Minority Report : Production Notes

In Washington, D.C., in the year 2054, murder has been eliminated. The future is seen and the guilty punished before the crime has ever been committed. From a nexus deep within the Justice Department’s elite Pre-Crime unit, all the evidence to convict – from imagery alluding to the time, place and other details – is seen by “Pre-Cogs,” three psychic beings whose visions of murder have never been wrong.

It is the nation’s most advanced crime force, a perfect system. And no one works harder for Pre-Crime than its top man, Chief John Anderton (Tom Cruise). Destroyed by a tragic loss, Anderton has thrown all of his passion into a system that could potentially spare thousands of people from the tragedy he lived through. Six years later, the coming vote to take it national has only fueled his conviction that Pre-Crime works.

Anderton has no reason to doubt it ... until he becomes its #1 suspect.

As the head of the unit, Anderton is the first to see the images as they flow from the liquid suspension chamber where the Pre-Cogs dream of murder. The scene is unfamiliar, the faces unknown to him, but this time, the killer’s identity is clear – John Anderton will murder a total stranger in less than 36 hours.

Now, with his own unit tracking his every move, led by his rival, Danny Witwer (Colin Farrell), Anderton must go below the radar of the state-of-the-art automated city, where every step you take is monitored, every car you drive can be controlled by someone else, and your own eyes tell the world who you are, what you want and where you’re going. Because you can’t hide, everybody runs.

With no way to defend himself against the charge of Pre-Crime, John must trace the roots of what brought him here, and uncover the truth behind the question he has spent the past six years working to eliminate: Is it possible for the Pre-Cogs to be wrong?

From Steven Spielberg comes a futuristic thriller Minority Report (2002), starring Tom Cruise as a detective who must race to uncover the truth before he becomes a victim to the system he helped create. Written by Scott Frank (Out Of Sight (1998)) and Jon Cohen, based on the short story “The Minority Report” by legendary author Philip K. Dick, the film is produced by Gerald R. Molen, Bonnie Curtis, Walter F. Parkes and Jan De Bont. Gary Goldman and Ronald Shusett are the executive producers.

Led by Tom Cruise, the cast features a diverse and accomplished ensemble of actors, including Colin Farrell (Tigerland, Hart’s War) as Danny Witwer, Anderton’s rival; Samantha Morton (Academy Award nominee, Sweet and Lowdown) as Agatha, the enigmatic Pre-Cog who plays a vital role in Anderton’s struggle to find the truth; Max von Sydow (whose numerous film credits include several classics from director Ingmar Bergman) as Lamar Burgess, the father of Pre-Crime; Lois Smith (Pledge, The (2001), Twister (1996)) as Iris Hineman, the researcher whose work paved the way for this radical new system; and Kathryn Morris (The Contender) as Lara, Anderton’s estranged wife.

Rounding out the cast are Tim Blake Nelson (O Brother, Where Art Thou?) as Gideon, caretaker of the Hall of Containment; Peter Stormare (Fargo (1996), Lost World, The (1992)) as Dr. Eddie, who performs contraband surgery; and Neal McDonough (Band of Brothers) as Pre-Crime Officer Fletcher.

Steven Spielberg’s distinguished production team includes Academy Award-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler's List (1993), Saving Private Ryan (1998)), Oscar®-winning editor Michael Kahn (Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981), Saving Private Ryan (1998)), production designer Alex McDowell (Fight Club (1999)) and Oscar-winning costume designer Deborah L. Scott (Titanic (1997)). Multiple Oscar winner John Williams (Star Wars, Saving Private Ryan (1998)) composed the score.

The film’s distinctive near-future world is enhanced by visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar (A.I.) of Industrial Light & Magic, who supervised the film’s groundbreaking visual effects, and Academy Award winner Michael Lantieri (Jurassic Park) supervising the practical effects. Brian Smrz (Mission Impossible 2 (2000)) coordinated the substantial stunt work.

Minority Report (2002) probes the implications of what would seem on its surface to be an ideal criminal tool. What if it was possible to stop murder before it happened? “I think all of us would love to know what’s just around the corner,” director Steven Spielberg says. “We’d all love to know what’s going to happen next – in the world, in our lives. This story flirts with the concept of what if we had the chance to know certain things about the future, especially things that come under the heading of ‘life and death.’”

With Minority Report (2002), Spielberg and his team investigate the nature of crime, technology and destiny with both a sense of adventure and the inscrutable mystery reminiscent of classic noir films of the 1940s. “I want to tackle subjects I haven’t really tackled before,” the director explains. “I’m in a period in my life of experimentation and trying things that challenge me. Minority Report is really a mystery. It’s a who-done-it or who-will-do-it, and you’re along for the ride. It’s also a very human story, about a man who has lived through a tragedy and is working through it.”

