saying, “Rachel is the sweetest, most generous actress I’ve ever worked with. I think she was the perfect actress to play Lisa because she is obviously talented and stunningly beautiful, but, more importantly, she’s somebody that audience members can immediately connect with. It’s so important that the audience be invested in her character, because it’s Lisa’s journey and they have to be right there with her the whole time. The range of emotions she goes through in this movie pretty much runs the gamut, and Rachel was phenomenal. She can do anything.”

The battle of wills between Lisa and Jackson is a matter of life or death to two people on the ground who have no idea of the drama mounting in the skies above them. If Lisa refuses to cooperate, her own father’s life is on the line. If she does as Jackson demands, she will be facilitating another man’s murder.

Veteran actor Brian Cox plays the role of Lisa’s father, Joe Reisert, which, Craven says, “could have been one of those thankless parts where you just see him on the telephone, but I choreographed it so that most of the time they were moving with each other—he’s kind of a mirror of Lisa, and you get an idea of where this young woman got her strength and her drive. I had seen Brian Cox’s work and knew exactly who he was and what he was capable of. He is an actor of great depth, and he gave the whole character of Joe meaning and substance.”

“My character is very much in the Hitchcockian mode because he’s so unaware of what’s going on and that there is danger all around him,” says Cox. “He might suspect that something is going on with his daughter because of losing contact with her, but he can’t really get to the bottom of it. It’s something of a departure from anything I’ve done before, but it wouldn’t have mattered what the role was like because the prime motive for me was to work with Wes Craven. Being directed by somebody of the caliber of Wes Craven allows you to do your best work. He is a great craftsman, and when you are on the set with him, you realize why he is a legend in this particular art form. It was just a delight.”

Joe Reisert could not possibly imagine that he has become the pawn in a plot to kill the powerful Deputy Director of Homeland Security, Charles Keefe. Jack Scalia, who plays Keefe, notes, “He is a high-powered, influential person, but his power goes beyond money or politics. The level of security surrounding him gives you an indication that he knows he is a target, but he doesn’t know that circumstances have put both him and his family in a very dangerous situation.”

Television fans might also recognize “Survivor” veteran Colby Donaldson, who plays Keefe’s head of security.
If Lisa agrees to Jackson’s terms to save her father’s life, she will be making her fledgling assistant manager, Cynthia, an unwitting participant in the plot to kill Keefe. Jayma Mays, who makes her feature film debut in the role of Cynthia, comments, “Cynthia goes through a pretty rough night at the hotel while Lisa is gone. She’s not stupid, but she has trouble juggling things, especially when everything is going wrong. But she sticks with it and tries to keep everything in order, and I think she surprises even herself in the end.”

Craven reveals that the character of Cynthia was tailor-made for Mays. “The role of the person manning the hotel in Lisa’s absence was only sketched out; we weren’t sure how it should be played. Then Jayma came in to read, and she had this energy and an air of innocence that made you want to hug her. She was so down-to-earth and real, just a breath of fresh air, so we cast her as Cynthia. Cynthia ends up being the point person at the hotel in Lisa’s absence and, of course, all hell breaks loose and Cynthia is right in the middle of it. She is a little bit of comic relief, but she also comes of age through it all and demonstrates her own kind of valor and grit.”

Principal photography on “Red Eye” began at Ontario International Airport, located about 60 miles east of Los Angeles. Production designer Bruce Alan Miller and his team redressed the main terminal to resemble Dallas International Airport. Given the current conditions surrounding airport security, it was almost impossible for any large airport to accommodate an entire production team for any length of time. Miller comments, “We couldn’t shoot past security checkpoints at most airports, so the logistics of dealing with this massive film company were complicated, but Ontario was able to give us the access we needed to film.”

In addition to Ontario, some filming was accomplished at the Tom Bradley Terminal at Los Angeles International Airport. The company also traveled to Miami, where “Red Eye’s” climactic chase scene was filmed at Miami International Airport.

A beautiful older house in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles became the Reisert home, where Jackson and Lisa engage in a nail-biting game of cat and mouse. Charles Keefe’s hotel room—which underwent a rather extreme makeover, courtesy of special effects supervisor Ron Bolanowski and his department—was constructed on a soundstage at Los Angeles’ Raleigh Studios.

