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Battle Los Angeles: A Gritty, Sci-Fi, War Drama

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BATTLE LOS ANGELES, the Sci-fi war drama, from Sony Pictures Entertainment/Columbia Pictures and in association with Relativity Media, brings to the screen a gritty portrayal of combat shy Marines facing hostile invasion and sure annihilation.

BATTLE LOS ANGELES, produced by Neil H. Moritz and Ori Marmur and directed by Jonathan Liebesman, combines motion capture technology and front lines war photography to create realistic enemy confrontation and engagement. 

BATTLE LOS ANGELES, written by Chris Bertolini, showcases an ensemble cast of courageous Marines led by Aaron Eckhart, Michelle Rodriguez, Bridget Moynahan, Michael Pena and Ramon Rodriguez in the high-body count, catastrophic war film.

The premise behind BATTLE LOS ANGELES is based on an historic event from the 1942 Battle of Los Angeles. The attack, covered by the Los Angeles Times and other news agencies, reported that for a period of several hours Unidentified Flying Aircraft filled the nighttime sky over Santa Monica, California and moved down the coast line. In that time, the U.S. military readied themselves and retaliated against the unknown invaders. Anti-aircraft missiles were fired over the Pacific Ocean and Los Angeles.  Five deaths were reported on the ground. The next day, without concrete evidence and unwilling to incite mass hysteria, the situation was labeled “an incident” generated by a weather balloon.

The modernized film version of the story moves quickly from an escalated addressable, albeit, unknown threat to hostile invasion and obliteration. The platoon of base trained Marines, lead by a young and inexperienced Second Lieutenant William Martinez (Ramon Rodriguez) and his combat scarred and burnt out Staff Sergeant Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) are dispatched behind enemy lines to rescue a group of civilians trapped in a Santa Monica Police Station.

Along the way, the realities of war and the inability to see, determine and understand the enemy coupled with the inexperience of combat creates confusion, fear and limited effectiveness that results in heavy losses.

The BATTLE LOS ANGELES Press Junket was held, and the domestic press stayed, at Casa Del Mar, Santa Monica, steps from the Santa Monica Pier and the California Coastline where the original Battle of Los Angeles lit up the nighttime sky.

Having the opportunity to speak with the principals of BATTLE LOS ANGELES, in both roundtables and interviews, their dedication to their craft was paramount as memories of Boot Camp, physical injuries and unbelievable weather conditions resonated throughout.  The following represents excerpts from those interviews. The full interviews will follow separately.

With Director Jonathan Liebesman . .  .

Janet Walker: So Jonathan, Great movie. I enjoyed it.

Jonathan Liebesman: Thank you, Janet.
Janet Walker:  I saw it at a SONY about a month ago.

Jonathan Liebesman: Oh, you did?
Janet Walker:  Yes and then I saw it again last night and still enjoyed it. So two times around and it’s still a good movie. 

Jonathan Liebesman: Thanks, Janet, I really appreciate that.
Janet Walker:  We talked a little bit this morning about how you filmed it in documentary style. When I first describe it was more like a staccato movement. So tell me why you chose that style of filming?

Jonathan Liebesman:  Well, I think one of the main inspirations of the movie is embedded war footage and you know, a lot of the stuff you see on You Tube from Iraq and Afghanistan as well, that was the start I drew from it and it informed a lot of the way the movie was shot.
Janet Walker: I remember you saying “You fought like hell to get the movie.” Describe what that process was like? 

Jonathan Liebesman: I mean, you know, anyone who’s ever tried to get a job in their life knows what it’s like to go in for an interview and it’s a job you really want, you’ll do anything, and if you have to get a job in this economy it can be nearly impossible, it’s the same for a film director.
I went and I shot stuff and I worked hard. I put CGI effects in shots and learned how to do that with software. Brought it to the studio and there were four other guys in the running and so therefore I went and did more and thought, ‘Oh, what would that look like in Santa Monica?’ Go to Santa Monica, shoot shots there and put things in shots there and then ‘What about downtown?’ Go to downtown do the same there.

So, I was running around just doing everything it took. I remember I was editing an independent film I had just done and I’d go back maybe 8:00 or 9:00 somewhere in the evening and then I’d start working on my presentation for BATTLE LOS ANGELES until I would fall asleep.  The thing is, this [BATTLE LOS ANGELES] was just really about what I could do because it felt like my shot to do something that I really wanted to do. 

I remember when I got the movie, I couldn’t believe I got the movie it was kind of like, when you get something, I can’t believe they gave it to me. It’s like, you’ve have those situation where things don’t work out?
Janet Walker: Yes.
Jonathan Liebesman: Well, this was one where somehow and I don’t know why, it was working out! Where everything I did I would visualize they’re going to love this, I was going to go in and they’re going to love this and they’re going to call their boss and that guy will like it and stuff like that would happen. I’ve been on the other side a lot before where I would always be the guy that was losing out. It felt like, what’s that saying, ‘Life is opportunity; and hard work makes opportunity.’ It felt like that.

