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Setting The Scene
As "Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” brings Oskar Schell into contact with myriad people all over Manhattan, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, the city of New York itself plays a major visual role – in a different way from most films set in the city.

"The New York of this film is a child's New York,” notes Stephen Daldry. "We tried to highlight the nooks and crannies of the city that a child would go through rather than the main thoroughfares. We really tried to look at Oskar's version of the city. It's not about the obvious places that people associate with New York, but more of what a child might see, and what a child reacts to.”

To emphasize Oskar's viewpoint in every aspect of the film's imagery and sound, Daldry collaborated with a core artistic team including director of photography Chris Menges, editor Claire Simpson, production designer K.K. Barrett and costume designer Ann Roth. Later he continued the process with composer Alexandre Desplat who entwined the lyrical and whimsical elements of Oskar's story into the score.

Filming began not on the streets, but on the soundstages of JC Studios in the Midwood neighborhood of Brooklyn. Here, in a studio that traces its roots in the city back to 1907, the film's design crew built the Schell's Manhattan apartment. The production then circled out from there into streets, parks, office buildings, bridges, tunnels, alleyways and residences throughout the city.

"We looked for locations that would show how Oskar sees New York,” says K.K. Barrett. "We also had to find and, in many instances, dress houses for the dozens of characters he visits. Oskar's exchanges with these characters are usually very brief, so where they live is often the biggest clue to who these people are. Their homes had to visually reflect the lives of the inhabitants in a subtle but distinct way.”

Barrett continues: "Over all, we wanted to show a New York that is still a melting pot with many different populations in different geographical areas all intertwined; a city of diversity, with contrasting economic levels, ethnicities and activities all around.”

Since he is not a native New Yorker, Barrett used his own first impressions of each of the five boroughs as a guidepost. "In a way, I thought that being a foreigner to New York gave me a leg up in putting myself in Oskar's shoes,” he explains. "Even though Oskar lives there, the outer parts of the city beyond his own neighborhood are unfamiliar to him. So, I wanted to approach it the same way he does – to go out and discover places I'd never been.”

The production covered a lot of ground, from Far Rockaway up to Harlem and numerous points in-between. The crew filmed Oskar's tentative walk across the Manhattan Bridge in spring wind and light rain. His solitary progress continued through Chinatown and Manhattan's Lower East Side, then moved to the famed Barney Greengrass Deli on the Upper West Side. When Oskar finally confronts his fear of public transportation, gas mask and all, the scene was shot on a closed track at Grand Central Station.

Legendary costume designer Ann Roth, who previously worked with Daldry on "The Reader” and "The Hours,” further brought out the diversity of the city in her designs. The film is her most contemporary yet in collaboration with Daldry, set just a decade ago. She relates, "I did a lot of my initial research from photographs of the many people coming up Sixth Avenue and Chambers Street on 9/11. The movie takes place from 2001 to 2003, and we tried to capture the subtle differences in fashion to distinguish one year from the other.”

The most intriguing part of the job for Roth was costuming Oskar. "He's a kid whose mother buys his clothes,” she explains. "He is slightly eccentric and has specific clothes he likes, so, for example, he only wears his black shoes and the corduroy trousers he wears may be getting a little short. But, if his mother buys another pair of shoes or pants, well, Oskar prefers to wear what he's comfortable in. I didn't want the pants to be funny-short, just enough to show they're old ones that he still wears because those are the ones he likes. That's who Oskar is. He's not an Abercrombie & Fitch kind of kid.”

When he sets out on his regular searches, Oskar always dons his father's key securely around his neck. He also wears a backpack stuffed with the items he perceives might be imperative to his search and general survival: an Israeli gas mask, a tambourine, duct tape, binoculars, his expedition journal, his grandfather's camera, a safety dog whistle, A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking, his cell phone, Fig Newtons and his father's circled message to "notstop looking.”

Oskar's mother, on the other hand, keeps things very simple. "We wanted Sandy's character to look like a working mom who could just fade into the crowd. Shopping isn't a priority for her, not a highlight of her day, or her week, or her month,” Roth says. "Skirts, blouses, even her hair, are sort of a non-event, which is hard to do with Sandy because she's a very striking woman. But Oskar's mom is the kind of woman who, if you asked, ‘Who made that? Is that a so-and-so blouse?' she wouldn't have a clue. She's got other things to think about.”

For Max von Sydow's character, The Renter, Roth created a Tyrolean Loden cape -- a coat of thick, heavy, water resistant wool, like those first produced by Austrian peasants -- to wear on his excursions with Oskar.

Roth's work was greatly appreciated by Zoe Caldwell, who says that she found her character the instant she saw herself in costume. "In the script, she was described as a ‘rumpled woman, out of place and out of time,'” Caldwell recalls. "And that's who I became when I changed into the clothes Ann Roth had for me. I took one look in the mirror and thought, ‘that's terrific, that's Grandma.'”

"I've been lucky enough to work with Ann Roth on three movies now,” summarizes Daldry. "The important thing to know about Ann is that she doesn't just design costumes; she gauges the development of not only the characters but of the whole film. She is a crucial member of the team and a force to be reckoned with, insomuch as her approach and understanding is not just about what the characters are wearing but the way a director looks at a movie.”

As the shoot progressed along Oskar's trail through the five boroughs, Daldry was fully prepared for the difficulties of filming in America's most densely populated city. Yet, he found the people of New York to be among the great pleasures of the film's experience.

"A lot of the people we met on the streets knew the book,” Daldry says, "and we used many of them in the movie. It's not only the architecture of the city that gives New York so much character; it's the people who live there, and that is reflected throughout the movie. And the city is also incredibly generous, which became a part of the film, just as it is a part of Oskar's story.”


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