Ben Stiller makes use of deftly crafted hyper-reality, merging Mitty’s inner stream of consciousness into the fabric of what’s going on in his outer world.
“Everybody can connect with the idea of talking to somebody while actually having this crazy, imaginary fantasy going on in your head of where you’d rather be in that moment,” he explains. “That’s what we wanted to capture.”
Stiller thought intensively about how to achieve that. Creating Walter’s fantasies would certainly involve many moving parts, and a sense of spectacle, but Stiller used his effects judiciously, with an eye towards unbroken integration into the flow of the action.
“In terms of visual effects, we wanted the overall approach to be very photo-real,” he says. “I’ve always found that the best results come from doing as much as you can practically in real-life situations and then just tickling that with the digital effects.”
They chose to have the camera slowly awaken, moving from static to dynamic, as Walter’s life follows a similar trajectory. Stiller explains: “We create a world that is very graphic and linear in the first part of the movie. So the camera is quite still and hardly moves at all and then gradually as Walter starts to connect with life and go out into the world, the camera loosens up. We loosen up with him and the colors become more saturated and we enter into this fuller life experience with him.”
The constant yin and yang of dreams and reality in THE SECRET LIFE OF WALTER MITTY made for an extremely ambitious production – one which would take on the rigors of shooting in the middle of New York City then jet off to the other-worldly environs of Iceland, where cast and crew moved from volcanoes to helicopters to the middle of the frosty ocean.
“Shooting in New York was essential because that was the only way to deliver the strong sense of place that Ben envisioned,” says Cornfeld. “He really wanted to capture the energy and intensity of the city.” The producer continues: “Iceland is just an amazing place, where the quality of light is truly different from anywhere on Earth. One of the real benefits of having shot on film is that we got to take full advantage of that light.
There’s not much pollution in Iceland so when you look off into the distance, you can see forever. It’s like going from a 35-millimeterworld to a 70-millimeter world. You get a scope of natural beauty you just don’t find many places.”
Each location would host scenes that could not have been filmed elsewhere in the world.
In New York, Stiller had the chance to shoot the epic chase between Walter and Ted in the live-wire dynamics of a typical crowded day in the city. To simulate Walter and Ted flying and bounding through Manhattan on makeshift skates and skis, Stiller and co-star Adam Scott were placed in a mobile rig that suspended them while weaving through New York City’s infamous traffic.
“The Ted battle was really fun to shoot,” remarks Stiller.