TOWER HEIST (2011)
Release Date: November 4, 2011
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director: Brett Ratner
Screenwriter: Adam Cooper, Bill Collage, Russell Gewirtz, Rawson Marshall Thurber, Ted Griffin, Leslie Dixon, Noah Baumbach, Jeff Nathanson
Starring: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy, Matthew Broderick, Téa Leoni
Genre: Action, Comedy
MPAA Rating: PG-13
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Plotting the Heist:
The Project Begins
Oscar ®-winning producer Brian Grazer is one of a handful of filmmakers with the intuitive ability to pair Brett Ratner, the action-savvy director with a string of box-office hits to his name, and a high-profile cast led by comedy superstars Ben Stiller and Eddie Murphy to deliver Tower Heist , an action-comedy that scales new heights.
The producer shares how the project began: “Eddie and I have worked with one another since we filmed Boomerang in the early ’90s. In 2005, he pitched an idea to Brett and me to develop a film with a number of comedians playing guys who were down on their luck, the genesis of Tower Heist. He wanted to create a movie with characters that were not the cool, slick guys. His idea was that the story would follow a group of disgruntled employees in a building like the Trump Tower who seize their chance and plan a robbery. Naturally, everything that could possibly go wrong with their ill-conceived plans did.”
From inception to the first day of principal photography, it would take almost five years before the film would fire on all cylinders. Grazer, Ratner and Murphy were in no rush, however, as they wanted to make sure that the project was tonally perfect. Commends Murphy of the man with whom he’s worked on blockbuster hits such as The Nutty Professor and Nutty Professor II: The Klumps: “Brian has been my biggest collaborator throughout my career. We have similar sensibilities when it comes down to what a good movie is and the types of movies we’re trying to make. We have a shorthand communication where I can tell him one of my ideas and he can help shape it into a screenplay.”
Since Murphy’s pitch to Grazer and Ratner in ’05, several incarnations of the project have come about. The development process has been a lengthy one, but the three men agreed that the film that they ultimately wanted to make should seamlessly blend comedy and action. Grazer and Murphy found Ratner to be the perfect partner to helm Tower Heist and liked the fact that he would work with Ocean’s Eleven screenwriter Ted Griffin and Catch Me If You Can writer Jeff Nathanson to hone the earlier work of Accepted scribes Adam Cooper and Bill Collage.
Ratner reflects upon how Tower Heist’s writers nailed the tone of the film he would direct: “Ted brought the real motivation and the heart to the concept, and then when Jeff came on, he came up with the obstacles, complexities and the specificities of these characters.” He feels that the time is ideal for this story to unfold and states: “It’s about the upstairs and the downstairs and working-class, blue-collar workers just trying to get by who were robbed. They’re taking it back from not just the rich, but the corrupt rich. That’s why you’re cheering for and rooting for these characters. You want them to win.”
The director, who is equally comfortable with the comedy genre as he is with action, shares something unique with Murphy: both are film aficionados who possess encyclopedic recall of scenes from classic Hollywood and foreign films. However, it was Ratner’s deep affinity for the heist movies of the 1970s—from The Taking of Pelham One Two Three to The Hot Rock andThe Anderson Tapes—that most attracted him to TowerHeist. “What works about our movie is that it walks that line between drama and comedy very well,” he offers. “Nobody’s playing these characters with a wink; everyone’s playing them incredibly serious. The comedy naturally comes from the characters and the situations that they’re put into.”
For Ratner, the opportunity to direct a comedy icon was one he didn’t hesitate to grab. He offers: “I grew up watching all of Eddie’s films and studying them, so the chance to work with him was a dream come true. Not only was this movie Eddie’s idea, but in a lot of ways, he invented the genre. If it wasn’t for him, my Rush Hour series would never have existed.”
Murphy, pleased to see that the project was coming full circle, joined Grazer and fellow Imagine executive Kim Roth on Tower Heist as a producer on the film. He shares: “Brian and the studio kept developing it and wanted to make it more about one character instead of a group of comedians, and a great script came together. They called me and let me know that Ben Stiller wanted to do the movie and that there was this role in it that’s really cool. I read it and thought it was funny. Plus, I’m trying to work with Brett as much as possible.”
