COVERING THE BASES
For the filmmakers, achieving realism also meant there was only one location to shoot "The Town." Graham King asserts, "It had to be Boston: the houses, the streets, the people... And with Ben being from there and still so committed to his hometown, it was even more important that we film in Boston. There could be no substitute."
The movie was shot almost entirely in and around the city, including sites in Charlestown, Cambridge and the North End, as well as the home of the Red Sox nation, Fenway Park.
Principal photography began in the spot that inspired both the story and the title, which Iwanyk calls "a place in transition. Charlestown has been gentrified quite a bit in recent years. I could stand on a street corner and look one way and see gorgeous townhouses and beautiful trees; it looked like something out of a storybook. And, on the same corner, I could look in the other direction and would see the projects, just a few blocks away."
Production designer Sharon Seymour says that she and Affleck wanted to capture that juxtaposition of the working-class houses and the newly renovated homes of the area's more recent, and more affluent, arrivals. "Ben and I agreed that we really needed to define Charlestown, to give the audience a sense that this is a fractured community. You have the square and the beautiful architecture of the homes around Main Street. But there's another side of Charlestown that consists of triple-decker, wood-frame houses, where generations of families have lived. The movie explores that, somewhat, in the relationship between Doug, who is from working-class Charlestown, and Claire, a bank manager who just moved into a lovely apartment on the square."
Costume designer Susan Matheson also reflected that contrast in the costumes of Rebecca Hall and Blake Lively, as Claire and Krista, respectively. "We wanted them to be polar opposites," she remarks. "Krista's clothes are very colorful, and she wears a lot more jewelry: layered necklaces and multiple rings and large hoop earrings. But we tried to select things that might have personal meaning to her--like the Celtic cross she wears--to inform you about the character."
On the other hand, "Claire's wardrobe has simple silhouettes and very little embellishment," Matheson describes. "She is a bank manager, so she dresses very professionally. Even away from work, her clothing still has very clean lines, especially compared to Krista."
Perhaps the most distinctive costumes seen in "The Town" are the masks worn by Doug, Jem, Gloansy and Dez to hide their identities during two of the three heists that punctuate the action in the film.
The skeleton masks, seen in the opening bank robbery, were inspired by surveillance footage of an actual crime. Affleck recalls, "We were touring FBI headquarters and they had a big blow-up of a security camera image of a guy in a track suit wearing a skeleton Mask. He was carrying an assault rifle, but it was the mask that made it creepy and scary."
"It was so haunting," adds Matheson, who also saw the photo during her research. "Ben and I were both struck by how terrifying it looked and agreed it would be the perfect opening image for the movie."
The group dons the skeleton masks to take down the Cambridge Merchant Bank, which is also where Doug encounters Claire for the first time. While the visage of the mask terrorizes her character, Rebecca Hall admits it had almost the opposite effect on her. "That was the difference between Ben the actor and Ben the director. In the scene, Claire is completely intimidated by Doug, but when Ben tried to give me notes from behind the mask, I could barely keep a straight face," Hall laughs.
The robbery was filmed on location at the Cambridge Savings Bank, which Seymour and her team transformed into the Cambridge Merchant Bank…maybe a little too well. She explains, "Everything inside and outside the bank had to be re-branded. I didn't think many people would notice, but the bank told me that one customer came in, very irate, saying, 'I've had my accounts here for 40 years. I can't believe they changed over in one day.' So that was a nice compliment."
The gang's next undertaking is an armored car heist on the streets of Boston's North End, in broad daylight. And their disguise is equally brazen. Matheson says, "After the skeletons, I wanted something else that would be outside the norm. I started thinking about the fact that these four guys had grown up Irish Catholic, and it might be interesting to play on that. My first thought was to put them in full nuns' habits, but Ben came up with the idea to have them in tactical gear from the neck down. It was quite an interesting combination: nun wimples with bulletproof vests."
With the FBI and the police closing in, the armored car robbery leads to a breakneck car chase involving dozens of vehicles going in every direction. Filming the pursuit would have been difficult in any big city, but the narrow, winding streets of the historic neighborhood multiplied the challenge exponentially. "The North End is an incredibly tight space," clarifies David Crockett. "The roads were originally laid out in the 1600s, so they were not built for cars, but that also made for a better action sequence. It's great stuff."
Affleck collaborated with Gary Hymes and second unit director Alexander Witt to plot out the chase, first with toy cars on a large map and then graduating to the real thing "once everyone knew exactly where every car would be and precisely what everyone was doing," Witt says. "We were always looking for ways to make it more exciting, but with that many cars involved, we also needed it to be safe."
In choreographing the chase, Hymes says he took his cues from the script. "It reads, 'Gloansy drives, never touching the brakes.' He's just working the traffic. Right there, I knew it had to be fluid, but we also wanted to go all out. The gang sees the cops are everywhere and could be around any corner, so what do they have to lose?"
"Gary and his team were definitely the most crucial elements of the North End sequence," Affleck comments. "You can come up with anything you want, but if you don't have drivers who can execute it, you can't pull it off."
To bring the audience right into the action, Affleck and cinematographer Robert Elswit primarily utilized a camera mounted low on the car with a wide lens. "We wanted it to feel almost claustrophobic--to make you feel like you're with the guys in the car as they're speeding down these narrow streets and things are rushing by," the director states. "The cool thing is they're wearing masks, so we didn't have to worry about coming in close to the stunt drivers. We could really push the limits to make it more viscerally entertaining."
The pursuit culminates with the closure of the Charlestown Bridge, which meant the production had to shut down one of the main arteries in and out of Charlestown for several hours. "That was huge," Crockett emphasizes, "because we were only one of many activities happening in Boston that day. But the city was very accommodating; they really helped us get what we needed."
The filmmakers especially appreciated the city's cooperation in shooting the gang's most ambitious and dangerous job--in Fergie's words "taking down the Cathedral of Boston"--Fenway Park. The producers credit one person for their ability to gain access to the iconic stadium: "Mr. Ben Affleck," King confirms, without hesitation. "His name carries a lot of weight in Boston. They know he is devoted to the Red Sox, so he was the key to us filming at Fenway."
Shot in the middle of baseball season, all the Fenway scenes had to be completed in a specific timeframe, while the team was on the road. It would have been impossible to film a massive shootout--both in the stadium tunnels and on the surrounding streets--with players on the field and fans in the stands. Adding more pressure to the time constraints, the complex sequence required the coordination of many moving parts, including cast, stunt people and extras, as well as current and former members of Boston's SWAT team who were, essentially, playing themselves.
Pressure notwithstanding, Basil Iwanyk says, "The experience of filming there was surreal. It was one of those rare moments in life when you have to stop what you're doing to appreciate where you are."
Jeremy Renner agrees. "It was pretty cool to be able to run around that field, which has so much history. I had an instant understanding of what Fenway means to the people of Boston. It's got tremendous energy even with no one else there. It certainly made me want to be a Red Sox fan," he smiles.
"It's such a monumental landmark for any true baseball fan," Graham King says. "It was incredible to stand out in left field by the famous 'Green Monster,'" he adds, referring to the over-37-foot wall that has been the bane of many a batter. "That's the part of moviemaking that truly is magic."
Ben Affleck, who has been in the stands for his fair share of games, notes, "I am a huge Red Sox fan so it was a thrill and a privilege to be in the Park, especially during off-hours. I definitely had a sense of not wanting to let that opportunity down.
"Making 'The Town' gave me a wealth of opportunities," he reflects, "and I especially appreciated the chance to work with some extraordinary talents. It was a very collaborative process and the movie is the product of a lot of people who cared about the project and really gave it their all."