Project X

Project X

A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures' comedy PROJECT X, a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo by Beth Dubber. © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Project X (2012)

Opened: 03/02/2012 Wide

Wide03/02/2012
AMC Loews Meth...03/02/2012 - 04/05/201235 days
Georgetown 1403/02/2012 - 04/05/201235 days
Columbia Park ...03/02/2012 - 03/29/201228 days
Showcase Cinem...03/02/2012 - 03/29/201228 days
AMC Deer Valley03/02/2012 - 03/29/201228 days
Embassy Cinema03/02/2012 - 03/22/201221 days
Arclight/Holly...03/02/2012 - 03/22/201221 days
NoHo 703/02/2012 - 03/15/201214 days
DVD06/19/2012

Trailer: Click for trailer

Websites: Home, Facebook

Genre: Comedy/Drama

Rated: R for for crude and sexual content throughout, nudity, drugs, drinking, pervasive language, reckless behavior and mayhem - all involving teens.

Synopsis

"Project X" follows three seemingly anonymous high school seniors--Thomas, Costa and J.B.--as they attempt to finally make a name for themselves. Their idea is innocent enough: let's throw a party that no one will forget, and have a camera there, to document history in the making... but nothing could prepare them for this party. Word spreads quickly as dreams are ruined, records are blemished and legends are born. "Project X" is a warning to parents and police everywhere.

Nima Nourizadeh makes his feature film debut directing a cast of newcomers who scored parts through a nationwide talent search. Todd Phillips ("The Hangover" films) produces the film, with Joel Silver, Scott Budnick, Andrew Rona, Alex Heineman and Marty P. Ewing executive producing. The screenplay was written by Matt Drake and Michael Bacall, based on a story by Bacall.

"Project X" stars Thomas Mann, Jonathan Daniel Brown, Oliver Cooper, Dax Flame, Kirby Bliss Blanton, Alexis Knapp and Miles Teller ("Footloose").

The behind-the-scenes creative team includes cinematographer Ken Seng ("Step Up 3D"), production designer Bill Brzeski ("The Hangover" films, "Due Date"), editor Jeff Groth (TV's "Entourage"), and costume designer Alison McCosh (assistant costume designer, "The Hangover" films).

Warner Bros. Pictures presents, a Silver Pictures production, in association with Green Hat Films, "Project X."

About the Production

"I wanted to be cool for one night. I wanted girls to notice me. Then things got a little out of control."

The house is in ruins, so much so that it looks more like a war zone than a neighborhood where families live. It's hard to tell what caused more damage, the fire or the helicopter's efforts to put out the fire. But the angry drug dealer with a flamethrower certainly shoulders a lot of the blame. Of course, he was only trying to get his gnome back from the teenagers who stole it, and they were clueless about its real worth. They just wanted a mascot for their party, their "planned social event," intended to blow them out of their anonymous high school existences into the history books. You only turn 17 once, right? So, quite possibly, the high seven-figure damages are primarily their fault.

Good thing all of it was just make believe; though it was shot to look real, it is the result of the filming of the new outrageous comedy "Project X," inspired by tales of real parties gone recklessly out of control and the high cost of righting the resulting mess.

Producer Todd Phillips says, "It started in an odd way, more like an experiment. Once we got the concept from [executive producer] Alex Heineman, a bunch of us sat around in a room and tossed out stories about memorable parties, ones that we were either a part of or had just heard about. From there, it was about figuring out the vibe, the tone, the story of the movie. That's the fun part."

Writer Michael Bacall developed those stories into the scenario that plays out in the film. "Todd contacted me while I was in Toronto shooting another film. We discussed the concept and that night I wrote a stream of consciousness e-mail that essentially outlined the entire movie. The idea from the outset was to create the gnarliest high school party of all time. It was clear we needed a flamethrower. The rest of the story naturally fell into place after a couple weeks."

Screenwriter Matt Drake enjoyed working on a screenplay that is supposed to feel completely unscripted. "It was a challenge at first, trying to create a context in which the presence of a camera was justified and believable, yet not so distracting to audiences as to break the proverbial fourth wall. Once we figured that out, the challenges became more technical, like 'what kind(s) of bodily fluids do we want to see?' and 'should we kill someone or not?'"