The performer believed that it was time to return to familiar comic ground. He adds: “The theme of the film, with the workers being taken advantage of by the rich folks and then turning the tables, is timeless. One of my earliest movies, Trading Places, was like that. Those themes work forever. It was fun for me to work on because I hadn’t done a role like that in a while. I’ve done a lot of family movies, and I’ve done a lot of projects in which the characters were not ‘street-y’ guys. There was a freshness to this.”
Stiller, the star of such box-office hits as Zoolander and Tropic Thunder (both of which he directed) and the three films of the Meet the Parents franchise, came aboard as Josh Kovaks, the workaholic manager of the tony building who has given up on his personal life to satiate the endless wants of his pampered residents. Whether immersing himself in the minutiae of fine wines and the newest restaurants or keeping track of the birthday and anniversary of every affluent occupant, Josh may always be counted upon. With a decade of experience working in the building, he runs a tight ship and expects nothing but perfection from his staff.
The actor admits that he was intrigued by Ratner’s passionate take on the material, and the chance to join both the director and Murphy proved to be an attractive proposition. Stiller remarks: “I’ve known Brett for almost 15 years, and this is the first time that we’ve worked together. He has incredible enthusiasm and an amazing sense of film history. He loves the filmmaking process, and he loves filmmakers. Brett works viscerally. He does his prep, but when he gets on the set is when it all comes alive for him.”
Ratner returns the compliment to Stiller: “I’ve been a friend and fan of Ben’s for more than 15 years. He is one of my favorite directors and actors. There is no actor with as much passion, commitment and hard work toward a performance than Ben. From our first meeting about Tower Heist, we were on the same page and completely agreed on the tone of the film that we all wanted to make.”
Problem solver that he is, Josh looks to con man Slide when it comes to criminal advice. The relationship between the two dates back to their time in preschool in Astoria, Queens, but the interaction that they currently have is the daily harassment that Slide gives Josh on Josh’s way to work. Although both still live in the borough, the men are polar opposites who have taken separate paths. Josh works in the rarified world of vast wealth in Manhattan while Slide is pulling low-level crime gigs. But a criminal mind is a criminal mind, and Josh has limited options and time to get the pension funds back. Josh knows he’s taking a chance to ask Slide to join in their con, but he takes the risk.
When it came to working with Murphy, Stiller led the cast in enthusiasm. As Murphy has been a fixture of the comedy landscape for decades, Stiller was excited to see him slip into a role that harkened back to memorable characters he portrayed in Beverly Hills Cop and 48 Hrs. Commends Stiller: “Eddie Murphy is iconic, especially for my generation. He defines a lot of what comedy is over the last 25 years, so it was very cool to work with him. I sometimes felt like an audience member as I watched him do his thing. I would think ‘Wow, that’s good. That’s going to be in the movie.’”
Shooting script locked and filmmaking team in place, Grazer reflected upon the project that began with the grain of an idea several years prior. He notes: “It’s difficult to imagine that a casual conversation six years ago has grown into such a fully realized film that is so grand in scope. Plus, who could have known that, in this period of time, the global financial markets would teeter on the verge of collapse and the villain in our story would pale in comparison to some very real ones on Wall Street? Truth remains stranger than fiction.”
Blue Collars and Blue Bloods:
Casting the Action-Comedy
At the heart of Tower Heist is a ragtag group—a building manager with a score to settle, a desperate Wall Streeter on the verge of bankruptcy, a cash-strapped concierge whose wife is expecting their first child, a bellhop up for any adventure and a feisty maid hoping to stay in the country—looking to recoup their looted pensions. Alongside a petty criminal looking for quick cash, they are ready to do what needs to be done to get the cash. The talented ensemble elevated the material with occasional improvisation, and their easy off-screen rapport translated to the front of the camera.
With a standout comic cast led by Stiller and Murphy, humor would naturally punctuate a storyline complemented by action. For many of the actors, the film gave longtime friends an opportunity to work together once again. Ben Stiller, Alan Alda and Téa Leoni reunited for the first time since co-starring in David O’Russell’s critically acclaimed 1996 indie Flirting With Disaster. Leoni had previously collaborated with Ratner on The Family Man, and Stiller directed Matthew Broderick in 1996’s dark comedy The Cable Guy . As well, a number of day players had worked on many a Ratner film over the years.
