For Robert Luketic, the look of The Ugly Truth was just as important to the playful, sexy mood as the unbridled comic performances. "The visual polish of a film has always been important to me," Luketic says. "We all appreciate beauty and I wanted this film to look really good and had some great collaborators." The team included cinematographer Russell Carpenter, ASC, who won the Academy Award® for his work on Titanic and previously worked with Luketic on such films as Monster-In-Law and 21.
"I enjoy working with Robert immensely because of the atmosphere that he creates on a set and the level of trust that he places in me, which allows me a freedom to contribute and express myself," says Carpenter. "We've developed a sort of unconscious communication in that I can do a lot of work off just very few words from Robert. His very light touch produces a lot of energy with both the actors and the crew. With just a word or a little nuance from Robert, communication happens."
He continues: "On this film, it's really about a fierce battle between these two personalities, about the way they banter and bristle at each other, so we didn't want to go too extreme in terms of color or lighting but to really focus on faces. Katherine is so beautiful and Gerry has such marvelous expressions, so that's where I found the visual fun in this picture."
Both Carpenter and production designer Missy Stewart - another long-time collaborator of Luketic, who has worked with him since Legally Blonde - focused on bringing the world of "A.M. Sacramento" to life in a vividly real manner. Carpenter used anamorphic lenses to emphasize the vast, horizontal spaces of the broadcast news world and played with lighting to contrast the polish of "A.M Sacramento" with the low-tech video of Mike Chadway's cable show, which catches Abby's eye even before she meets him in person.
Meanwhile, Stewart transformed a stage at KCET, Los Angeles's public television station, into a typically bright and cheery morning news set and used a defunct Glendale police station to create the network's administrative offices.
"With Robert, we've always evolved the design from character," says Stewart, "rather than going for the gag, which I think makes the comedy much funnier. So, for example, with the 'AM Sacramento' offices we used this very 1960s building that felt like a classic, professional newsroom but with just a little more zing to it."
Luketic adds: "A newsroom is a vibrant, charged atmosphere and a great little pressure cooker to throw together sexual tension, rivalry and comedy. It's a colorful backdrop that allowed us to be more outrageous."
Stewart also had a good time contrasting Abby and Mike's individual homes - his garage apartment is a chaotic realm stuffed with toys and gadgets, while her courtyard apartment is course, organized within an inch of its life. "We also played with color," explains Stewart. "Her environments are all in blue and blue-gray, very cool colors against which Katherine looks very beautiful. Whereas with Gerry, we used woodsy, warm colors that bring out his masculinity and suggest some of the warmth that Mike Chadway really has inside him. The best part of this project was getting to play with the battle of the sexes and to show how two people who seem so real yet so opposite can find a common ground."
One of Stewart's most thrilling sets to create was the La Noche Cubana Nightclub, where Abby and Mike first start to think, maybe even fear, that they are far more compatible than either had anticipated. Unable to find the kind of grand, romantic space she was looking for, Stewart re-imagined the restaurant in the entrance of Los Angeles' historic Union Station.
"I'm in love with historical Los Angeles and I had been wanting to use Union Station for some time in a film," says Stewart. "The restaurant there is this vast, giant space with these great bones of arches and a dance floor that I knew would look wonderful and jazzy in a crane shot. It was one of the first locations I picked actually, and everything else followed."
The set became the perfect backdrop to Abby and Mike's unexpectedly intimate dance. Recalls Gerard Butler: "The scene was one of those where it just all came together and you could feel the magic on the set. It really took off." Adds Katherine Heigl: "For me, it was like being on 'Dancing With The Stars' for a day, it was really fun."
Another scene that challenged the entire production, and pushed the comedy fully into risqué territory, is that in which Abby experience an unlikely source of titillation during a business dinner. Explains Luketic: "Dinner scenes are notoriously hard to shoot to begin with because you have a lot of perspectives to deal with - and now we add in a woman writhing in ecstasy at the table! So there we were all gathered around the monitor to coordinate it, and I had a moment where I thought 'wow, are we really doing this? This is pretty cool.'"
Heigl found the scene fun but exhausting. "I love physical comedy and I've never had a chance to do a scene as elaborately physical as this one," she notes. "We did that scene 37 times and I left the set so tired."
Logistics were also key to the sequence in which Mike Chadway provides Cyrano-like advice to Abby via a hidden head-set while she's on a first date with Colin at a baseball game. "It was a very difficult scene to shoot," says Luketic. "There was no real baseball game in town that we could film, so we used a local field in Long Beach and put together our own team. Then we had to coordinate all that with the crowd and with what Katherine and Gerry are doing. It was so challenging I wasn't laughing much at all while we were doing it, but later it turned out to be one of the scenes that makes people laugh the most."
For Tom Rosenberg, each of these comic scenes in The Ugly Truth adds up to a sum greater than its parts. "I think what sets this movie apart is that it isn't just a few funny moments inside of a romance like a typical romantic comedy - it is one funny scene after another with two leads who have great chemistry," he sums up.
Concludes Gary Lucchesi: "Making a comedy is a wonderful thing. People come to work ready to play and work hard, hoping they can make people laugh - and in this case, I think we've done it."
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