Behind The Scenes of Ghost In The Shell

In the near future, Major (Scarlett Johansson) is the first of her kind: A human saved from a terrible crash, who is cyber-enhanced to be a perfect soldier devoted to stopping the world’s most dangerous criminals. When terrorism reaches a new level that includes the ability to hack into people’s minds and control them, Major is uniquely qualified to stop it.

Based on the acclaimed manga, Ghost In The Shell, director Rupert Sanders’ live-action film boasts incredible visuals and a cool cyberpunk performance by Scarlett Johansson. And with Ghost In The Shell out in cinemas on 30 March 2017, we’re taking a look behind the scenes at what went into creating the new movie.

THE IDEA
The film began its long journey to the big screen, when Avi Arad, the former Chairman, CEO and founder of Marvel Studios, pitched the project to Steven Spielberg — with help from an unexpected source. “I ran into Steven and his young daughter on the beach in Malibu,” says Arad. “She knew everything you can imagine about Ghost in the Shell. She did the pitch for me. That started the ball rolling.” And in 2008, Spielberg and DreamWorks acquired the rights to make the first live-action version of Ghost in the Shell.

THE STORYBOARD
Not long after British director Rupert Sanders officially signed on to the project in early 2014, he presented the producers with an original 110-page graphic novel to lay out his take on the film. “I wanted to return to the original world of Ghost in the Shell,” he explains. “The visual language of the manga really caught my imagination, so I used many images from the original in that rough collage of the story. Those images became the cornerstone for us in developing the movie. We didn’t reinvent it from the ground up, but we also didn’t copy it frame for frame.”

THE LEAD
Scarlett Johansson was drawn to the extraordinary visuals that director Rupert Sanders developed for the film. “That’s what clinched the deal for me,” says Johansson. “What he has created is not just an homage for the fans. There’s a new feeling to this film. It’s not the pristine future that we sometimes imagine. Humanity has engulfed itself, like a snake eating its tail. Cities are built upon cities, people made out of other people and computers.”

Johansson spent more that a year preparing for the role, one of the most gruelling of her career. “The physicality for Major has been challenging to create,” she acknowledges. “I learned to handle the weapons, complete every fight and do all the wire work with the support of the stunt team. The physicality is such an important part of this character, so I was really married to the idea of being able to do everything.”

Johansson began working on specific fighting skills with martial arts expert and fight trainer Richard Norton in New York and Los Angeles several months before filming began. “My job was to demystify the specific fight moves as much as I could for Scarlett,” says Norton. “I see what an individual actor can do, teach them some choreography, and help with the tools needed within the fights.”

And when it comes to creating Major, Ghost In The Shell anime director Mamoru Oshii praises Johansson for her ability to portray a character whose mind and body are not in synch. “Major has a fierce, combative side, but she is also plagued by insecurity. She’s not entirely human, but not a robot either. Scarlett can say so much with her eyes. She is so close to my original vision for the character. This role was for her, and nobody else could have played it.”

THE ANTAGONIST
Michael Pitt plays Kuze, a composite character drawn from several elements of the Ghost In The Shell. Pitt says he appreciated the ambitious nature of the project and the enduring relevance of the source material: “I saw the first animated film on VHS when I was maybe 14 or 15 years old. I had never seen anything like it. While I was preparing, I re-watched the original film and was really surprised by how current it still is. The world is complicated, scary, extremely exciting and full of evil and full of good — like the world we live in.”

“Is he truly a villain?” asks Pitt about his character, Kuze. “I don’t know. That’s one of the unique and interesting things about the script. I worked a lot on how he would speak and made some rules for myself about the way he could move. I wrote pages and pages and pages of backstory. He is such a strange character that I just didn’t know any other way to do it.”

Pitt arrived on set fully immersed in the physicality and violence of the character, according to Sanders. “By the time he started filming, he’d been eating raw food for months. He was doing boxing and Pilates every day. Not only was he whippet thin and ripped, he had developed a very in-depth character. He built himself a little house in a shipping container on the back lot, where he had a punching bag and an ashtray. He filled notebooks with painting after painting after painting about Kuze. It’s a master class watching him.”

THE SHOOT
Ghost In The Shell was filmed primarily in Wellington, New Zealand, with additional shooting in Hong Kong and Shanghai. Most of the live-action filming took place at Stone Street Studios, state-of-the-art production facilities built by Peter Jackson in the heart of Wellington that allowed him to attend to every aspect of the filmmaking process without ever having to get in a car. “He found an abandoned paint factory for the first Lord of the Rings and built one sound stage,” explains Sanders. “Since then, he has constructed a terrific world here. My director of photography Jess Hall and I could walk to work at Stone Street Studios and Park Road Post, where we viewed dailies, or WETA Workshop, where we did a lot of design work and built many practical elements.”

THE ANIMATION DIRECTORS
Mamoru Oshii, director of the two animated Ghost In The Shell features, and Kenji Kamiyama, director of the TV series, were invited to visit the set during filming in Hong Kong. “Rupert has made his own version of this story,” says Oshii. “This is the most gorgeous film made in the series so far. Rupert starts with compositions, colors and lighting ideas. As a director myself, I believe it’s best for the director to do what he envisions, so I wished that for Rupert. Scarlett Johansson has gone above and beyond my expectations for the role of Major.”

Ghost In The Shell is in cinemas on 30 March 2017.