Serendipity : Production Notes

Serendipity (2001) - Movie Poster"What happens in the beginning," John Cusack explains, "is that Jonathan meets a girl and has kind of an eight hour, magical night with her. But at the end of the night, they lose each other. They lose each other for a few years, until he has this sneaking suspicion that he wants to try to find her before he settles down. He just wants to see her again and have some closure. " But that is not a simple task. Kate Beckinsale adds, "They have this flirtatious time when they meet, and find each other attractive. But, they are both in relationships, and as far as Sara is concerned, that is as good a sign as any that they're really not supposed to be together. So, she has an idea that they should each write their names on something, and release these things off into the world. And if they find these name bearing objects, then they're meant to be together. Of course, he thinks she's insane, but that's how it all starts. "

Thus, a few years later, when Jonathan and Sara decide to search each other, with the help of their best friends, played by Jeremy Piven and Molly Shannon, they blindly seek clues from the world and attempt to beat fate to the finish line.

Cusack was intrigued by the inventive manner in which the story was crafted. "I thought it was really clever because fate is a character and you keep seeing these people just missing each other. So, initially, I said that if the mechanics work, once the ball starts rolling, and all of these near miss encounters happen, you will start following the bouncing ball and it will be a lot of fun. " On working with Beckinsale, Cusack remembers his initial encounter with the actress, long before filming SERENDIPITY, "I was in London when I first met Kate, and she was just radiant, and I said 'I've got to work with this girl. She just seems fantastic. ' Then, when they asked me to do this film, I said it would all depend on the girl. And when they said it was Kate Beckinsale, I caught up on all of her work. She's just really talented. "

Commenting on the characters, the actors reveal their thoughts on Jonathan and Sara. States Cusack, "He's kind of an every-man. He's the producer of a sports show, but he really wants to be a documentary filmmaker. He's about to get married, but he keeps seeing all of these signs that take him back to that special night with Sarah. So, he asks his friend to do this insane thing before he gets married, which is to help him find this girl who, years ago, he spent eight hours with. " Of her character, Beckinsale says, "I liked the fact that there was an opportunity to play someone who at one stage in her life is so dogmatic about what she believes, however unscientific, and passionate about fate. And then, the next time you meet her, she has gotten off it completely, and then has to go on this journey of finding the middle ground. She gets a bunch of very pertinent impressions from her first meeting with Jonathan, which makes her question later what the universe tells her and that maybe she is making mistakes. So she wonders if there is more pursuing she should have been doing over the years to find Jonathan, and decides to give it one last go. "

Beckinsale remembers her first impression of the story and working on the project, "I thought the script was very interesting. It was funny and unusual and I knew that John Cusack was attached, so that made it interesting as well. " Once the cameras were rolling, Beckinsale was even more impressed by her leading man, "John is just great. He's really into improvising and tweaking and changing, which is really fun. And he has a whacked out, fun sense of humor. So, it's been nice - kind of flushing out the relationship. "

Playing the role of Dean, Jonathan's best friend and fellow conspirator, is the talented Jeremy Piven. Cusack and Piven's real-life friendship stems back to when the two were children in Chicago, and performed together in a play with the Piven Theatre Workshop, founded by Jeremy's parents. Over the course of their careers, they have made nine films together. Their longstanding familiarity with one another has added greater dimension to the scenes they share in SERENDIPITY, as Piven explains, "Johnny and I have been friends forever. So if we can't play best friends then I need to go into roofing or start making sandwiches for the crew, because that is kind of what we are and we should be able to play that. " Cusack adds, "We just have a good time. A lot of acting is about developing shorthand with somebody. So, if you're working with somebody you have known for a long time, you already have all of that history. "

