ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
To tell the story of The International, the filmmakers would need a team that was truly international, with expertise all over the globe. Joining the producing team with Charles Roven and Richard Suckle was producer Lloyd Phillips, who has vast expertise with a wide range of locations and logistically complex shoots. Phillips proved an invaluable asset as Suckle and Roven moved a globe-trotting production to Istanbul, Berlin, Lyon, Milan, and New York.
In addition, Tom Tykwer has worked with the same core group of creative collaborators for many years, and reassembled this team for The International. Among them are cinematographer Frank Griebe, who has shot every one of Tykwer's films, production designer Uli Hanisch and editor Mathilde Bonnefoy. Academy Award-winning costume designer Ngila Dickson, based in New Zealand, was a new addition to the European foursome.
The film was shot principally on locations in and around Berlin and deliberately features the capital's modern architecture rather than its other, more frayed, personality. The shoot out in the Guggenheim was filmed on a stage near Babelsberg Studios where the interior of the famed Frank Lloyd Wright-designed New York museum was painstakingly replicated. A week of exteriors in Istanbul began the production's shooting schedule for the film's finale; a day in Lyon established Louis Salinger at Interpol's actual headquarters; three weeks of exterior scenes in Milan placed Salinger and Whitman in that city during the middle of their investigation. The final week of filming took place in New York where the filmmakers chose to reveal a more gritty side to the city, providing a contrast to Berlin.
Architecture features prominently in The International, through which old and new worlds are represented. An ultra modern landscape is the bank's terrain in Berlin, where glass and concrete structures symbolize the contradiction between transparency and impenetrability of the financial world. Milan bridges old and new worlds by combining classical and modern architecture and an older, more tangible environment is depicted in New York. For the finale, Istanbul is a contrast between tradition and modernity in both physical and moral senses.
As Salinger closes in on his prey, the backdrop moves from highly-stylized modernism through to antiquated classicism.
"With Frank Griebe and Uli Hanisch, we developed a color concept as well to portray each individual city with a particular representation and, at the same time, make them all look combined as one world," says Tykwer.
All the filmmakers shared a core belief that the thriller genre is one in which audiences are well versed and, as such, demands authenticity. "We felt it was important to shoot in all of these various locations to make it feel authentic, not in a showy way, but because it was organic to the story," says producer Suckle.
Attempting to meet this demand, locations in all of these cities were selected that suited both the visual style of the film and made sense in the world's real environment. Decisions were made to avoid cheating a street in Berlin for a street in New York, for example, so the film was shot principally at actual locations in all of these cities.
Cameras first rolled on The International in Istanbul, Turkey. The story's climax unfolds in this mystical city amidst stunning silhouettes of minarets and domed mosques. Hot on the heels of his nemesis, Salinger's frenetic pace takes him from the marbled courtyard of the Suleymaniye Mosque to the subterranean wonder of a Byzantine columned cistern; from dodging chaotic traffic in the city's center, and weaving through the throngs of shoppers in the famed Grand Bazaar, to the relative quiet rooftops of Turkey's largest covered market.
"Interestingly enough, we started filming where the story ends - with the finale of the movie," explains Tykwer. "It was an amazing start. It was intense because we had so much to accomplish in just one week, but we were in one of the most spectacular locations I've ever filmed. I loved it, and hated to leave, but we covered substantial ground. It was very intense and interesting to start the movie with the final sequence, but we set the tone there."
"I've produced some 25-30 movies over the years and this is the first time I've actually shot the end of the film first," adds producer Charles Roven. "It's challenging for the actors and, particularly, for the director to get the actors to that place where normally they'd have had months of being in the role to build upon."
But it paid off and by the time the filmmakers, cast and crew packed up and moved back to Berlin for the bulk of shooting, The International was well underway in tone, pace and energy.
"We were very happy with what we saw in Istanbul because of the city's unique stylistic mix," production designer Uli Hanisch recalls. "It also straddles the border between Asia and Europe. It's run down, but very active and busy at the same time."
Hanisch and Tykwer have collaborated for years and share a creative understanding and shorthand in developing the look of a film.
"Tom gives you the space, freedom and independence to create what you want, but at the same time is very clear in his opinions about what he wants to see in his film," says Hanisch. "It's a balancing game of back and forth. We begin the process with conversation and, in this case, about how we involve the contemporary, modern and specific architectural places mentioned in the script."
In the end, they came up with a helpful thumbnail sketch, or connecting visual thread throughout the film.
"All that is completely modern, almost virtual, is based more on the sinister side of the story and the old, shabby visual elements are related to the real world, representing good," Hanisch explains. "This idea was a helpful way at the outset in which to get a line visually through the places we visit in the story."
