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Building a Hidden Paris in Hungary and Serbia
While most of IN SECRET takes place in the concealed recesses of bedrooms and parlors, key sequences take the audience into the Parisian underbelly of the 1860s, a world not often seen at the movies. It was a time when Paris was first transforming into a modern metropolis, and was rife both with new, daring art movements and old, crumbling neighborhoods, creating an atmosphee of change and mystery that Stratton and his team set out to capture.

To do so, the production headed not to France but to Hungary and Serbia - with most exteriors shot in Budapest, which can mirror Old Paris, and most interior sets built in Belgrade, where there are exceptional facilities and crews. "One of the biggest challenges for us was creating 19th century Paris on a 21st century budget," notes William Horberg. "In Hungary and Serbia, we were able to build on a bigger canvas than perhaps we could have imagined given the resources of an independent film. Even though it's an intimate story we wanted it to have an epic feeling in terms of immersing the audience. That meant getting all the details right."

Mickey Liddell, along with Pete Shilaimon, Horberg and Stratton, carefully assembled a creative team who could find those details and make them come alive. First, they tapped BAFTA award-winner Florian Hoffmeister, who most recently shot THE DEEP BLUE SEA, as their cinematographer. Stratton says, "Florian and I were like twins separated at birth. We hit it off in seconds. He immediately understood how to translate and apply my references - Carravaggio's use of light and dark, videographer Bill Viola's work with water as well as Jenny Saville's raw paintings - while never losing sight of the humor in the movie."

Hoffmeister immediately intuited the unique tone of the film. "It's the epitome of a film noir gone period," he summarizes.

The film's shifting moods are set by Hoffmeister's expressive lighting. "There's a lot going on internally in the film, so from early on I thought that the lighting should actually change its feel according to the emotional content of the scene," he explains.

For example, during the scenes when Therese first meets Laurent, the lighting is imbued with a sparkling, playful quality which all but disappears as they tumble down into a nightmare of their own making. "The darkness that enters their souls becomes bigger and bigger visually," Hoffmeister continues. "Everything falls into darkness and there is soon literally just one source of light."

Throughout, Hoffmeister and Stratton wanted to recreate the real feel of a world without electricity, where life after dark was conducted by the shadowy flickering of candles and oil lamps. "This is the reality of being in this world. Life was much darker then," says Stratton.

For further inspiration, Hoffmeister looked to paintings of the era, when France was in the throes of Impressionism. He was especially intrigued by the work of Eugene Delacroix, the Romantic painter whose rhythmic use of brushstrokes and sensitive use of color heavily influenced early Impressionists. But he notes that a film is not intended to be a painting. "If the photography is too painterly, then it can lack emotion," he explains. "So I enjoy looking at paintings for inspiration, but I don't try to replicate them. I think the voice of the cinematographer should be his own."

For Stratton, another aesthetic inspiration was water, with underwater sequences bookending the film. As the river Seine is such a major part of the story, Stratton envisioned the film's palette in damp hues of blue and green.

French costume designer Pierre-Yves Gayraud, who recently designed the costumes for LD Entertainment's ALBERT NOBBS to great acclaim, took that palette to heart in his authentic but character-driven designs for IN SECRET. As a Parisian whose favorite author is Zola and who possesses unsurpassable knowledge of the era, Gayraud proved the consummate candidate for the job.

He began by collecting some 900 archival reference images for his "look book," later honed with Stratton into the film's extensive costume collection. "Charlie wanted a very realistic look," explains Gayraud, "not a fashion show, but something very close to the characters."

One of Gayraud's favorite characters is Jessica Lange's Madame Raquin. "She is not the typical widow in black," he notes. "Jessica plays her with great charm, so we added coquettish details to her look. She doesn't wear black until her son dies, but rather mustard yellows and soft browns."

For Elizabeth Olsen's Therese, he designed two silhouettes, both typical of a woman with few means to indulge in fashion: a more traditional, small crinoline that she wears in the countryside, and a poofier crinoline that is ever-so-slightly more fashionable for Paris. Her colors darken throughout the film, from blues and greens to inky blacks at the end.

