After spending a couple of hours at the production offices and the Brooklyn Armory where the production had built many of the sets for the movie, we were driven by van to Bowling Green near Battery Park, a location that the production had taken over for some of the movie’s many night shoots. Specifically, they had retrofitted the park’s existing fountain with stairs and platforms to turn it into a fiery environment for a climactic battle between Nicolas Cage’s Balthazar Blake and Alfred Molina’s Max Horvath over the magical Grimhold containing Balthazar’s wife Veronica Flood, played by Monica Bellucci. Apparently, Horvath has been trying to bring his mistress Morgana le Fey back to life, a plan that involves the use of Veronica.
Bowling Green is a small but fairly busy public park in downtown Manhattan, a stone’s throw away from Wall Street, Battery Park and the Staten Island Ferry. It tends to be very busy during weekdays with tens of thousands of people working in the area and traffic coming into the city from the nearby Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. It generally gets quieter at night and weekends although there’s still quite a bit of traffic that’s been quite trying in recent years due to the amount of non-stop construction that has gone on there.
Being a night shoot, they had rigged up giant cranes holding light panels and a giant balloon over the fountain was being used to create just the right lighting, making it abundantly clear that this was not a small-scale film shoot but a full-on Jerry Bruckheimer movie. Bruckheimer himself could be seen wandering around the set taking pictures and talking amicably with director Jon Turteltaub, Nicolas Cage and the crew. There was a significant mob of people standing at the fences that surrounded the park peering into the area, trying to catch a glimpse of the stars at work, while the surrounding streets and sidewalks were being regularly sprayed down with water to give them just the right glisten to set the background mood.
The oddest thing was that as we arrived, Cage walked over towards us, giving us our first look at his character Balthazar Blake up close, wearing a long and heavy leather coat, rings on every finger, wristbands and sporting the character’s distinctive long hair. Once Cage realized the group that arrived on set were press, he started looking around, possibly for a place where he could escape to, then he stopped himself and came back over to shake hands and talk to us. Except it wasn’t really an interview as much as Cage wanting to clear the air about rumors he had hired a witch doctor on set after a number of well-reported mishaps. Once he said what he wanted to say, he went back to work, though he did seem surprisingly sociable that evening, even going over a few times to the people at the fence to shake hands and sign autographs.
We watched Cage working on the scene, which starts with Balthazar arriving and spotting Molina in the center of the fountain which is surrounded by flames, then the two of them have a few words about the Grimhold before going at each other with their plasma blasts.
Because the scene involved so much CG effects to be added later, it wasn’t easy determining exactly what was going on, but we watched as it came together. Cage (or his stuntman) began the scene by jumping over a low fence surrounding the perimeter, then after a few shots of that, he was peering out of a hole in the ground not too far away, which was surrounded in green screen material. Apparently, Balthazar throws a baton into the air, which turns into a mirror then jumps through the mirror which transports him to a hole in the ground not too far away from the fountain. Once he emerges, he uses his powers to pull the Grimhold away from Horvath into his own hands. They shot a few takes of Cage attempting to catch an object that was substituting for the Grimhold, and many of the takes were botched by his butterfingers as he kept fumbling it to the ground.
Once Molina arrived on set for his part of the scene, that’s when we saw how much the fountain had been modified, as they cranked up the pyro and the flames rose up to surround Molina’s character, and the two actors started to interact with the dialogue that leads to their battle.
Cage calls out to Horvath something like “You didn’t think I’d let you lock her away did you?” to which Horvath responds, “I imagined it would take a little persuasion.” “None of your old tricks,” Balthazar warns his opponent to which Horvath complies with an “As you wish,” and then Cage raises his hands, Molina raises his cane and the two began struggling as if there was a large amount of energy passing between them. Cage actually had flashlights on his wrists to create the effect of his plasma bolts, while Molina’s cane had a light on the end of it to symbolize the energy he creates with his magic. We learned from the film’s visual FX specialist John Nelson that they generally try to shoot as much as possible for real on set knowing that they would be adding and enhancing every scene with CG later.
They filmed this scene a number of times from different angles and in between takes, various actors came by our location to talk to us – all of which you can read by clicking on the appropriate link below. We then waited a while longer until Turteltaub became available, and as the director became aware of the press watching him work, he joked around, asking us how he was doing compared to a director like Spielberg or other directors the visiting press may have seen working before. Eventually, Turteltaub was able to break away and talk to us about the project, which you can also read below.
As an added bonus to the bolster our look behind the scenes, we’ve included an exclusive chat we did with Turteltaub at WonderCon in San Francisco a few months back.
The Sorcerer’s Apprentice opens on Wednesday, July 14.