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Steve Werblun Interview

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Equilibrium Storyboards
Steve Werblun Interview

An Artist's View of EQ

A heartfelt & personal thanks to
Steve for sharing his time, talent, & knowledge of EQ!!

 The Interview

JenGe (webmaster): Steve, I am thrilled not only to have your work on my site but also your willingness to share your personal insight into the creation of Equilibrium. 

SW: I just wanted to convey to you my delight and surprise to discover that the world was finally discovering as well as appreciating something that I had known for years now...that "Equilibrium" is a tremendous cinematic achievement...or as I told Kurt the night I saw it for the very first time; "...it's an art-house, sci-fi/action masterpiece....!"

I felt terrible for him when Miramax decided to put NO money into promoting or distributing it and I told him so. But unfortunately, that's the nature of the Beast...So, I am really thrilled to see that "EQ" seems to finally be finding it's audience...around the world, thanks to you and your site...which by the way, is quite beautiful and very informative... Kurt's masterfully crafted film is finally getting a bit of the promotion that should have been designated to it by the studio upon it's release.

So, for film fans everywhere (of which I was one for 40 years before being fortunate enough to work in the "Industry"...), let me say a very heartfelt, "thank you!"

JG: Thanks.  The pleasure is truly all mine.  I actually feel extremely honored to have been in just the right place at the right time with the adequate knowledge to do it.

Purely out of curiosity...how did you stumble upon the site?
SW: My daughter, Arielle (13 years old) and I were surfing the web one afternoon and while we were in Google, I entered my name to see just how many websites were displaying my work...and there are several that I was already aware of...but, then I noticed the Eqfansite; went there...and we were both very excited to see that "EQ" was not only gaining it's long overdue worldwide recognition, but also very flattered to see that my storyboards (so very vital to this particular production...) were being so prominently featured."
JG: As I said it is a complete joy to have your work on the site & I am more than grateful that I have been able to feature it. 

How was it that you came to work on this particular film?
SW: Back in 1998, I had done an extensive amount of storyboards with Jan DeBont ("Speed (1 and 2)", "Twister",  "The Haunting" and "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider") on a film entitled, "Pathfinder", (which unfortunately was forced to shut down after 6 months of pre-production and has yet to be produced elsewhere) and since it was Jan's production company, Blue Tulip, that was producing "EQ", he remembered me and called me into his office to have a meeting with Kurt. We hit it off immediately and the rest as they say...is film history.
JG: The storyboards you created for "Equilibrium" are from pre-production...right?
SW: Right! All of these frames (and hundreds more...) were completed months before shooting began and they pre-visualized most of the major sequences from the film. In other words, you could basically see and understand how every scene would flow and we were very particular about the framing of each shot. Kurt had a very specific idea in his head as to how he wanted every frame of this film to look. And I might note, he most definitely achieved it.

JG: So you are saying that there are a lot more Equilibrium storyboards out there that I need to hunt down, beg, borrow, or steal?

SW:  Yes. There are hundreds of other frames that I completed for the film. I have Xerox copies of them all. But, either Kurt or Miramax are in possession of the originals. There are also many illustrations of Preston's gun and an epic landscape drawing. (I have copies of everything if you need to use them.).

EQ "Landscape" drawing - Click for larger view...

JG: I would love to!!  We'll have to talk more about that in the near future.

You mentioned that you spent many hours working with Kurt on the storyboards. Can you explain this process to us in more detail...how you two worked together in achieving the final results?
SW: I would meet with Kurt at his home at least once a week...maybe twice...for anywhere from 4 to 8 hours per day. I would draw a thumbnail sketch of each and every frame that I was going to be working on based upon Kurt's very detailed instructions. Not only did he know what he wanted each shot to look like, but he had me illustrate many charts and maps that would help us decipher exactly how the camera was going to choreograph its way through all of the action.

 I drew up these charts for essentially every scene where the Clerics commence upon their raids. I would then take all of my thumbnail sketches back home to my studio where, over the course of the next several days, I would redraw everything in the standard frame format the way they appear today.

Each frame was quite time consuming as Kurt really appreciated the amount of detail that I was putting into each frame, and he asked me to continue doing them that way. He really liked my style of illustrating things being shattered or exploded, and he loved to see bullet shells flying upward, towards the camera. In any event, upon completion of the drawings, I would scan each page of storyboards and then E-mail him the file. So, he would receive anywhere from 15 to 30 drawings every day or so...I never had to leave the comfort of my studio, except for our meetings. Ah...the internet. This is the way we worked for about 4 months from late January to May of 2000.

