On Sept. 26, the 2015 New York Film Festival kicked off with the opening night gala presentation and world premiere of Robert Zemeckis’ “The Walk.” The magical and exciting new film tells the story of Philippe Petit’s (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) walk between the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers in 1974. The screening was held at Alice Tully Hall. Notables in attendance included director Robert Zemeckis, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Charlotte Le Bon, James Badge Dale, Ben Schwartz, Benedict Samuel, Steve Valentine, César Domboy, Clément Sibony, and subject Philippe Petit. Other notables in attendance included the chairman and CEO of Real D Michael Lewis, Real D’s president of worldwide cinema Anthony Marcoly, FSLC’s executive director Lesli Klainberg, deputy director Eugene Hernandez, NYFF director Kent Jones and director of programming Dennis Lim. Actresses Edie Falco and Kate Mulgrew also came to show their support at the premiere, which was presented by Jaeger-LeCoultre, The New York Times, American Airlines and Fiji Water.
The film takes viewers through every detail of Petit’s stunt including the acquisition of equipment and the elaborate planning that it took to get Petit, his crew of cohorts, and hundreds of pounds of rigging to the top of the twin towers. It also features a perfect 3-D re-creation of Lower Manhattan in the 1970’s. “I love this role so much. First of all I love Robert Zemeckis and all of his movies. I love the french language and french culture. I performed on stage with russian clowns, did gymnastics when I was a kid, it was perfect for me. It was dream,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt said. He continued, “The thing about Philippe is he’s such an optimist. He always focuses on the positive, I think that’s a big part of why he’s able to accomplish such great things.” When asked if he’s a good tight rope walker he said, “I’m not too bad.”
Steve Valentine plays Barry Greenhouse. Barry was an integral accomplice to Petit’s coup. He worked at an insurance company in the twin towers. Valentine shared that he was huge fan of the “Man on Wire,” documentary and he coincidentally met Philippe a year before he was cast in “The Walk” at a lecture he was giving about knotting ropes. While Steve didn’t get to meet Barry, he found his retirement party video on youtube and used that to prepare.
Next, screenplay writer Christopher Browne discussed adapting Philippe’s book to screen. He attended USC Film school and graduated in 2002. He began working for Robert shortly after, but “The Walk” was the first time they co-wrote a screenplay together. He said that Zemeckis is a master story teller. Not only is he great at spectacle, but he is a craftsman especially when it comes to story and character. Read our exclusive red carpet interview below:
Shaina Moskowitz: How did you get involved with the project?
Christopher Browne: We got the rights to “To Reach The Clouds” in 2007, I believe and then it became my job to just dissect that book. It’s flagged with post-its. It’s underlined. It’s torn out. I was just trying to find the core story of what we could tell in two hours. What mentor to pick because he had two big mentors Papa Rudy and Francis Brunn and what selection of stories. He had so many stories, which ones did we need? What drove him as a character to do this? Why would an audience embrace him and his flaws too? We didn’t want to sugar coat who he was because he could also be very abrasive and so it took years for Bob and I to deconstruct that book and also additional interviews with him that he gave us additional tidbits about how he pulled this off what he hasn’t told anybody, he gave me some secrets. Philippe was instrumental because he welcomed me into his home for two weeks in 2008 I believe and we went through all of his archives. He still has the shoes that he wore on the day. He still has the pole, he still has the bow and arrow and he let me scan things. It was a very involved friendship that happened over the course of a few years.
SM: What were your favorite scenes to write?
CB: It’s always fun to write the scenes where Philippe is gathering accomplices. There’s an energy to him spying and taking things like that. But also we really enjoyed writing the voiceovers especially when he was on the wire, what he felt was the poetry of that, how he really thought it was beautiful and un-dangerous. Philippe has a unique way of speaking sometimes. It was fun to play with his words whether it’s transfiguration or the void or negative space. He has all these romantic great words.
SM: You have been working with Robert Zemeckis since 2003, what made this project unique?
CB: I think it was unique because we both identified so strongly with Philippe as an artist, like a filmmaker might, that just gets the blinders on them. I’m going to do this project no matter what. It was just an act of benevolent anarchy something that was really pure and obviously a risk to himself but thankfully he survived and everyone can be inspired by his story.
SM: Speak about watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt bring your script to life.
CB: I am so happy we got Joe on this. I think if anyone was going to play it it would be him. Joe was the perfect age, the perfect body type. He looks like young Philippe, he’s fluent in french, he’s very acrobatic himself. He’s a dancer and he’s most importantly a super hard worker.
The Sony Pictures film hits theaters in limited release on Sept. 30. Also, Robert Zemeckis will be honored with a major career retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art from Sept. 29 through Oct. 18, 2015. Opening on Sept. 29 with a special screening of “The Walk,” the retrospective will include all of Zemeckis’ feature films as well as a selection of his television work and student films.