How Alejandro G. Iñárritu filmed the bear attack in ‘The Revenant’

Director Alejandro G. Iñárritu reveals as much as he can about creating the brutal bear attack scene without giving away exactly how they pulled it off.

To create the brutal bear attack scene in “The Revenant” took a lot of research and painstaking choreography, said director Alejandro G. Iñárritu. Ultimately, it all came together through teamwork and, essentially, “storyboarding with human beings.”

The Oscar-winning director, who also produced and co-wrote the gritty frontier epic, discussed the on-screen bear encounter during last week’s Envelope Screening Series event at the Writers Guild Theater.

The filmmaker was joined onstage for a Q&A with L.A. Times film writer Mark Olsen by the film’s star Leonardo DiCaprio -- who plays frontier trapper Hugh Glass, who is left for dead by his party after the bear attack -- along with co-stars Will Poulter, Forrest Goodluck and Domhnall Gleeson.

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When Olsen asked the director about the alchemy of the scene, DiCaprio interjected by saying that his boss “watched over 100 different clips of bear attacks before he started the sequence.”

Things got “a bit gory after that,” Iñárritu added.

“The research of how it happened is very important,” the Mexican director said. “All the Hollywood films show bears as a bad guy or they have human emotions. ... I hate that. And this [bear] is just feeding her cubs. That’s it. I wanted to understand how, what happened.”

It took a while before he figured it out, consulting German director Werner Herzog about his 2005 documentary “Grizzly Man” and Herzog’s “genius directorial decision” to omit the sounds from an attack because it would be too “disturbing” for audiences. Iñárritu also consulted with a Montana man who traveled the world interviewing people who survived bear attacks. All this was an effort to understand exactly how bear attacks happen, the director said.

Then came the point-of-view decision: Would they shoot it as a National Geographic-style documentary or the way an amateur filmmaker or witness would happen upon it? Ultimately, the director opted to shoot it so audiences could experience what Hugh Glass was experiencing. He talked with DiCaprio “to shape the scene,” and his acting informed the pace.

“It was a little blocking idea with some special effects guys and things,” Iñárritu said. “But, honestly, I have to say it was one of those really incredible things. There was a pace of the scene ... We were in a way discovering bit by bit, teamwork, with the camera. You are basically storyboarding with human beings. We were really shaping, understanding the thing.

“Once we finished the choreography,” he joked, “I will not tell you” how the rest of it came together.

See what else he had to say in the video above and check out other videos of from this and other Q&As.

Follow me on Twitter @NardineSaad.


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