Citing his first impressions of the story, Piven says, "When I first read the script, I thought it was really smart and funny, without being overly sentimental. Then, Peter Chelsom really let us work with the characters through rehearsals and while we were shooting. And it became this completely surprising role where, everyday, it was something more than I expected. And Dean's a fun guy to play. The character is multi-dimensional and interesting and not what he seems. " Piven adds that his character, an obituaries editor at The New York Times, has his own set of issues to reckon with. "His job is kind of a weigh station for him. I think he considers himself a novelist and would like to go off and write other things besides obituaries. It's a heavy job - he really has the final word. " Piven adds, "In the story, Jonathan gets him to go along on this journey to hunt down his supposed soul mate, which at the beginning he thinks is preposterous. But, the characters' ideologies switch back and forth and the arc is kind of strange and wonderful. That's another fantastic thing about the film. "

For Molly Shannon, working with her on-screen-best pal was a joy, "Since our characters are best friends and they've known each other for a long time, they share a silly sense of humor. And Kate and I got along instantly, so that made it really fun. We have a good time off-camera. She's really witty, and funny, and she just makes me laugh. " For Beckinsale, the feeling is mutual, "We got on immediately. I really like Molly. And it's been so nice working with her. She's just so funny, and clever, and such an inventive person. "

Serendipity (2001) - Movie PosterThe chance to play Eve was intriguing to Shannon from the start. She recalls her initial reaction to the project, "When I read the script, I just loved it. It was such a page-turner. I loved the story, and it was so romantic and inspiring. Then, being able to work with John Cusack, Kate Beckinsale, and Jeremy Piven was just a great opportunity. " "When Eve's story line begins she's just a little burned out on the whole 'love thing' and believing that everything happens for a reason. She hasn't been in a relationship in a while, and she makes fun of Sara's optimistic views on destiny. In fact, she thinks that Sara ought to straighten up and stop messing with her life because she really could ruin a good thing. " On the topic of fate, Shannon admits that her own feelings contradict her character's beliefs, "In real life, I'm more like Sara and not like my character. I can be cynical sometimes, but more often I would like to believe that people meet certain people for certain reasons, and that it's not just random. "

Rounding out the talented cast are Bridget Moynahan and John Corbett, each playing a character who has a powerful effect on Jonathan and Sara's outcome. Newcomer Moynahan, whose character Hallie is on the brink of marriage, states: "It was interesting, when I first read the script, to see the perspectives of both of the women who end up in Jonathan's life. I thought it was such as sweet story, and one that everyone in some way could relate to. " Moynahan, who is quickly becoming noticed for her talents, comments on working with this company of pros, "John Cusack was such a gem. It's amazing to watch him because the whole process is so natural for him. And I sort of felt like the 'Bambi' in the group because between John, Kate, Jeremy, and Molly, they've all done so much work. So, I was a little nervous, but they were all great to me. "

Director Peter Chelsom was very interested to lead the project, "I think that once you get into the notion of the film, it has a terrific energy about it. And it had a really interesting thrilling dynamic in terms of two people hunting for each other and just near missing, and near missing, and near missing. When I first read the script, by the end it had really moved me. And that's what I need most. If I have that feeling when I read it, then I can try to recapture it on film. I just knew I could do something with it. " Chelsom was particularly curious about the different paths that each character takes, "I think that if two people ever get together or don't end up together, all you need to do is backtrack both of those individual stories. And in doing so, it makes the initial meeting incredibly fortuitous or serendipitous or something. Because, everyone is able to say: 'If I hadn't taken that bus or missed that taxi or gone back to the dry-cleaners, etc…' And if you do that, to what becomes a powerful meeting, then you have a different perspective. " On the characters, Chelsom adds, "What I liked about the characters was the real tug of war and how jagged the arc was. I'm not crazy about films where a character's arc is real smooth - I'm drawn to inconsistency. So, I liked the fact that they are endlessly tugging with themselves and saying 'I don't know why am I doing this. I must be crazy. '" I liked the inner turmoil that goes on in both of them and I think that everyone is going to be able to relate to that. "

