‘Thirteen Lives’ Production Designer Molly Hughes –

of the Thirteen lives, production designer Molly Hughes was commissioned to create a set based on the Tham Luang cave system in Thailand. The challenge was to create a flooded cave system that was realistic, but large enough to fit the actors and cameras. Directed by Ron Howard, the film is based on the true story of a Thai football team trapped in a flooded cave and the brave volunteer rescue divers who rescued them. Although the event was heavily documented, there was little documentation of the cave system, so Hughes instead focused on what would work best for the story. At the beginning of production, the actors decided they wanted to do dives instead of stunt doubles.

DEADLINE: What was the process of reconstructing this cave?


Molly Hughes: It’s interesting, because we had a lot of people research, right? This is an event that was seen around the world and had many photographs. There were a lot of journalists from all over the world, so after two years you have access to pictures upon pictures upon pictures, but what you don’t have are pictures from inside the cave, because there was no visibility. . So, there are a few pictures of the entrance and a few pictures, maybe of an inner chamber or cave, but that’s what it was like. Many people didn’t realize it, but we also built the entrance and stairs and built the base camp. We had a lot of freedom because we were starting from scratch, so I was able to orient the entrance to the cave so that it worked for our script and the way we played the scenes. In a way, there was a lot of freedom in the design, which was actually pretty cool.

DEADLINE: How do you build chambers in a way that allows cameras to film?

Hughes: This was probably the biggest challenge. Once we found our location for the exterior, we began the engineering process and started drawing it. Then we moved on to the challenge of how we make these underwater sets accessible and interesting. How can we shoot in the dark? So, we started with what happens when Summon dies and when Chris loses the line. We needed a moment where Chris loses the line and he’s lost. So, a tunnel full of stalactites seemed like an appropriate place for it, because it’s confusing and you can’t tell which direction you’re going. So, I designed this long tunnel, it was about 90 feet long, it had an area where the line could be so high that he couldn’t reach it. You had to think about height and all that, and then with an area that had enough space for the cameras to look left or right or up and down.


All tunnels had camera ports, or five feet missing from one or both sides. One of them was 90 feet long, and was flat all the way out. It was creatively called the long flat tunnel, and it was so flat that you had to go on your stomach and the baby had to be either next to you or in front of you, and he was never below you. It didn’t happen, how it was they wanted to take them, ideally, to higher places. So, in these spaces, the camera can be on the side. Now, one thing happened when the lead actors decided they wanted to do their own stunt work, which happened very early in the film’s production. They were given a camera, so then as they got more comfortable in the water, you’d have Colin himself holding a camera, swimming horizontally, and that helped get some really great footage in space. . But it was really about them. They were really ready to go for it. And we had this amazing stunt team, an incredible dive team, that would just let me push the limits.


DEADLINE: When you were first building the sets and planning everything, did you expect the actors to decide to do their own stunts?

Hughes: No, we were ready for doubles in those areas. But part of my design is also the face masks, picking the right face masks and making sure you can see the actors’ faces through them. We ended up with clear masks that all had clear sides on them so the light could pass through and you could see their faces. So, we needed those moments and it was set to make sure that you get moments, reactions to faces, and then doubles, that you never get to see their faces. And I think the actors intuitively felt that if it was them, it would have been much better and there would have been a lot more footage for the audience to use and see who was going through.


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