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CONTAGION

The Global Stage
ORANTES: Look at this. It's transmission.

We just need to know which direction.

Production on "Contagion” began with principal photography in Hong Kong in September 2010 and continued in Chicago, Atlanta and San Francisco, with stops in London and Geneva. Production designer Howard Cummings, working with Soderbergh for the third time, used Skype to communicate with his teams across the globe.

Additionally, he says, "We created a huge research website that anyone on the movie could access if they needed to know what kind of uniforms the police wear in Kowloon or what an N100 mask is.”

Renowned for his streamlined process, Soderbergh once again functioned simultaneously as director and cinematographer on "Contagion,” using the latest version RED digital camera that utilizes available light. "He also cuts every night so you can see what you've just worked on,” adds Sher. "As much as Hong Kong is known for guerilla filmmaking, the crew joked that Steven out-guerilla'd the guerilla filmmakers.”

One of the film's key scenes takes place in a Macau casino, but, since filming around the gaming tables is prohibited, the production re-created the room at the landmark Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Hong Kong's Aberdeen Harbor. "When Steven walked into the room, I thought, ‘Oh no,' because I could tell he loved it and I could see my future held multiple trips with my crew carting everything over to the restaurant on sampans,” Cummings laughs. That proved to be the case, but, luckily, the designer discovered that the local crews were accustomed to using sampans like trucks.

Additional practical locations included the Hong Kong International Airport; the Intercontinental Hotel; the Princess Margaret Hospital; and a scene shot aboard the Star Ferry, crossing from Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.

The production then used Chicago and its environs to double for both Minneapolis, where the Emhoffs live, and Atlanta. Throughout, snow was an essential element. Whether real or recreated with effects, it lent a persistent coldness to Mitch Emhoff's world as well as what Cummings describes as "a hypersensitive kind of glare.”

Filming took place at Elgin's Sherman Hospital; O'Hare and Midway Airports; Central Elementary School in Wilmette, where Matt Damon later offered an interview and photo-op for the 3rd and 4th Grade students' newspaper; and Chicago's Henry Ford Bridge, shot at night in a genuine freezing downpour that set the stage for a volatile border confrontation.

The largest and most ambitious set was Chicago's National Guard General Jones Armory, transformed into an infirmary, and, in Waukegan, a portion of the Amstutz Expressway was closed for a day to stand in for Chicago's Dan Ryan Expressway, in a scene that dramatically featured a convoy of military trucks escorted by two Black Hawk helicopters, all on loan from the Illinois National Guard.

The Guard's contribution included Humvees, FMTV Troop Carriers, jeeps and two UH 60 Black Hawk Helicopters, as well as upward of 100 uniformed personnel from California, Illinois and Georgia. "The Department of Defense gave us approval to include National Guard soldiers and equipment in the film,” says Jacobs. "We also had access to many of their vehicles. Vince Ogilvie [Deputy Director, Entertainment Media, OASD-PA] was on the set with us. He was a terrific technical advisor and helped us keep it looking realistic, which was very important to us.”

In Krumwiede's home base of San Francisco, Cummings depicted the utter collapse of services, months into the siege, by littering North Beach and Potrero Hill neighborhoods with piles of trash and laundry—as if tossed from windows by people trying to get rid of anything contaminated. Also seen on screen were the San Francisco Chronicle and television station KPIX, Golden Gate Park, and the University of San Francisco at Mission Creek, where Krumwiede confronts Dr. Sussman.

The designer's biggest challenge was recreating the BSL-4 (Biosafety Lab, Level 4) for scenes in which Jennifer Ehle and Demetri Martin, as doctors Ally Hextall and David Eisenberg, experiment with dangerous biohazards. BLS-4 rooms are pressurized so that no air escapes, with steel doors, inflatable gaskets and an air-lock exit with disinfectant shower sprays. "It was a tough job for Howard to authentically reproduce these labs and their equipment,” Soderbergh attests. "Plus, there are pressurized oxygen hazmat suits fed by tubing that needed to be hooked up properly so they appear to really work. He had to design an enormous grid of pipes over the entire set.”

Costume designer Louise Frogley, another regular on Soderbergh's creative team, had the suits custom-made for Ehle and Martin to BLS-4 specs, designed to encapsulate the wearer in an impenetrable bubble of air.

Says Ehle, "If people want to move from one area to another in the lab they have to unhook the air hose and then they have about two minutes to connect to the next one so they can continue breathing because the suit is continuously expelling air to create a barrier between them and potential toxins in the room. The tiniest rip could be fatal.”

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