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THE GOOD GERMAN

Creating Post-War Berlin
"Steven takes different approaches to different projects,” says Gregory Jacobs, who collaborates here with the director for the 14th time. "‘Traffic,' for example, was all hand-held and more of a run-and-gun technique, while ‘Ocean's Eleven' and ‘Ocean's Twelve' were his take on a big Hollywood production. He found the perfect way to tell this story by shooting it like a 1940s movie, using one camera rather than two, with shots that are very formally composed. A lot of scenes were covered in master shots, whereas today it tends to be wider coverage and everyone gets their close-ups and reverses. This time he designed very specific masters that cover a lot of the scene and went in for close-ups as needed, the way they used to do it. Watch a movie like ‘Notorious' or ‘Casablanca' and you'll see it.”

Studying script continuities and reading script supervisors' notes from 60-year-old productions, Soderbergh learned how his predecessors worked within the practical restrictions of the backlot. "It was really challenging and fun at the same time,” he says, acknowledging that, "in many instances, we had to do what they did in the 1940s. We had to cheat the way they cheated. Sometimes we read and discovered how they did it and sometimes we had to figure out on our own how they must have done it.”

One modern cheat was Soderbergh's use of high-contrast color stock. Having shot blackand- white film on his 1991 thriller "Kafka,” he knew its tendency to be slow and grainy, and so opted to shoot "The Good German” on color stock, then pull the color out, as George Clooney recently did with "Good Night, and Good Luck.”

Soderbergh was joined by another longtime collaborator, production designer Philip Messina. Working for the first time with black-and-white and almost exclusively with backlot sets, Messina found these tight parameters alternately limiting and advantgeous. "Black-and-white doesn't reflect subtlety as color does, so we needed to use a heavier hand with texture, detail and aging in order to make it read,” he says, noting that early camera tests helped to get the painters and construction crew on track. Messina also prepared by taking digital photos of works in progress and converting them to black-and-white with Photoshop. "Things that looked overly theatrical in color were absolutely gorgeous in black-and-white.”

That lack of subtlety worked in his favor when Messina needed to create shadows behind broken windows. Instead of cutting the glass, he spray-mounted strips of black felt to the backs and got the same final effect, admitting, "I don't think you could get away with that in color, but in black-and-white it was convincing.” Existing structures that were inappropriately peach or pink-hued did not require repainting because in the final print they appeared gray.

As Messina explains, "We tried to build everything and not rely on CG. I walked onto the lot thinking, ‘I need a German nightclub, a Russian checkpoint,' and so on, while looking at New York Street or Philadelphia Street and wondering how we were going to do it. But once we got into it, things began to fall into place and we started seeing Berlin.”

The destruction in Berlin was haphazard, often leaving wholly intact buildings right next to bomb-blasted lots, so production took a similar approach. Leaving existing facades largely unaltered, they built additional structures in various stages of wreckage on parking lots or in the open spaces between them, creating portions of what, on film, looked like whole streets.

Confining themselves to the lot required very strategic camera placement and planning, as Messina outlines: "Most of our shots are either one or two angles on a scene, and that's how we were able to pull it off. For example, for a scene at a bus stop, I constructed pieces of a blasted building that Steven shot<

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