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Location As Character
In choosing the location for the film, Taymor decided to go for an existing island rather than create a wholly fabricated and theatrical environment. The islands of Lana'i and the Big Island of Hawai'i offered the perfect landscapes to shoot all of the exterior scenes: black volcanic rock, red earth canyons, white coral bones and a deep blue sea. The alchemist's sandbox—a tabula rasa for Prospera's powers. Here's where "The Tempest” almost got washed up on the shoals, interjects Lynn Hendee. She recalls contacting the film commissioner and being told, "Filming on Lana'i can be difficult, because it is privately owned by a Fortune 500 company. And they normally do not let anyone film there.”

Hendee refused to take no for an answer, however, and contacted Dole Food Company, Inc., the island's owner, via their chairman, David Murdock, whose main residence was in Los Angeles, where Hendee also lives. Murdock invited Hendee to dinner, and she spun Taymor's vision of Shakespeare for him. "We had a lovely evening, and it turns out Mr. Murdock is a huge Shakespeare fan. He liked the idea of this project and thought it would be a tribute to the island that he loved,” she says. "So he graciously allowed us to film here. And, as the audience will see, the island is a character in the film.”

Taymor took as a cue a line of Caliban's to Prospera in their first scene together: "…and here you sty me in this hard rock, whiles you do keep from me the rest o' th' island.” Caliban's emergence out of the harsh, barren landscape of lava rock supports Shakespeare's verbal imagery. Not only did these infinite, black, jagged fields feel surreal and highly theatrical, but they represented the inner landscapes of the characters inhabiting them.

Taymor says: "We found caves underneath this black volcanic rock, and when Caliban emerges, he comes out of this hole, out of this lava field. It's where he lives, but it's got nothing of nurture in it. There's no green, there's no life. Our production designer, Mark Friedberg, filled it with refuse that might have washed up on shore and fossilized in his cave.”

Among other locations on Lana'i was a gnarled, brambly, fairy-tale forest, which fit the thorny, drunken squabbles of the clowns while labyrinthine ironwoods worked to disorient the court and set the stage for conspiracy. A deep, red sand canyon lit by golden sunlight served to put the two lovers in each other's laps and created the sensual setting for their inevitable fall into love. And there was always the surrounding sea, a constant reminder of the isolation of the island and the ever- changing power of the natural elements.

When the cast members landed on Lana'i, they were captivated by that same strange beauty that had bewitched Taymor.

When he saw the Garden of the Gods, Tom Conti thought, "I've never felt so close to the origins of the planet as I did there. There's this red earth strewn with boulders of every size, from tiny to absolutely massive, that have been there since the planet was formed. So when this island was thrust out of the ocean in a huge volcanic upheaval, all this stuff was thrown out, molten, of course, thousands of feet into the air, rapidly cooled in the cold air, and came down as boulders that have sat where they landed from that moment. None of them has moved, and that's kind of exciting.”

"It was very inspiring to be in Hawai'i,” adds Mirren. "The landscape was so powerful, so raw and primitive. I'm not a superstitious person, and I don't believe in fairies and so forth, but if I did, you're about as close to that world in Hawai'i as you could ever get.”

Taymor and crew, including production designer Mark Friedberg, scoured Lana'i and the Big Island of Hawai'i for the proper settings to make Shakespeare's words resonate. "Each set of characters' journeys needed to be distinct from the other and, yet, all be believably on one island. It also had to cut with work on the stage. Our job was to create a landscape that could be inhabited by indigenous humans like Caliban as well as ethereal spirits such as Ariel,” says Friedberg.

Friedberg speaks of his relationship with Taymor as one of the most exciting and collaborative efforts he's ever shared. "She's a director who starts with pictures in her mind that are often connected to the emotional landscape of the characters. She will have dreams that will evolve into the sets we make. For someone like me, who gets to interpret the worlds she dreams, it's exhilarating.”

Friedberg created Prospera's lair, which consisted of a courtyard and a cave on a soundstage in New York. The other main sets were Ariel's ethereal landscapes and the Milan flashbacks. "Prospera's cell was designed to mimic the topography of the islands,” notes Friedberg. "It's made to look exactly like the materials we used on the two islands, barren volcanic stonescape spotted with tropical green. It's a cold, stark place that is, at the same time, incredibly beautiful.”

"The shape of Prospera's cell,” he continues, "is two monoliths joined together that, when put in the stark Lana'i landscape, looks like a giant book. It seems a totem to the books whose secrets ultimately provide Prospera the power to free herself. We built it out of shells, fake coral and other natural materials. It gives the sense that it was Prospera's alchemy that inspired the landscape to take on this shape.”

Envisioning Prospera's former life in Milan turned into one of the most exciting aspects of the design of the film, according to Friedberg. At the outset of the story, Prospera tells the story of her banishment from the Royal Court and how she and her daughter came to be exiled on this island. Her speech afforded Friedberg the opportunity to create stylized flashbacks of their life in Milan.

He printed architectural imagery on plastic sheets and cardboard that were pasted into forced-perspective structures. Using green screen, the actors appeared to be on those sets, which were actually filmed plates in rear projection. "It was a kind of arts-and-crafts project for the art department, which spent several months designing the models, allowing us to create this entire world. It was a nice blend of old-school theatrical skills with high-tech computer compositing,” comments Friedberg.

"Hawai'i is a sort of spiritual place. You feel in connection with certain spirits and certainly with the spirits of nature.” —Helen Mirren

The actual tempest, the opening storm, was originally designated to be created on a soundstage. Friedberg would build a ship, which would toss and turn on a gimbal in a tank. When that proved to be cost-prohibitive, he says, "We decided to move that scene to Hawai'i and we built the boat; only our gimbal was the sea. We actually built a set, put it in the water at Hilo Bay, and we were able to control its movements externally while it was actually in the water.”

The logistics of this move proved to be more feasible than Friedberg had originally anticipated. "I was able to hook up with some very resourceful people in Hawai'i. They came up with the idea of building a very small set using reclaimed wood on a raft that we built. The team was able to build a small set for almost no money, using wood from the old bleachers at President Obama's former high school that we were able to acquire rather inexpensively. It gave the set a sense of destiny.”

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