Butterfly On A Wheel: Pierce Brosnan, Maria Bello and Gerard Butler
Butterfly on A Wheel / Shattered  Production Notes

‘Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel,’ first written by poet Alexander Pope in 'Epistle to Arbuthnot', is an expression which signifies the destruction of a delicate creature with brutality. The saying has come to represent applying excessive effort to accomplish a small matter. Here the butterfly is Neil Randall, played by Gerard Butler, a man with everything: looks, charm, success, on the fast track to the top. He is married to Abby (Maria Bello), who is the perfect mate, both beautiful and compassionate, a good wife and a good mother to their only child, five-year-old Sophie.

While their life together has all the caché of good fortune, Abby endures a life of quiet desperation not uncommon to the wives of ambitious men. Her small, personal disappointments, often overshadowed by Neil’s greater triumphs, are dismissed in light of their shared prosperity. And that is how they carry on until a man named Ryan appears from out of nowhere. Like an avenging angel, he takes the one thing they both hold dear, young Sophie, and exacts a terrible price for her safety - 24 hours of complete control over Neil and Abby’s lives. With bloodless precision, Ryan dismantles everything they have worked towards. Clearly, he wants revenge, but who is he and why has he targeted this family? By the time their ordeal ends, the relief is punctuated by a self-inflicted twist of the knife.

SHATTERED is an idea born at the hands of screenwriter and UK producer, William Morrissey, who teamed up with director Mike Barker (Best Laid Plans), both of CAA. When CAA brought the project to the attention of Irish DreamTime, Pierce Brosnan’s production company with long-time producing partner Beau St. Clair, they immediately saw the potential of SHATTERED, both as a rare thriller which opts to challenge audiences with psychological tension, rather than outright violence, and as a innovative turn in Brosnan’s long and successful acting career. The package then found its way to Producer William Vince and Executive Producer Dave Valleau of Infinity Features, the rainmakers behind the Oscar-winning biopic, Capote, who had previously worked with Brosnan and St. Clair on their period drama, Evelyn. Next, the producers brought in Icon Entertainment International as a partner and the Canadian-British co-production was complete. 'In the same way that certain actors play against type, we produce against type,' says Producer William Vince, comparing SHATTERED to Capote. But it was Capote which taught Infinity exactly how high the bar could be raised, which was what they are aiming for in SHATTERED. 'The distinct appeal of this film is that it’s a cautionary thriller, thought provoking without needing to be preachy, and written so it requires very little expository so the plot throttles down, driving forward, picking up momentum at every turn.' For Vince as well as for Executive Producer Dave Valleau, choosing a project is often as much about the people involved as it is about the script. 

Both men agree that Bill Morrissey had put such passion into his script and his energy was so high, that it became contagious. 'This is a bracing thriller and a powerful ride. It hasn’t been done before exactly like this,' observes Executive Producer Dave Valleau. 'After you read it the first time and know the outcome, you go back to read it again, looking for all the clues. The mechanics and the logistics of it are airtight and Bill Morrissey has done an amazing job refining the story, ratcheting up the suspense. I especially think this film is going to spark a lot of conversation between viewers afterward. The underlying issues are contemporary, issues that everyone faces, but few ever allow themselves to react to them openly. With Mike Barker as the director, a man who excels at twists and turns, combined with this cast, SHATTERED packs a powerful punch.' Pierce Brosnan and Beau St. Clair teamed up to form their Los Angeles-based production company, Irish DreamTime, in 1996, with SHATTERED marking their sixth project together. 'Bill Morrissey came in with the script and Mike Barker attached as the director, and we got on with them very well,' says St. Clair. 'It really is a freight train of a story, a rock-and-roll thriller with Hitchcockian underpinnings. The character of Ryan, so enigmatic and humourless, is like nothing Pierce has ever tackled before, which was the first step in making this happen.' For St. Clair, that counterpoint of character is constructive in balancing the ‘Bond effect’ on Brosnan’s career. 'When Pierce (as Ryan) hijacks these people’s lives, holding them hostage by putting their child’s safety at risk, he’s chilling,' St. Clair continues. 'The idea of these three robust actors, Pierce, Maria and Gerard, trapped in a car together is potent stuff. Their performances create an equilibrium of tension, where the wrong move would have catastrophic repercussions. It wouldn’t work at all if Ryan was terrorizing two fragile people. In a thriller, audiences want to be taken for a ride; they’re looking below the surface and trying to get ahead of the plot. The thrill of the ‘ride’ comes from the force of each character being placed in an untenable situation where the outcome is unpredictable.'

The Creative Team of William Morrissey and Mike Barker

'I wanted to give the audience something they weren’t expecting,' explains screenwriter William Morrissey. And indeed, he has delivered a narrative charged with tightrope-walking tension, finely calibrated without being calculated. The character fuelling the action is Ryan, an antagonist who seems like he always wins the game of chicken because he’d enjoy a head-on collision. 'I wanted to create something that on the surface had all the elements of a good, solid thriller,' Morrissey explains, 'But by the end reveals itself to have been far more than that. So that as the story reaches its climax it rises to another, more powerful, level.'

