Book of Eli: Interview with Directors Albert and Allen Hughes

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Albert and Allen Hughes are the directors of “The Book of Eli,” starring Denzel Washington. The film, which is being released by Warner Bros., comes out on January 15.

“What we liked about this story was that it was an action adventure but it also had something to say about commitment, sacrifice, survival and human nature,” offers Allen Hughes, who, with his twin brother, Albert, directed “The Book of Eli.” It is the fifth feature film for the pair, who made their auspicious debut at age 20 with the powerful and acclaimed inner-city drama “Menace II Society.”

Says Albert Hughes, “‘The Book of Eli’ takes us to a future that is decimated–whether by war, nuclear or natural disasters, or any combination of events, it doesn’t matter. The devastation is total and that allowed us to speculate about how the world would look and how people would manage if the whole grid was wiped out and we were thrown back into a primitive way of life. There would be a lot of lawlessness. But, in time, there might be a few brave individuals who would regain a sense of purpose and take up the mantle of leadership.”

Eli

Exactly who Eli is–where he comes from and where he is going–remains largely, and intentionally, a mystery. Says Allen Hughes, “A character like Eli, the enigmatic lone warrior, is almost mythical. You know there’s a rich back story, but it shouldn’t be entirely revealed, and Denzel was conscientious about doing little things that would shed light into his past without spelling it out. One of his ideas was for Eli to bear a burn scar on his back as a mark of the catastrophe he has survived. He was very good at painting in those kinds of details that would add to Eli’s mystique.”

On Denzel as Eli

“Denzel really stepped up to the plate,” says Allen Hughes. “There were a lot of physically demanding scenes and we weren’t cutting around it and making him look good. He really had to do it straight through and he pulled it off. It was amazing.”

In his role as filmmaker, Washington contributed significantly to the development of Eli’s nemesis. “Denzel started fleshing out the Carnegie character, first, in pre-production, saying, ‘The good guy is only as good as the bad guy is bad,'” recalls Allen Hughes. “We’d talk about whether or not Carnegie was a true villain or just a man caught in desperate times who does bad things as a means to an end. With Carnegie, things are not black and white, but gray. The remnants of his humanity make him all the more unpredictable.”

Stark and Gritty Landscape

The filmmakers imagined a stark and gritty landscape that was dramatic and yet realistic in its depiction of what the earth might resemble following a major calamity. “We researched material about the likely impact on the environment, whether from a nuclear or biological assault or even ash from a super-volcano,” says Allen Hughes. “What would happen to plant and animal life, weather patterns, cloud formations? What degree of decomposition would there be? What would such a future look like?”

“In some ways it was inspired by graphic novel imagery, even though the story doesn’t have those origins,” adds Albert. “We used comic book artists Tommy Lee Edwards, Chris Weston and Rodolfo Dimaggio to help us arrive at the overall look of the movie: the color template, characters, sets and locations…a kind of visual script.” Extensive storyboarding then developed into a set of reference books that set the tone for each department, from pre-production through scoring and color timing. “The cast and crew could look at them and instantly get the vibe of the movie.”

Instinct and Human Nature

“I think there are elements of instinct and human nature here that anyone can relate to. Our hope is for audiences to feel an emotional connection to these characters and come away with a feeling that stays with them,” says Albert Hughes.

Adds Allen, “What we’d like people to take away from ‘The Book of Eli’ is an appreciation of life and how precious it is. It’s a story that touches on universal themes of faith, commitment, sacrifice and, ultimately, hope. These are the elements that originally attracted us and we tried to do them justice.”