"Project X" is the story of three friends out to celebrate the 17th birthday of one of the trio by throwing a party to end all parties. Little by little, bad decision by unfortunate choice, the party gets out of control, shifting from celebratory to riotous, in the most literal sense.

Phillips explains, "This film's really about the anonymous guys. They're not this, they're not that. They're the ones that no one notices, so they don't even get labeled. They're invisible. It's about what Costa says in the film, 'We need a game changer.' I actually think most kids in high school fall into that group, as opposed to the jocks or the nerds. Most feel anonymous."

A couple of visually arresting, party-themed global television commercials for Adidas helped to float director Nima Nourizadeh to the top of the filmmakers' list of candidates to handle the artfully created chaos of "Project X."

"Nima was a perfect match to the material," comments Phillips. "He's a London-based director who comes from a music video and commercial world. Even though he hadn't done a feature before, his work lends itself to the style of what we wanted 'Project X' to be. But even more than his work, it was meeting with him, talking with him about the tone, the kind of movie he wanted to make. He seemed to really get it."

Nourizadeh remembers, "I gave them my take on it, how I would want to develop the script. Also, how I would want the movie to look and feel. After a couple of calls to the producing team, they put me on the phone with Todd. We really vibed, chatted and laughed a lot. After that, [executive producer] Scott Budnick told me that they wanted me out there. I didn't know exactly what that meant, so I packed for about two weeks and came to Los Angeles. Next thing I knew, it'd been two years."

When asked why he thinks he fit "Project X," Nourizadeh replies, "They thought I could bring my style to it, make it feel authentic. What got me excited was doing this purely in first-person perspective. They wanted to ground it, to come at it with a realistic approach. And I thought great, if that's what we want, then I want to cast unknowns. To find new kids that were coming up was an exciting prospect."

Executive producer Joel Silver, himself quite experienced with the combination of action and bedlam, comments, "The idea was that the viewers were seeing something that was really happening. We didn't want to fill it with faces that were recognizable. Yes, it is a narrative movie, but we wanted to make it feel like something nobody had seen before. I think that helped us make it feel real."

Nourizadeh states, "I wanted the cast to feel like they were the characters, not actors playing this or that. We set out to meet those kinds of kids who would offer us something. We looked for people that we could develop into the script."

"I'm Thomas Kub. It's my birthday today. You should swing by."

To cast the three friends at the center of the story, the filmmakers looked to open auditions, most coming from self-submission on the specially created website, ProjectXOpenCall.com. And true to their aim, they found young actors with not only characteristics similar to the roles as originally drafted, but also traits they could incorporate into the script, fashioning the part to the performer, and vice-versa. As actor and role were matched, another key development decision was instigated: with only a couple of exceptions, the characters would carry the same names as the young performers playing them.

Thomas Mann's inherent sweetness and vulnerability dovetailed perfectly with Thomas, the teen reaching his benchmark 17th birthday. Jonathan Daniel Brown's comic skills were put to great use in the somewhat taciturn J.B., the most misfit-ish of the group, who is happy just to be included. Oliver Cooper came off more as a New Yorker, which he is not, than as a kid from Ohio, which he is, and so his character's backstory as a confident and unwilling transplant from Queens to North Pasadena began to form even while in auditions.

Mann was one of the few in the cast with previous feature film experience, but found that "Project X" was above and beyond anything else he'd done. He observes, "It was unbelievable just to be on set, in a party that went from being a character in the film to being almost like a monster. It was hard for me to play Thomas's horror at the way the party turned, because we were really having so much fun; it was easier to be Thomas when he thought that his life was probably over anyway, so he was going to enjoy it."

Landing his first feature role, Brown could hardly believe his luck, stating, "It was not something I expected. I expected to work an eight-dollar-an-hour job forever and ever. I dropped out of community college a couple of years before to pursue standup. That was my main goal. Maybe get to some town in the Midwest and tell a joke in a bar and make 15 dollars and cry. That's it. This was not what I was shooting for, but it was more than I ever could have hoped for."