For Morrissey, the key is creating a situation in which the audience would constantly wonder what they would do if they found themselves in such horrific circumstances. 'Neil and Abby have 24 hours with a kidnapper who is holding their daughter’s life in his hands. They have to do everything he tells them to do. It’s easy to say you’d do anything for your child, because you’re never likely to be in that position. But what if you were? How far would you actually go?'

Director Mike Barker has worked with Morrissey extensively on this project and the partnership is successful because, to Barker’s way of thinking, while the plot comes from the writer, the performances and pace come from the director. The suspense is a balance of the two elements, dialogue and the visual, which is a nod to Hitchcock, blended so it has audiences asking, ‘What will happen next?’ 'We had to lay in a series of diversions, to keep the audience engaged in the process of the puzzle, but Bill, the writer, is a very clever guy and he’s made them all legitimate because otherwise it is cheating. And the audience won’t stand for that.'

Thrillers are all about precise timing and Barker settled on starting SHATTERED on a calm, domestic note to establish life as it is supposed to be, and 'as the film heightens, the shots are tighter, edgier and darker, more hand-held, more desperate. The challenge was to make sure the relationship beats are all tied up and all of the double meanings stay real.' To do this, Barker works closely with his Director of Photography, Ashley Rowe. 'The camera is static at the beginning of the film and the actors move about within frame,' says Rowe. 'As the plot moves forward, the camera picks up speed as well, first on a dolly and then hand-held. The pace becomes more frenetic and the number of cuts increases, and this increases the sensation of confusion. By the resolution of the story, we come back to static wide-angle shots.'

Wide-angle lenses allow the character to be dominant in the foreground without losing the context of the environment. 'This way,' Rowe explains,'you feel very present, almost as if you are inside the character’s head, traveling with that person.' The lighting, a subtle component of filmmaking, is kept to a minimum, relying largely on glass, reflective surfaces, water, mirrors and chrome. 'The poetry to this is that if Neil were to really look at his reflection, he might see himself for who he really is.'

The Butterflies and The Wheel

In addition to playing the lead role, Pierce Brosnan, is also one of the producers of SHATTERED. Discussing the dynamic of the story, he says, 'These are three desperate people, three passionate people, three people who have been hurt by life. At the beginning, all you know about Ryan is that he’s a madman – possibly a terrorist, certainly menacing, but definitely in great pain. There is an extensive power play in this story and who Ryan is quickly becomes secondary to what Ryan wants – that is until his son unexpectedly appears. This momentarily humanizes Ryan, but doesn’t explain why he is destroying the Randalls’ life.'

While Brosnan has ably covered the action/adventure genre, this is his first bona fide thriller. 'I am certainly at a point in my career where there are no holds barred. I’ve left the safe shores of playing one of the most iconic legends in cinema, Bond, and wondering where I go from here is exhilarating. SHATTERED fits because I’m always looking for parts which are the equivalent of a sharp left turn. You have to remember how you started in the business and the essence of what a good actor is.' Touching on his early training as a stage actor, Brosnan notes that the script plays out like a one act play with long pages of dialogue in many scenes, a sentiment echoed by the other lead actors. But the emotional content of the story is treacherous. 'This piece was not the most comfortable thing I’ve ever done. It required going into an uncomfortable arena. You’re dealing with a character who has profoundly serious issues and he is acting out his revenge fantasy. But I’m going into this with Maria who has been hitting her stride these last few years. She has always been passionate about this story. And Gerry is an excellent counterfoil for my character. It’s good; we have a Paddy and a Scotsman in the cast. I like that. He’s very strong in his role. Once they came on board we had a game plan; we had a solid movie.'

By all accounts, Maria Bello was the most natural choice for the role of Abby Randall. For Dave Valleau and William Vince, it was her work in History of Violence and The Cooler which established her prowess. 

'She’s on top of her game,' proclaims Vince. Brosnan and St. Clair declare she is in peak form. For Mike Barker, Bello is an actor in the truest sense, a proper working actor. For Bello herself, Abby is a character that speaks to her on a variety of levels. 'I can’t intellectualize why I take a part, but I read this script a year and a half ago, and it was riveting. I immediately called my agent and said I wanted it. My character, Abby, can’t fit in the box which her husband, Neil, has made for her. She’s given up her pursuit of photography, she has devoted herself to raising their 5-year-old child, but something is wrong. She’s nothing more than a prop with a heartbeat and that creates a certain rage in her.'


'I can relate to that rage, and it’s fun to unleash the inner animal,' says Bello. 'In some ways this film is a simple thriller and in other ways, it’s deeply psychological. There is a void that exists in all of us, we work our whole lives to fill it with whatever were told is supposed to fill it and when it can’t be filled, we try harder, but it remains this empty void.' Abby’s motivation is subtext. 'I am playing her deep,' she continues, 'but thankfully, I am working with two brilliant actors who bring everything to the table. They are both so present in who they are in their characters, so reacting from that place I find a depth and a meaning to everything we are doing.'