Thematically, Istanbul also fit with the script's focus on business and trade. As Hanisch describes, "It's a city run by business and everyone is dealing in something. There are shops and dealers all over and the greatest aspect about this was to have the final chase on the roof of the Grand Bazaar - historically one of the biggest bazaars. And, of course, completely interesting visually."
The Grand Bazaar is almost a city in its own right. Massive and labyrinthine, it was once the largest covered market in the world, and retains the crown as the largest in Turkey today, crowding more than 58 streets with an estimated 4,000 shops with some 250,000 to 400,000 visitors daily. Carpets, pottery, copper and brassware, meerschaum pipes, jewelry and spices are just a sampling of what one can haggle over while sipping mint tea in one of the stalls. Tykwer filmed Clive Owen running through these stalls, gun in hand, amidst actual market-goers rather than hired extras. Needless to say, these people were somewhat bewildered at the guerrilla filmmaking tactics.
"It's not a traditional structure such as you would find with a palace, building or church," says Hanisch. "The Grand Bazaar is a confusing maze - a mass of corridors, completely chaotic and very expansive. And then, unusually, its rooftops have paths for reasons I don't know. So when we first saw this, we thought what more could you want for a fabulous chase scene: existing winding paths on rooftops, set between two stunning mosques."
Also irresistible was the opportunity to shoot beneath the city in a Byzantine cistern dating back to Constantinople of the Sixth Century.
"We saw the cistern and thought: How can we possibly make use of this in the film? It's just one of those irresistible locations. It's a tourist attraction in reality, but in the movie we make it a secret cavern connected to the film's mosque where two characters meet in private as though in a secret kingdom. To pretend the cistern is directly underneath our mosque is a bit crazy, but we couldn't resist."
Yerebatan Saray Sarnici, grandest of the hundreds of ancient reservoirs that still lie beneath the city, is often called the Basilica Cistern, or Sunken Palace, due to its size of 2.4 acres and 336 marble columns. Next to the Hagia Sofia on the Asian side of Istanbul (Anatolia), it has attracted thousands of tourists each year since its restoration in the 1980s.
"It was the last location to secure in Istanbul, and probably the most difficult," says producer Lloyd Phillips. "Other films had shot there, but at night, and we needed it during the day when it had only ever been closed once for a half hour Presidential visit."
The Suleymaniye (the Magnificent) is the film's featured mosque. Built for a Sultan in the 16th century by a famous architect from the Ottoman period, the largest mosque of Istanbul with four minarets is spectacularly situated atop a hill overlooking the Bosphorus' inlet and natural harbor, the Golden Horn. (In addition, another of the city's famous mosques, the Blue Mosque, can be seen during the final chase across the rooftops of Istanbul.)
"I thought getting permission to film in the Suleymaniye Mosque would be the most difficult to lock of all the locations, but the Imans were wonderful supporters," says Phillips. "They want to put Istanbul and Turkey on the map and our script didn't represent anything objectionable, so they gave us access we never thought possible.
"Istanbul became a wonderful finale for the story. It's one of the most fascinating cities in the world and also one of the most chaotic, but in this chaos brings something visceral and exciting which I think we captured. It was a great way to start our schedule. It was intense and it was crazy and I'd go back there to film in a shot."
"Istanbul is one of the most rarely seen places in film history, particularly considering its diversity and beauty," states Tykwer. "It's also quite confusing at times because there's such a mix of styles. I'm totally in love with the place. You could shoot an entire movie - several entire movies - there. I'm very happy to have Istanbul as the city in which to end the movie."
Audiences are first introduced to Louis Salinger against the backdrop of Berlin's newly built main train station. In fact, Berlin Hauptbanhof makes its film debut in The International. Tykwer wanted an iconic structure to open the film and immediately establish architecture as its subtext.
"This movie looks at the role of architecture in our lives and how much it influences emotional processes," says the director. "Expensive, modern architecture has changed the landscapes of so many big cities. It's fascinating architecture, but seems driven by a desire to exude clarity with its lines yet at the same time is hard to read. I wanted to investigate this contradiction because it represents modern society and, particularly, the banking industry we wanted to describe in the film."
Opened in 2006 after eight years of construction, this station is one of Europe's largest and stands near to where the Berlin Wall once divided the capital. An impressive landmark structure with a massive glass roof, it's prominently positioned near the parliament buildings of the Reichstag and Chancellery. At the station's inauguration, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the transparency of the new central station was a symbol of a modern country open to the rest of the world.
Transparency is something to which the current corporate and financial world often lays claim. However, they are anything but as revealed in the film.