Coincidentally, Cooper had also left school for the standup comedy life. While in acting class, he heard that "the guys who made 'The Hangover' were holding open auditions for a teen comedy. I asked around, made connections, badgered people and finally got in to read." At his first audition, he showed them parts of Costa before the role was even fully formed...when he pulled down his pants--but left on his briefs. Cooper says, "Whenever I felt the opportunity to take a risk, I'd take it, because I just thought about being myself and not being scared...because really, there was nothing to lose. If you go in with something to lose, most likely you aren't going to get it. So I went in thinking, 'Who gives a rat's ass?' Guess it worked. But there were times during filming where I had to pull back. It's fun to play a jerk, but to make this kind of thing ultimately work, you have to be likeable."

Todd Phillips says, "It all kind of came down to those three guys and how they played off of each other. We never did just solo casting, it was always three guys at a time, mixing it up, bringing in this guy, switching out that one. We just kept trying groupings until it clicked."

Joel Silver adds, "It feels like you know these kids, like you grew up with them. Together, they really are a great team."

After getting cast, the three young actors "hung out, went to Big Bear, an amusement park...we'd go out to eat, or just go over to someone's house and watch DVDs," explains Brown. While the guys might have just thought they were having fun for the sake of it, the filmmakers knew that familiarity reads on film, and riding a roller coaster is a heck of a lot more fun than rehearsing.

Of course, the main reason the boys want to have a party is to get noticed by members of the opposite sex--the girls they never had a shot at, especially Alexis, a particularly hot girl from school. Alexis Knapp plays the role.

"My character decides to go to the party that Thomas is throwing with his friends, because she doesn't believe that they can really pull it off," she says. "She knows that Thomas is into her, so that is part of her motivation, but she is also intrigued by his audacity. When the party turns into this shockingly epic night, she starts to see Thomas in a new light, which is what Thomas only hoped would happen."

One girl who Thomas isn't nervous around--though perhaps should be--is his longtime buddy Kirby, portrayed by Kirby Bliss Blanton. "I'm sure everyone can remember having a friend that sees you as just a friend, but you see them as more, and how that feels," she says of her character. Blanton had fun playing the undercurrents of that relationship in flux. "Nima encouraged us to do a little improv, have a really good time, and put ourselves into the characters, and I loved that. I think the movie will be so real because of that, and because of the connection between Thomas and Kirby."

Rounding out the cast of partiers and others are Miles Teller, who plays the college jock, Miles; comic Rick Shapiro as angry drug dealer T-Rick; Martin Klebba, credited only as the Angry Little Person, who takes his fury out on Thomas's property; Rob Evors as the equally pissed off neighbor, Rob; Caitlin Dulany and Peter MacKenzie as Thomas's too trusting Mom and Dad; Jesse Marco as the DJ who sets the musical tone for the crazy night; and Brady Hender and Nick Nervies as the youthful yet fearless security detail hired by Costa to handle any unexpected situations...or take care of any unwanted party crashers. And, in the role of Thomas's true "best friend" and possibly most unique party guest, Paxton, a Yorkshire Terrier mix, plays Milo, the family dog who is literally taken to new heights during the course of the night.

For the key role of the A/V geek who is along as a chronicler of the evening, Nourizadeh and company found a young video blogger with his own following. Dax Flame had been videoing his own wry and often left-field observations for two years before he was brought in to audition. He says, "Because he's holding the camera, my character doesn't have a lot of screen time, but when he does, it's very impactful."

"This is waaay more than 100 people."

In trying to establish a realistic environment in which the party could unfold--and actually create a way to open up the restrictions associated with a first person perspective film--Nourizadeh and director of photography Ken Seng realized that anyone with a phone in the 21st century is a filmmaker. So right away, the team knew that "Project X" would not only be a venture beyond the borders explored in most previous high school movies, it would also be one that would be viewed through many eyes at once. Most of the initial discussions about filming dealt with the utilization of multiple formats, captured with a wide variety of cameras.

Seng offers, "'Project X' was filmed on eight different camera systems. It's a POV film told by the masses of people who attend the party, which gives it a totally unique point of view on the situation. We also really looked at how best to capture the size of this event and the level of destruction with our resources. For instance, how we could make 200 or so extras look like more than 1,000."

In pre-production, Nourizadeh and Seng looked at and tested 12 camera systems numerous times, landing on the digital-HD Sony F23 as the primary, which could handle the extremes of lighting, from sunlight to strobes in the night. Coverage was shot on multiple cameras from every conceivable angle, in order that the finished project would stylistically reflect the haphazard nature of the night's chaotic events. During the 25 nights of shooting, the crew even distributed a dozen Flip cameras to various extras, who were encouraged to just film the good times they saw unfolding around them. At the end of each evening, the cameras were collected and sent off to editorial. Seng comments, "Some of what we got really added to the texture of the film."