Serendipity (2001) - Movie PosterProducer Simon Fields says that SERENDIPITY has been a rewarding experience for him and for Chelsom. Together, this director/producer team has collaborated on films including, "Funny Bones," "Hear My Song," "The Mighty," and "Town and Country," and they were delighted to embark on SERENDIPITY. Fields states, "Everyday on set, Peter and I would sit and talk about how much we like to come to work. We love this film and the story. Peter had a great time, and the cast is wonderful. Overall, it was just a great experience. " Fields adds that he was enthusiastic from the beginning, "Peter and I spoke to each other about the script and we both really liked it. My favorite films are fantasy stories, and this film has that magical reality quality about it. It asks the questions: Is there a master plan to our lives? Is there a tapestry that has pre-destined us to be with a certain person? Are we just meandering down some path aimlessly or is there a design to it all? Even the most cynical among us has to ask those questions. "

Producer Peter Abrams was instrumental in getting SERENDIPITY into production, along with his Tapestry Films partner Robert Levy and associate Andrew Panay. "My company was in business with writer Marc Klein on another project, and we heard that he had written this screenplay. We read it very quickly and gave it to Miramax. They were ahead of every other studio in town, and bought it immediately. " What appealed to Abrams and the Tapestry team, who produced "She's All That," "Pay It Forward," and "The Wedding Planner," was the combination of the unique story-line and Chelsom's talents, "It's extraordinarily romantic and funny and touching and Peter Chelsom brings a charm and sophistication, which fits the movie. I think it is that combination where he is very smart and funny, and he has been able to sort of inject as much humor into the film as he can. His films all have a lot of heart, and they're also full of humor and intelligence. "

Chelsom was pleased to work with this talented company of actors. "What we have between John and Kate is very romantic, but not soppy. They both have an edge to them. So, you're effectively watching two strong leading actors in a romantic comedy. Throughout filming, all of these actors have come to set with wonderful ideas that we end up doing. And that has been a great pleasure because I'd much rather sit back and fine tune. " He adds, "The casting of SERENDIPITY was always going to be critical. To me personally, it was daunting to think of another Jonathan besides John Cusack. So, we were very lucky. And John is just a pure joy to me. As for Kate, she was the greatest girl we saw. I just thought she added a certain spice to the character and that made her more intriguing. She is incredibly beautiful and funny, and there is a fantastic intelligence in her acting. " On the supporting cast, Chelsom adds, "Jeremy was the perfect foil for John, not the least because of the chemistry between them. His character awakens to some aspects in his life that need changing, and Jeremy has been great with it. He has a great range and he's very funny. And Molly is exceptional. I love to put people in slightly new territory so that you redefine them. She's insanely funny and she has just been wonderful with the role. And then there is Bridget Moynahan, who is so beautiful and natural and really quite special, and John Corbett, who has embraced this sort-of new age popular musician character we created. "

Set in glorious New York City, SERENDIPITY uses several renowned landmarks for locations. Unanimously, the team was delighted to work there. Says Fields, "It was fantastic. New York is a fairytale city, and we shot in some of the greatest places, like Central Park, the Waldorf Astoria, Soho, outside Bloomingdales, the Serendipity Dessert Shop, and many others. It's been an exhilarating filmmaking experience to shoot in Manhattan, and be so involved in the city. " For Abrams, a native New Yorker, it was a thrill to work in his hometown. "I had never shot in New York and I've always wanted to go back and do that, so that was great. And it was important that we film there because the city is such a fabric of the movie. We had many grand scenes, such as those at Wollman Rink in Central Park where we lit up the GM building and Bergdorf Goodman's and had about three hundred and fifty extras and fake snow blowing. It really looks spectacular. "

