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about the film production
The idea for 2012 first occurred to writer/producer/composer Harald Kloser, Roland Emmerich's writing partner. "Every civilization on Earth has a flood myth," says Kloser. "Things are going wrong, society isn't working anymore, and the planet starts over. Some people get a second chance to start a new culture, a new society, a new civilization."

The idea crystallized as Kloser and Emmerich discovered a compelling hook on which to hang their contemporary flood story. The Mayan calendar is set to reach the end of its 13th cycle on December 21, 2012—and nothing follows that date. That, of course, begs the question - if the calendar doesn't continue, what will follow? "You will find millions of people, from all walks of life, who believe that in 2012 there will be some kind of shift in society, or a shift in spirit," says Kloser. The scope and variety of theories provided inspiration for Emmerich and Kloser as they penned their screenplay.

The key for the director, who is well known for box office hits such as "Independence Day" and "The Day After Tomorrow," would be to find a way to set "2012" apart from those disaster epics. "The more I talked with Harald about the story, the more I realized this is really something people today can relate to. There are a lot of philosophical and political elements, which I think add to the disaster element."

Central to that was creating characters that would experience those philosophical and political upheavals, in effect creating the disaster on a human scale. John Cusack stars as Jackson Curtis, a writer whose devotion to his failed-but-possibly-brilliant novel broke up his marriage and left his family in flux. But Jackson remains a loyal dad and when the chips are down, he will prove he will do anything to save his family. Amanda Peet plays Jackson's ex-wife, Kate, who maintains friendly contact with Jackson but has long tired of competing with his work for his attention. As the earth's plates start to shift - destroying L.A. in the process—Jackson and his family will begin a desperate journey by land and air to survive to see the new world.

Meanwhile, at the very highest reaches of the world's governments, there is a plan. They will not be able to save the entire human race, but they will be able to save some, and those will have the chance to begin society anew. President Thomas Wilson, played by Danny Glover, is very quick to understand the crisis the world is about to face - and equally quick to prevent mass hysteria by keeping the information secret. Chiwetel Ejiofor plays the president's chief science advisor, Adrian Helmsley, who has managed to decode the earth's messages and is determined to do what he can to help as many people as possible. Carl Anheuser, the president's chief of staff played by Oliver Platt, might be pompous and quick-tempered, but he is equally determined to see society - at least, those in society who can afford it—survive. Thandie Newton, playing the president's daughter, Laura, is shocked to find out what her father's government has hidden from the world. In fact, it seems that the only man outside the government with any clue as to what is about to happen is the radio host (and maybe prophet) Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson), who broadcasts his predictions to anyone who will listen.

The screenplay that Kloser and Emmerich wrote is in many ways the largest scale that Emmerich has yet attempted. To bring it to the screen, he combines special and visual effects, which, the director says, allowed him the freedom to choose how best to bring a scene to life. "The objective is that the viewer can't tell what we actually built and what's a visual effect, made in the computer," explains production designer Barry Chusid. "Hopefully, in the end, you watch the movie and ask, 'Where did they find the mountain to build these things in?'"

For example, the production built a few outdoor "shaky floor" stages - giant sets built on gimbals that the director could move as his actors ran through. "Roland took an entire city street, with palm trees, concrete, facades of houses, and he put them all on these giant gimbals—these huge movers—and said, 'You're supposed to run across it and get into a car and drive off,'" says Cusack. By the end, he says, "I was in water, fire, earth, ash clouds, earthquakes, pretty much everything you can think of. I drove every vehicle you can think of away from every disaster you can think of. It was a little hectic."

What could not be built by carpenters was built by computer animators, and to bring Emmerich's vision to life, only CGI could suffice. "I'd walk on to the set and there would be an ocean of blue screen," says Cusack. "But it's not as difficult as I imagined it. Roland has everything worked out and can show you just how it will appear when it's all done. He's so confident that it becomes fun just to imagine what he's imagining."

"Pretty much everything about this movie is appealing to me," says Marc Weigert, who serves as visual effects supervisor and co-producer of the film. "More than half the movie is visual effects. I think Roland has found a way to stick almost every natural disaster you can imagine into this film. L.A. is destroyed in a 10.5 earthquake by page 30. Yellowstone Park goes up in a thirty-mile-wide explosion of lava. But the real reason why it's so much fun to work with Roland is that he brings something new, something different to every single scene. You might think, 'Hm, I've seen movies with an earthquake.' Well, no, you haven't."

"2012" ended up being an enormous production, even by Emmerich's scale. According to Cusack, "The scope of it is bigger than anything I've seen. Every page of the script was a scene where you wondered just what Roland had in mind, because it seemed so ambitious, so huge. But what's interesting about watching Roland on the set is that he's never pulling his hair out. He can be surrounded by massive sets or green screen, but he's got it all in his head. He knows exactly what he wants it to look like, and he is able to command the armies necessary to bring it home. It's pretty wild."