I took with me as close of a match to Alex [the guide in the story, played by Eugene Hutz in the movie] as I could find. We met this Ukrainian DP - a club kid - and he was just insane. He had huge pompadour hair and they swore he was a good cameraman. He wore these old lady Boca Raton/old lady Jewish sunglasses and huge bellbottoms with croquets. And they were like, Well, Liev, we thought it would be a good idea to take a camera with [you] because we were going to be in Ukraine. And I just felt like the movie was a road trip and I wanted to steal as much footage as I could, because I felt like that would definitely work. We hadnt shot anything yet and I felt that would definitely work in the movie, just to stick a 35 mm camera out the window of our van. Somewhere I knew we could use that footage.
They sent me this guy and he was fantastic and didnt speak a word of English, which made it very difficult because my translator was Russian and some Ukrainians dont always like speaking Russian which is strange because theyre all supposed to speak Russian. We basically mimicked the trip, which was fun for me and very informative. I got a lot of ideas of how the comedy worked from hanging out with this guy. And the footage that he shot is in the movie.
On Directing Someone Acting Out a Trip He Made Himself: I wish it was surreal. There was nothing surreal about it. It was painfully real the entire time. The only surreal thing that happened was in the very beginning of post production I had this idea, actually had this dream about this field of sunflowers and finding a way to reveal Listas house. I knew that, for me, that had to feel at least emotionally and spiritually like some sort of a pay off. When you arrived at that house you had to feel that you had arrived somewhere magical. So I had this idea about putting her house in the middle of a sunflower field.
Its a great idea, but how do you do it? We looked around and we met with sunflower farmers and we learned that sunflowers basically only last about a week and a half. One thing that Matty Libatique, the cinematographer, suggested, Am I wrong that sunflowers follow the trajectory of the sun? And we were all like, Oh yeah, hmm, sunflowers follow the trajectory of the sun. Which actually makes a huge difference when youre thinking about are they going to face camera or not.
We couldnt find a farmer that had a huge field that was willing to let us carve a huge swath out and build a house that was big enough. [Production designer] Mark Geraghty and [producer] Tom Karnowski came up with the idea, Why dont we grow our own? As if it was that simple and all of us film types with our green thumbs were going to grow sunflowers.
We rented this colossal field, huge field, and Matty went out into the field and took a compass and followed the trajectory of the sun. He used an almanac and he found the week we would probably be shooting that sequence. And I said, Well, s**t, okay, were not going to do it in a sunflower field. I can see that. I have to think. Ill go along with this because its a really nice idea and everyone seems to be really invested in it, but in my head Im planning that were actually going to Listas house in a hayfield. Thats what well do. So we shoot for about a month and a half and I forget about the sunflowers and one morning they drive me to the set to take a look at the field and they were all smug and smirking because they know what theyve got. Im convinced that, Okay, s**t, Ive got to be ready to replan this.
We drive up and it was just exquisite. They had planned it to a day. The next morning the sunflowers sagged and were brown. We put the Pegasus up at the base of the road for Eugene to walk up the road. We did that for 3 or 4 hours and it probably wont mean as much to you but how miraculous it was to me sitting there. Heres the crane and here are the sunflowers, from the morning that we were shooting that scene, for the entire three hours, the sunflowers started facing this way in the morning. We started shooting at about nine, they hit here and for three hours they were just like this [straight up]. It was sublime.