Making any entertainment story about the reporter rather than the subject – the work of art, or the person who created it – is something I’m generally uncomfortable with, as a reader or as a writer. But the prospect of humiliating myself for an audience’s entertainment is simply too exciting to resist, which is why a few weeks ago I found myself spinning around, upside down and in circles, above a sound stage in Marina del Ray, California.
To commemorate the home video release of Ender’s Game, the Gavin Hood adaptation of Orson Scott Card’s iconic sci-fi novel, Lionsgate invited a small group of journalists to the offices of Digital Domain, where the filmmaker offered insights into the complicated process of bringing the film to life. Following a presentation from Hood, who explained how he secured financing only after cobbling together a $25,000 “proof of concept” video for potential investors, the director led the group to a bare sound stage, where stations were set up to demonstrate the process of achieving some of the film’s remarkable visual effects.
I had a chance to sit down with Hood to talk in more detail about his ambitions with the film, and how he feels it turned out – “a little truncated,” the director admitted, although he was enormously proud. Additionally, I spoke to Moises Arias, the young actor who played Bonzo.
But about that spinning around: After completing interviews, I returned to the sound stage, where my colleagues were finishing their adventures in the ballerina harness, a large gimbal with a spoked wheel on one end and a hollow wheel on the other. Wrapping nylon restraints around my legs and waist, I stepped into the hollow wheel-end of the harness and waited patiently while stunt coordinator Garrett Warren and his assistant connected my restraints. Although I wasn’t especially eager to provide my waist size before arriving, I quickly understood why it was necessary: As the tallest of the journalists in attendance, I was almost too big to fit comfortably inside the harness – not that I wouldn't have tried.
Nevertheless, once I was strapped in, an unseen assistant raised the harness, lifting me into the air. As Warren explained beforehand, the harness is designed to provide the visual effect of weightlessness on the person inside it, but Earth’s gravity makes that sort of impossible to achieve, which is why I felt particularly snug where those nylon restraints were holding me aloft. But after instructing me how to somersault over my head, and spin around at the waist, I acclimated to the harness fairly quickly – that is, until the eighth or ninth spin, when dizziness got the best of me.
Watch below how the good folks at Digital Domain threaten the future of my unborn children as I embarrass myself for your enjoyment:
Having gone through just a fraction of the experiences that the actors did to bring to life the film’s zero-gravity fight sequences, I admit I developed a greater respect for their ability to bring their roles to life, as there’s so much equipment and logistic involved in just moving, much less giving that movement dramatic weight. But it also underscored the remarkable achievement of Ender’s Game as a whole, an adaptation of a book that’s incredibly sophisticated and yet focuses mostly on kids, demanding a light touch from the filmmakers and heavier consideration from audiences. Let’s hope that after this I’ll be able to have kids to show it to.