THE LAST CASTLE
Transformations were not limited to the cast, but extended to the entire
production, from the cinematography to the production and costume design.
"The Last Castle" was filmed almost entirely on location at the historic Tennessee State Penitentiary. In operation from its completion in 1898 to its closure in 1992, the prison housed a number of infamous prisoners in its century-long history, including James Earl Ray, the man convicted of assassinating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Its castle-like architecture, combined with the fact that it was already a prison, made it the perfect setting for the story.
Production designer Kirk Petruccelli offers, "It not only had incredible
believability, but it had a lot of character and an almost mythological quality." That being said, Petruccelli acknowledges that the antiquated structure required
a great deal of work to allow it to safely accommodate a large film company. With only a nine-week window, a crew of 150 set about refurbishing the existing buildings, as well as constructing facades and new buildings and barriers as needed for the story. The only set built apart from the main prison site was the residence that housed the inmates, known as The Tiers. Lurie wanted the cells to be facing one another, so Petruccelli and his team built The Tiers entirely from scratch in a warehouse near the location.
Back at the penitentiary, they built a wall 250 feet long and 20 feet high, which served as the prison entrance, as well as the two towers and the metal walkway that would serve as vantage points for the guards.
The most important vantage point built by Petruccelli and his team was that of Colonel Winter. The warden's office with its large picture window that allowed Winter to constantly survey the actions in the prison yard was entirely designed and built for the production. Mirroring the front of the actual prison, the exterior of the office window was framed by the same turret-like towers. "Everything that happens in the yard has to be tactically under the purview of Colonel Winter. Metaphorically speaking, he's the king of the castle," the designer says.
Petruccelli applied color to reinforce that metaphor for the interior of the office. "We used intense color to reflect freedom or power, so the office is saturated with color in a space that's beautiful and refined. Contrastingly, we robbed color from the prison yard; everything is in warm, neutral tones, nothing that could signify strength. As the story progresses, we begin to reverse that to reinforce the growing power of the prisoners."
The one exception to the color palette in the yard throughout the story is the American flag, which, Petruccelli remarks, "is the heart of The Castle. You see it in the reflections of the buildings, especially Winter's office. It's a very powerful image."
Collaborating with Rod Lurie and the design team, cinematographer Shelly Johnson was also able to reflect the change in the balance of power using light and camera work. "At first, the yard is much more naturally lit, more influenced by daylight, while Winter's office is lit artificially with lamps. As Irwin gains more power, you see the light in the office becoming more influenced by the exterior light infiltrating through the window," Johnson points out.
Johnson notes that the camera emphasized the message. "In the yard, we used more hand-held cameras because Rod wanted the images to be very natural, very loose, as if the audience were participants in the action. In Winter's office, we wanted the camera to be very precise, almost sterile in composition. Again, as the conflict develops, the prisoners' world becomes more precise in the staging of the camera movement, while the camera angle on Winter's world starts to get a little looser as it starts to unravel."
Costume designer Ha Nguyen reflected both stor
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