Setting Up Camp
Cold, confining, and austere, the POW camp in Hart 's War is a forbidding place where the rules are subject to the whim of one man: Colonel
Visser. His authority is absolute. In the film, when challenged by McNamara for disregarding the Geneva Convention, the German's response is icy and final: "Look around you, Colonel. This ...is not Geneva."
In bringing Hart 's War to life, the filmmakers considered the camp as much a character as a setting. Created by production designer Lilly
Kilvert, Stalag VI is an amalgam of the 130 or so German POW camps that existed during WWII, which were varied in appearance, function and privileges.
Built on some 400 acres, with dozens of barracks and guard towers, the camp was muddy, snowy and freezing through six weeks of mostly night shooting. It was built in the small Czech community of
Milovice, an hour's drive from Prague and a former home to the last Russian army barracks in the country.
"No matter how good a mood I was in, about ten minutes before our car arrived in
Milovice I would start to get depressed," says Bruce Willis. "I wasn't sure why until I realized it
was the camp itself, which was bleak and miserable. It made this one of the most physically demanding roles I've done."
On the eve of beginning shooting at the camp, Willis spent the night in one of its wooden barracks along with several cast members. Temperatures outside dipped into the 20s. Says
Hoblit, "We showed up early the next morning to begin blocking some scenes, and I saw Bruce rolling out of one of the beds inside the barracks."
The bed was identical to those in real German POW camps: a coarse wooden structure lined with cross boards and straw. Allied prisoners received a single blanket to stave off the cold, forcing them to sleep in coats and shoes.
"The camp experience was intense, to say the least," says Colin Farrell. "It gave us, in the smallest sense, an idea of what the prisoners had to contend with. Along with the obvious physical hardship, they endured extreme mental stress. Constant surveillance from the guards, no privacy, no moments to yourself. There was no sense of the future because they couldn't see past
Kilvert spent months reading books, researching films and photos, and studying documents, all in preparation to design the sets. She wanted to know who these men were who stayed in the camps, how the camps were built, and with what materials and tools.
"I was interested in what the men used for bedding, what they ate, how they washed their clothes, how often they shaved, how they kept warm — everything," says
Kilvert. "Above all else, I wanted it to be real. I wanted to convey the cramped space inside the fence, contrasted by the vast emptiness and isolation surrounding it. These men were truly in the middle of nowhere. I also wanted to express cold, constant cold and snow, something they could never escape.
Though she was restricted to a limited palette of browns and grays, Kilvert says the snow was not only effective in conveying a harsh winter, but in creating a beautiful background for the lurid olive drab of the prisoners' uniforms.
On the first night shoot, a blizzard also created a stunning vista for a wide shot in which 1,500 soldiers are being marched on a moonlit night through the woods and into the eerily lit camp. Nearly 3,000 extras were required for a similar massive entrance scene, creating wartime like logistical challenges in transport, scheduling and catering. Inside the camp, there was a strict mandate for accuracy. Everything, from clothing worn by extras to the tin cups inside the barracks to the barbed wire surrounding them, was to look as it would in 1944.
"The rule was, if it's not authentic looking, there better be a good reason why not," says set decorator Patrick Cassidy. "A very, very good reason."
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