Both Spielberg and Tom Cruise, who first met while the actor was making his breakout film Risky Business (1983), had kept a keen eye out for a project that they could do together. “Steven is a great American storyteller,” says Cruise. “He’s given us so many moments of real cinema joy. I’ve wanted to work with him for a long time. I know everyone wants to work with Steven, but I had this opportunity and it was something I really cherished.”

While shooting the late Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut (1999), an early adaptation of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report caught Cruise’s eye. He sent it to Spielberg and the director’s response was immediate. “He got excited about it,” says Cruise. “It’s a wonderful story.”

Though the project has been around for at least a decade, Spielberg’s immediate impetus was to make it his own. Minority Report had been a project at Fox with various filmmakers seeking to develop it. After Cruise sent Spielberg an early adaptation written by Jon Cohen, the director read Philip K. Dick’s short story, entitled “The Minority Report,” and brought in screenwriter Scott Frank to adapt it.

Dick’s short story was first published in 1956 in the magazine Fantastic Universe. The now-legendary fantasist and science fiction author wrote hundreds of short stories during the 1950s and 60s, but was never commercially successful. Though he died before the completion of the first film based on his work, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), his fertile imagination has inspired generations of writers and filmmakers and posed vital questions that continue to resonate with the advancement of society and technology.

With late scheduling on Mission Impossible 2 (2000) and Spielberg’s impulse to realize Kubrick’s A.I.: Artificial Intelligence (2001), it would be two years before Minority Report began production and Spielberg, Frank and DreamWorks’ Walter Parkes used the scheduling gap to work together in shaping the complex storyline. The delay also proved tremendously valuable for both the screenwriter and the production designer, Alex McDowell, to collaborate on the development of the words and images that would become Spielberg’s film.

Says producer Bonnie Curtis, “Structuring this complicated story was a very daunting task. Steven wanted to weave a psychological thriller, so during the development process, he took great care to get all the layers of the story just right. In some ways, I think this is the most complicated film that Steven has ever made.”

Minority Report also represents a step forward in creating organic, seamless visual effects that reveal a world that is not traditionally sci-fi futuristic so much a subtle natural progression from our world today. The film features 481 visual effects shots, more than any film Spielberg has made since Close Encounters Of The Third Kind (1977) 25 years ago.

From the earliest animatics by Pixel Liberation Front to ILM’s ground-breaking 3D image modeling, supervised by Scott Farrar, to custom Lexus vehicles designed by Harald Belker, the images in Minority Report reflect a future we are on the verge of today.

The Think Tank

Spielberg decided early on that he wanted the visual world of Minority Report to reflect essentially that which is around us every day – specifically Washington, D.C., where the story unfolds -- with pieces of the future peaking out. To aid in envisioning this future, Spielberg brought together the men and women helping to shape it. “I thought it would be a good idea to bring some of the best minds in technology, environment, crime fighting, medicine, health, social services, transportation, computer technology and other fields into one room to discuss what the future a half a century hence would be like,” Spielberg notes.

From M.I.T. scientists such as John Underkoffler to urban planners, architects, inventors, writers (such as Generation X author Douglas Coupland), the Think Tank came together at a hotel in Santa Monica, California, to hash out the social and technological details of our very near future during a three-day conference. Sitting in were the filmmakers, along with screenwriter Scott Frank, and production designer Alex McDowell and his team. “We sat around in a room and talked through the aspects of how society would be affected over a five-, ten-, twenty-, thirty-year period,” McDowell recalls, “what would change, what the trends were, and where they would logically end up. We knew that we would have to learn the answers to those issues we would have to go into a consumer environment.”

The conversations encompassed everything from advances in medicine, to how people would brush their teeth, to transportation, urban planning, architecture and art. “Steven wanted backgrounds that we were familiar with, that we could relate to, and within the context of the familiar have spectacular props,” notes producer Bonnie Curtis.

The gradual loss of privacy was a near unanimous prediction. “The reason is not so people can spy on you,” explains Frank, “but so they can sell to you. In the not too distant future, it is plausible that by scanning your eyes, your whereabouts will be tracked. They will keep track of what you buy, so they can keep on selling to you.”

“George Orwell’s prophecy really comes true, not in the twentieth century but in the twenty-first,” the director explains. “Big Brother is watching us now and what what little privacy we have will completely evaporate in twenty or thirty years, because technology will be able to see through walls, through rooftops, into the very privacy of our personal lives, into the sanctuary of our families.”

Spielberg’s vision for Minority Report was devoid of the natural disasters and wars that shaped many other futuristic films. Notes McDowell, “The technology is benign and getting more and more efficient and serving the world better.” Offices would be entirely portable and personal technology like computers and phones would become built-in human accessories.

