19. August 2004

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Elijah Wood should be home hibernating by now. Principal photography on Everything Is Illuminated, shot mostly in the countryside around Prague, finished on August 12. "I'll probably take a bit of a break after this," Wood told The Prague Post. "With the film that I did previous to this, this movie and then all the publicity for Lord of the Rings, I haven't had a lot of free time." Wood was speaking on location at the Face to Face disco on Stvanice ostrov just before the film wrapped. He also spoke to the press during the recent Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Everything Is Illuminated is based on a novel by Jonathan Safran Foer. It came to the attention of first-time screenwriter and director Liev Schreiber when he read an excerpt in The New Yorker magazine. Schreiber is best known as an actor, and was in The Sum of All Fears and Kate & Leopold. Working with an actor at the helm appealed to Wood. "I feel I learned a lot about acting working with him," Wood said. "It's been a fascinating process watching him direct actors, but also watching him go through the process of being a first-time director. I feel like in some ways his experience would be an inspiration for me if I chose to direct at some point." Wood hopes to eventually mix acting with work behind the camera, but right now has no concrete plans. One idea he had been toying with was an adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic novel Sin City, but he decided it was impossible. Then he had dinner with his friend Robert Rodriguez, who said that he was already planning to co-direct the project with Miller. "I nearly lost it," Wood said. In the end, Wood got a role in the film and worked on it for two days in Austin, Texas. "Sin City was a dream come true. I am such a huge fan of that comic book and to be able to work with Frank Miller ... was just amazing." Wood was in Austin just before coming to Prague, and also recently finished working on a British film tentatively called Hooligans. All of these films are on a much smaller scale than the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Everything Is Illuminated has a budget of $7 million (182 million Kc) and a shooting schedule of about 10 weeks. "The two are very different experiences that can't be compared," Wood said. "Working on something like this is more character-focused. It's an intimate film about three characters. The thought process behind it is different." The movie is a part-comic, part-tragic tale of a young Jewish-American man who goes to Ukraine in a Trabant automobile to search for the woman who helped save his grandfather during World War II. Along for the ride are two guides: an old man who uses a seeing-eye dog to help him drive, and the man's grandson, who has a small grasp of English and a love of American pop culture. But mostly, according to Wood, the story is about self-discovery. "It's incredibly funny but also touching and dramatic," he said.

Family ties Everything Is Illuminated 's theme of looking for ancestral roots dovetailed with some thoughts Wood was having along those lines when he first saw the script. "I've not done anything about it, mainly because it would be a kind of difficult thing to search for," he said. Wood says he believes he has some ancestors in Poland, but isn't sure. "It's a curiosity to me." One family he is certain of is the one that grew out of making the Lord of the Rings trilogy. "I'd say the core fellowship is still quite close," Wood said. "It's one of those wonderful things, because we shared so much and went through so much together. You know a year might pass before I see Viggo [Mortensen] again, but once I see him it will be like no time has passed. It's kind of incredible." While Wood is now moving forward with his career and exploring different kinds of roles, he doesn't disavow Frodo, the character he played in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. "I think at a certain point the attention on those films will die down, but I think I will always be associated, as will everyone else, with those films," Wood said. "I'll do other things. But Frodo I think will always be there, like my little shadow." Wood didn't make it all the way through the novel of The Lord of the Rings, and has yet to read Everything Is Illuminated. "I just sort of skimmed through the pages and upon doing that I realized it was vastly different from what we're doing, just upon first glance," he said. He plans on reading it after filming has ended. Schreiber's script is a loose adaptation, based more on the New Yorker article than on the book. Wood didn't want the different notions of the story to conflict while he was acting. Over the course of shooting, Wood built a special relationship with the Trabant. "When Liev showed us the car for the first time he sort of showed it to us with a lot of trepidation," Wood said. "I actually really love the car and I've become quite fond of it. It's kind of a bit of a jalopy but it's got character." While he does keep mementoes from some of his roles, he isn't taking the car. "That would be hilarious. It doesn't drive well. It's sort of a piece of shit, really. In terms of its engine, it's not the greatest car in the world."

The bottom line While Everything Is Illuminated is set in Ukraine, very little filming actually took place there. One of the film's producer's, Marc Turtletaub, gave some background on how the project came about and why it was filmed here. "We went to the Ukraine and looked at what the countryside was like. We knew everyone would ask, 'Does it look like the Ukraine?'" Turtletaub said. "We found countryside here which was wonderful." The second reason was the quality of production services in Prague. Everything Is Illuminated used services from Stillking Films, a company that was involved in Shanghai Knights, Van Helsing and From Hell. "We looked around Eastern Europe and found that Prague has the finest production services we could find," Turtletaub said. "We're really pleased with it." Other places they looked at included Romania. "I have friends that actually made a movie in Romania -- they made Cold Mountain there and saved a lot of money," Turtletaub said. "But I think the service level here is extraordinary." A few scenes were shot in Ukraine, though. "We did a little at the beginning. ... We shot a couple of days in Odessa," Turtletaub said. Originally they planned to go back, but finally decided not to. "We were able to get everything we need here, and from a cost standpoint, once you are here it doesn't pay to go back there again." Turtletaub, whose main experience is in the finance industry, gave an example of savings from working in Prague. One scene required two 30-foot (about nine-meter) insects. "In Los Angeles it would probably have been $100,000 to make those crickets, and here it was about $7,000. So the savings are dramatic." He added, "It's not just that, it's the quality of the people here. ... We find a great work ethic." While Everything Is Illuminated looks like it will be an unusual film, it started off as pure Hollywood. Turtletaub explained how he came to be involved. "I was in Maui, sitting in my hot tub of all things, and a friend from New York was there visiting me," he said. The friend had Schreiber's first draft. "He threw it down on the side of the tub and said 'Read this.'" Turtletaub did, and he fell in love with the project. The film is scheduled for release in America Aug. 12, 2005.