However, I did have some creative input as far as the shots go. The most noteworthy sequence being when Preston surfs the door into the blackened room in the "Opening Raid Sequence". Kurt directed me all of the way up to the door and as Preston crashes through it. Then, he asked me...while it was pitch black in the room, to design 12 different positions from which Preston would fire both of his guns at the rebels, laying in wait for him around the perimeter of the room. All of these shots were to be viewed as if in a strobe light effect...and he shot it exactly that way. I am very pleased to say that Kurt used most of my poses in this sequence...and it remains my favorite of all the storyboard sequences I've ever done. 
JG: Any interesting stories about working with him that you might be able to share with us without Kurt sending a hit squad after you?
SW: First of all, I don't think I've ever met anyone in the Film Industry as quiet and reserved as Kurt. Even though he's the picture of health and hipness, he is very understated. Which makes this little ditty that I'd like to share with you all the more amusing...

In late July of 2000, I (along with another artist by the name of Ron Croci) was called back in to work on "EQ", this time doing production design for a Production Designer that will from here on remain un-named. I worked on the initial gun designs as well as the logo for the City of Libria and I did an epic(pencil) illustration showing the Walls of Libria winding a destructive path across an old neighborhood of suburban family homes.

This time however, I was working directly with someone other than Kurt...someone who hadn't been involved with this production for as long as I was...and certainly wasn't up to speed on what Kurt had in mind. I remember that this PD refused to listen to any of my ideas regarding the designs of certain things...the designs that I already knew that Kurt had liked very much. So after insisting upon having his own way...and changing all of Kurt's and my ideas...he really ticked off our normally reserved Director...and Kurt had him off the picture the very next day. It was the only time while I was working with him that I remember Kurt ever getting angry. But, he knew what he wanted...and on this particular day...so did I.
JG: You also mentioned in the guestbook that you think Wimmer is a visionary. Of course we would agree with you. Was there some aspect of working with him that brought you to this conclusion?
SW: He always knew exactly what he wanted and his quiet confidence was always present. He was very sure-footed throughout the entire film making process and the storyline of "EQ", although quite derivative in its narrative, was made into an entirely original motion picture experience by Kurt. While I was working on the original version of the script, it was very clear to me that "EQ"'s storyline was a mixture of 2 great sci-fi classics: "Fahrenheit 451" and "THX-1138". But from the very beginning, it was obvious that Kurt, although relaying a similar story, had an entirely new...and frankly, much more entertaining vision of it to share with the world.

Not only that, but he had the good fortune to get the film financed, produced...and of course, finally...after several years...released. I must also say that I am very happy with the final ending of the film. It was a bleak ending...but, very appropriate...and necessary. After viewing the final film, I find it difficult to see how the original ending (of Emily Watson's character surviving at the end...) would've worked. It was a very brave choice by Kurt and Lucas to take it in that direction...one that may have hurt it at the box office...but truly, the perfect ending.
JG: I particularly loved the "snow globe" segment which you so elegantly storyboarded. Did the final results turn out as you envisioned when you drew them?

SW: Yes. In fact, this was the first of several sequences that I worked on that were NOT action scenes. Kurt and I carefully designed each shot just as they appear in the film. I was absolutely exalted when I saw the final results...not only because of this scene...but because ALL of my storyboards were translated to the screen EXACTLY the way I originally drew them. Besides, the opposing images of shattering glass (in the Gun Kata sequences) and the snow flurries (in the snow globe sequence) gives a very stylish and thoughtful balance to the visuals. Again...this was all Kurt's vision. But, it was truly a fantastic experience to have illustrated the entire movie for him before the cameras rolled.
JG: I asked Mark Bristol this one as well, but since I personally enjoy comparing storyboards with actual finished frames of a movie, I'll ask you too. How does it make you feel when you see your images translated into live action?
SW: There are no words to express my excitement when I see my work in motion...in a movie theater...in front of hundreds/thousands/millions of people. Since I was a real movie fanatic l-o-o-o-n-g before I had the opportunity to work in the Film Industry, getting the chance to actually make films with the same people whose work I had idolized for over 30 years was a dream come true. I am still extremely thrilled and feel very privileged to be such an integral part of the film-making process and I have had my hand in the creation of some really terrific movies, including "The Day After Tomorrow", "Stigmata", "Batman & Robin", "Chill Factor", "Desperate Measures", "The Negotiator", "Along Came Polly", "Dirty Dancing/Havana Nights", and the upcoming "Because Of Winn-Dixie" and "Dead Birds", among many others.
JG: In the cathedral sequence, the shot of the bullet hitting the camera could not be achieved due to technicalities. How do you feel when cool shots like these are lost for whatever reason?
SW: It's a bummer...but unfortunately, it's part of the storyboarding process. Not only do the boards allow the Director to see what he is going to film...but they also clearly illustrate what shots simply cannot be obtained. Although I'd be willing to bet that if Kurt had an extra couple hundred thousand bucks, he would've rendered that particular action in CGI. But it really doesn't matter. The film lives perfectly on it's own...without the benefit of that moment.

