At the end of this month, Apple TV+ will launch Tetris, a movie about the intense legal battle to secure the console rights to the famous Russian puzzler that would turn Nintendo's Game Boy into a global phenomenon.
The movie began development as an independent production back in 2020 before Apple stepped in to secure it as an exclusive for its streaming service. Director Jon S. Baird has been speaking to Film Stories magazine about making the film and reveals that its lengthy gestation period was down to a range of factors – one of which was Russia's 2022 invasion of Ukraine.
With most of the film finished and in post-production, Baird and his team realised pickup shots were required. "We needed some stuff with Taron [Egerton, who plays the lead protagonist, Henk Rogers], and with Nikita [Efremov], who plays Alexey," the Scottish director explains. "We couldn’t get Taron because he was shooting his Apple show Blackbird, and had a theatre show too. Nikita’s availability was all over the place as well. We were set up to shoot, and then had to cancel due to a Covid illness. And then we couldn’t get Nikita because the war had started in Ukraine, and [the UK] wasn’t allowing anybody in. The only place we could get Nikita to was Serbia. It was the only place in Europe, as there were no visas allowed for Russian actors."
The team therefore had to travel to Serbia and meticulously recreate Alexey’s apartment to complete the single day of shooting required to get the shots they needed.
In the same interview, Baird reveals that one of the most frantic moments in the film was created almost entirely in digital form. The sequence in question is a car chase, which is seen briefly in the trailer. "None of it is real," says Baird. It took a year to create, with a Canadian effects company doing the heavy lifting. The cars were all created on a computer, with only the actors themselves being 'real'.
"We’ve got a ladder in a studio with a blue screen behind it," Baird continues. "We shoot the actors and the dialogue there. Then we put the actors in an actual rig, they’re getting thrown around like a roller coaster. Then we film that to time in with the exact movement of the storyboards: hard left, hard right, this has all been built up for months. And then everything with the cars, driving down streets, dodging traffic – that’s all computer graphics. I’ve never done anything like it before."
Baird adds that the film's digital effects were actually cut back in some instances, particularly in scenes where video game graphics were overlayed onto real-world events. "There were versions of the film where there was too much of that in it," he admits. "There were definitely cuts of the film where it was too much. Like anything, it’s trial and error. You throw everything at the wall, see what sticks, and start to refine it. When I was shooting the film, I was concentrating on the narrative, the drama. I knew we would have to have that, but I wasn’t thinking about it. To be honest as well, a lot of it was done because we couldn’t get good enough exteriors for establishing shots, particularly in Japan and Seattle."
Tetris arrives on Apple TV+ on March 31st. You can order the latest issue of the excellent Film Stores magazine – with Tetris as its cover feature – here.