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Clint Eastwood & Co. Talk Hereafter's Scariest Scene

HEREAFTER, which opens in limited release this Friday, October 15 before going wider on the 22nd from Warner Bros., explores themes of death and what lies beyond through the stories of three different characters, though it's a drama rather than a horror film or supernatural thriller. One key scene early in the film, however, is definitely a hair-raiser. As HEREAFTER opens, French TV journalist Marie (HIGH TENSION's Cécile De France) is on vacation in Indonesia with her director/boyfriend Didier (Thierry Neuvic) when the catastrophic tsunami hits, sending destructive waves rushing through the streets and claiming countless lives. Marie nearly drowns in the flood waters and has a near-death experience before being revived, which sets her on an obsessive course to investigate questions of the afterlife. This may be the biggest setpiece Eastwood has ever staged, and he does so with his usual consummate skill, employing first-rate digital FX to create a riveting and frightening screen experience-particularly given the fact that it recreates a true-life disaster. "I thought that one unusual aspect of the script [by Peter Morgan] was taking actual events and placing them in a fictional story, and the tsunami of four years ago on the Pacific was one," Eastwood says. "But it was very difficult to do. I kept having fantasies about huge hoses, and thousands of gallons of water running down the streets and what have you, and I figured that would be prohibitive-where would we do that? In the old days, I suppose you would have done that on a set, and you would have little setpieces and turned a lot of water loose. With computer-generated images now, you can just go ahead and do it-even though water is probably the most difficult thing to do in CGI. I have a fellow by the name of Michael Owens who's worked with me on LETTERS FROM IWO JIMA, FLAGS OF OUR FATHERS-back as far as SPACE COWBOYS. So he has kept very hip on the technology as it has been improving over the years." Not all of the sequence was created in the computer; location footage was shot in Maui, and De France spent some time shooting in a studio tank in London. "She was in there for nine hours without getting out too much; she had to have a skin replacement afterward," Eastwood smiles. For her part, the actress recalls, "I was very proud to do my own stunts. In the beginning, I was afraid [about working] with the oxygen. I've already done two films in the water-but this time, because there were a lot of English men around me, I was very shy. I was crying one day because we had done four or five days of rehearsal in the tank, and I was scared. A very nice man came to me and said, 'OK, forget the oxygen and just hold your breath.' And I said, 'I can do that! Yeah!' And then it was OK. I'm proud to have been underwater for a long time, saying, 'I don't need oxygen! You see?' " [Laughs] Combining this live footage with the digital imagery necessitated more advance preparation than Eastwood is used to. "We had to preplan the whole scene in order to piece all the elements together," he notes. "If you don't preplan CGI, it's the most expensive thing in the world, so you have to do that with every single shot. That's normally not the way I shoot, but on this thing it worked rather well." Star Matt Damon, marking his second collaboration with Eastwood after INVICTUS, was impressed. "He just kind of plowed in with utter confidence," the actor says, "and that whole CGI sequence is incredible." It is indeed a highlight of the film-one showcased in HEREAFTER's trailers and TV spots, which has irked some who believe either that the scene should have been saved as a surprise for audiences, or that it sets up misleading expectations for a more spectacle-oriented movie. "Most of the time," Eastwood says of this issue, "you're always fighting the studio, because they want to tell the whole story in a matter of 30 seconds. So you get a little bit of everything in there, and end up with a whole lot of nothing, really. They've made some trailers that have accentuated the story, and some that accentuate the tsunami. The problem with accentuating the tsunami is that all of a sudden it becomes an action movie-everybody goes in with the expectation that maybe they're going to see two hours of flooding. That may not be the case, but if you go into the stuff with the kids in a lot of detail, then people will think, 'Well, maybe this doesn't have as much action or adventure as I'd love it to have.' It's tricky, because with this particular story, you have to flesh out all the characters, and that's difficult to do. It's tough to market a film like this." "Any marketing department is always going to want to show the scope," Damon adds. "[The tsunami is] an incredible sequence, and I understand that obviously you want people to be totally surprised by it, but at the end of the day, [the studio is] in that situation where they want people to come see the movie too [laughs]. With THE INFORMANT!, I kind of jokingly went on David Letterman and intercut scenes from TRANSFORMERS into the trailer to try to get people to go. Like, 'It's about a whistleblower, but a lot of shit blows up!' "