THE MONUMENTS MEN
About The Production
The Monuments Men was primarily shot on location in Germany, with a few weeks
Behind the scenes, Clooney and Heslov reassembled a team of department heads
who have collaborated on several of their films, including director of
photography Phedon Papamichael, ASC (who filmed The Descendants and The Ides of
March), production designer Jim Bissell (who marks his fourth film with Clooney
as director), editor Stephen Mirrione, A.C.E. (who has eleven collaborations
with Clooney, including all five of Clooney's feature films as a director), and
costume designer Louise Frogley (who has collaborated with Clooney on eight
films in total, including his most recent four films as a director).
"The whole crew - the editor, the production designer, the first A.D., the
cinematographer, the sound guy, the wardrobe - they're all the same people
picture after picture, because we trust them and love working with them. It
makes it fun to go to work. It feels like family," Clooney says.
Bissell admits that he was surprised by the new project's scope and ambition
when he first read the script for The Monuments Men, even though he was
expecting a break from the small-scale approach of The Ides of March. "I
thought, 'That's a lot of sets' - I broke it down and it was 146 sets. It
shattered George's own personal record of 110 sets on Confessions of a Dangerous
"I don't think most people realize the extent to which a production designer
contributes to the making of a film," says Heslov. "They're the first ones in,
they find the locations, and they're the ones that make the locations look right
for the scene..."
"...and then, invariably, you have to improvise - say, you get bad weather. You
can't waste the day, so you think, 'Well, I could shoot this other scene...' Jim
says, 'OK, give me an hour' - and he makes it work," says Clooney. "I wouldn't
make a movie without Jim Bissell."
Over the course of many pictures, Bissell has developed an economical and
easy way of working with Clooney. "I talk to George about a shot - what elements
are important compositional factors in a scene. Once I've talked with him, I can
usually go out and either design the set or find the location that is good for
what we need. Then, I'll go back and consult with him and he'll make a
commitment at that point - before the shooting company is there. He really likes
to be prepared and he doesn't like to waste," Bissell explains.
An Oscar nominee for his design work on Good Night, and Good Luck, Bissell
knows that seamless production design allows the audience to focus more fully on
the essence of story and character. "The most important thing always was to
create an atmosphere, an impression of what it was like for the Monuments Men
and what the dramatic settings were like where the story actually takes place.
If I did my job right, nobody knows or notices what I did," he says.
For The Monuments Men, three core locations were selected for filming:
southern and southeastern England in the United Kingdom; the city of Berlin and
the area in and around Babelsberg, Germany - including the 100-year-old
Babelsberg Studios and the adjacent countryside in Potsdam - and the Harz
Mountains, the highest mountain range in northern Germany.
However, there were dozens of sub-locations within those countries which had
to double for a variety of spots on the globe - including Washington D.C., New
York City, Chicago, Paris, Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, Austria and Italy -
while representing a plethora of specific settings: churches, cathedrals,
museums, castles, salt mines, hospitals, airfields, a military training base and
field headquarters, country roads, offices and living quarters.
Shooting on location helped the actors, says Dujardin. "Imagine being in a
place with 300 extras, jeeps, tanks, and an intense story. We acted in Germany,
in England. We shot in every kind of weather: snow, rain, wind, sun. Of course,
it inspires you a lot," he says. "I remember one scene with John Goodman. We're
in the jeep and I'm wounded, lying in John's arms. Behind us, it's drizzling and
incredibly foggy. I believe it does add to the picture and all the emotion."
"It was really challenging to make Germany work for France and Belgium, and
to a certain extent, to make the U.K. work for Germany," Bissell says.
"Fortunately, Gothic cathedrals have a scale and style that sort of transcends
national identities. So, we were able to be a bit more generic in the way we
For example, Bissell redesigned the interior of the Cathedral of St. Stephen
and Sixtus in Halberstadt, the capital of the Harz district. Under Bissell's
supervision, The Halberstadt Cathedral was made to double as the St. Bavo
Cathedral in Ghent, Belgium, the rightful home for the Van Eycks' Adoration of
the Mystic Lamb (aka The Ghent Altarpiece).
