Wolfsburg is a young city, west of Berlin, planned by the Nazis for workers of the Volkswagen factories. With the opening of Autostadt in 2000, Volkswagen's auto delivery center and theme park, and The Phaeno Science Center in 2005, the otherwise sleepy town is visited by millions of tourists and architectural enthusiasts each year.
These landmark architectural sites set the scene for the film's IBBC and Calvini business headquarters respectively. The film crew spent a brief two days filming these exteriors in Wolfsburg, but months of planning by Lloyd Phillips were involved to secure these days.
Production designer Hanisch visited Wolfsburg in pre-production and in these two sites found extraordinary modern architecture.
"Autostadt is such an unusual place. It plays with a virtual, modern surrounding we found fascinating," Hanisch notes. "The huge interior of the KonzernWelt building and its front exterior were fantastic in themselves, but then in relation to the theme park behind - it was almost supernatural. The choice to use this location was very much about the image or feeling we wanted to sell of the IBBC."
Autostadt is a landscaped theme park owned by the Volkswagen Group where customers pick up newly-purchased VWs and tour the seven individual pavilions of each of the manufacturer's brands. Linked by an underground computer-controlled conveyor tunnel to the distribution center, the site's Car Towers are impressive transparent glass spheres measuring 157 feet high and hold 400 cars fresh-off the assembly line.
Never before opened to a film crew, Autostadt's CEO Dr Otto Wachs granted Tykwer permission to film in the building where its magnificent opening glass panels, the largest of their kind in the world, were featured.
"In the film we play with the idea of translucence in big business," says Hanisch. "A bank like the IBBC is anything but with its highly covert criminal activities, but they pretend to be this kind of open-minded, consumer-friendly, world-friendly business. Glass can be transparent or it can be a reflection and we play with that in the film thematically and visually with the camera."
Next to Wolfsburg's main train station, and across the Mittelland Canal from Austostadt, sits London-based conceptual architect Zaha Hadid's otherworldly design, The Phaeno Science Center. The museum is the largest interactive science museum in Germany with cutting-edge exhibits and commissioned artwork. Hadid's innovative building was conceived as an "adventure landscape, a futuristic venue for the journey of discovery". An astounding concrete structure, the unusual award-winning design has been described as a "hypnotic work of architecture - the kind of building that utterly transforms our vision of the future." The museum serves as the film's location for the Calvini family's business headquarters.
In late November, at the onset of winter, the production bid farewell to Berlin and made their way to one of Italy's largest cities. Calling Le Méridien Gallia home, the crew settled in to the hotel on the Piazza Duca D'Aosta for its three weeks of filming. Opened in 1932, the Gallia's façade is a splendid example of art nouveau and its grand lobby, rooftop and back entrance served as key locations for the film.
Whitman and Salinger's investigation brings them to Milan in search of incriminating clues they believe an Italian businessman vying for political office can provide. Next to the hotel, and dominating the same large square, is the city's imposing central train station, Stazione Centrale di Milano. Under Mussolini, the station's original design became more grandiose when the dictator wanted it to represent the strength of the fascist regime. When the station was inaugurated in 1931, its size was record-breaking at more than 650 feet wide and 236 feet high. Without a defining style, it's a kinetic blend of many including Liberty and Art Deco.
However, competing for prominence in the Piazza Duca D'Aosta is the Pirelli Building. Designed by Gio Ponti in 1950, the elegantly styled skyscraper is Milan's tallest structure at a height of 417 feet. Currently housing the Region of Lombardy's offices, the looming modernist structure is juxtaposed against the classical neighboring architecture, a visual thematic thread throughout the film. "Milan works as the transitional zone between Berlin and New York because both old and new worlds are represented in the locations," explains Tykwer.
The production's arrival in the city was a novelty. Unaccustomed to a major film production in their city, Milan warmly embraced the cast and crew and provided much needed logistical support.
With permission from the Mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, the film's political rally with 800 extras was staged in the Piazza with multiple cameras and one flying overhead in a helicopter. The Governor of the Region of Lombardia, Roberto Formigoni, allowed filming to take place on the top floor of the Pirelli Tower, 31 stories up, to set the film's political headquarters for Umberto Calvini, played by Italian actor Luca Barbareschi. Despite never seeing these locations first hand, writer Eric Singer's descriptions in the script were incisive.
"It felt like he had been to Milan for a tremendous amount of time because his attention to detail was unbelievable," says producer Suckle. "His research was meticulous. And we got lucky in that everything he wrote worked practically for filming. These locations were chosen by Eric because they're not only in close proximity to each other but they all tied together narratively."
With only one week in New York, the cast and crew worked at break-neck speed to complete the daunting schedule of exteriors.
"Going to New York was the opposite of Berlin. I was very familiar with the city, but through movies," Tykwer admits. "Unlike Berlin, I wanted to show the city in a nearly nostalgic way, one that is reminiscent of a culture that is vanishing in other places in the world."
One of the primary goals while in New York was to capture the actual Guggenheim, both inside and out. And there was only one day for each.
Attracting many paparazzi and onlookers on a Sunday afternoon, Clive Owen as Salinger entered the museum and exited bloodied for the beginning and end of the sequence. The exterior of the museum during this time was hidden behind scaffolding for a long-planned restoration project, and removed by visual effects in the film's post-production.
"This is the 50th anniversary of the Guggenheim and they've spent tens of millions of dollars restoring the landmark," Phillips recalls. "The staff enjoyed the humor in allowing a film to come in and portray the destruction of the museum."
With only one day to capture all of the sweeping wide shots required to complete the work already filmed on set in Berlin, the cast and crew spent nearly 16 hours inside the Guggenheim. Moving a massive crane in and out of the museum's lobby, shuffling hundreds of extras and steadily moving from one ramp to the next, Tykwer and his team accomplished an enormous feat.
Other New York days were spent in Brooklyn establishing Whitman's residence, in Central Park with a blood-drenched Salinger, and on the streets of Manhattan spotting the Consultant and then trailing him to the Guggenheim.
"This sequence through New York City was inspired by The French Connection," says Tykwer. "This film had such a big impact on me and one of the films Eric, Chuck, Richard and I always referenced when we first started talking about The International."
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