Set Visit: The Covenant

Montreal is truly an amazing experience: The gothic churches on the stone paved streets quickly allow for anyone to be immersed in the Montreal culture. Old world charm mixed with French “joie de vivre” results is pure mystique. This is the perfect atmosphere for an action/horror motion picture, so it’s no wonder that Screen Gems decided to film Renny Harlin’s new action/horror film, The Covenant, here. In November 2005, was given the chance to visit the set.

The soundstage for this shoot is located about 20 minutes from the heart of Montreal. While most of the movie takes place in New England, all of the production took place in Canada. Years ago, this soundstage use to be one of the largest old factories in Montreal. Screen Gems decided to use this to hold the sets, since Montreal lacked a soundstage with the desired amount of space. Upon entering the soundstage, I was immediately in wonder of the size. Before I had time to take in all that was around me, I am quickly ushered to a set that looks to be the side of a rocky mountain. The cliff is about 50 feet high and another 60 feet wide. Surrounding this “cliff” are huge walls of blue screen that will help the post production team fill in the gaps. Having never seen blue screen in person, I must say that it was quite a sight to behold, and the “Behind the Scenes” doc found on your DVD fails in comparison with the real thing. As cheesy as it sounds, I was taken aback by the size and the vividness of the blue screen used.

Upon entering the cliff stage, we were immediately welcomed by director Renny Harlin, decked out in jeans and a Harley Davidson shirt. In the background, hanging at about 80 feet in the air, was actor Steven Strait who looked comfortable and content with where he was. Steven is most noted for playing the shady Warren Peace in Disney’s Sky High. Just below him, the crew worked feverishly to create the proper amount of mist, mountain dew and lightning that the scene called for.

The Covenant is the story of four young friends who attend the Spencer Academy in New England, a school which educates the children of the East Coast upper echelon. While most of these students live the life of normal teenagers, our small clique of four heroes is anything but that, bound together by their families’ secret ancestry. Each member of the group is a direct descendent of the families who settled the Ipswich Colony in the 1600s. Along with their family name and the dark history that goes with it, the guys inherited a bloodline that contains the supernatural powers of flying, shape shifting and manipulating energy and matter. These powers and abilities will be showcased during this cliff sequence.

The students of the Spencer Academy kick-off the fall semester by having an outdoor party that takes place on a beach with a mountain in the background. This shot takes place 200 feet or so above the beach. Harlin continued his warm welcome by informing us that this scene is the first time we will see all of the characters, and he hopes that the unique camera shots and quick-paced nature of the scene will translate well onto the big screen. He continues by informing me that the rig used to harness Steven Strait is the same one used by the “Cirque du Soleil,” and The Covenant shoot will mark the first time that this type of rig is used on a motion picture. If you have ever seen a “Cirque du Soleil” event, it is quite easy to understand the amazing capabilities that these rigs can create with ease.

Another important feature these rigs create is safety. Harlin decided to use these rigs to help mimic the flight coordination that can be seen in many Korean films. If you’ve ever seen the film Volcano High, you will understand the look and feel of the fast pace velocity that Renny is looking to create for the action scenes. More times than not, Korean films will use stunt doubles for their action scenes. A disadvantage to this is the amount of time required to practice and create a flawless continuation of the scene with actors and stunt doubles. It was decided early on in production that the actors would perform their own stunts in order to get the most out of the scenes.

After the warm welcome, Renny went back to work. For this scene, he and director of photography Pierre Gill shot in 120 FPS to capture Strait’s character descending from the mountain top. It appears slow in real life but the magic of post production will fix all of that. From the director’s chair, Harlin is able to control all aspects of the set with a microphone that is strapped around his neck. Many on the set have dubbed this “the Voice of God,” as Harlin gives the booming “OK” and the scene begins. Strait is dropped down to the ground, lands and walks toward the edge of the cliff as the other members of his group, who are already looking down at the party, come into frame. Included in this scene were actors Chace Crawford, Toby Hemingway and Taylor Kitsch (who in my opinion will be shot to superstar status by the GFB’s just for appearing in the upcoming “epic” Snakes on a Plane.)

Upon completion of the cliff shot, I was allowed to view other areas of the set. Mario Rachiele, who is in charge of the visual effects, gave me some of the details about the action sequences from The Covenant. The first thing that immediately caught my eye was a cab of a big rig and a Ford Mustang, which Mario explained was a rig that will be completed with the help of CGI. Harlin insisted on using Prevision for this sequence in order to help create a unique viewing experience. In this scene, the Ford Mustang will collide with a rig that is carrying tree trunks. Renny wants the audience to be able to see as much as possible “up close and personal.” The camera will start from behind the truck and follow the Mustang as it crashes through the rig with its remains blasting out.

Another part of the film that Mario talked about takes place in the final act. Taking up a large portion of the soundstage was an actual size barn, in which a final fight involving three characters takes place. This barn was completed just days before the set visit and really is a sight to be seen. At first glance, I was sure that the entire barn was made out of wood. However, I was surprised to learn that the inside of the barn is mostly made up of Styrofoam, blended seamlessly with the wood. The storyboards show that during the fight, two characters will crash into various parts of the barn. The styrofoam will lessen the toll that the actors’ bodies will take.

During this fight scene, the different powers and abilities will be in full effect, and the look and feel of these powers is promised to be something new and refreshing to watch. Audiences will know immediately when these powers unfold and attack, because the guys’ eyes will turn pitch black. The best way to describe these powers that are projected at characters is being geometric and violent while at the same time having a semi-organic feel to them.

One of the characters in the scene will be played by actress Laura Ramsey, who will be floating under a spell in the center of the barn while the fight takes place. In order to create a “zen-like flowing” to her, Laura was shot in a pool, underwater, which will be added to the scene in post-production.

Opening nationwide on September 8th, The Covenant looks to be a blend of horror and action which should translate into fun for fans of this genre, and hopefully, Renny Harlin’s background with action movies and horror will give the film its own unique style. There’s a prequel graphic novel by Aron Coleite and Tone Rodriguez, also named “The Covenant,” which gives background information to the different characters’ histories available at Amazon or your local comic shop.

Screen Gems premiered the trailer for the film at the San Diego Comic-Con on Sunday, which you can now watch at the newly-launched official site at

Source: Thomas R. Tinneny