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The dynamic non-fiction filmmaking duo Peter Berg and Mark Wahlberg team up again to tell the true story of the events that led up to and followed the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing, including the city-wide manhunt that ensued to capture the terrorists who were responsible.

It was a packed house at the Patriots Day press day in Los Angeles. Attendees included: Mark Wahlberg (star), Peter Berg (director), Michelle Monaghan (star), J.K. Simmons (star), Michael Beach (star), Themo Melikidze (star), Jimmy O. Yang (star), Matt Cook (screenplay), Joshua Zetumer (screenplay), Ed Davis  (former Boston police commissioner), Sgt. Jeff Pugliese (Watertown police chief), Jessica Kensky (real-life survivor), Patrick Downes (real-life survivor), Scott Stuber (producer), Hutch Parker (producer), and Michael Radutzky (producer).

At a recent press day, ScreenPicks got to hear from the filmmakers, actors, real-life heroes and survivors. Here is what we learned about Patriots Day.

Joshua Zetumer and Matt Cook on the biggest challenges in weaving together so many moving pieces to a story like this:

Zetumer: I would say just the sheer volume of information that existed. We had to figure out what story we wanted to tell. It was a problem for us and for the investigators. While one of the bombers was on trial they were sending us evidence. I also spoke with FBI, law enforcement officials, and survivors. It was just an immense amount of data that was being thrown at us. And it was also incredibly emotional. It felt like an emotional roller coaster ride trying to dig through it all and find the story that we wanted to tell.

Cook: I think for me the biggest challenge was working with Peter Berg (laughs). No, seriously, this is the most gratifying project I have ever worked on. No only because of the people involved, but the subject matter, and being able to meet all the first responders, and survivors. So I think the biggest challenge was getting it right. I think it’s always difficult when you know the story and you know how it ends to keep it compelling and give people their due, and to really show who did what and how difficult it was. And just kind of echo what Josh does, just tell the stories of the people involved.

Peter Berg on the fascinating mix of the person and procedural and making sure each side got their due and fit in with each other:

Berg: That’s something Mark and I would spend a lot time talking about. Not wanting to make a film that sort of developed into something overly action oriented or suspense oriented. If analyze what happened, from the time prior to the bombing and the time when the bomber was caught in the boat, there was a lot of really intense things that happened; a car jacking; a very violent gun fight, obviously two bombs that went off. And we were aware that the movie could easily turn into something like a thriller or action film. That was never our intention. We were so concerned with the reason we thought the movie should be made. We wanted to explore how a community comes together and community processes and moves through and past something as horrific as having your child killed in front of you at a marathon. And we wanted to explore the themes of love and inclusion, and support and we wanted that to be the primary theme of the film at the end of the day- love wins. As we were editing the film and working the script, we wanted to make sure that we never lost that.

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Mark Wahlberg on how being the face of this project to the people of Boston affected how he went about making this whole film:

Wahlberg: Obviously, I was extremely aware of it, and there comes a lot of responsibility and pressure with that because I like to go home and show my face at home with open arms. But I think they were relieved that they knew it was one of their own that would be responsible for it so they could hold me accountable. And I just wanted to make sure that everyone else was being held to the highest standard. And I know my brother, Pete, was the perfect guy to make this movie because of how much he cares. As soon as we were able to communicate what our intentions were, everybody felt a huge sigh of relief. But, yeah, it comes with a lot of pressure.

 

J.K. Simmons the time him and Sgt. Jeff Pugliese spent together:

Simmons: When I first met him, we walked me through what Jeff had done. And showed me a picture of him, and said I was the only guy good-looking enough in Hollywood to play him. I wondered if Jeff was on board with this and is he available. Would I be able to spend some time with him? And conveniently Jeff injured his shoulder so he was on disability from the job for a while so he was available all the time. It was obviously valuable to meet him and spend time with his family. I was dragging his butt back to the firing range time after time to work on that stuff, and going on a tour with him. He was on set almost all the time that I was shooting so we could get it right. Did you holster your weapon when you jumped the fence? Just little details like that. How exactly do you smoke those stupid cigarettes?

Michael Beach on what it was like playing Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick:

Beach: When I met him, I had already been shooting for half my time on set. So, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get to meet him. I went to office and I thought I would have maybe about half an hour, but we ended up talking for three hours. And he was completely candid about everything. He was able to tell me all about the massive decision to shut the city down, and how that was one the biggest decisions of his life because of what it could lead to.

Jimmy O. Yang on playing Dun Meng and the car jacking:

Yang: It was definitely a challenge. I can definitely relate to Dun. Even though I don’t have his accent. But I came to this country as an immigrant when I was 13. But he came when he was 22. Which is a huge gap. I am much more Americanized. When he got car jacked he was only 2 weeks into America. America is already a scary place and then this guy shows up. Working with Pete was helpful. Danny made himself very available. I can read the stories online, but to hear from him how it felt and what he was thinking at the time. We all stayed in character while on set, so the mood on set was more serious.

Themo Melikidze on playing a terrorist as his first major film role:

Melikidze: When I looked at the project, it was a chance to work with my heroes. I didn’t really look at the part individually. I looked at the entire picture and the message of the film. And if I can contribute to a film that honors the people of Boston and pays tribute to them, regardless of the part, I think that’s a great way for a first project to be done. From the callback Alex was like my brother. We still hang out. I am actually staying at his house now. He couldn’t be here unfortunately. Mark would joke with us and tell us not to hang out so much. We just had that bond. Pete gave us the confidence to endure.

