The elevator scene in Jay Roach’s “Bombshell” was so tense, anxious and exciting that it was included in the first teaser for the film. But just how did Roach make actors Charlize Theron, Nicole Kidman and Margot Robbie sweat?
In a new video essay, Roach breaks down shot-for-shot how he and the “Bombshell” team made the elevator scene so effective.
“The elevator is an important character in the movie,” Roach says in the video. “The idea was to trap them in a situation where they were in the same place but couldn’t talk about it. It’s an extremely simple scene on its face, but there a lot of complicated elements that went into it.”
“Bombshell” stars Theron as Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly, Kidman as Gretchen Carlson and Robbie as a fictional rising Fox News producer. And in the scene — one of the few moments of the film where all three are together — the women take the elevator up to the second floor of the building where Roger Ailes and other Fox News executives have their offices. Each of these women knows something huge about Ailes that helps set in motion a series of events that would lead to his downfall at the network.
The video from the educational film website StudioBinder has some neat animation and play-by-play commentary from Roach that helps to articulate the blocking of the scene, where the cameras are at any given moment and how they’re intended to move about the room. For instance, you can see in the video colored lines that track the eye lines of different characters as the film cuts around the Fox News newsroom and creates the sensation that you’re always being watched.
“Everybody’s always watching. There’s a sense of being surveilled the entire time you’re in this movie. She’s stuck there, and she’ll have to take this journey up,” Roach says. “But it gets worse. In walks Megyn Kelly.”
Roach reveals that he actually used multiple cameras throughout shooting on “Bombshell.” The idea was to make everyone feel like a camera was on them at all times and to not allow for actors to save their “good acting” for their close-up.
For the elevator scene in particular, the crew built an elevator with removable panels such that he could shoot from all angles and make everything feel as claustrophobic as possible. Roach made a breakdown of shots designed to ratchet up the tension, but his challenge was figuring out just how to shoot that, especially within such tight confines.
“Where do the cameras go in a box,” Roach said. “I knew it needed to be bright and uncomfortable. Everybody should be able to see each other very well. We weren’t exactly sure where everyone would stand, and I just rehearsed it.”
Roach and his cinematographer Barry Ackroyd lit the elevator from above and then shot from both the front and over Robbie’s shoulder so that they could maintain a constant sense of tension and allow the scene to feel more realistic.
“It allowed everything to be less stagy. It was more live, more performance-driven. It just made everything that much more real, immediate and suspenseful,” Roach said. “The suspense is, will these women support each other? And you see this scene and you wonder, maybe they won’t.”
Check out the full video above, and read more from StudioBinder about Roach’s process here.