"There is an undercurrent to all these companies beyond the open book façade they present," notes the director. "And I find modern architecture is like that too. It very often works with glass to show penetrability, yet also makes use of a lot of concrete - the most solid material one can hide behind. With the central station, for example, it appears see-through, but when inside you're surprised to find many different levels with escalators everywhere. So, there's a mystery and complication to this building you don't see from the outside."
The nearby government buildings of Berlin, straddling the Spree that runs through them, also made its cinematic debut. In the shadow of the Reichstag, these parliament buildings are predominantly glass and steel as well.
"I thought it was an amazing space to surround Salinger," Tykwer explains. "It makes it seem as though they are trapped in this 'brave new world' environment and, as filmed at night, eerie. At the same time, however, there is a vastness to the area into which it appears one can escape. It creates a feeling of insecurity the film is attempting to illustrate - there is visibility, but you can't read whether what's coming toward you is friendly or dangerous."
Berlin also played host to the film production's largest set, as in an abandoned railway roundhouse in Berlin, the design team built two massive sets to house the Guggenheim shootout set.
Clearly it was not possible to shoot an explosive gun battle in the actual museum because of the damage it would cause. In addition, the Guggenheim's rotating exhibits are constant and could never have allowed for the time needed for such a complicated scene. So finding a space large enough to recreate the museum's rotunda then became the challenge. There was no such stage in Germany, so the roundhouse became the unlikely site. After weeks of searching far and wide, the production designer measured the ruin that sat outside his office window on a whim. Miraculously, it was a match.
Fans of Tom Tykwer, the Guggenheim board of trustees agreed to allow their museum to be duplicated and provided meticulous drawings from their vaults and a software program of the renderings. Bettina Lessnig translated these a year in advance of construction under the unique title of Guggenheim architectural supervisor for the film.
The Guggenheim set was a massive undertaking and took 16 weeks to build. Detailed plans and original sketches of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece were painstakingly poured through by the art department with art director Sarah Horton and Uli Hanisch at the helm.
"Before we could even begin construction, we had to tile it's roof, lay an asphalt floor over the top of the sand that was there, seal all the many holes, replace the broken window panes and transform the space into a makeshift stage," recalls Hanisch.
Due to the extreme height of the Guggenheim, the sequence would have to be shot in two halves. "We had to cut it in half and first shoot levels three and a half to seven, tear it down and then build the ground level lobby to the third ramp," Tykwer says. "We shot around the clock between main and second unit for four weeks on the first half, and two and a half weeks on the second. We ultimately spent six weeks of shooting there for a sequence that ended up being less than 15 minutes."
The reconstruction of the museum was flawless and everyone who visited marvelled. Sarah Horton and construction manager Dierk Grahlow had conceived an elaborate scaffolding construction with a suspension system that cantilevered the ramps to gigantic anchors of concrete around the perimeter via an intricate system of cables.
"It's one of the most amazing modern buildings in the world and very difficult to recreate because of its self-hanging terraces in a spiral shape," explains Hanisch. "Out of pure respect and love for the building, we didn't change a thing except to simplify our construction by leaving out the wings to the rotunda because we didn't need them. It took sixteen years to design and build the real Guggenheim; we had sixteen weeks."
"There were times when we thought we should rename the film, 'The Guggenheim', for the amount of energy, focus and planning that sequence required both with the actual museum and the set," Tykwer laughs. "There isn't a right angle in the entire building so every rounding and every corner had to be manufactured. This also offered a lot of problems later for our technical equipment while shooting."
Finding the art to fill the Guggenheim set was another journey. Through the curator of the Hamburger Banhof, Tykwer was introduced to a local video artist.
"The driving energy of the film was to make it contemporary both in subject and vision and video art has developed in the last few years into a dominating art form," says the director.
Video artist Julian Rosenfeldt jumped at the chance to be involved in Tykwer's film and from his existing bank of work his video imagery was projected throughout the museum.
"It's a virtual retrospective of my work with a lot of existing work along the ramps and a new piece developed for the film to hang in the center," he explains. "I've called this new 15 panelled screen piece 'The Opening,' referring to the opening of an exhibit."
In addition to the replicated museum set, the production also filmed in an actual museum, Berlin's National Gallery. In another unprecedented gesture, the museum granted the production access to one of its rooms lined with priceless works of art. They even agreed to shift the position of paintings so characters Wexler and the Consultant could hold their clandestine meeting in front of the Arnold Böcklin painting, "The Crying at the Cross." This Swiss symbolist painter from the 19th century also created another masterpiece showcased in the scene, "Island of the Dead." The production was never allowed more than 30 people in the room at one time so as not to disturb the room's temperature and potentially harm the paintings.
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