JG: You have worked on many other films, "Contact", "Charlie's Angels", "Stigmata", to name a few. Was there anything about working on Equilibrium that was different than those or is your experience generally about the same?
SW: For many reasons, "Equilibrium" was a very unique experience for me. First of all, Kurt and I were completely isolated from the "suits" and I was given the chance for the very first time to work solely with the Director in creating the look of the picture. No one ever invaded our space and as a result, we had a free hand to do whatever we wanted to. It was also the first time that I really got to know my Director, personally...and that in itself is a rarity...and in this particular case, a real pleasure.

Secondly, and of utmost importance to me, was that I would receive a screen credit on the film. You see, I had storyboarded over 20 major motion pictures before I started work on "Equilibrium"...and never once had I (or any of the other artists that I'd worked with...) ever gotten my name on the credit scroll at the end of the movie. It's very frustrating when you do what I do...and then do NOT receive a screen credit for it. The Caterers, the Drivers, the guys who bring the Port-A-Potties get a bleepin' screen credit...where was the storyboard artists? From the outset, Kurt promised me that I would get a credit on his movie...and true to his word....he did exactly what he said he would do. And I received my very first screen credit (as a Storyboard Artist). Again...I want to thank you, Kurt...very much! 

And lastly, "Equilibrium" was a movie that I really liked. It was my "cup of tea", as it were. And unfortunately, I don't always have the luxury of selecting the films that I work on. Usually, they select me. So, in this case, I was very glad to have been chosen. For the 4 to 5 months that I worked with Kurt on this film, I was the only Storyboard Artist. Mark Bristol came on later when I became unavailable due to a death in my family. Unfortunately, it was my grandmother, Claire, who passed away. She was my biggest fan and supporter on this planet and if ever I would've wanted anyone to see my "name in lights"...well, it would've been her.

JG: I'm truly sorry to hear that she was not able to see your "name in lights" which leads me to ask...Why is it, do you think, that storyboard artists are overlooked? Personally, I would have thought that after films such as "Raiders of the Lost Ark" or "Star Wars", storyboard artists would have achieved better recognition. I find this medium to be a fascinating aspect of the film making process, certainly much more so than "Port-A-Potties." So why do you think the neglect?

SW: There are several reasons. Firstly, storyboards are usually completed during pre-production...long before the entire company comes together...and certainly long before the credits are put together. So, in most cases, the storyboard artists are simply...(and conveniently) forgotten.

Secondly, to negate the credit for the storyboard artist means that no one in the audience will pose the question, "What is it exactly that a storyboard artist does?" Because answering that question reveals that the framing and the composition of what appeared on screen was not necessarily the director's vision, exclusively.

And thirdly, it costs money to put a name on the credit scroll...and studios will cut back wherever...and whenever they can. Even if it means excluding the names of some of the real talent behind the making of the film. I'm not saying that Limo and Truck Drivers, Accountants, Runners, Caterers, Renters of Toilets and the like are not crucial to the business and the process of making movies. But, they have nothing at all to do with the creativity, the artistry, or the emotional signature that is embedded into a film. For them to receive an on screen acknowledgment...and not the storyboard guys...is cruel and unusual reward for a job well done. So once again...thank you, Kurt...for being so professional...so confident...and so very true to your word!

JG: Though the critics panned the film, the responses by viewers in general have been the polar opposite. Are you surprised by either of these reactions?
SW: Not one bit. As a matter of fact, I would've been rather surprised if the critics had liked it. Actually, some of them did!  But, a film of this nature; dark, bleak and full of hard-edged violence...will always provoke the worst reaction from critics. Yet audiences...if they know that the movie actually exists...will come to embrace it. And, I'm thrilled to see that they finally are.
JG: What brought you into the business of creating art for film in the first place? Was there a point of inspiration?
SW: This will take some time..."The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad", Ray Harryhausen, "2001: A Space Odyssey" and Stanley Kubrick; these are the films and the people that ignited my desire to be a film-maker. The only trouble was...I grew up in Philadelphia Pa, where there is NO film industry. So, I thought about how I could get a job in the television business that might lead me further West...to Hollywood.

The opportunity came for me on New Year's Eve, 1975, the Eve of Our Country's Bicentennial in Philadelphia. The inaugural event of the Bicentennial was "The Moving Of The Liberty Bell" which took place at Independence Hall at midnight of December 31, 1975. And a News Photographer friend of mine, knowing that I was looking for an opportunity to have my work shown on TV, offered me a Press Pass to the Event.

I went there that night with sole intention of not only illustrating the action, but to get noticed by the News Media, and, hopefully...be requested to do some Courtroom Art(the only type of artwork being done for TV in Philly.). Fate intervened...and the weather kicked up; it was snowing, hailing, there was rain and sleet, and the chill factor was 30 below!!!!. When I got home at 2:00 A.M., my friend phoned me to say,"that due to all of the wet weather, no photographers could get a shot of "The Bell" as it was moved out of Independence Hall and down the street to it's brand new home...a Pavilion built just for this occasion.