Another soundstage at Raleigh Studios became the home of Fresh Air Flight 1019 from Dallas to Miami, where much of the drama of “Red Eye” unfolds in the close quarters of the coach section. Obviously, space constraints made it impossible to shoot on an actual plane, so Miller and his team reconfigured a rented aircraft to fit the specifications of a Boeing 767. “We looked at various airplane designs—wide bodies, long bodies, seating patterns—and decided to go with a two-three-two seating section, which is a 767. There wasn’t a 767 available to rent for this purpose, so we took pieces from different airplanes and put them together. Everything from the overhead baggage compartments to the lighting, the seats, and the galleys was refitted to look like a 767.”

The airplane mock-up could be taken apart in sections to facilitate filming. Wes Craven and his cinematographer, Robert Yeoman, employed different camera angles to intensify Lisa’s sense of entrapment. Craven expounds, “I had a crane gantry constructed along the top of the plane set so we could pull out panels and have a camera swoop down aisles and come up over people and back down. There are occasional uses of sweeping camera moves, mostly for transitional purposes, but for the most part, everything is compressed within those two seats, which contributes to the claustrophobic feeling…the pressure-cooker closeness of this man, sitting on the aisle, who has this young woman absolutely trapped against the bulkhead, both physically and psychologically.”

Executive producer Mason Novick notes, “There are several challenges that come with shooting on a plane. A four-hour flight can start to feel claustrophobic, so you can imagine what it must be like after six weeks of being in this confined space. Another big issue was, because it is on an airplane, no one is coming and going, so, in addition to the cast, we had to keep a group of about 80 extras who wore the same clothes and sat in the same seats day in and day out.”

“We all got to know one another very, very well,” Craven attests. “There were some close friendships formed: we had a group of poker buddies in one section, and there was even a couple who celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary while we were shooting. It became sort of familial in a way.”

Belying the often ominous nature of his movies, Wes Craven has a reputation for keeping the atmosphere on his sets light and fun. Producer Marianne Maddalena offers, “We’ve been told that our sets are the most fun, and I think it’s because Wes treats everybody the same. There’s no screaming or yelling, so people like him and want to do their best for him. Our philosophy is that, when we’re making a movie, we’re at work more than we are at home, and we want everyone to have a good time.”

That being said, “fun” might not have been the first word that came to mind as the cast and crew were experiencing some very realistic turbulence at the hands of Bolanowski’s special effects department. To shake up the plane and its passengers, the effects group built a hydraulic deck measuring 105 feet long and 24 feet wide. The mock-up of the 767 was built on the deck, which in turn rested on a cushion of 50 specialized air bags, each capable of lifting 8,000 pounds. Bolanowski explains, “By inflating and deflating the airbags, we could raise and lower the deck, and we had hydraulic rams connected to the sides of the platform, which could shake it to simulate turbulence.”

“Anytime I wanted to have turbulence hit the plane, they were able to rock that set from a mild bump to a wild rollercoaster ride. It was a great combination of production design and mechanical design,” Craven states.

The simulated turbulence had the desired effect on the cast. “They did a remarkable job with the hydraulics, but it could get pretty rough,” Rachel McAdams acknowledges. “It was really moving and shaking; it felt so real at times that you could feel a sense of motion sickness. But it was great because it really helped inform the character and the anxiety and terror of the situation.”

Cillian Murphy says that the terror of “Red Eye” is amplified by the fact that it touches on concerns that many of us share. “Fear of flying is such a common thing, especially in the climate in which we live now, and most people hate sitting beside strangers on a plane. I think this film taps into all those fears and anxieties…and when you have Wes Craven directing, you know you’re definitely in for something scary.”

The director, who has scared more than his share of audiences, relates, “My feeling about audiences wanting to experience fear is not that they will go to a movie to be made afraid, but that they will go to have the fears they hold inside them all the time put into a narrative that gives them some order and resolution. There is actually a lifting of fears in a scary movie. The audience may be temporarily afraid in the film, but they know in the back of their minds that it’s safe and they are surrounded by other people that are going through the same thing, so there’s a communal thing happening. ‘Red Eye’ takes these deep-set fears about traveling, about our fellow human beings, about all those types of things, and puts them into a story that gives them a resolution…an ending we can all live with.”

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