With Ramon Rodriguez . . .
Janet Walker: So Boot Camp. Tell me about the Boot Camp experience.
Ramon Rodriguez: Ah man, amazing experience. Three weeks of research; three weeks of really trying to develop this character and really learn what is like to be a Marine.  I actually wish every single project you could add Boot Camp because it’s invaluable.  It was almost like theater. I was like ‘this is incredible.’ You don’t get this kind of experience, you don’t get that leeway all the time, where you have time to learn what it is to become a Marine; what it is to like walk, talk and look, how to handle your weapon properly, how to clear out a room, how to communicate to your unit and to your platoon. But in addition we were rehearsing scenes. I mean it was a phenomenal experience. I’m indebted to the people who made that possible. Again, the movie would not be what it is without that. There’s no doubt about it. We wouldn’t have looked the way we did.

Janet Walker:  What was your reaction when you were told your first three weeks of prep would be Boot Camp?
Ramon Rodriguez: I was so excited. Honestly, it was like this was going to be the best thing ever. I get to actually have . . .  I get excited about that. You know, you tell me Marine Boot Camp; I’m like, I’m like a kid in a candy store. You tell me I’m going to get to play with weapons and learn what it is to be a Marine, like to actually learn it. You know, because what research could we have been able to get? I would have asked my friend, I would have been able to maybe watch movies; maybe I would have gotten to a firing range. But to actually go through the Boot Camp, to have those guys, those Veterans, the Master Chief and all those guys, to have them throughout the entire filming process. I mean, you can’t even, I can’t even explain how important it is. They’re constantly watching us, they’re watching our moves, and they’re making sure we’re doing it properly. Jonathan, I’m sure will tell you, if you want things to look real and authentic, without them, it won’t. We’re actors, at the end of the day, so we need those eyes of Marines to make sure we’re looking like a Marine.

At the Roundtable with Michele Rodriguez . .
Janet Walker: What kind of challenges did you encounter with BATTLE LOS ANGELES?
Michelle Rodriguez: The research. I play a Tech Sergeant and my character at the beginning stages of the project was incredibly underdeveloped because she was last minute solution to the lack of explanation as to what going’s on. Coming up with this move it would be me and Jonathan would be like cramming it in like at meetings the night before shooting the next day like figuring the stuff out. I would roll over to the airports and visit the actual Tech Sergeants who do this for a living, who research alga rhythms, and like atmospheric interference understand magnetic frequencies and how to interact with them and what kind of equipment would you use and if they did penetrate our atmosphere how we could not detect them. And all of these questions needed to be answered and you know it was teamwork and I’m a fricken’ stickler for that shit so I was on it.

With Michael Pena . .
Janet Walker: Everyone has talked about the Boot Camp but your character didn’t have that kind of element. Where you’re a part of the Boot Camp or were you . . .  not?
Michael Pena: Was I having lunch and sipping Espresso?  I was doing that which is good. Because I feel like I wanted to make it look like the guy didn’t know what was happening.  I was looking at the movie from our point of view, from the audience point of view, so like the guys were like, ‘Oh this is really cool’ and you could tell that he liked that that he was a real John Wayne kind of guy and then you flash to my guy and I’m like ‘What the ?!!’ the entire time. I think that’s the way he would react; I mean are Aliens really shooting at us? You know I think that was important.

Janet Walker: Tell me about Shreveport, Louisiana: Sweltering hot, I’ve heard, in the middle of summer and you’re filming this entire highway bus scene describe that to the audience? What was it like? What did you go through? What were your emotions before you had to take on your character?
Michael Pena: To be honest with you, I don’t know about anyone else but its nerve wracking for me any first day.  It’s a character that you’re just trying out. You don’t know, you hope to God you do something well and that you don’t suck.  ‘Operation Don’t Suck’ is in effect right now.  To be honest and you’re like ‘Man, there’s a lot of stars” or there’s not a lot of stars and they’re looking at you to pull off something you don’t know if you can pull off cause you haven’t seen it on film yet. And then you see the set and it’s hot as can be and humid and there’s flies all over the place and you have to keep hydrated as much as possible. So you enter this big set and it’s like one-half mile long of freeway and that’s the first week, the first two weeks of shooting.

At the roundtable with Aaron Eckhart. . .
Janet Walker: Was the experience of making the film different than you thought it would be?
Aaron Eckhart: It was the hardest movie I ever made.  It was physically challenging every day. It was a beautiful nightmare. It was just so tough physically. The weather, the physical demands, the weaponry, just the long days, the amount of takes we took, and psychologically it was difficult. I did the last three weeks of this movie with a broken arm. At the same time this is the only movie in my career that at the end of it I was sorry it was ending. I really loved my character. I would love, if there is a next movie, to be in it. Because I just loved everything that had to do with the movie with the weapons, the helicopters, and just the whole camaraderie with your well, it was like a diamond fused under pressure.

Janet Walker: Was that a work related injury, the broken arm?
Aaron Eckhart: I did not miss a second of work. I worked through it and I did not use a cast. I had three weeks to go and I just t wasn’t about to   . . . when these movies get going you don’t want to shut them down.

The cast of BATTLE LOS ANGELES delivered strong performances and remained true to the “Sempe Fi" lifestyle. They exemplified Marines in combat facing what troops face every day in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan where the enemy, just as in the film, isn't as defined as we would like it to be. BATTLE LOS ANGELES contains heightened suspense, war footage and death.

BATTLE LOS ANGELES opens in theaters everywhere Friday, March 11, 2011.
For more information on BATTLE LOS ANGELES: http://www.battlela.com/

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