International financier Arthur Shaw is the quintessential champagne villain whose polished veneer belies a shrewd con man. For many years Shaw demanded a quiet respect from Josh, who feels a kinship with one of The Tower’s most beloved residents. Josh aspires to live in this world and has been hopeful that his fellow chess player would shepherd him there. When faced with an unimaginable betrayal, however, Josh makes it his personal mission to reclaim his crew’s money from Shaw. Stiller explains: “Josh and Shaw have a good rapport. Josh is very good at understanding what Shaw needs, but he misinterprets the relationship early on by thinking that Shaw would never do anything to intentionally hurt the people who work in the building.”
In Alan Alda, Ratner and the producers found an actor who could sell a likeable billionaire whom we learn is more comfortable stealing from blue-collar workers than from his elite clients. But Alda clears up a misconception about Shaw. Alda notes: “ Shaw is sometimes described as a Bernie Madoff-like character. I’m not sure. I don’t think anyone has ever operated on the scale that Madoff did. And I don’t know if what Shaw did technically qualifies as a Ponzi scheme. But in that Shaw was willing to steal money from people who really needed it—who really couldn’t afford to lose it—and willing to take everything they had…yes, he’s in Bernie territory, with both feet.”
It’s Special Agent Claire Denham who clues in Josh about Shaw’s fraudulent history and does so with swift efficiency. Leoni, whose FBI Special Agent Claire Denham knows the truth about Shaw, is the one who has to explain the cold, hard reality of the situation to Josh after he thwarts what he believes is an attempted kidnapping of The Tower’s favorite resident.
Téa Leoni credits her interaction with FBI technical advisor ANNE C. BEAGAN with putting the distinctive touches on her tough-as-nails agent who has to convince Josh that Shaw is a bad guy. The actress laughs: “ Agent Denham is your standard-issue, ball-breaking FBI agent. She’s certainly a very tough lady, and it’s not my first waltz with this type of character. However, I was able to spend some time with Anne, a great technical advisor we had on set. She’s got this steely gaze that is terrifying, but what’s underneath that is a very interesting lady. Beyond the technical aspects of the job, she provided so much more for me to use.”
The actress was equally impressed by her cohorts. Continues Leoni: “We had a table read in Los Angeles and as I was sitting around with this cast and listening to these strong actors who, with a minimal amount of effort, brought such a distinguished flavor to their characters, I thought, ‘We could have just shot the table read.’”
Stiller returns the compliment to his leading lady: “Téa is very believable as an FBI agent because she’s smart and aggressive and has a great sense of humor. But she’s also very much a New Yorker, and a lot of what this movie is about is New Yorkers and their attitudes toward life. She was a great choice for the role, and it was fun to work with her again because it had been a long time since we’d done so.”
Casey Affleck, who portrays Charlie, Josh’s not-so-savvy (and broke) brother-in-law who works as The Tower’s concierge, cut his teeth on the heist genre as Virgil Malloy in Steven Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven series. Still, he knew the promise of working with Stiller, Murphy and Ratner was reason enough to revisit the genre. Notes the actor: “More than anything else, I just like Ben, Eddie and Brett, and it sounded like a fun film to do. I wanted to do a comedy, and I thought this was an opportunity to try and be funny.”
With a wife on the verge of going into labor, Charlie is reluctant to join Josh’s crew of amateur thieves. Grazer felt that Affleck, with his deadpan timing, was perfect for the part. “Casey continues to impress me with the fascinating choices he has made in his career,” offers the producer. “He is so droll, that with a slight vocal inflection or delivery of a minor tic, he can elicit a great number of laughs. The fact that Casey has experience in the world of heist movies made him even more perfect for the job.”
Matthew Broderick came aboard Tower Heist to portray Mr. Fitzhugh, a Wall Streeter who has suffered his own financial hardships and whose quarters in the ritzy building have been foreclosed. Despite the dire circumstances, the self-professed squatter is a financier to the core and knows the tricks of his former trade. “Fitzhugh needs the money, and greed becomes his primary motivation,” explains Broderick. “That’s one thing I like about the caper movies from the 1970s like The Anderson Tapes. They really wanted the money or jewels or art. Fitzhugh’s mindset harkens back to that.”
