THE FIFTH ESTATE
Shooting on the Run
To give "The Fifth Estate" the visceral feeling of fast-paced reality, but with a heightened intimacy befitting a
Shakespearean tale of shifting loyalties, the filmmakers utilized multiple, handheld cameras that allow for both a
fly-on-the-wall closeness to the action and an array of perspectives. Bill Condon reunited with cinematographer
Tobias Schliessler, with whom he worked on "Dreamgirls," in a shoot that traversed multiple countries, from
Belgium and Germany to Iceland and Kenya.
Condon says the look of the film, in which function
follows form, evolved out of passionate discussions that
hooked back into the film's themes. "We spent a lot of
time going through the script to decide on the visual
approach. I wanted to try something that Tobias has
become a master at, which is getting a group of great
camera operators, putting a camera in each one's hand,
and letting them roam around finding the drama."
He continues: "It worked for the story and it was very
fun and exciting to play with the actors that way, too, without any blocking and just letting the camera figure out
how to express what they were doing in the best way. It was liberating for both cast and crew. There was a lot of
freedom, but Tobias also lights and shoots in a very expressive way that captures the emotions going on within."
Condon, Schliessler and production designer Mark
Tildesley also talked a lot about the inherent tension
between the film's two disparate worlds. "We were
looking to capture a strong contrast between the glass-
and-steel world of power -- whether it be the banks, the
corporations, or the governments that WikiLeaks took
on -- and the grassroots, homemade, hand-painted,
graffiti world that Julian and Daniel live in that is so full
of kinetic energy. Theirs is a revolutionary world full of
Tildesley had all the skills to take on this kind of hyper
contemporary world. Known for his numerous collaborations with Danny Boyle, he recently co-designed the
much-acclaimed Opening Ceremonies for the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. That vast undertaking spoke
not only to his versatility, but his ability to work with wide-ranging cultural themes.
All that came into play as he began the daunting task of recreating the many locations where WikiLeaks' history
unfolded around the world -- in a short amount of time and with limited resources. He found himself working
on the run, echoing the style of WikiLeaks and the film. "We had to find a nomadic way of working because we
were moving through nine countries. But that also gave us a great kind of energy and it helps to give the look
the right feel," he observes.
Production began in Iceland, the tiny, volcanic island nation nestled on the edge of the Arctic, and a place that
cannot be replicated anywhere else. Here, one of the most evocative scenes takes place at the Blue Lagoon, a
vast landscape of lava rock and erupting geysers, where Cumberbatch and Bruhl filmed a key conversation in
howling wind and almost horizontal rain.
In Berlin, filming took place in several iconic locales, including the gleaming Berliner dome of the Anglican
Cathedral, where Julian takes Daniel to show him a city that transformed from a closed fascist society to one rife
with freedom. In the midst of filming there, a massive blizzard began whirling. "The blizzard almost obliterated
the view," remembers Condon. "But it left us with something else, which was just this explosion of crows and
dense snow; and the actors completely embraced it, so that Benedict started incorporating the weather and
what he was seeing into the speech. It was an amazingly tough location for the crew. We had to drag all the
equipment up this old staircase, it was as cold as anywhere I've ever been in my life, and on top of it all, the
bells would ring every half hour for what seemed like 10 minutes. But it was one of those experiences that really
brings people together."
One of Tildesley's most interesting challenges was recreating the Tacheles, the famed "artists' squat" in Berlin
where Daniel spent time. In the 1990s, the dilapidated building that had previously been a department store
and a Nazi prison became home to artists, anarchists and libertines from all over the world who transformed it
into a living gallery, bursting with every form of human expression inside and out. It served as a vibrant symbol
of Berlin's unbridled creative freedom, but after years of legal squabbles, was closed down in 2012 to be turned
into apartment buildings.
Condon says it still retains a sense of that mythology. "The feeling of the building is still so strong, and even now
there's this amazing sort of community who lives outside of it," he says. "Some people were afraid that just
opening it back up for a few nights that we shot there would bring it back to life, which in a way we hoped would
After wrangling permission to shoot in the refurbished building, Tildesley's team began working to take it back
to the days when it was buzzing with electric energy. They even rebuilt the nightclub that formerly resided there.
"We found the original club owners and we managed to get all the original furniture and art back, and even
reinstated the fire dragon over the bar," the production designer muses. "It came out looking exactly like it would
have back in the day."
When Daniel Domscheit-Berg came to the set, he was especially impressed with the way the production had
transformed the Berlin Congress Centre to how it looked when it hosted the Chaos Computer Club (Europe's
largest association of hackers) conventions he attended with Assange. "Daniel said we had recreated it so
perfectly, he felt he was having a flashback," laughs Sugar.
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