With the "Harry Potter" films, David Heyman has produced one of the most successful film franchises ever (taking in $7.7 billion worldwide), but one prominent symbol of success, an Academy Award, has so far been out of his reach. That could change this season if the raves behind his latest movie, "Gravity," are any indication.
The October release, which stars Sandra Bullock as mission engineer Ryan Stone, who becomes stranded in space after her shuttle is destroyed, has received widespread critical praise for the actress as well as its use of 3-D and other complex technical achievements. A commercial hit, "Gravity" has earned nearly $220 million to date at the box office.
Director Alfonso Cuarón, who co-wrote the film with his son Jonas, previously worked with Heyman on the third boy wizard movie, "Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban."
Heyman sat down with The Envelope recently to discuss "Gravity" and its award season prospects.
How did this project come to you?
Alfonso asked me to get involved. It was as simple as that. He's one of my very best friends and the godfather of my son. I think one of the important things for any director and any artist is to feel safe, and I think that Alfonso knew he could trust me, that I would support him and also be honest with him. He's bold. He doesn't play it safe, and to be asked to work with him is a privilege.
When award season comes around, how do you think campaigning for "Gravity" will be different from pushing the "Harry Potter" films?
God, I have no idea. I've never been a part of anything like this. It's nice that people even talk about it. As a producer, what you can really contribute to is making a good film, and I'm really proud of the film we've made. Now the academy campaign has become a big thing in itself. It's like running for political office. I'm curious to see what it's like.
Sandra Bullock's got an Oscar already for "The Blind Side." What do you think of the buzz for her in this film?
That performance — all the thrills, all the adventure — really finds its place because you're invested with her. And that's a performance that's largely generated through her eyes and behind a visor. She can't hunch or expand her chest or punch the air or anything like that. Also it's a performance that was created under duress in the sense that everything had to be seriously choreographed and every movement was proscribed. But you never feel that. You feel her isolation. You may feel [the character's] anger or her isolation, but you don't feel the physical stress and psychological stress [Bullock] was under. I think she's amazing.
When you signed on, did you have any idea what the technical demands would be?
None of us had a clue.... It was really rigorous and demanding, and it was a big leap into the unknown. There was a lot of R&D and trying out different techniques, with the light box, the robot, the 12-wire rig. It was pretty intense.
What were the most difficult shots?
The shot of the fetal position was very challenging, where she goes from removing the spacesuit to the fetal position without her showing strain. Also, the day before we started filming, the technology wasn't working, so that was a bit of a worry. The technology has to work not only because of the film but also for the safety of the actor.
What was it like having Cuarón and his son working together?
Alfonso jokes around that Jonas was cheap labor. Jonas is a hugely talented writer and director. His first film, a student film made out of stills, is sublime. Then he also wrote this script called "Desierto" that he's going to make next year. It was a very lean, taut thriller, and that was really the inspiration for Alfonso. Jonas in some ways is a student but also has very clear and strong opinions and is a brilliant writer of action. When you look at the script, the action is very clearly marked. It was very precise.