For Ratner, the chance to work with the veteran actor was another reason to be excited about showing up for work every day. He says: “When I was 12, Matthew Broderick was the biggest movie star next to Eddie Murphy, literally. I grew up on Matthew, and to have him play Fitzhugh was a great honor. I couldn’t believe that he was on my set sitting next to Eddie, Ben and all of these other great actors.”
Murphy shares his director’s assessment of the veteran stage and screen performer. He compliments, “Everybody in the cast is funny and likeable, and you want everybody in the cast to win. Matthew Broderick is one of my contemporaries. We came up around the same time. I’ve seen everything that he’s done, and it was great to be on a set with a master actor.”
A compelling element of the premise that resonated with the team was the insightful social commentary, coupled with an empowering Robin Hood spirit. It jump-starts the tale of newly disenfranchised who would be driven to commit a high-stakes robbery. The writers tapped into the battered U.S. economy, whose financial meltdown occurred amidst charges of corporate mismanagement, record high unemployment and financiers defrauding their clients. They infused the material with a timeliness that made the premise all the more powerful and gave the ensemble cast much material to use.
Michael Peña, who portrays bellhop/elevator operator Dev’Reaux, the newest member of The Tower staff, appreciated this ripped-from-the-headlines aspect of the film. Dev’Reaux’s freewheeling attitude rubs Josh the wrong way but also makes him a go-to guy to be a part of the heist crew. “ I love this story,” Peña states, “between the financial meltdown, unemployment and government bailouts, the little guy finally gets to have his day. To be able to get it done on their own terms with their everyday skills makes it that much sweeter for the crew. I had family affected by the economic downturn while I was reading the script, so as much as Tower Heist is a big action-comedy, there’s an underlying anticipation to see it all play out.”
Stiller elaborates on Peña ’s character: “We meet Dev’Reaux, who is brand new at the job and a likeable street guy, but puts his foot in his mouth a lot. He doesn’t understand the hierarchy of how you’re supposed to deal with the tenants and gets under Josh’s skin, but Josh needs him, so he brings him onto the heist team.”
Academy Award ® nominee Gabourey Sidibe follows up her highly acclaimed dramatic debut in Precious to play the role of Odessa Montero, a feisty Jamaican-born maid who works in The Tower while trying to secure her green card. As the daughter of a locksmith, she possesses skills that prove to be invaluable to the team when the heist is devised. Though the Harlem-bred Sidibe conferred with a safecracker to refine her technique, she constructed her character by looking a little closer to home. “ The thing about Odessa is that she is Jamaican,” she says. “I am not Jamaican, but some of my friends are so I brought their blunt, quick-witted sass to Odessa.” The actress laughs, “I’ve been teasing them our entire friendship, so it was nice to honor them on camera.”
Ratner loved being able to introduce audiences to a very different side of the young woman who blew filmgoers away in her very first dramatic role. Still, he admits: “I needed an actress to be able to stand toe-to-toe with Eddie Murphy and Ben Stiller, somebody with a strong personality. Gabby is a breath of fresh air. She walks in the room, and everybody just gravitates to her. She’s pathologically positive, happy and smart. She’s always got something witty to say. She’s constantly cracking a joke or whispering something in your ear to make you laugh.”
The project gained further momentum with the casting of legendary actor JUDD HIRSCH, who rejoins his producer from A Beautiful Mind for this film. Cast as Mr. Simon, Josh’s boss who fires several of his employees when they destroy Shaw’s car, Hirsch admits that he has a lot of sympathy for Josh. “I love Ben’s part. You don’t usually see parts like that. They’re usually banal or immune, but Josh is concerned with the lives of others and is always trying to get somebody straightened out. But he’s the one who takes the fall. He’s trying to get something for everybody in a beneficial way. He’s Mr. Justice, and then has to go and pay the price.”
“Judd is one of those talents who has spent the past four decades creating complex, memorable characters,” offers Grazer. “From his unforgettable roles on television shows like Taxi and Dear John to his stunning performances in movies from Ordinary People to A Beautiful Mind, he’s one of the most memorable performers working today. You see the conflict in his character’s eyes as he has to play the heavy and get rid of those who were involved with the vigilante behavior in Shaw’s apartment. We were thrilled to have him.”