Geological processes have produced numerous caves in the Harz Mountains, many
of which were mined for their mineral deposits. Bissell and crew transformed
these into the mines for the film, principally those in Merkers, Germany and
Altaussee, Austria, two monumental hiding places for Nazi plunder.
"The Harz Mountain area has the exteriors of all of our mines in the film,"
Bissell says. "We found some great old period mines. Some of them were
derelicts; others were abandoned but picturesque enough that we could fix them
up and make them work for us."
One of the biggest challenges for Bissell was in conveying the enormity of
the caches of stolen art and artifacts. "Reading about the scale of the Nazis'
thievery, the sheer volume is mind-boggling," Bissell says. "It's very important
that our audience understands what our Monuments Men found - even they were
surprised at the extent, the scale of the theft. We needed that dramatic impact.
You have to look at this - when they first start discovering these mines where
the stolen art has been stored - and feel what they felt. It's awe, disbelief -
before you begin to feel the elation from finding these treasures."
Though some filming was done in real mines, most of the tunnels were built on
sound stages at Babelsberg Studios. "That's a lot of stuff to shift around -
paintings, crates, sculptures - and in order to get the scale you have to have
large rooms that are accessible by one or two tunnels, fifteen hundred feet
underground," Bissell says. "That's not where you want to send a shooting
company. So, we made the decision very early on to make a large mine set that
was modular in a way where we could shoot it from different angles and it could
be different art caches. We built those sets at Babelsberg Studios. They were
large, but they had to be large."
In addition to these sets, effective masterpiece doubles were also key to the
production. Over a thousand art works had to be authentically replicated, even
if only a corner of the great painting, sculpture or tapestry would show on
The production had a number of means of sourcing art. There are many rental
houses - primarily in England - that have collections of oil paintings for rent.
"They're not masterpieces, but they're quite nice, mostly portraits," says Helen
Jarvis, the film's Supervising Art Director, who sourced many of the necessary
artworks. Many sculptures could be acquired the same way, by renting
reproductions that had been made over the years.
Another means was obtaining high-resolution digital files and printing the
paintings. "Many of these paintings are quite complex, and printing has become
so sophisticated; it was clearly the way to go," says Jarvis.
Two of these pieces, however, were artistic co-stars in the film: the Bruges
Madonna and the Ghent Altarpiece. They would be getting quite a bit of screen
time, and required special attention.
For the Bruges Madonna, the filmmakers took several tacks. "We knew we were
going to need two reproductions - one for our 'hero shots,' as beautiful as we
could get, and another that would be moved around, wrapped in blankets - used
more as a prop," Jarvis remembers.
In Italy, the film's set decorator, Bernhard Henrich, found a yard full of
statuary that had once belonged to CinecittÃ , the famous Italian film studio.
"Amazingly enough, they had a Bruges Madonna, made of fiberglass," says Jarvis.
"We knew we were going to be renting several works from them, so we had that one
sent ahead so we could see how good it was - and it was very, very good."
The filmmakers also hired a sculptor out of Berlin to carve a new
reproduction out of high density foam. "We went to Bruges and took some
high-resolution images - and we purchased even better images in the gift shop!
Also, in the Town Hall in Bruges, there happens to be a 100-year-old plaster
cast of the Madonna sitting in a hallway. From that reproduction, we were able
to get some very good side photos of the Madonna. Then, our very accomplished
sculptor carved for two or three weeks."
The filmmakers then compared three life-sized photos side-by-side: the real
Madonna, the fiberglass Italian reproduction, and the foam sculpture. "The
Italian fiberglass one won," says Jarvis. "It was closer to the original. The
foam Madonna became our backup."
