Creating Strange New Worlds
Says Robert Zemeckis, "'Contact' is a very large scale film about an idea that is incredibly huge. But it's all held together by a story about two people who love each other, and that's about as simple as you can get. In effect, their relationship becomes the chemistry that allows this idea that's as big as the universe to explode on the screen."
While the essential story is a simple one, the larger aspects of the film presented the filmmakers with physical demands of the tallest order. To create both the world we know and worlds not yet imagined, Zemeckis and producer Steve Starkey reunited virtually all of their award-
winning team from "Forrest Gump," including production designer ED VERREAUX, director of photography DON BURGESS, editor ARTHUR SCHMIDT, composer ALAN SYLVESTRI and costume designer JOANNA JOHNSTON. Five-time Academy Award-winner and longtime Zemeckis collaborator KEN RALSTON once again joined the director as visual effects supervisor.
The goal for Zemeckis and his team was, as he puts it, "to create an absolutely realistic representation of a fantastic event." Zemeckis and key department heads made their first location scout for "Contact" in the spring of 1996, with the intention of finding locations that supported this vision.
The production travelled to locations in New Mexico, Arizona, Washington, D.C., and NASA's Cape Canaveral in Florida. "Contact" also spent a week in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, where the largest radio telescope exists, and second unit photography took place in Fiji and Newfoundland. Many of the locations were then recreated on soundstages in Los Angeles for continued filming.
In addition to shooting on location to gain a feel of authenticity, the filmmakers consulted Dr. Sagan often until his death in December of 1996. Also essential to the production were a host of technical consultants from the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Life), NASA, JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), the California Institute of Technology, the Very Large Array (VLA) and a former White House staffer to consult on Washington D.C. and government protocol issues.