One of the challenges of all of these cameras being utilized on set was how to keep them from showing up in the shots. The solution? Dress the camera crew like a group of black-clad partygoers and give them cameras stripped of all bells and whistles down to the bare essentials for filming. Outfitted this way, they were hardly noticed as they dashed around the set, hiding in bushes, between cars or anywhere else they could go unnoticed in the scene. All of this fleeing--presumably from the authorities who eventually show up, or to get out of harm's way--had the added bonus of providing even more chaotic energy to the already charged atmosphere.

In addition to the primary A and B cameras, the F23's, and the Flips handed to the extras, filmmakers also utilized the EX3 HD camcorder; small, lipstick-sized point-of-view Iconix cameras, which doubled as the "hero" cell phones and as police surveillance cameras; iPhones and Blackberries; and even Canon still/video 5Ds and 7Ds, distributed when there were extra camera operators on the set.

Seng quips, "God bless the editorial department, because we shot the equivalent of two million feet of film. That's like some epic war or adventure film shot over a six-month period." The department, under editor Jeff Groth, was able to keep pace with a running assemblage of the film so well that just two weeks after wrap, a first cut of the film was finished.

Getting the different formats to speak the same editing language was accomplished by uploading all of the various digital formats into a special computer system engineered by Codex, which created useable files for everything, enabling editors to treat it all as the same type of footage for the purposes of logging and cutting.

The fact that the film was shot largely in chronological order was advantageous to Groth and his team, which aided in maintaining a running cut of the scenes, mostly eliminating the need to go back and interpolate newly shot footage of scenes earlier in the timeline of the movie. This was also a huge relief to the art department, who would have been hard-pressed to restore any part of the set to its pre-carnage state. Once the party hit, there was no going back.

The production decided to shoot the party in a house located on the Warner Ranch in Burbank, a back lot of sorts comprised of multiple homes that line a faux residential street. In fact, the house used in the film just happened to be located directly across the street from the character Roger Murtaugh's house in Joel Silver's "Lethal Weapon" films.

"It was a nice bit of serendipity, being back on that street," Silver reflects.

Phillips explains, "We didn't have many options when it came to finding a neighborhood in which to shoot, because shutting down a neighborhood every night for five weeks would be really annoying, not to mention setting fire to many of the homes and landscapes. So, obviously, we needed to do all of this in a very controlled setting, and the Ranch, with its interesting history, fit the bill."

"Tonight's about the girls we never had a shot at. Tonight's about changing the game."

Just as the coolest party of your high school experience never really leaves you, the cast and crew of "Project X" will never forget the weeks they spent shooting the coolest fake high school party they'd ever been to.

"It was unbelievable, to say the least," Thomas Mann smiles. "I mean, it was crazy that I got to work with Todd Phillips, Joel Silver and the entire group on one of my first films. Everyone was just the greatest. It all went by too fast, really, like a blur."

Oliver Cooper adds, "Going into it, I had extremely high expectations of what my experience making the movie was going to be, and it exceeded everything I imagined. I hope the audience will feel that way when they leave the theater, too."

"This is a time where literally anybody can pick up a camera and chronicle whatever is happening around them, and that's what this film feels like," says Jonathan Daniel Brown. "I also think it shows the lengths friends will go to for each other, to make a birthday or some other occasion memorable. Now, I wouldn't say it needs to involve destruction of property and personal injury to do that, but sometimes, well, maybe it does."

Producer Todd Phillips observes, "It's not really a straight out comedy, quite honestly. It's really just a movie about a few bad decisions and things spiraling out of control...and that's always fun to document."

Director Nima Nourizadeh closes, "This is a movie about fun. We had fun making it, we want people to have fun watching it. Growing up in the `80s, we had excellent movies like 'Weird Science' and 'Sixteen Candles,' about those kids who wanted to change their lives, be noticed, be the popular ones for a change. I hope this is that kind of movie for kids today--though I don't recommend they base any of their decisions on the things they see Thomas and his friends doing!"

 

Trailer