Shooting winter scenes in the middle of August, in New York City, presented some interesting challenges for the production. "We had some bad weather and there was mosquito spraying in the park that actually forced us to shut down a few times," Abrams says, "so, that sort of threw us a monkey wrench. But, the crew was wonderful and we were able accomplish what we needed. " Says Fields, "The biggest challenge was creating Christmas in its signature location, which is Wollman Rink, the skating rink in Central Park. It had to look and feel cold. And director of photography John de Borman and production designer Caroline Hanania did a wonderful job. "

Director of photography John de Borman, who has collaborated with Chelsom in the past, says that working on SERENDIPITY was a pleasure, "I found the story fascinating because the essence of serendipity is something that effects all of us. And knowing Peter and his way of telling stories, I knew he would bring a lot of comedy to it, which I enjoy shooting. In terms of the look of the film, I felt it should be light and bright and fun. Therefore, on the whole, I tried with Caroline Hanania to always create rather colorful scenes visually, and enhance the comedy that is already there. " Some of the scenes that de Borman found particularly interesting to shoot were those at the ice-skating rink, "We lit everyone at 360 degrees and built these lamp posts that didn't look like film lights and then we flared the lens. I think it worked pretty well at expressing the magic in the film. " de Borman adds, "I did feel the basic point of this story is that two people meet and spend the rest of the story trying to find each other. So, I was always trying to get shots where John Cusack, for instance, is one of millions. And we have scenes in which he is walking the streets, surrounded by thousands of New Yorkers, and we did it in kind of a documentary-style way. And that was quite satisfying because that is what the story really is about. We also did a lot of time-lapse. For instance, when the film begins, you see the images move at incredible speeds and then slow down to get into the story. And we worked with an expert on that, a man whose title is actually Mr. Timelapse. So that was challenging and fun. "

Production designer Caroline Hanania initially prepared by immersing herself in the research, "I knew it was a real New York movie. And I looked at lots of images of New York and the city in the winter and snow. And one does start to think of some of the older films, the Cary Grant movies for example. And while this is obviously a contemporary story, I think it is slightly fed from that era of filmmaking. And that also gave us the opportunity to make it slightly richer, visually. " On designing the winter scenes in the midst of summer, many of the sets, including Wollman Rink, had to be redesigned or built from scratch in order to appear real on film. "I suppose in some ways it has made us more creative, by being selective in terms of where we shoot and how we say New York, and sections of street to put in our Christmas tree lights and decorations. And so, it's quite contained in a way, for instance with snow dressing and just avoiding seeing trees that are in full bloom. And then of course the Wollman Rink scenes were a huge undertaking because we had to effectively build our own rink, but within the existing rink space. And it was made out of an artificial ice substance and had to be laid down in sheets. I think it look's quite special. We're lucky that it all worked out. "

With winter and skating scenes in the story, inevitably the lead actors found themselves on the ice. Says Beckinsale, "When we shot at the rink, it was great. But it was a broiling hot summer, and they performed some miracle by having this pretend ice that you could actually skate on. " She adds that her childhood lessons came in handy, "I used to have skating lessons when I was a kid, so at first I was all confident about it, but it was a whole different deal. It was pretty hard to skate on and much different than being on real ice. But that part of the movie is so full of magic and promise and excitement, that it was really fun to do. " Cusack adds, "I'm not a skater and that was kind of nice because my character doesn't know how to skate. So I didn't have to take any lessons. I just strapped them on and went. "

Ultimately, Chelsom notes, "I think what I have tried to do and what I'm a great believer in, is to push the limits and not say we can or cannot do this. If it's real, you can do bold things. As long as everyone gets on the platform, you can take the train wherever you want. And I think that is what we've done. It's a quite heightened reality at times. I've woven into the story the character of fate and destiny in the strangest, subliminal way. This is the kind of film where no details are casual. Everything you see is about the chain of events that happen. So, I see it more as a tale than a story because there is a subtext and meaning in the heart that is not based on just the literal plot. " Cusack adds, "It clearly affirms that there is a grand, master plan to things. And if that is true, then that is a very comforting notion. "