He told me to call the Philadelphia Daily News. I did. They told me to bring my drawing down to them the next morning. I said okay and hung up the phone. I didn't have anything to bring them. The weather was SO bad that I could not draw a blessed thing. But, thanks to my friend(Bruce)'s Press Pass, I did have a really good view, right up front.

So that New Year's Eve...at 4 o'clock in the morning...I found out just how good my photographic memory was. And for the next 10 hours, using black ink, water and brush, I reconstructed the main event on a 30"x 40" piece of Strathmere paper.

A very special thanks to Steve for allowing me to show this!!

My illustration showed everything that occurred before my eyes the night before; there were hard-hatted construction workers by the dozen, pulling "The Liberty Bell" which was completely enveloped in a clear plastic tarp, as it sat on a large movable platform; there were hundreds of onlookers surrounding "The Bell" as it was rolled out of the main entrance of "Independence Hall"; watching the event take place were police, national guardsmen and press photographers, as well as many faces beaming from the second story windows of the historic building; and the rain and the snow could be seen falling, melting and reflecting of the streets...

I delivered the illustration that afternoon...the newspaper loved it...and, they paid me $35.00 for it...and the next question they asked me was, "Have you ever done any courtroom illustration?" "No.", I said..."but, I would certainly give it a shot..." So, they hired me to do some courtroom illustrations for the very first court proceeding in what became for me a 28 year career of doing thousands of trials for TV News.

The next morning, my illustration of "The Moving Of The Liberty Bell" was featured on the front page of The New Year's Day edition of "The Philadelphia Daily News"...which made my drawing...historical (I have since donated it to The National Historical Society in Philadelphia and they are hoping to hang it somewhere near "The Bell" someday...).

Meanwhile, I went on to become a Courtroom Artist/Commentator with NBC News, MSNBC, CNN, Court TV, UPN News, ABC News, and, at one time or another, virtually every TV news organization in the country, and in many places around the globe, as well. My full color marker illustrations have chronicled many of the most publicized trials in recent history, including, both "O.J. Simpson Trials", both "Rodney King Federal Trials", both "Heidi Fleiss Trials", both "Menendez Brothers Murder Trials" and thousands of other cases, many of them involving celebrities such as Steven Spielberg, Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul, Brian Wilson, Mike Love, Jeffrey Katzenberg, Michael Boulton and Stevie Wonder, among many others.

JG: Is there a good place online to view your artwork?

SW: You can view many more samples of my work by logging onto: www.famousframes.com . This is my agent's website. Just click on "Artists", then click on my name. The site contains storyboard samples from "The Day After Tomorrow", "The Negotiator", "Batman & Robin", "Stigmata", "Along Came Polly", as well as courtroom illustrations from some of the cases that I've covered recently.

JG: As you look back at the work that you have done not only for Equilibrium but other films as well, what are some of the personal rewards you have garnered from working in this field?

SW: Each film project brings new and often times very talented people into my world. But, I think the biggest reward has to be something like the "Equilibrium" fansite which gives my work an opportunity to be appreciated by the public-at-large. Most artists work alone...and in a vacuum. And storyboards are very rarely seen outside the studio. So, it's very flattering to have audiences in general get a chance to see and appreciate them.

JG: So what's ahead for you?
SW: I have an exclusive Gallery Opening at The Basement in Echo Park near downtown L.A., on October 9, 2004., which will run through November 10, 2004. This particular show will feature 80 of the thousands of courtroom illustrations that I have drawn for TV News Organizations worldwide since 1976. I am also developing a 70 minute film documentary entitled, "Drawing Conclusions", which will focus upon my adventures as a Courtroom Artist/Reporter during the media blitz that was "The O.J. Simpson Murder Trial". It is a project that I intend to write, produce and direct.

I've been writing screenplays for many years and have 16 feature film scripts completed. And the latest, entitled, "No Walk In The Park", is the story of a little girl lost in the wilderness who stumbles upon the truth about a murder that took place 15 years prior. It is a movie that I was planning on directing myself and it will feature my daughter, Arielle, an aspiring young actress, in the lead role. I am also currently being considered for several different film projects as a Storyboard Artist. But believe me, in this crazy business...you never know what to expect. Anything can...and usually does...happen.
Well, there you go, Jen. All the news that fits. It's great to have an audience... especially an appreciative one. Let me know if you need anything else and best of luck with the Eqfansite. And a special thanks to all of the fans around the world. You chose an awesome movie to fall in love with. It was a terrific experience for me. I hope people continue to discover it and regain their "Equilibrium."
Steve Werblun
Los Angeles, CA,  June 2004.