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Peter Berg on the advantages and disadvantages of making this film just three years after the bombings:

Berg: Because there were so many people affected by this event, we went back to Boston to talk to people. Our approach was to sit down with everyone who would sit down with us. We had some wonderful producers, Michael Radosky, Scott Stubber. There was so many people we wanted to meet with and we wanted to be very transparent. So we just wet out and spent months with the community. The advantage of having a fresh film is that people are more emotionally charged. We sat down with Danny; he remembered the way the terrorist smelled, and the sound of Tamlin’s nails on the gun. Everyone was asking why do you want to tell this story? Is it too soon? The Boston attack was very representative of the reality in which we live in. Where we are no longer shocked to turn on the news and see another terrorist attack. We wanted to make a film about how people process such a tragic event. As Mark says in the film, it’s going to happen again, I don’t think we can stop it, but I do believe that love beats hate. The unintended consequence of these terrorist attacks is, what they don’t count on, but they create this coalition of love and support that end up triumphing. Talking with Patrick and Jessica Downs really alleviated any concerns we had.

The cast on one thing they took away from the film process, something that has stayed with them:

Monaghan: When we reenacted the race scene where my character is at the finish line. I had the pleasure of meeting of meeting people who were there that day who came down to support. That really resonated with me. Like Mark said, Boston Strong. To experience that kind of drama that day and still be supportive enough to show up to essentially re-experience that was humbling.

Melikidze: I was in my trailer and you could hear the 800 extras cheering and screaming. And I was called over to set. Now imagine 800 people go quiet and they are looking at me, and whispering, “that’s the guy.” I see a cop standing they’re looking at me and every few minutes he comes closer and closer. Then after five minutes of staring he is right in front of me. I am all dressed up in character, I’ve got my aviators on and he looks at me and says, “Every time I look at you, I want to smash your head in”. I looked at him and said, “thank you, sir.” Then he said, “good luck out there.” It was the weirdest compliment ever.

Michelle Monaghan on her comforting domestic scenes with Wahlberg:

Monaghan: Well, Mark already naturally has it. I just worked with Pete on scenes. I must say it’s really great working with Pete. It really allows the actors to have a lot of freedom. Pete doesn’t have marks in the room. You essentially have one stage, and you have three or four cameras rolling all at once, and you really just continue the scene. And when you do that, you start to become more comfortable, it’s a really great atmosphere for actors. I think all of our hearts were in the right place, and we just wanted to convey the side of the story that was the untold story. Every day people coming together and uniting, and feeling strength, and doing extraordinary things.

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Hutch Parker on the differences in producing films like X-Men to a film like Patriots Day:

Parker: This is much closer to my heart and to my interest creatively. I think if there is any link, it’s that you approach any film or story thematically. That’s always the approach. It terms of how it’s different, it really is an embodiment of everyone up on this panel today. By Pete and Mark as a filmmaking duo, doing some of the most exciting work in both film and non-fiction, specifically. Michael spoke very articulately of our brother producers. And I would guess lastly, just sort of following Pete and Mark’s lead. There is almost a fierce compassion and respect that Pete and Mark brought in the telling of this story. Not just as storytellers, but almost as warriors. The dedication that they brought to getting it right, to honoring individuals, to honoring the community, it was a dedication and honor to work with them and support that.

Patrick Downes on meeting with Wahlberg and Berg for the first time:

Downes: We figured how often do you get called by Hollywood to have a meeting, so we figured we would just do it for the hell it, and it was at a nice hotel. We were stuck on a military base while Jess was getting care, so this seemed like a good distraction. We had all kinds of questions in our head about how this could unfold; Jess and I are representative of so many other people and families who were injured that day. And we felt it was out responsibility to capture the spirit that all of us felt. Michael and Peter were so incredibly charming, funny, and passionate. And we just really enjoyed being with them.

Jessica Kensky (Downes) on how it feels to talk about and relive the attack:

Kensky: I think we were surprised at how well the meeting went and how much we liked them. I had no intention of participating, at first; I was just going for a free lunch. And it’s crazy that I am here with you all today. Sharing your story can be very therapeutic, and a great part of trauma therapy. Also, having so many people here it and see it, can be very therapeutic in the right setting. But if someone asks me what happened to my legs randomly, which believe it or not sometimes they do, that’s not very therapeutic.

Commissioner Ed Davis on being played by John Goodman:

Davis: John Goodman is a tremendous actor. Tom Selleck was my first choice, but I was told he was busy (laughs). It was amazing that John got it down so well. I remember the second time I watched the film, I was surprised that he was wearing my scarf. The same scarf I was wearing. He just did a really good job at portraying the tension and the stress that we faced. I learn something new every time I see this movie. Peter and Michael and the rest of the team here, have really done an incredible job at identifying those issues, thousands of points about what people didn’t understand about what happened, and incorporating that into this two-hour movie. They did it right. And they found out things that I didn’t even know from my perspective.

Patrick and Jessica Downes on being portrayed on film:

Downes: The actor was much better looking than me. But I don’t remember anything from when the bombs went off. I guess the blast was enough to put me in this weird state of unconsciousness, and Jess was hyper alert. In a way, she able to attend to me and what my needs were at that moment and not know that she was on fire. So when we were on set, to see that recreated it was incredibly emotional. Jess has told me the story several times, but I don’t remember it. So seeing the story on the big screen was kind of a way to fill those gaps. And seeing so much about what Jeff and his colleagues did. We didn’t know anything about that because we were in and out of surgeries.

Jessica: I agree. One of my favorite parts of the film was the scene where me and Patrick got separated and we go to different hospitals. The movies show us both getting our legs amputated that day at the same time but across the city from each other. And for lack of a better word, it’s so beautiful. We’ve been through this huge trauma and we are separated, but on some level I must have known we were being taken care of the same time. But seeing both surgeries going on simultaneously is just something I didn’t piece together until these creative gentleman did. It’s actually quite beautiful.

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