Ahoy, squirts! Quint here.
Let me just say for the record, the new Continental 777-200 airplanes are the most amazing creations ever. The flight out to Serbia (via Amsterdam) was cramped, the plane older and lame, showing nothing but FREEDOM WRITERS and some other shit I didn’t want to watch.
As I begin writing this final report I’m stretched out (keep in mind this is economy class), feet up thanks to a not full flight, with my computer plugged directly into a power socket under the seat, a real one that doesn’t need an adaptor, as JAWS plays on the screen in the seatback. It’s one of my 250 movie options, which include everything from ALL ABOUT EVE to FIGHT CLUB to JAWS and JURASSIC PARK, to all the LORD OF THE RINGS, HARRY POTTERs, GODFATHERS and X-MENs. Like video on demand… And all free!!
I was really dreading this flight back, but now I don’t have nearly enough time to enjoy myself. There are a dozen movies I’d like to play, a few stories I’d like to type up and only 9 more hours of flight.
So, JAWS will play through my headset and on my little touch-screen in the seat as I write up my last night on the set of THE BROTHERS BLOOM. Quint’s introduction is starting as I type this… so…
Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. Most recently I’ve been reporting pretty much live from the set of Rian Johnson’s Con Man movie, THE BROTHERS BLOOM. Days 1 and 2 are up already. Be sure to click on the links at the top of this article to catch up if you need to.
I was planning on 2 days of set with a day to explore Belgrade and do some shopping instead of hanging out on the set. As luck would have it, I had the opportunity to do both thanks to a perfectly timed change of production schedule. The crew call wasn’t until late afternoon, with the shooting going on well into the night.
The producer, Ram Bergman has been treating me like a prince on this trip and he arranged for a person from the production office who spoke both English and Serbian to take me around.
So, I was joined by the lovely Margarita as I picked up some cigars, a couple of pieces of fantastic local art, and looked at some amazing pieces at various antique stores, some of which dated back over 500 years and in a price range that I’d have to hit the lotto to afford.
I was very blessed to tourist about with a beautiful lady on my arm that spoke the language. Margarita bears a striking resemblance to Carice van Houten and those of you who have seen Verhoeven’s BLACKBOOK knows just how lucky a geek I was this day.
“You knew there was a shark out there… you knew it was dangerous, but you let people go swimming anyway. You knew all those things, but still my boy is dead now. And there’s nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead…” God, I love this movie.
Shit, this is going to be a little more distracting than I thought. I’ll try to keep my focus, I swear.
Alright, prepare for a shitload of pictures. I really went overboard on this, my final visit, which was only about 6 hours long. But I couldn’t help myself. There was too much cool shit going on.
For starters, they were shooting at a location about an hour and a half drive from Belgrade, so I got to see some of the countryside and rock out with Margarita to a disco station she found on the radio. They love American music here.
The place they found was incredible; gothic, creepy, rundown, ancient and completely abandoned.
There’s supposed to be an incredible backstory to this house, but I never heard more than snippets, The main thrust was that it belonged to a Jewish family in the early ‘40s and they either left it to hide from the Germans or they were forcibly removed. I never got the full story, but the place felt wrong.
It was massive and beautiful, of course, but there was a distinct feeling that something bad had happened there. Sometimes you get that haunted house feeling, just something in your gut. That was this place.
Today was a day of introductions… funny since it was my day of farewells. Both scenes are very early in the movie and set in completely different locations in the story, but I guess since they got this huge fucker of a house, why not have brilliant set decorator Jim Clay (CHILDREN OF MEN) make a nice little kitchen on the third floor and a rundown library on the first?
The kitchen is where we’ll learn about all the backstory for Rinko Kikuchi’s character, Bang Bang, that we’re going to get. Adrien Brody tells how she came to join the Brothers Bloom and in flashback we’ll see this scene, with Brody’s voice over to be added in later.
He’s making breakfast, alone in a bright kitchen. Bloom turns his back and suddenly Bang Bang is sitting at his small kitchen table, feet up and stone-faced. She’s kind of catlike. She’s almost annoyed that she exists, you know?
She’s looking mighty fine in a tight blue outfit, I must say. Check it out:
Damn… bye-bye Robert Shaw… love that blood vomit thing he does. What a way to go… (Yeah, I know that seems quick, but they served lunch and I took a break from writing, but not a break from watching the movie).