"For Jessica and Elizabeth, we opened a little workshop in Paris where I had tailors I have worked with for 15 years cut the fabrics, working on the silhouette and the shape," he says. "Then we started another workshop in Belgrade to finish them. It all worked very well."

In addition to the principal cast members' wardrobe, Gayraud sourced or re-created hundreds of 150 year-old garments and fabrics for the film's extras.

Working in synch with Gayraud's costumes are the designs of Academy Award -winning hair designer Jan Archibald, known for transforming Marion Cotillard into Edith Piaf in LA VIE EN ROSE; and make-up designer Erika Okvist (PARADE'S END). In addition to their more worldly designs, Archibald and Okvist came up with the frightening look for the sodden ghost of Camille who begins haunting Laurent.

Equally focused on details was production designer Uli Hanisch, a long-time collaborator of director Tom Tykwer who most recently designed CLOUD ATLAS. He took on the task of bringing to life the Raquin's home in the verdant Vernon countryside and the Raquin's shop-cum-apartment in the seedy Passage du Pont Neuf in Paris' lower depths.

Hanisch and his team found themselves able to tap into a surprising wealth of imagery. It just so happened that in the mid-1800s, the city of Paris asked several pioneering photographers to document the so-called "Hausmann Plan," which entailed the large-scale destruction and subsequent modernization of the city's crumbling, medieval neighborhoods. They gave Hanisch a vivid window into the life of the least known part of the city before it disappeared.

"Paris in the 19th Century is an extremely exciting period because the city was completely changing," points out Hanisch. "Our story is set in the leftover, rotting part of Paris, so that was especially fascinating."

Hanisch's coup de grace was the Passage du Pont Neuf set, a nearly 50-meter-long walkway lined with a variety of shops - one of which is Madame Raquin's modest haberdashery and also includes a taxidermist, a shoemaker, a lingerie shop and an apothecary. A portion of the set was built at Belgrade's PFI Studio. It was then continued in an exterior courtyard in Budapest, where Hanisch cleverly transformed two entire city blocks into a bustling 1860s Paris, replete with vendors, dogs, children and other animals, for the scene when the Raquins arrive at their new home.

For the shop and apartment, Stratton had a strong vision of what he wanted - a realm that only adds to Therese's feelings of claustrophobia, constraint and lack of privacy. "Charlie and I tried to created an almost tomb-like surrounding, almost like a prison," says Hanisch.

Every thing Hanisch created had its own character, notes executive producer Richard Sharkey. "Uli always has an interesting take on things that far exceeds what you would expect from this kind of schedule and budget," Sharkey says. "His designs work beautifully with the lighting Florian designed and the wonderful clothes Pierre created."

Following principal photography, Stratton headed for the editing room with Paul Tothill, renowned for having cut four features for director Joe Wright, including the Academy Award -winning Atonement, along with Celia Haining and Academy Award nominee Leslie Jones (THE MASTER, THE THIN RED LINE). The team then wove the raw footage into a gripping narrative.

Adding the final touches to the film is the score by Academy Award winner Gabriel Yared. Yared had previously worked with producer Horberg on the Anthony Minghella films COLD MOUNTAIN and THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY, and Horberg was thrilled to have him bring his ineffable touch to this story.

"I've had the pleasure to sometimes work with a few of my heroes, and one of my absolute favorite composers of film music is Gabriel Yared. So this, the third time, was a charm," says Horberg. "He's someone who is able to bring a complex landscape of tone - and for this movie, with its extremes of passion and melodrama, and its mix of noir and tragedy, we needed his wide range of gifts."

The synchronicity between all the film's creative elements - from the intense performances to the rich period designs to the lyrical score - was gratifying to Stratton. After ten years of dreaming, researching and thinking about this project, it was exciting to see this story of overwhelming passion play out in such a passionate way.

"My feeling was always, if I have to wait until I'm 70 to make this movie, it will be worth it," Stratton concludes. "I would much rather have waited to get this opportunity to get all the elements just right, because you only get one chance."


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