ON SET

Walking on Thin Ice

Director Scott Cohen talks about shooting Red Knot, his new film, in Antarctica.


In 2010, the photographer Scott Cohen had dinner with his friend, the filmmaker Gregory Colbert, who had recently chartered a boat to Antarctica and was planning to invite friends and fellow creative types, such as the writer Cormac McCarthy, the actress Juliette Binoche, and scientist Dr. Roger Payne, to come along for the ride. Colbert had extra room on the boat, which was leaving in two months. “He said, ‘Pack your bags. We’re going to Antarctica!” Cohen recalls. “I had been thinking of making a fictional film, but didn’t have a clear idea at that moment. I spent the weekend thinking about it and talking about it with my wife, and wrote a first draft of a treatment of what I thought would happen.” The final product, the ambient 81-minute-long film Red Knot, which began filming two months later and took three years of post-production to bring to fruition, tells the story of Peter (Vincent Kartheiser) and Chloe Harrison (Olivia Thirlby), newlyweds who go on a research trip to Antarctica in lieu of a honeymoon. Shortly after boarding in Southern Argentina, their relationship takes a rocky turn. ”The idea was to show a young couple figuring out how to relate—or not relate—at the beginning of a relationship,” explains Cohen, “Even though they were married, their marriage really began when they got on the boat.”

Red Knot is now open at the IFC Center in New York.

Photos: Walking on Thin Ice

“Olivia and Vincent met when they got on the boat as a couple. Guests on the boat actually thought they were a couple for quite some time. We put them in adjoining rooms and they shared the same bathroom, so they really got to know each other until the story started going a different direction and then they really did start being more separate from one another.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“This was our first day filming in the Antarctic peninsula. Every morning, I would go out and scout locations.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“Cinematographer Michael Simmons captures Chloe visiting the captain in his special smoking spot. We decided not to bring any contraptions, gear or stabilizers for him, and just had to hold Simmons to keep him from going overboard.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“Me looking super stressed trying to write a script on location. It evolved a lot as we were shooting. We also figured out a lot in post-production. When you shoot a film like this it’s a little bit like shooting a documentary.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“Jean-Paul Mugel is one of Europe’s legendary sound recordists. I only had the budget for him to come alone, so he brought these contraptions that allowed him to do everything. It was a one-man sound show. Normally a team of five people would do what he did.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“This is the actual captain of the ship, looking through binoculars to make sure that we’re avoiding any significant ice flows.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“This is in the Antarctic peninsula, where we spent two and a half days shooting. It was really an epic journey. You wake up and it was a little bit like Christmas morning.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

”When we were looking for the crew, we were really careful. You want to build a family. Forget about their skill set—do I want to be with them on a boat? I wanted to have a freaking good time with these people.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“Composer Garth Stevenson on a zodiac improvising. There were no other sounds other than the ice moving and Garth’s performance. He composed all the music down there and then re-recorded it in a studio.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“Artistic Director Todd Murphy scouting for locations around the Antarctic peninsula.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“Jean-Paul’s wife Judy Shrewsbury was the wardrobe designer, and she did all the costume selection from Paris. I told her I loved the way Olivia dressed, and so she talked to Olivia over Skype and selected all of her wardrobe that way.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

“Olivia on location in Antartica, where we filmed part of her character’s dream sequence. Most of the film was shot on the sea and in the water, but this is was one of the few days we were working on the Antartica continent. This was the last, or second to last, day of shooting and we were really scrambling to get everything done. The captain had to insist we get back on the boat.”

Photo courtesy of Thunder Perfect Mind, LLC.

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