Generation X author Douglas Coupland dreamed up a number of products for the Washington D.C. of 2054, such as a sick-stick, a weapon that causes involuntarily vomiting, spray meat, and boosted cats, which have been engineered to grow to the same size as dogs.

Though the corporations would drive development, such technologies would naturally prove valuable to law enforcement – to find and track suspects and, by extension, catch them.

“Philip K. Dick was always interested in the consequences of technology and science,” comments M.I.T. science advisor John Underkoffler, who for 17 years has worked at the institute’s world-renowned Media Lab. “But Phil Dick took it past where most other people stopped, because he was one of the few people who understood that good science fiction is actually social science fiction. Technology is a reflection or an echo of what’s happening socially. Dick was interested in what the anthropological effect would be. I’m not sure if he ever passed a real judgment, but he was always asking. And that’s what makes him so great.”

Spielberg had similar aims in devising Minority Report. “Steven wants the audience to be split down the middle in their perception of this world,” says McDowell, “whether it’s a good world or a bad world, and not be black or white about it. He didn’t want the audience to think everything about this future world was evil or dystopic, but an extension of a world that we absolutely recognize.”

“We want the audience to take the technology we show them for granted by having so much of it in the movie,” says Spielberg, “so they can sit back and focus on the mystery.”

Fossil fuels have given way to the development of Magnetic-Levitation traffic system and while the potential to prevent murder is an optimistic one, it comes with a price. “To Steven’s credit, the world we have in the film is edgier and more realistically gray than the kind of utopian world imagined by futurists,” says Underkoffler. “And that’s always a more exciting place and a more interesting place for a story to unfold.”

Story And Casting

Minority Report begins with a day in the life of Detective John Anderton. A man who has lost everything, he has balanced his life on the precept that Pre-Crime is the answer to society’s ills. “He has basically joined Pre-Crime because of the loss of his son, and the disintegration of his family,” says Cruise. “He wants to rid the world of crime.”

Screenwriter Scott Frank’s approach to the story began with the character of Anderton. “What kind of person would embrace this kind of system?” he muses. “Anderton has lost his son, who is presumed dead, and Anderton is still grieving some six years later, to a point that he obsesses about the minute that he lost his son, the moment he turned away, and keeps replaying it over and over in his mind. His own guilt over what happened has led him to think he’s a true believer in this system, because if it can prevent another set of parents from losing their child, then it must be a good thing.”

As leader of the Pre-Crime Division of the Justice Department, Anderton bears the responsibility of sorting through the visions of a group of Pre-Cogs – psychic beings held in a womb-like chamber, suspended in fluid, who are able to see murders before they’re committed. “The information goes from the Pre-Cogs to a computer, and John separates the pictures to analyze what is it he’s looking at, where it is, and to glean information from what the Pre-cogs are seeing,” says Cruise.

Underkoffler created a gestural language that would allow Anderton to sort and conduct the visual information he was getting from the Pre-Cogs. Commands were developed for stopping time, rolling backwards and forwards and making excerpts or changing his view. These pre-visual images were created by effects house Imaginary Forces, which has designed opening titles for such films as Seven and Mummy Returns, The (2001). “The Pre-Cogs see the future very prismatically,” Spielberg explains. “They don’t see things like film, with squares and cuts. The human eye sees in circles. Imaginary Forces made the pre-visions look actually organic.”

“Steven wanted to create a computer language but make it physical,” explains Cruise. “He wanted the specific hand movements to play like a dance – he even played music during the scene. It was actually lots of fun.”

The discovery of the three beings’ precognitive visions was an accidental byproduct of a completely different line of research, “an unintended result,” explains Underkoffler. “But given that the researchers found that their subjects had these predictive abilities, then this whole Pre-Crime government institution was founded around them. This whole facility was built in response.”

The three Pre-Cogs – Dashiell, Arthur and Agatha -- lie in an “egg” deep within Pre-Crime Headquarters, bathed in a fluid that is intended as both a biological nutrient and a medium that helps to channel future visions into their heads. It also filters the images, so the Pre-Cogs will only see murder. Though the outside world has no conception of who the Pre-Cogs are or how they were made, Anderton has lived with their visions and made a connection with the only female of the three beings: Agatha.

Samantha Morton (Sweet and Lowdown) describes Agatha as essentially “a child, but she has wisdom beyond her years,” says the actor. “She sees people’s feelings and emotions and feels their pain and suffering. It’s a harsh reality for her.”

Morton considers Agatha the most difficult role she has ever done, not only for the emotional gravity inherent in such a complicated and abstract character, but also for the physical demands of the role. “Nothing prepares an actor for acting in the water – it’s an element that you’re not used to,” she says. “It requires a whole different body language. Deborah Scott designed a wet suit for me that enabled me to be water protected but still gave me a vulnerability. And the part required that I shave my hair and eyebrows. I was totally transparent physically and emotionally.”

