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SAFE HOUSE

Approach With Caution: Design of the Film
Espinosa was as intent upon his search for terrific behind-the-scenes talent as he was with cast, and he pursued some of the biggest names of the action genre. A longtime Paul Greengrass collaborator, British cinematographer Oliver Wood has given rise to a new style of cinematography. Indeed, he started his career by shooting more than 50 episodes of the groundbreaking series Miami Vice for its creator, Michael Mann.

When Espinosa met with Wood, the two found camaraderie. Espinosa states: "I like Oliver's hyperrealistic style, and I'm a huge fan of Paul Greengrass and Doug Liman. I thought it was great that he could see how I differed from them. Oliver sees the path that I'm going down, and he wants to go, too. He keeps going, not stopping at the next block, but getting a couple of miles ahead. Working with the crew, we found a synchronicity that is our own."

Stuber was impressed by his director's use of color for the shoot. "Daniel is an excellent photographer, and because of that he understands the power of image. He wants his images to be just as good as the actors within the scene, so he creates a full palette. When you're a crew member and you're given that direction, you feel the freedom to be creative. We've got the best, from our DP, Oliver Wood, and our editor, Richard Pearson, to Brigitte Broch, the production designer, and Susan Matheson, the costume designer. They all brought their A-game."

Espinosa confesses that he had ulterior motives: "I'm a film nerd, and the people who I worked with are people that I've long admired and have been seriously copying. When I did the fight sequences for Snabba Cash, we sat down and studied the Bourne movies that Oliver photographed. We made a complete analysis to understand how we could achieve that cinematography." He laughs, "It can also be a bit embarrassing. When I showed my film to Brigitte Broch, she could see how, color-wise, I was inspired by her work on 21 Grams.

The Oscar-winning production designer lives in Mexico, which led to her ongoing collaboration with filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu. For Broch, "integration" was an oft used word to describe the process of working on Safe House. She explains: "We discussed the history of whatever set we were creating, and that always led to related discussions on everything from the structure-'What did it need to support? What action would be taking place?-to blending in with the surroundings. But the history of the places was what really needed to show."

To establish the expressiveness of the individuals who call Cape Town home, costume designer Matheson (who has collaborated with DP Wood and producer Stuber on several projects) did not shy away from bright colors that can pull focus. The Cape Town native (and current American resident) shares: "I did the exact opposite of what I would normally do-especially in the crowd scenes. When we wanted to create an African feel, I added in more color. Where I would normally desaturate colors, I emphasized the color. Our crowd scenes, especially at the stadium, are very bright and colorful. During the protest and when we were in Langa, I made sure to add in color so that the audience knows we were in Africa."

Matheson was contacted by Espinosa, who had seen her work on The Town and wanted the same reality for Safe House. She comments: "I wanted to work with Daniel because he has this very poetic, gritty way of showing scenes that you think you have seen a million times before." The designer views the city through the lens of both native and ex-pat, paying particular attention to what makes the setting unique from any other part of the world. She offers: "People mix patterns and colors that they wouldn't normally wear together; they also wear quite bright colors. There are very specific patterns to South Africa, as well as specific fabrics. One of them is called shwe shwe, and it's something that is commonly worn by women in the townships."

Espinosa's attention to detail extended well beyond militaristic maneuvers, weaponry, safe house design and agency protocol-all the way down to the smallest turn of phrase and costume accessory. Critical to such mercenary fighters is the ability to blend in, and Matheson balanced that with the desire to create character. She explains: "It's a combination of not only wanting to create an interesting character, but also what an actor is capable of owning and pulling off as real. With the mercenaries, there's a certain element that I found very different in South Africa than it would be if you were working in America. Here, people wear a lot of knit caps and sweaters with interesting patterns. I worked to capture some of the reality of the place by including those things."

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