STEPHEN M CKINLEY HENDERSON, who portrays doorman Lester, rounds out the ensemble cast as the beloved father figure of The Tower staff who crumbles when faced with the devastating loss of his finances. It galvanizes Josh and his co-workers to take action . Ratner explains why Lester so affects Josh and pushes him to seek revenge: “It makes sense that Josh was going to be affected by the fact that this doorman who has been working at The Tower for years and is the oldest employee of the building tries to jump in front of a subway train to kill himself. This is like Josh’s father going to kill himself because he loses his whole life savings. Josh has been in denial the entire time, but he finally goes to confront Shaw.”
Henderson landed the role after filmmakers saw his Tony Award-nominated performance in the Broadway revival of August Wilson’s Fences, opposite Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. He has a veteran actor’s take on the material. “The Tower Heist cast is a group protagonist,” Henderson shares. “Josh is definitely the central figure, but he is a central figure because he is a member of a group. I love stories that have a community, a tribe. These are salt-of-the-earth people, the everyday working stiffs who at the end of the day deserve a victory.”
Rounding out the supporting cast is a talented group of character actors that includes Midnight in Paris’ NINA ARIANDA as attorney-in-training Miss Iovenko, Black Swan’s MARCIA JEAN KURTZ as the flighty Rose, In America’s JUAN CARLOS HERNÁNDEZ as security guard Manuel, The Cable Guy’s HARRY O’REILLY as FBI Agent Dansk, Hollywood Ending’s PETER VAN WAGNER as attorney Marty Klein and Hannibal’s ŽELJKO IVANEK as FBI Director Mazin.
Filming Tower Heist
Tower Heist lifts the curtain on the inner workings of a luxury high-rise and what it takes to keep hundreds of New York City’s wealthiest denizens satisfied. The residence managers for several high-profile hotels provided the filmmakers, Stiller and the writers with insider tips about their experiences in overseeing top-drawer residences.
Recalls Nathanson: “It was informative, to say the least, to speak with the people who work in these buildings. I interviewed everyone from doormen to housekeepers to building managers. There’s a whole underworld to the New York building scene that exists in the basements that most people are unaware of. They make it all possible, and you just never see it. It’s fascinating.”
Almost every aspect of establishing Manhattan as the backdrop for Tower Heist’s action hinged on the filmmakers’ ability to execute some of the bigger set pieces conceived in the script. From the überexclusive wealthy enclaves of Park Avenue to the working class neighborhoods in Queens, the crew needed to evoke the distinctive personalities of the city in a creative way.
Production designer KRISTI ZEA, who previously collaborated with Ratner on The Family Man and Red Dragon —and most recently designed the luxuriously singular look for Oliver Stone’s Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps —was the hands-on choice to visualize the diverse and complex production design. Her extensive experience, particularly when it came to creating something as opulent as Shaw’s penthouse apartment, was helpful in satisfying a multitude of requirements of MARK RUSSELL’s visual effects department and STEVE KIRSHOFF’s special effects team.
A tour of some of Manhattan’s most upscale hotels and high-rise residences helped to determine the scope of the fictitious building where the majority of the film was set. For the grand interior set of The Tower lobby, Zea ended up using an amalgam of what she observed on the tour, elevating the look and scale to create a sumptuously sophisticated design.
Ultimately, a sprawling top-floor apartment in the Trump International Hotel & Tower—located at Central Park West in bustling Columbus Circle—served as the model for the set of Shaw’s opulent penthouse. Recalls Zea: “The inspiration was an empty apartment that was half a floor and had a staggering 180-degree view of Manhattan. We were able to match up the walls of the building, but then what we did on the inside was all up to us. We had a blast with it.”
With the cooperation of Donald Trump, who allowed the production access to several of his high-end properties, the filmmakers were able to incorporate true luxury locales in the film. The Trump International Hotel & Tower in New York City was used to film exteriors, including portions of the re-creation of Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and a sprawling foot and car chase sequence that had the main- and second-unit teams winding along Central Park West and Columbus Avenue.
Says Ratner about lensing here: “That’s what’s so great about shooting in New York City. Every direction you put the camera, you have something special, whether it is an interesting face or a building or a landscape. When you point the camera in any direction, you have amazing visuals.”
Leoni sums the cast’s thoughts on the scale of the production: “I can’t believe the city of New York gave us Columbus Circle for this scene. We had cars speeding and crashing through the streets. It’s a crazy scene with so much going on.”
