‘Gravity’: The Secrets Behind The Movie’s Epic Opening Scene

Alfonso Cuaron and star Sandra Bullock explain the intense preparation behind that jaw-dropping opening scene.

There’s a reason director James Cameron has gone on record calling “Gravity” the “best space film ever done”: It’s visually stunning.

It took nearly five years to bring Alfonso Cuaron’s vision to the big-screen, and nearly every second of the film had to be painstakingly planned and choreographed with director of photography Emmanuel Lubezki before Cuaron ever yelled “action!”

“Well, we had to pre-visualize the whole film before we started shooting — in a very precise way,” Cuaron told MTV News. “It was not only pre-visualization, but also pre-lighting it. We have to light it virtually because then everything on set was pre-programmed.”

While the entire film will no doubt be eye candy for any cinephile, preview audiences have been particularly abuzz over the jaw-dropping destruction in the film’s initial moments that set the scene for the rest of those 90 minutes.

“The whole idea of that opening scene was to create the reality that you’re accustomed to seeing in an IMAX documentary, and Chivo Lubezki was particularly concerned about the quality of the light,” Cuaron explained. “The light in space is unlike anything we experience on Earth, because it is completely unfiltered. And the other thing was to create that reality in those documentaries — those are one single shot. You don’t have intercuts or stuff. We want to represent a space mission almost with all its finality before disaster strikes, and then the camera, from being objective becomes the point of view of the camera, and from that point on, the camera is a third character that is the audience POV. So the audience is experiencing this journey together with the characters.”

Those characters are being portrayed by long-time friends Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and to hear the actress explain it, the shoot was more dance than drama.

“I mean, you knew what it was. It was just, instead of having cuts getting you to those 17 minutes, it was going to be one long, continuous shot. Everything on this film was about rhythms,” she said. “It was about counting it out. Can we use musical cues so we know, so we don’t have to be counting in our head? You knew when you got to this piece, your arms started moving to start where you knew the camera was. Everything was pre-programmed. By the time it got to me, I had to already be doing what I was doing, so the action of this [gestures with arm] was happening as the camera reached. It was all about synchronized aspects of our performance of the camera, of where George was, where I was, and just practice, practice, practice.”

“Gravity” is open now.