Anyway, Brody is grinding some pepper when he glances up, noticing Bang Bang for the first time. He pauses, a glimmer of confusion rippling across his face before it settles back to normal again.
Bloom approaches Bang Bang. She’s facing away, her appearance not betraying any hint that she’s even aware Bloom is in the room.
When he’s a couple of steps away from her, she reaches out to the table, again not looking anywhere but straight ahead, and pulls a tea cup a few inches closer to herself. Bloom stops at the table, thinks for a second, then pours her some tea.
Taking a look at the sides, the dialogue that’ll play in voice over pretty much says that she arrived mysteriously and unexpectedly and Bloom expects she’ll leave in the same manner.
Johnson and crew blew through the coverage of this, getting everything within about half an hour, including a wide shot that shows the whole action and a close up on Adrien Brody as he notices his guest.
The next scene was easily the most complex setup I’ve seen on this production, but before I dig into the flames, squibs, blood and mass anarchy, let me pause a bit to fill you in on the opening of this story.
On my second day, at the Karaoke Bar, Johnson sat me down to watch a presentation he put together that detailed the opening of the movie. It was very crude, nothing but storyboards edited together with his own voice coming in for each bit of character dialogue, but it set up the story really well.
The movie opens with a very fairy tale bent to it, with a narrator telling the origin of the Brothers Bloom in rhyme. As young kids they had no one. They were shifted from foster family to foster family and only had each other to survive through it.
You’ll see a young Bloom and a young Stephen pulling their first con and as simple as it is, it’s still got a bit of a zinger out of left field, a little piece of intricacy way beyond your expectations of a pair this young. You’ll also see the beginning of Bloom’s own personal torture, the Catch-22 of his personality. He craves interaction and love, but as himself he can’t do it, he doesn’t have the nerve. However, same people, same locations, can be involved, but if he’s running a con he can be the person he wants to be.
You also get a feeling of Stephen’s outlook on this whole thing. He always says the best con is when everybody gets what they want, where the mark doesn’t realize they were ripped off, or if they do, they don’t care because they essentially bought the experience they wanted.
The opening of the movie ends with the climax of their very first con as kids. There’s a time cut, a shot of a grand book case and the title “25 years later – Berlin.”
This is what they were shooting, this whole post-kids sequence.
Let’s start with the storyboards. One of the first things Johnson showed me this day were the storyboards for the sequence. He even let me snap a photo for you guys, so here it be:
He decided to start with an intricate shot. In terms of camera and movement, it’s deceptively simple. For the first time on this shoot I saw him bring in his B camera to film alongside his A camera.
Here’s the shot, and the reason for the tension on the set. It starts out on books. Something blurry rushes by the camera, someone getting punched out and falling across the frame, as the title comes up (although Rian said he was seriously considering changing it from Berlin to Belgrade in honor of the time he’s spent shooting in the city).
After the title fades, the book case starts to catch fire, flames licking the shelves and burning the books, as Adrien Brody steps into the shot. Alright, so already we have action, fire, dialogue and on top of all that Brody’s chest will pop with three squib hits.
Because of this complexity as well as the need to wait for the sun to set before they could start shooting there was nearly 2 hours of blocking, rehearsing and tweaks to the timing.
The tension was thick, but there was also a positive excitement. I’ve noticed this before on a few sets, where everything is riding on one take doing well because a reset will take way too long. On BUBBA HO-TEP they had to get the mummy catching fire just right.
I caught a lot of pics from the rehearsal, even for stuff that I wouldn’t be able to stick around for. My flight out of Belgrade left at 8am, so I had to leave the set around 11:30pm (remember it was an hour and a half outside of the city) so I could pack and get at least a modicum of sleep. You'll see a lot of them below...
Pulling the trigger on Brody is a character called “Charleston,” played by a British comedy actor named Andy Nyman, who I thought I knew from somewhere, but I couldn’t place him until he came up to me during the shoot and thanked me for the coverage AICN has given to a film he was in called SEVERENCE, which is a flick I dug the hell out of. Felt so stupid I didn’t place him with it immediately.