Trump even offered up the rare opportunity to lens in the spacious underground parking garage and service center of the lavish Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue. The real-estate mogul made a point of visiting the set during a break from taping his television series, The Celebrity Apprentice, several floors up to see how Ratner and the cast were faring.
A key element to envisioning the sophisticated penthouse apartment was assembling a status-affirming art collection. Ratner, himself an avowed art lover, had specific artists and pieces in mind for the film. Zea knew of Ratner’s dabbling in this world, so she elevated the design aesthetic to reflect his passion for it.
Occasionally, Ratner would place a call or send an e-mail to cut through mountains of red tape required to include reproductions of pedigreed world-class artwork. To evoke the tastes of a savvy art collector, Zea went with a modern-classic design approach, punctuated with important multimedia art. She explains: “These days, it seems wealthy people want to have wall power. They want to have art on their walls that means something and shows people, just like a car, that ‘I’m rich, I’m smart and I know what I’m doing.’”
Reproduction works from masters, including Pablo Picasso, Francesco Clemente, Richard Prince, Francis Bacon, Ed Ruscha, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Cy Twombly, Roy Lichtenstein, Alberto Giacometti and Andy Warhol, fill Shaw’s penthouse set. Says Grazer of the final art choices they amassed for filming: “It’s a shame that someone as dishonorable as Arthur Shaw is allowed to be surrounded by this much beauty.”
Don’t Drop the Ferrari:
Handling a Prized Toy
Screenwriter Nathanson’s research into the trappings of the filthy rich and famous elicited tales of the lengths to which people would go to display their emblems of wealth—be they prized art, rare collectibles, luxury cars or other expensive toys housed in personal galleries. “We studied some of the richest apartments in the world, and we actually found photographs of people who keep insane things inside their apartments,” recalls the writer. “There is a gentleman in London who actually had a car parked in his apartment, so that’s where I think Ted got the idea for Shaw.”
Before Grazer and Ratner made the final decision of which car to use for filming, there were extensive conversations about finding the right luxury vehicle to serve as the linchpin of the plot. An automobile with an exalted lineage, coupled with power and beauty, was needed to satisfy Ratner and Zea’s desire to complement the awe-inspiring artwork in Shaw’s home.
Both Ratner and longtime cinematographer DANTE SPINOTTI—with whom the director collaborated on X-Men: The Last Stand , After the Sunset , Red Dragon and The Family Man—are big Ferrari fans, so they naturally had several favorites before production began.
The pièce de résistance of Arthur Shaw’s multimillion-dollar penthouse equaled a 1963 Ferrari 250 GT Lusso that was once owned by Steve McQueen. It provides the billionaire with lofty bragging rights. This highly coveted and priceless collectible is the crown jewel of Shaw’s home. To showcase it among his other treasures, Shaw had the car cautiously disassembled after its purchase and then reassembled in his penthouse apartment.
When it came to this aspect of the story line, the filmmakers became quite inventive. McQueen actually did own a Ferrari 250 GT Lusso, which venerable auction house Christie’s auctioned off in 2007 for $2.3 million. Several years later, that wise owner sold the car for a staggering $10 million.
The rare sports car (only 350 of the models were ever manufactured) easily sells for close to $1 million, so the practicality of buying one for the production was not an option. Frankly, it would never survive the rigors of filming. The next best plan was to reproduce it, so the production commissioned two replicas, both of which had different uses for filming.
Once the decision was made, a little creative license was taken with the final color of the vehicle. The McQueen original was custom painted a muted “ marrone metallizzato,” or metallic brown. “The King of Cool” chose the color to elude law enforcement when zooming up the Pacific Coast Highway. However, the filmmakers wanted a vibrant, eye-popping color that would leave an impression. After performing camera tests on three versions of authentic vintage Ferrari colors, the filmmakers decided on “amaranto,” a brilliant red.
For Ferrari-aficionado Ratner, the luxury car in Tower Heist is as much a critical part of this story as the Porsche 928 is integral to the plot of Risky Business. He explains how it weaves into the plot: “At the end of the scene in which Josh takes a golf club to the Ferrari, you feel for Shaw and think maybe Josh is overreacting to Shaw’s losing Lester’s retirement money. You wonder if maybe Shaw is innocent after all.
