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Shooting In Venice
"Shooting in Venice gave this film a very special, joyful, and very beautiful flavor,” says director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck. "Of course, it also presented us with considerable design challenges, since Venice and Paris have been photographed so much, and we wanted to show it in a new way. Jon Hutman was the first person I called after I read the script. I had admired his work on Redford's film Quiz Show, on Nancy Meyers' What Women Want and Something's Gotta Give and on Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter and knew that he would be able to get me what I needed.”

In early conversations between the director and the production designer, Jon Hutman, they agreed the film's design had to reflect the beauty of the city of Venice, while making sure the city still felt fresh and contemporary. Explains Hutman: "Where else but the city of Venice can you have canal boat chases and roof top chases, but also have your characters doing a walk-and-talk strolling through some of the most stunning streets in the world? Angelina Jolie, Johnny Depp, and Venice… It doesn't get much better than that!”

It was co-screenwriter Julian Fellowes who hatched the idea of setting the film in Venice. "Venice combines beguiling beauty with a sinister under-taste of a decay of civilization. The city can have a darkness to it,” he says.

Venice, the "city of canals,” stretches across a shallow and marshy lagoon along the Adriatic Sea in Northeast Italy. Venice was built on an archipelago of 118 islands formed by about 150 canals, with roughly 400 bridges connecting the islands. Transportation is either by boat or on foot: no cars or even bicycles are allowed.

Still, even with the logistical challenge it presented, it was easy to sell the filmmakers on the location. As executive producer Lloyd Phillips explains, "You really never know what Venice is about. It has so many faces. The architecture is so unique. The light is like nowhere else in the world. It bounces off the canals onto windows in such a magical way. This film is filled with twists and turns, and that intrigue, along with the combination of the character of the city, is a perfect marriage.”

Venice is primarily a tourist destination, and the Mayor's Office and the Chief of Police in Venice were very helpful during filming in assisting the production blend in with some of the 20 million visitors the city receives every year with a minimum of headaches. From Piazza San Marco to the Peggy Guggenheim to the Natural History Museum to the Rialto Market to the Arsenale, tourists visiting the city caught a glimpse of Jolie and Depp in action.

Among the more than 50 locations in the film, Production Designer Jon Hutman's team was tasked with huge builds on three sets: the Doge Suite in the Danieli Hotel; the Gala, a black-tie affair; and Pearce's apartment, where the climax of the film takes place.

The Doge Suite in the film is located inside the Danieli Hotel, and the crew did actually shoot in the Danieli lobby, though a suite was constructed off the hotel premises. The actual location of the Doge Suite set was at the Palazzo Pisani Moretta right on the Grand Canal so it had the perfect balcony where an intimate scene between Elise and Frank could be shot.

Venice is a city built in brick, and the Doge Suite's interior earthy terracotta hues meshed with ornate accents like crystal chandeliers enhance the location space of Palazzo Pisani Moretta. Hutman re-proportioned the rooms and with double doors and floor to ceiling windows the space transformed into timeless combination of modern and old Venetian décor.

"When we were shooting inside the Doge Suite set, I spent the three days of shooting there thinking, ‘What an amazing hotel room.' Then someone showed me that none of the walls were real, and that's not real marble, it's painted,” says Angelina Jolie. "It was crafted so meticulously I couldn't tell what was added on and what was adjusted.”

For the Gala set, Hutman and his team took ten weeks to design a concept for an empty space the size of a football field. Hutman and Henckel von Donnersmarck, along with location manager Fabrizio Cerato, found the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in the Canneregio district in Venice and fell in love with it from the moment they saw it. This vast interior of this 18th century building has exposed brick walls typical in Venetian architecture along with columns for building support.

Hutman and his supervising art director, Marco Trentini, and a team of twenty expert builders and painters, took four weeks after the designs were completed to bring the set to life. Because the building is historically preserved, The City of Venice approved every aspect of Hutman's design – down to the nail.

An entire mezzanine and balcony were built from scratch; sculpted and sanded to match the pre-existing columns and floors. Complete with railed staircases. A dance floor was built from wood, and the wood was hand-painted to look like marble. A raised platform was constructed for the twenty-piece orchestra featured in the scene. The columns were wrapped with mirrors and squared wooden frames that were painted to blend in with the real white marble. Electrical outlets were installed for the crystal sconce accessories that radiated in the space.

"As Elise and Frank dance, you have this glittering, sparkling background. Glamour. A formal but kind of raw elegance,” says Hutman.

Hutman took on the challenge of designing Pearce's Apartment, where the stand-off at the end of the film takes place, in Giudecca, one of the islands in Venice just across the lagoon. On the island, just next to the Hotel Palladio, is Villa Effe, where Hutman had a completely gutted space to create Pearce's beautiful apartment with stunning views on the Giudecca Canal. "It was like starting with a blank canvas,” says Hutman.

It took five weeks of constant, round-the-clock work by Hutman and his team to renovate, furnish, and decorate the set. False walls and columns were constructed to add more detail to the vast floor plan. Contemporary designs mixed with classical. Velvet curtains and linen shades hang down to the terrazzo floor. Digital reproductions of real 15th-century Florentine frescos grace the 16-foot-high ceilings. Art from real museum pieces to sculptures to replicas of famous Modigliani paintings grace the space. Bookcases filled with art and reference books gives the final touch for a lived in feel. A large Italian fireplace and an eleven-foot long custom made couch rounds out the details to perfection.

With the apartment's signature arched floor-to-ceiling windows, the filmmakers knew there would have to be an impressive view. So Director of Photography John Seale and his gaffer, Mo Flam, came up with a plan: they lit up the historical architectural delights on the other side of the Grand Canal. For two weeks straight, Venetians were surprised to see lights illuminating monuments across the Giudecca canal like Madonna de la Salute and the famous Piazza San Marco Basilica.

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