Originally, the action-thriller “Homefront” was set in Minnesota. When Chuck Logan’s novel was adapted for the screen, the setting was swapped for an unnamed Southern town. But when director Gary Fleder showed up in New Orleans to start preproduction on the film — starring Jason Statham, James Franco and Kate Bosworth, and arriving in theaters Wednesday (Nov. 27) — it became immediately evident to him that Louisiana would be taking a front-and-center role.
Louisiana made sure of that.
“For me, the location scouting process becomes a big part of what informs (a project),” Fleder said. “Rather than looking at what’s in my head, I just sort of look around to see what’s there.”
What was there when Fleder and company arrived in town in late summer 2012 to prepare for “Homefront” were waterways and cypress trees, boat houses and creaky old homes that suggested a certain derelict, lived-in beauty. The more Fleder and company explored, the more ideas they got for making the film stand out visually, he said.
“For example, we found this beautiful, beautiful home that had been seriously damaged in Katrina and sat idle for years,” Fleder said. “It was really overgrown and beaten down. All we really did was sort of shaved down some of the landscaping, some of the greens, and shot the house as it was. That’s Franco’s house, where he’s on the porch, and I think that’s a great example of where we let the locations speak to us through the process, which I love doing.”
In describing that process, he uses words like “organic” and “embracing” his surroundings. In “Homefront,” the result is a movie that, if nothing else, oozes its Louisiana origins in nearly every frame, but — according to Fleder, a Virginia native who also shot “Runaway Jury” in New Orleans in 2002 — always with a mind to steer clear of the Southern cliches we’ve all seen, and been insulted by, so many times before.
In another scene — a key third-act sequence shot at Magnolia Plantation at Nine Mile Point, and in which the home of Statham’s character is set upon by a band of baddies — Fleder didn’t just let the landscape dictate the look of the scene. He let it dictate the very way the action played out.
“There’s a whole sequence in the movie where the bad guys come into Jason Statham’s home by boat,” he said. “Now, it wasn’t written that way. It was originally written that they drive there. But I said, ‘Man, there’s so much water and all the bayou.’
“It’s a very organic process where, again, the location scouting and really being in areas — the West Bank, Slidell, Ponchatoula, Manchac, Gretna, Westwego, all the places we filmed in different parts of the movie — you take all these photos of locations and you say, ‘Wow, look at this beautiful tree, this beautiful light, this road, the water, and that begs to be in the movie.”
All that distinctly Louisiana imagery, however, presents something of a double-edged sword. While it provides a filmmaker with ample inspiration for beautiful shots, it’s not so easy as it might sound to avoid stepping over the line into cliché. That doesn’t just go for the landscape, but also for Southern characters as well — not to mention any accents they use, as any New Orleanian who has seen “The Big Easy” will gladly tell you.
It becomes even touchier in a movie such as “Homefront,” which is built around the antagonistic behavior of locals toward Statham’s character, a drug enforcement agent looking to settle down to a slower pace of life with his young daughter. But Fleder said his background makes him sensitive to the Southern cliché and how it can quickly become insulting.
“I had this conversation with this wonderful casting director named Lisa Mae Fincannon, who does a lot of casting in the Southeast,” Fleder said. “She does tons of movies — I worked with her on ‘Runaway Jury,’ I worked with her on ‘From the Earth to the Moon’ years ago in Orlando. And I said to her, ‘I want everybody in this movie to be a character not a caricature.’”
He continued: “If you look at (‘Homefront’), some of the characters have accents, some of them don’t. Some of them have deeper accents than others. In fact, when I did ‘Runaway Jury,’ I said to the people on the jury, I said, ‘Look, if you can’t do a realistic regional accent, just do your regular accent. Because people from New Orleans come from other places, people from the South come from other places.”
So, sure, sometimes we sound like Paul Prudhomme, sometimes we sound like Troy Landry, sometimes we sound like Edwin Edwards — but sometimes we also sound like Tony Soprano or Lil’ Wayne or Uncle Si Robertson.
Another double-edged sword with which “Homefront” will have to contend is its release date. On the one hand, it’s encouraging that Open Road Films has enough confidence in Fleder’s movie to schedule it to open on the day before Thanksgiving, typically a busy moviegoing weekend. On the other hand, that means there will be tons of competition with which it will have to contend, from the likes of Disney’s animated “Frozen,” the literary dramas “Black Nativity” and “The Book Thief,” as well as from another New Orleans-shot film, director Spike Lee’s “Oldboy.”
What it has going for it, however, is that it’s the only straight-up action film slated for release in that period. In fact, as evidence of its action pedigree, “Homefront” was originally developed as a starring vehicle for Sylvester Stallone, who — while eventually moving on to other roles — wrote the screenplay and earns a producing credit on the film.
“I think that the play was that it’s a really, really good suspense thriller/action movie,” Fleder said. “Audiences like it, it played really well, it’s wildly entertaining, and I think of all my movies, it’s just a major, major popcorn movie — and that was the intention. … You sit down, and once the movie starts, from fade-up to fade out, people are just in the movie. There’s not a lot of dead air. It just flies.
“I think if people want to see a really good suspense thriller action movie over the holiday,” he added, “this is the one.”
(Courtesy of nola.com)