‘Greenland’ Director Ric Roman Waugh on Action, Emotion and Finishing His Film in Lockdown

Jazz Tangcay
·6 min read

Director Ric Roman Waugh’s “Greenland” was originally scheduled to be released in June, but the pandemic changed that — it’s now available on premium VOD. Waugh, who reunites with “Angel has Fallen” actor Gerard Butler, had not yet finished his post-production when the lockdown happened.

Although he had locked picture, there was still a lot to be done — from score to visual effects and coloring. But secure drives and remote working meant Waugh could finish his film as intended.

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Waugh broke down how the film came together, and why “Greenland” is more about an emotional narrative of humanity than just pure action.

You put this together in lockdown, how did that come together?

It was scary at first because I was on the mix stage at Paramount when California shut down. We were like thieves in the night trying to figure out how to secure drives, knowing we were going to have to do this remotely.

I’m so proud of the 300 people — between our mixers, colorists and the visual effects artists who came together. We had over 190 visual effects artists. There was music to be done too, and we figured it out. It was an amazing experience.

When we finally got the clearance to go back, I went into Paramount to mix it, and it was the eeriest experience because we hadn’t been there for three months. Everything was how we left it.

There’s something so surreal about watching this movie during the fires and seeing the sky look apocalyptic and then to look down and see almost the same apocalyptic image on my screen.

It’s surreal. We filmed, edited, and locked picture, and I was in the final throes of post-production before we ever knew anything about COVID. So, you deal with that stuff you feel is hypothetical, and what if there is a life or death catastrophic situation? How would humanity handle it? Would we turn on each other? Are we capable of doing heinous things of our own self-survival, or will we come together as one?

I’ve always loved the themes of this divisive world we live in right now and how everybody thinks they’re right, and everybody else is wrong. And yet, this message between this family and their own purpose and journey shows you that when it is life or death, we remember that all we want to do is be loved and to love somebody back.

The heart of the film is that emotional connection to the characters and their relationship – that humanity of it all, amid the action. How did you build that connection right at the beginning in the storytelling and through your editing?

In a film structure, you’re setting up the tension through your story, and your people are living through it. So, for example, there would have been the programmer, and in the first 10 minutes, we would have set up that there’s a comet coming in, and it’s going to be a disaster, and everybody’s trying to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives.

But we flopped that, the tension is within the Garrity family who are trying to find their feet again and atone for things that have happened. There’s this sense of redemption that you get from Gerard’s character, but also with Morena Baccarin who plays Alison, it’s actually within this family that are trying to find their feet again and to atone for things that have happened.

What I always loved about this material is these two people are trying to win their marriage back, and then 20 minutes into the movie, they start getting Presidential alerts and suddenly things flip in the film, and something is amiss.

Suddenly, this family who thought they had all the time in the world, don’t, and time is taken away, and they’re on the run. The film becomes about life or death, and you get to run with this gauntlet for the rest of the movie where they’re trying to get to safety, but also remembering their own love and realizing they’re separated.

That aspect was important to me and we can all fight among our families and people we love, but when someone gets ill – and we’re all dealing with COVID – we have this way of forgetting the crap that was between us and wanting to be with that person, and we remember how much we love them. I loved that these parallels are going on where you get to play with two monsters in this movie, you play with the monster of Clarke — the comet, but you also play with the monster of humanity itself. Will we do right by each other or do we turn on each other?

How did you strike that balance where you tell the emotional story, and then you’re building up the action?

Gerard was very much a part of this, we never wanted this to be about this male hero running through the movie and everything else was supportive or tertiary, including the wife’s perspective. I wanted them to be on equal footing. I wanted to show that Morena’s character is going through just as heinous things. She’s in the same instances as Gerard’s character. It was a parallel journey so that when you reunite the family, they’re on an equal footing to understand how much they need each other, and what love means to them.

A key sequence shows John on the military base, and you’re cutting back to Alison saying, “All I need to do is to get to Lexington,” what went into editing that?

When the U.S. Air Force gave us the Robins Air Force Base to shoot on, in Robins, Georgia, 90% of the people that you’re seeing on camera and uniform are the real deal. I only cast six or seven actors for that whole sequence. They had never been on a movie set, so you get that sense of reality to it.

We started finding that parallel in the editing room. You get to these organic mirrors of the tensions that they’re going through. You also get to see where you can place cliffhangers, so as the audience, you know she’s alive, but John doesn’t know that. Our drama and jeopardy are that he’s got to get to this place where he’ll reunite with them, but you take that away where the audience can still have this thrill ride and use different engines with thriller and intent to build that tension.

What scene was the most exciting to put together?

The molten rain sequence. It was the first sequence I’d ever done that was similar to the lake attack in “Angel has Fallen” with the drones. It was a mix of live-action with CG action and VFX. That sequence had a tremendous amount of practical, in-camera action. There were explosions and this sense of urgency, but you’re also painting on a canvas that doesn’t exist – that was exciting to me.

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