Vantage Point with Director Pete Travis

In the actioner-thriller “Vantage Point,” the President of the United States is in Spain to deliver a major address on terrorism. As he approaches the podium in a crowded square, shots ring out, and pandemonium breaks loose. The president falls to the ground.

What's Truth Anyway

This is the setting for the new film “Vantage Point,” which allowed director Pete Travis a chance to explore the idea of the truth–and the fact that truth is in the eye of the beholder.

As “Vantage Point” unfolds, it explores the period immediately before and after the assassination attempt from the unique points of view of eight key participants–ranging from the president himself to the Secret Service agents assigned to protect him to a tourist in the square only by chance.

If you were to follow only one story, you wouldnt find out the truth about what really happened, says Travis. As you see each story, you see something else that you never knew before. Its only when you get to the end that you figure out what really went on.

The Story as Star

Travis points out that in addition to the five American stars and four international actors that topline Vantage Point, there is one more star: the story. Youve got eight different people, eight ways of seeing the world, eight pieces of a puzzle. Its a dream for a director: you cant solve the mystery of this film without seeing the world from different peoples point of view. Its a story that you can only tell through cinema. A movie about ways of seeinghow cool is that!

For Dennis Quaid, the film was a chance to subtly shade a performance based on point of view. Theres the way we see ourselves, and theres the way others see us, he explains. I play my character one way when the story is told from my point of view, but when the films vantage point shifts to another characters POV, I play him as that character sees him and change again for the other characters. A person isnt seen the same way by any two people.

Screenwriter Barry L. Levy adds that those multiple points of view lead to chaos and only through mutual understanding can the truth come out. Everyone knows only what they can see before their eyes, what they can figure out, which limits everyones understanding of whats going on, he says. Only when the audience sees the collective, all eight stories, all eight pieces of the puzzle, will they understand what really went on. Ultimately, the movie is a single story, a heros journey but told from eight points of view.

Casting the Director

To bring Levys idea to the screen, producer Neal H. Moritz tapped Travis, whose first film as a director, Omagh, focused on a 1998 bombing in Northern Ireland. The way Pete captured reality, the characters, the sound, was entirely original, says Moritz. Petes fresh approach to the material made it clear to me that Vantage Point would be in good hands.

Different Points of View

Travis and Levy were keenly aware that their film, by its nature, required seeing the same actions over and over again, from different points of view. We had to keep it fresh, Travis says. When you see something more than once, we tried to make sure that you were seeing something different. For example, when you first see the square, you see it as the news cameras see it lots of cameras, but far away and static or up close and handheld, the way a news program would shoot it. When you see it from a Secret Service agents point of view, its like walking into an amphitheater, and you hear a noise you didnt hear before. The crowd, which had previously seemed friendly, looks different to a Secret Service man whos just coming back a year after being shot. Every face in the crowd is a potential assassin; every wave of the flag could be a signal to somebody. I tried to shoot that in a way that shows what he feels, so that the story would feel different every time.

The filmmakers called upon every tool available to differentiate the stories. Says Moritz: Whether it was through the use of different lenses, or different film stock, or lighting, or different ways of shooting, such as handheld cameras, Steadicam, dollies, we used different tricks to try to make each of these stories feel individual, to keep the audience interested in the twists and turns and invested in each characters story.

Cliffhanger at Each Story

After filming, Travis found one more way to keep the story fresh: When we came to cutting, we made sure that every story ended with a cliffhanger. Only at the end do all the stories get wrapped up and you figure out what went on.

All eight stories are necessary, according to Quaid. Its a puzzle, this film, and if you take one piece out, you cant see the whole picture, he says.

The Actors on their Director

The film features a cast of award-winning actors, including Dennis Quaid, Matthew Fox, Forest Whitaker, William Hurt, and Sigourney Weaver, and rising international stars, including Spains Eduardo Noriega (star of Abre los ojos, the original version of Vanilla Sky), Israels Ayelet Zurer (Munich), Frances Sad Taghmaoui (La Haine), and Venezuelan actor Edgar Ramirez (The Bourne Ultimatum).

Quaid says that he was attracted to the film by the chance to work with the director. I had seen Petes previous movie, Omagh, which is about an IRA terrorist bombing in Ireland. I like his realistic style of filmmaking; theres a lot of action. His movies are gripping you know youre watching actors, but they have the immediacy of a documentary.

Fox says that the twists and turns of his character were immediately appealing. Im fascinated with the concept of perspective, he says. Its a great opportunity to play a guy who you think is one way but turns out to be someone completely different.

Whitaker, who just last year won the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in The Last King of Scotland, adds, When I met Pete, he told me his backgroundhe was a social worker before he made movies! Talk about a different perspective! In that first meeting, I wanted to do this movie, and fortunately, it worked out.

Quaid adds that Vantage Point represented an opportunity to delve back into an action film. I didnt realize while reading this script how much action there is in this movie, but weve got gun shots, bombs going off, terrific car chasesall exciting stuff and fun to do. For me, it was like being a kid again to do all the action.

Travis says that the action underscored the ideas in the film. Whats exciting about the action is that it shows you something in a way that you didnt see it before. It becomes part of the point of view, he says. Theres a visceral, hand-held kinetic energy of the camera the idea is to make it a participant in the action. When people run, the camera runs with them; when people go into a room, the camera goes in behind them. During the car chase, when the car is hit and the camera is spinning around inside the car, thats our fabulous stunt coordinator, Spiro Razatos, holding the camera and getting hit.

To bring the car chase to life, Travis and Razatos looked at their favorite car chases for inspiration, then planned out their own in minute detail. We sat down with a bunch of toys and planned every single stunt and storyboarded everything to make you feel, how does it feel to be really in a chase

In a way, its a point of view thing, he continues. When you see Dennis Quaid driving, the camera behind him, looking over his shoulder at what hes chasing, its not just seeing him chasing someone; instead, youre in there with him, chasing with him, and its more real and more exciting.

Moritz was excited to make the film as an homage to one of his favorites. Rashomon is a four-star classic, and while that movie is in a league of its own, its a thrill to explore some of the same themes, he says. Even with the best intentions, we all interpret events differently. If a movie can excite you about an idea, and feature an awesome car chase as well, thats the best of both worlds.