The opening scene in the new film Cirque du Freak requires hundreds of gymnasts, acrobats, and firefighters performing giant, intricate challenges as they walk into the dark, while holding their breath and moving slowly. After being alerted of the scene by “the belly,” an alarm will sound throughout the circus and the performers will run away. But before the alarm goes off, a supernatural squid (basically a gelatinous, barrel-shaped organism with tentacles) takes hold of the crew and must be released.
The challenge the team of co-directors Jeffrey Blitz and Jason Blum took on when creating Cirque du Freak – a film about humans transported to an alternate world where their prejudices are inverted, and forbidden love begins to bloom — was one of duration. “It really took a long time to take that scene from days to weeks,” Blitz said. “Those guys were on that for five months.”
For director Blitz and Blum, making a film has never been as physically challenging as making Cirque du Freak. Along with Beastly star Kaitlyn Leeb, director Blitz’s face is covered in bruises and scratches from the intense stunts the cast performed on the set. This is, of course, a result of the film’s challenge to harness all the different types of action in one frame — two sets of wingsuits, dozens of trampolines, and a chainsaw in the background.
But one of the most notable challenges the filmmakers faced was ensuring that none of the participating performers lost their teeth. The squid was the only creature featured in the film, but while they thought they had the process down, they were blindsided when all of the performers were stricken with carpel tunnel syndrome. The sound was muffled and bright, making it hard to hear the movements of the actors.
Blitz and Blum decided to give each performer a shot at building their own, one-of-a-kind wetsuit. On their first visit to a manufacturer, the directors found all of the tightlines had been carved out of the men’s chest and back, creating a giant bubble — a ceiling of bubbles, if you will. (Needless to say, it wasn’t practical.) But after about an hour of trying to figure out how to permanently attach them, Blitz and Blum chucked everything they had just made.
Blitz recalled the moment he had to explain to the toothless co-stars that, although they had been told about it, it was “extremely disconcerting.” “To make it sound like you’re getting a free reward … we had a lot of tears in it. There were a lot of days, where there was an actual vomiting happening,” Blitz said. He threw out one word — “gigantic.”
“It was actually this fish,” he continued. “And one of the night shoots, that’s exactly what happened. I lost six teeth that night. But as you can imagine, it actually helped the film a lot.”
To read more about the cast and directing style of Cirque du Freak, pick up the new issue of Entertainment Weekly.