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Going Back Seven Centuries
From the grand castle inhabited by the all-powerful cardinal to the ancient abbey that holds the key to the film's ultimate mystery, Season of the Witch is rich with painstakingly researched and reproduced images of life in the Middle Ages. It took a team featuring some of the world's top experts in production design, stunts, swordsmanship, horsemanship and more to provide the film's vivid settings and action sequences. "It's gritty and hard, like the age,” says Roven. "But the visuals are incredibly striking and, in some ways, very beautiful.”

To evoke the vast wilderness of 14th-century Europe, the filmmakers travelled to Austria and Hungary to find locations virtually untouched by the intervening centuries. "Hungary was our hub, but we spent time in Vienna and Salzburg as well,” says director Dominic Sena. "The big forests, the monasteries and castles were mostly in Austria. We used a soundstage in Hungary to build the big set pieces, and there were quite a few.”

The real locations that fed the atmosphere of the piece proved daunting for the cast and crew. The spectacular, gray and forbidding route to the abbey was almost as hard to shoot a film on as it would have been for the knights to travel. "For some locations, we had to drive five kilometers off the paved roads to the point where cars can go no further, and then hoof it on foot through the Austrian Alps in the dead of winter,” says Gartner. "I've never in my life spent so much time in long underwear and goose down. The actors and the crew were absolutely extraordinary through cold, mud, rain and sudden changes in temperature and weather.”

Production for Season of the Witch began in a remote region of the Totes Gebirge ("Dead Mountains”) in Austria. The Austrian weather cooperated with the production until late November, when a howling wind ripped through the set followed closely by rain, snow and hail. Temperatures dipped below freezing during the two and a half weeks of December night shoots, including one evening when temperatures dropped to minus 18 degrees Celsius.

"We always knew the winter weather would make it grueling,” says Sena. "But this is a dark story, not a ride through a beautiful green forest. The trees had to be dead and everything had to be barren to convey the right mood, so everybody just knuckled down.”

No one in the company was immune to the power of the settings. "On the first day of shooting we were up there in the mountains,” says Sena. "Nic looked out over the landscape and he said to me, ‘Dom, look where we are. It's a privilege to be here.' He didn't go back to his trailer the whole day. He sat on a rock, looking out and saying, ‘This is incredible.'”

In fact, Cage says he found the extreme conditions exhilarating. "I am a weather enthusiast,” he says. "Any time there's a storm brewing, I get excited. That kind of dramatic atmosphere helps infuse real emotion into the story. It only made me feel more connected to the material. Dom and I had a few laughs about it, because we were both thrilled by it.”

Perlman credits the hardworking crew with keeping him focused and ready to work. "I've never enjoyed fighting the elements,” he says. "The wardrobe folks were the real heroes. They were the ones running in with the blankets and the hot chocolate after we'd just gotten soaked and it was thirty-one degrees. Then we got to go back to our nice, warm trailers and everyone on the crew was still out in the weather.”

The filmmakers scouted locations all over Europe to find a historically accurate castle to serve as the Cardinal of Marburg's residence. "We looked in Hungary, the Czech Republic and Germany,” says Roven. "We had pictures sent to us from Italy and Spain. I became a student of architecture because we were determined that the setting be authentic.”

Their diligence was rewarded when they discovered Kreuzenstein Castle, ideally situated on a hilltop about 20 kilometers northeast of Vienna. Built on a foundation that dates back at least to the year 1115, Kreuzenstein Castle sits surrounded by towers that allow panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. A fortress built to protect its inhabitants from invaders, it has high, thick walls, a drawbridge and an iron-studded entrance that evokes a long-forgotten way of life.

The castle and its keep were made into a suitable home for a powerful cardinal by Uli Hanisch, the film's production designer. "My biggest joy is learning something new,” says Hanisch. "We started by simply going through history books. I became almost addicted to stuff from the period. The art always involved religious subjects. You find endless images of devils and demons fighting through the night, which were a big inspiration for us.”

Hanisch drew on the two predominant architectural styles of the era, Gothic and Romanesque, to create the contrasting environments for the worldly Cardinal and the cloistered monks of Severac. To convey the supreme and undisputed power of the Church, Hanisch decked the Cardinal's private quarters in the ornate trappings of the soaring Gothic style. "It would have been the more lavish and more recent style,” the designer explains. "This cardinal is wealthy, he's urbane, he's on top of the world. To create the kind of emotion and power we wanted, we went over the top a little bit. We surrounded him with golden Gothic elements.”

Cardinal D'Ambroise, who has himself fallen victim to the Plague, has the knights brought to him as he lies in a grand bedchamber, surrounded by doctors wearing the bizarre beaked masks believed to ward off the Plague. "We built a huge bed that is more like a throne,” says Hanisch. "It's like a room in itself with endless images of the demons and angels in battle adorning it. We built a huge fireplace with demons and saints painted on it. This dying cardinal is melting away in his bed surrounded by his riches. It was our way of representing his whole world in one room.”

The Cardinal's chamber is richly, but simply, furnished in keeping with common custom, says Hanisch. "At that time, one might have a table and a chair. The rest of the furniture was mainly boxes to contain goods. The Cardinal also has all kinds of brass and golden candelabras, chandeliers, and other things that would have been priceless at that time.”

The church official's physical and moral corruption is reflected in the decay surrounding him. "We created the walls to look as if they have a skin disease,” says Hanisch. "The whole thing is completely rotten and almost falling in pieces.”

When the action moves to the monastery, the designer brought in more traditional Romanesque elements, typified by massive edifices with few windows and claustrophobic interiors. "The abbey and the monks are more old-fashioned,” says Hanisch. "They're very serious about what they're doing and not as wealthy.”

But the abbey contains its own cache of incredible wealth in the form of thousands of books. Without mechanized printing, bookmaking was a laborious art form, performed exclusively by monks. Every book was handwritten and often lavishly illustrated. It might take for a single person two years to copy one book.

"When we started to design our library, we needed to build a huge place to accommodate the battle that takes place there,” says Hanisch. "It had to have nooks and corners for people to hide in. Therefore, we needed a lot of shelves, and the books to fill them. I believe that we created over four thousand books for the library.”

With existing books both scarce and prec


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