“But that’s the big twist,” Ratner adds. “When the crew breaks into the apartment to steal the money they think is hidden, you know that they’re not professional thieves—they’re the antithesis of the Ocean’s Eleven crew—but they do know their way around the building. They know when people come and go, they know every door and every lock, every back way and every window. They understand the inner workings of this building. Of course, they could pull off a robbery…and the Ferrari is a big part of that.”
The beauty of the race car, which seamlessly fit the film’s old-school tone, impressed cast and crew alike. Says Leoni, an admitted car enthusiast, “ The car has an old-heist feel to it. It was cool seeing Steve McQueen’s Ferrari parked in a living room, and it was such a detailed replica of that car. I’m a little bit of a motorhead, and I would have liked to have taken it for a spin right out the window.”
The filmmakers looked to Tower Heist prop master PETER GELFMAN to oversee the three-month reproduction process of the Ferraris. It was a short window to turn it around, but the pair of beauties made it to New York in time for some added reinforcement by Steve Kirshoff and his special effects team. Now, it was off to the first day of filming on sound stages in Brooklyn.
The special effects department jumped right in and began the modifications on each of the cars. For the first portion of filming, one vehicle was utilized strictly for eye-candy shots. But it soon joined its twin for more action-oriented scenes. For the film’s elaborately choreographed heist sequence, Kirshoff rigged each car for very specific tasks.
Stiller, Murphy and Broderick joined in on the action, spending several days harnessed for stunt wirework for the eye-popping sequence in the film’s third act. Stiller, who had done some similar stunt work in the Night at the Museum films, was more at ease with the demands of an action-oriented film.
Others, like Sidibe, however, needed some coaxing to perform their own stunt work. “ I hate doing stunts,” she admits. “I’m always afraid I’m going to hurt myself or someone else.” But when she had to take out Agent Dansk, she had an unexpected surprise. “I was supposed to charge at the stunt guy with my maid’s cart and mow him down. My first couple of attempts weren’t hard enough because I was afraid for this guy. So, the last time I went super hard and something cracked, and he was lying on the ground and not moving. Everyone has me convinced that he’s hurt until he pops up with a smile. Stunt guys like that rush…no matter what the stunt is. It’s crazy.”
The burglary takes place in the midst of one of New York City’s most iconic events: the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Integrating the decades-old tradition into the story line was a daunting task that had the cast and crew re-creating the parade one week after the original. But to ensure that they fully captured the one-of-a-kind magic that only the real parade could provide, dozens of crew members gave up their Thanksgiving weekend to film portions of the actual parade on Columbus Circle.
Native New Yorkers Stiller, Alda, Leoni, Broderick and Sidibe had their own memories of attending the parade, while other members of the crew vividly recall watching the parade on television. However, the production’s ambitious re-creation was awe-inspiring for the team.
“ When I was a kid, my family would go to see the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and it was hard to get close,” says Leoni. “To be able to have front-row seats, so to speak, for even a portion of the parade, where I could take a look at all the balloons, was amazing. It was much cooler than it was when I was a kid.”
Ratner agrees with his film’s hard-nosed agent: “I knew that the building that is the center of Tower Heist is a main character in the film, and I wanted all the action around this centerpiece. The shots of the Thanksgiving Day Parade that we captured were just incredible.”
Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment present—in association with Relativity Media—a Brian Grazer production of a Brett Ratner film: Ben Stiller, Eddie Murphy in Tower Heist, starring Casey Affleck, Alan Alda, Matthew Broderick, Judd Hirsch, Téa Leoni, Michael Peña, Gabourey Sidibe. The action-comedy’s music is by Christophe Beck, and its costume designer is Sarah Edwards. The editor is Mark Helfrich, ACE, and the production designer is Kristi Zea. The director of photography is Dante Spinotti, ASC, AIC, and the executive producers are Bill Carraro, Karen Kehela Sherwood. Tower Heist is produced by Brian Grazer, Eddie Murphy, Kim Roth. The film is from a story by Adam Cooper & Bill Collage and Ted Griffin and a screenplay by Ted Griffin and Jeff Nathanson. Tower Heist is directed by Brett Ratner. © 2011 Universal Studios. www.towerheist.net
Studio photos, notes and videos © 2011 Universal Pictures