Bello was enchanted by the opportunity to work with Brosnan. 'He has such depth of character. I’m inspired by him as an actor and as a human being. He’s allowing himself to grow and change and become and experience. I will miss him terribly when we are done.'

While the script pairs Butler and Bello as man and wife, in reality, they have become fast friends. 'I adore Gerry. We were such partners in this. We had to really show up for each other in a huge way. I have never worked with someone who has shown up as much as he has. He brought himself fully to every single moment.'


Casting the role of Neil Randall was the wild card. It was the Scottish actor, Gerard Butler, whose work on Dear Frankie prompted the decision. Executive Producer Dave Valleau finds that Butler brings an intriguing chemistry to the part because his good looks make the arrogance of the character seem appropriate. At the same time, Butler has an infectious charm which makes it easy to sympathize with his character and therein lies the precarious contradiction of Neil Randall.

'I love Gerry,' says Barker. 'He is so 110%. He’s an incredibly handsome guy and we put that to good use here by playing hard against it.'

Butler, very happy to be out of chain mail (300) and into the 21st century, had been itching to play a 'regular, American guy. Lately, I’ve been playing characters with power and authority, so this is a complete about face. Not only does Ryan completely control Neil, he emasculates him. This really tore me apart emotionally and physically; the whole kidnapping process turns Neil inside out, starting off as the accomplished, confident, charming guy and ending up a physical and mental wreck in the space of 24 hours. I’ve never seen anything before like this in a script. The absolute fear, frustration and madness of it all was enough to keep me going.'

What also keeps Butler going are his co-stars. 'Pierce is my boy,' he proudly proclaims. 'It’s been a real honor working with him. From the second I met him I realized he had this incredible energy. He’s a good, decent, moral person, but he’s a wild boy and I love that. Whenever we did scenes together, we two Celtic boys, it was madness. We were like two big kids together. And Maria really brought my game up, she’s an incredible, incredible actress and a wonderful human being and I think we have the same soul. We share the same passion and love and craziness and fear and we put it into our work and we really understand what’s beautiful about that.'

The mutual admiration between Brosnan, Bello and Butler runs much deeper than their respective nicknames for each other: PB, MB and GB. Two months of tight quarters and a script packed with emotional strife proved exhausting for these three actors who came to rely heavily on each other for creative sustenance. 'The challenge was surviving the constant anxiety of this story, but at the end of every day, it was completely fulfilling,' says Bello who nurtured her co-stars and crew with home-cooked soups and cassoulets which she would bring to set.

'We’ve been beating each up for eight weeks and trusted each other so much that we allowed the rage to come out. We all have our bumps and bruises from this - even broken ribs. I’ve gone to emotional depths I’ve never gone to on any other movie. And I couldn’t have done it without Pierce and Gerry.'

The Psychology of Creating Visual Tension

Production design for a thriller is a subliminal task which has to follow, beat by beat, the emotional pacing of the film. 'It was a fantastic preproduction on this,' says Production Designer Rob Gray. 'Mike Barker, Cinematographer Ashley Rowe, and I all had a good understanding of where we wanted to go with this, how we wanted it to look and how we wanted it to move.' When Gray first met with Barker, they compared notes, specifically the slide show of images Gray had prepared which heavily overlapped with the style book Barker had been assembling. In particular were images by the photographer, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, who made his name shooting meticulously choreographed scenes from daily life. Most significantly, his work projected a sense of the solitude and introspection within the bustle of the city which lent itself exactly to the film.

'Because so many scenes involve the actors trapped in the car, much of the design is the exterior world around them, a world oblivious to the nightmare that is talking place for these people,' explains Gray. That contrast is a point of high anxiety. To be so achingly close to rescue and yet, separated by nothing more than a car window creates a diabolical sense of helplessness. 'This is a fishbowl, and all the designs emphasize windows offering the ability to look out or to look in. To me, this is also a metaphor for Neil who certainly doesn’t understand that he is transparent.'

Working on a more nuanced level, the fishbowl motif is repeatedly played out with an emphasis on reflective surfaces built into each set with even the streets wet down for the night shoots. One part of the story is told through a piece of mirror, then moving off the mirror and into reverse frame. On another occasion, the camera looks through four layers of glass. The story is set in Chicago, a city known for its sublime architecture and sculpture. The landmark buildings of the city are incorporated to contribute to the intoxicating world of Neil Randall’s reality prior to Ryan’s appearance. 'It’s a very strong, masculine city,' states Gray. The outstanding Corn Cob buildings, Millennium Park, the Wrigley Building, and the classic Mies van der Rohe buildings, even the set built for Neil’s office, all represent dynamic success.