Anyway, the whole idea is that this scene slams you into the present, giving the audience a feeling of a real Con in the works. Of course, if things go well they might not realize that straight away.
Johnson and I talked about this being an Indiana Jones staple. You know, starting the flick at the tail end of some big adventure that makes you kind of feel that a great movie just happened before the story you’re about to see. Bond does that as well. Starts you off running as it were.
Brody was visibly nervous before the take went up. He asked Johnson if he could cut the scene early himself if he didn’t feel it, as they maybe had two takes worth of squibs and wardrobe and it’d be a lengthy reset.
Johnson had a tough line to walk here because by this time the bookcase will be on fire. In the end it was decided that if Brody didn’t feel it early enough on, he could call the cut himself, but there was a point of no return after the book case was lit.
So, everybody got their final touches done. Final checks on the squibs, final checks on hair and make-up, final camera checks and the pyro guys made the wooden bookcase and rows of fake books extremely flammable.
Two cameras. A is the main camera, getting the close up on the bookcase, pulling back to a medium shot of Brody when the time comes. B camera was wider, but both tracks were set right next to each other.
The shot goes up. The slate is clacked, action is called and Brody throws himself past the lens and the guys are late lighting up the bookcase. A quick cut is called before the flames begin and everybody immediately resets for the second take.
Action is called and Brody flies past camera… a beat… and then flames jump across the bookshelf. A beat later and Brody’s back in frame, a little blood on his lip from the punch. He laughs and belts out this line: “He gets the scarab, you get the money and I get the girl! So in the end, everyone gets everything he wants!!”
He delivers the line perfectly, just over the top enough to make it fit with the ridiculous surroundings, but just straight enough to make you think this could possible be taken seriously.
POP – POP – POP! The squibs go off, blood spreading on Brody’s white shirt. He stumbles and falls as Mark Ruffalo runs into the frame, wearing a cocked hat and one eye squinting. When he speaks he has a bizarre accent. “Wha… My God! Charleston, what are you… oh God, he’s dead!”
“Cut!” and the guys with the extremely loud fire extinguishers run in to put out the fire.
Johnson was cackling he was so happy. The crew applauded. It was a great release, nailing it, having all the pieces come together.
The actors all ran to the monitor to check out the playback. That’s when I grabbed this shot, one of my favorites from this visit:
Notice Mark Ruffalo still has the squinty eye and cocked hat and Brody’s sporting the RESERVOIR DOGS style.
Johnson was over the moon. As the crew cleaned up the fire retardant and reset the scene for the next shot, he very excitedly told me that it was exactly how he imagined it would be when he wrote it however many years ago.
I must note that the above paragraph was the last one written on the plane. I’ve been back home and trying to catch my breath for a couple weeks now and I’m now finishing the report. We’re almost there.
The coverage from this point began with Brody on the ground, flames crawling up the bookcase all of 3 or 4 feet behind him, as Ruffalo and Nyman have their argument.
During the rehearsal, Ruffalo came up with an idea that made it into the movie. In the scene he slaps Nyman and in one fluid movement his left hand slaps Nyman’s face while the right snatches the gun out of his hands. Ruffalo’s idea was to go to the supposedly dead body on the ground and as he’s delivering his dialogue, he’s wiping the prints from the gun and putting it into Brody’s hand.
The camera on this scene was low to the ground, on a crane attached to a dolly that would allow the camera to skim the floor’s surface. The framing had Brody’s full body, fire engulfing the bookcase behind him, his bowler hat (a kind of trademark for the character as we come to find out) on the ground surrounded by little pools of fiery debris and Nyman’s left foot on the extreme right of the frame.
Here’s a shot of the set-up:
Ruffalo, in that bizarre accent, screams at Nyman.
“Oh God, he’s dead! Victor’s dead! You’ve killed us! Ve had it! He vas right, it vas all in ze bag and now we’re dead! Why!? Why? You stupid sonuvabitch!”
Nyman has a bit of dialogue here, and this is where Ruffalo takes the gun and puts it in Brody’s hand, the low camera angling up to get both Brody’s prone body and Ruffalo kneeling next to it in the frame.