The other key piece was the Ghent Altarpiece. "For the Ghent Altarpiece, we
obtained the rights to a very high resolution digital file printed," Bissell
"We went through test after test," says Jarvis. "We printed the panel of the
Madonna in the green velvet dress on several different kinds of material before
we found that a more modern technique - a vinyl-coated printing technique - was
what worked best. Then we handed it off to our scenic painter, who put a paint
finish over the top of it - an acrylic that had wax in it - that gave it a great
look of having been painted. And then, our carpenter created all of the wooden
framing, and we built an elaborate stone altarpiece for it to sit on."
The filmmakers also recreated The Burghers of Calais, the large Rodin
sculpture. "We found a company in New York that made two-foot-high replicas of
the statue," says Jarvis. "You might not think those would be useful, but they
were great because we could rotate them can see every nuance of the drapery.
Again, we carved those out of dense foam, but the bronze texture was much more
forgiving than the marble."
Louise Frogley, the costume designer, says that her challenge was similar to
Bissell's - one of logistics and scope. "There were so many big scenes involving
uniformed and civilian people in different stages of deterioration," Frogley
remembers. "There were large quantities of people involved and large amounts of
costume, and we had to do pre-fits while filming was still going on. Plus, we
would be shipping stuff ahead while we were filming. Plus, we had to clothe
people in one location while we were pre-fitting people in another. We had to
find watches for every main actor, multiples for them. We had to do glasses,
coated and uncoated. And sunglasses, coated and uncoated. For people with
reading glasses, we had to do coated and uncoated, plus blank, coated and
uncoated. It went on and on and on. We were driven mad with all of these
details, but we did it."
Despite the number of past World War II films, military uniforms were not so
easy to come by. "Many of the original uniforms have been sold, destroyed or are
in bad condition," Frogley says. "This stuff doesn't last long if it's not
looked after. There's original stuff still in existence, but the sizes are
almost always too small. We had some wonderful, original Nazi jackets, but in
sizes like 36-chest - and no trousers."
Frogley, along with costume supervisor John C. Casey and military costume
supervisor Joe Hobbs, had the added task of outfitting actors who represented
several different armies: American, German, British, French and Belgian. "And,
of course, mid-way through the war, the uniforms changed," Frogley adds.
To pull it off, Frogley explains, it turned into a true international effort.
"The uniforms came from all over the place," Frogley explains. "We had stuff
made in Poland. We had the fabric made in Pakistan. We bought stuff from dealers
in Holland. We had boots from Mexico."
But although the Monuments Men spend most of the movie in uniform, it was
important to design costumes in the early scenes that reflected their civilian
lives. "We were very much trying to reflect who they were first as civilians
because they weren't the normal military types," Frogley says. "That way we
would show what difference being in the military must have made. Stokes (George
Clooney) is an intellectual, so he's smartly dressed, appropriately but not
outstanding. Granger (Matt Damon) is slightly more arty; we first see him in
nice period overalls over more casual clothes before he dresses up a bit to meet
with Stokes. Campbell (Bill Murray) is an architect, so we see him in a suit, on
site of a building project. Garfield (John Goodman) is a sculptor, so we meet in
him a sculpting smock and cap; in uniform, he's still a bit of a mess, because
that fits the character. Savitz (Bob Balaban) works in the world of dance; we
dressed him a little more flamboyantly."
Once they've joined the military, each man becomes part of a unit, working
toward the same goal. "Of course, the actors still bring individuality to their
characters and they can use the way they wear their uniforms to reflect that - a
shirt tucked into a waist just so, a collar askew, little things that show
different traits. These guys are all pretty smart actors. They're going to use
every last thing they can, anything to enhance the character."
"Louise Frogley is a brilliant designer," says Cate Blanchett. "I always find
her wardrobe fittings really informative and creative. Together, you kick images
and ideas around. Louise always approaches recognizable periods in unexpected
yet true ways."
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