“The three beings in the tank are not treated as human beings,” says Spielberg. “They’re not even being treated as government workers. They’re being treated like vegetables that spin a magic elixir that allows us to stop murders from happening. It takes Anderton a while to learn how to relate to the main pre-cog, Agatha.”

Prior to seeing his own face in a Pre-Crime visualization, Anderton never considered the questionable implications surrounding arresting and convicting individuals before they have committed murder. The question itself is immaterial based on the presumption that Pre-Crime – and the Pre-Cogs that make it possible – are never wrong.

“Anderton comes into this story with an air of professionalism, because he’s the best at what he does,” Spielberg explains. “But he’s also under a very dark cloud, having lost his son and never found out who took his son six years ago, just before he came to work at Pre-Crime. Everybody he has trained to be good at stopping murders before they happen, all these trainees who are the best of the best, then come after him using all the techniques that he taught them.”

“Anderton aggressively goes after people who are going to commit murder,” says Frank. “He is terrific at locating them, taking these little cues of information and piecing it all together to solve the murder. He is completely together and on top of it during the day, but at night you see a man who is completely fractured and falling apart.

Spielberg points out that Anderton is on two journeys. “One is a physical journey of discovering all the clues to either vindicate himself or determine that he, in fact, can and will murder. In addition, he is on an inner journey, an emotional struggle. So every scene is informed twice – once by the information he gathers and again as he lives his life. This makes this one of the more compelling roles Tom Cruise has ever had to play, and I think he pulls it off amazingly well.”

Likewise, screenwriter Frank has nothing but praise for the fearlessness with which Cruise approached the role. “From the very beginning of the project, Steven and I would periodically discuss with him what we were doing in terms of his character,” Frank explains. “He’s never been afraid of embracing dark characters and never once complained about any of those aspects. We tried hard to keep in mind that he’s this great movie star and you want to have a great time and see him doing certain things. But at the same time he was all for going deep and making it as emotional as we needed it to be. He encouraged us to go as far as we possibly could, and I think he does his best work when we go really far with it.”

It is only when Anderton finds himself somewhat outside the system that he begins to see cracks. The first sign is when Justice Department official Danny Witwer, played by Colin Farrell (Hart’s War) comes to Pre-Crime to audit the system and make sure it has no flaws on the eve of its national referendum. Farrell describes Danny as “cocky and smug; he’s there to do a job. Actually, he’s there to infiltrate Anderton’s department by pretending to be one of the lads. He’ll step on anyone to get to the next step of the ladder, because he wants to get to the top. I really enjoyed playing the character.”

“You can tell when you first meet Witwer that he would love Anderton’s job, that he likes Pre-Crime and thinks it’s a great place for him,” says Spielberg.

Scott Frank notes that while Anderton is motivated by grief and guilt, Witwer is motivated by faith. “He’s got a religious background and really believes in the Pre-Cogs as pseudo-deities,” says the screenwriter. “He thinks they have religious value beyond their value to solving murders. And he goes after Anderton rather zealously.”

Famed Swedish actor Max von Sydow portrays Lamar Burgess, whom Frank describes as “a father figure to John. He has taken him under his wing and brought him in. He has also used tragedy not only motivate Anderton but also get people behind Pre-Crime. He’s the perfect poster boy for Pre-Crime.”

Burgess developed the institution of Pre-Crime based on the research of a scientist named Iris Hineman, played by Lois Smith. In the film, the Pre-Cogs are grown children whom the state has taken away from their unstable or drug addicted parents, and made essentially into predicting machines. “You harness them and stick them in this tank and force them to dream of violent crime and murder all the time,” Underkoffler states. “It has a very objectionable element. But the way Steven has conceived and put this film together does a great job at just subtly suggesting that. All of our protagonists work for this agency, but at the same time the agency is engaged in something that many people might object to.”

“People can be against capital punishment until they lose a loved one,” says Frank. “We can be completely civilized until the murder rate goes way up and we need to figure out how to bring in the troops. That’s how dictatorships get started; it’s always for the greater good. We use the Abraham Lincoln quote in the movie -- sometimes it’s better to sacrifice a limb to save the whole body. But how far do you go and by sacrificing the limb are you really controlling the whole body more than you are saving the whole body?”

Production on Minority Report commenced on March 22, 2001 in Los Angeles, with locations including the Ronald Reagan Federal Building, the Willard Hotel, and the Federal Triangle Plaza in the Washington D.C. metro area; and Southern California locations including Downtown L.A., an abandoned mall in Hawthorne and a factory in Vernon. Additionally, Hennessy Street on the Warner Bros. lot, and soundstages at Universal and Fox accommodated the production.

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