Nyman goes off on this complicated summary of the adventure we’d never see. It’s his Kyle from South Park moment. “I realized something today!” but more crazy. He talks about people called The Turk and a mysterious woman who he last saw in Cairo on an abandoned airstrip. He says the woman is beautiful and the man he killed will never have her now, she’s free. “It’s worth the money and my job and his life and the rest of my life that she’s free!”
There’s more about how he was just a small time investment banker just 4 months prior, but now he’s changed and for the better. “If we see each other again it’ll be as strangers. As for the money… let it rot.” And he walks through a shadowy doorway, leaving Ruffalo and Brody in the burning room.
Out of this same shadowy doorway will emerge Bang Bang, who will give a nod to Ruffalo, who’ll drop the accent and congratulate them all (mostly himself, though) on a job well done.
The coverage of that side was what they were going to catch the rest of the night. I only saw a couple more shots.
The one mentioned above went on for a couple of takes. As you can imagine, the takes were pretty long with all that dialogue, so we’re talking over a minute for each take.
On the last take, the scene was going and about halfway through I heard a loud snapping in the bookcase. I took a closer look and saw the shelves were sagging. Some of them only slightly but the lower shelves, the ones most ablaze, were drooping pretty drastically.
“This is it,” I thought. It had to happen at some point. One of these visits was going to result in me seeing a disaster. I could just see the flaming bookcase collapsing and falling on Adrien Brody and I’d have a story I’d be telling for the rest of my life and probably on the witness stand testifying about safety procedures or something… Total Vic Morror/TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE scenario was building in my mind as the scene continued.
The fire was incredible. In the shots you’ve seen so far, the flames have been fairly small and containable, but this time they were massive and due to the take’s length they were allowed time to grow.
Cut was called and the fire extinguisher guys rushed in. In previous takes, it took them all of 15-20 seconds to extinguish the fire, but here they were spraying for a solid minute. I didn’t get a shot of the raging inferno, but I did get a pic of the aftermath:
This shot was right before lunch (if you can call the 11:30pm meal lunch) and as the crew filed out to eat, I got to hear a conversation between Johnson, the AD and some of the pyrotechnic guys. The bookcase wasn’t going to be able to sustain long takes and it was dangerous to keep Brody there.
I don’t know what they ended up doing, but I ate with Johnson and the beautiful Mila Turajlic (her official title, she told me was Rian Johnson’s Pain In the Assistant) and Johnson was talking about having to rearrange the shots now. I believe there was one shot that was essential to get, a wide shot of the conversation that would see the bookcase, but they could get Brody out of harms way at the very least.
Whatever they ended up doing, I never heard any reports about awful maimings or deaths of the lead actors.
That was about the end of my time on set. From here, I headed back to the hotel, caught about 3 hours of sleep, got on the plane and began writing this here report.
I had a blast. What I saw filmed was definitely living up to the script that I fell for last year. Serbia was really cool, the food was great (and heavy as shit… they love their meat wrapped in meat stuffed with meat there), the women beautiful and the country was gorgeous.
When I was leaving, I was really wishing I could stay until wrap. That’s how much fun it was to be on the set.
I’d like to thank Ram Bergman once more for allowing this all to happen. I’d also like to thank Alisa Buckley, Mila Turajlic and Margarita for always keeping me where I needed to be and taking care of any problems that were in my way. And thanks to Austinites Kevin Ford and Angela Bettis for keeping me company.
There has to be a special thanks to the cast. Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel Weisz, Rinko Kikuchi, Maximilian Schell and Andy Nyman. They all had the power to keep you from seeing any of these personal pics, but they were all really cool in not only allowing me to take them, but in approving their use in these articles.
And one more… Rian Johnson. He’s one of us. We were trading movie quotes back and forth, confusing some of the crew… you know that way you talk with your friends, how it develops into a sort of new language filled with movie dialogue. Johnson made me feel at home and was responsible for all the access I was given. He’s a fan of the site and wanted you guys to see as much as possible. So, a big thanks to Rian.
I don’t know the next movie I’m able to report on like this, but if it’s half as cool as BROTHERS BLOOM, then I’ll be jumping for joy.
I’ll be following the progress of this one closely, squirts. Can’t wait to see that first trailer.
Finally, a thanks to you guys for reading along, joining me on my adventure to Eastern Europe. I appreciate the kind words you’ve been sending along about this series of articles.