“I added layers of spy information such as 1957 train schedules, aviation maps, city maps, photo gear, short wave radios, sound equipment, piles of Sucrets cans he kept his hollow nickels in,” DeAngelo reveals...
“A nondescript, waterfront warehouse district,” says DeAngelo, “…the perfect place for someone to go unnoticed amongst the tire shops and industrial laundry workers. We added many awnings, a grocer, a fishmonger, a truck repair and a lot of terrific period cars to bring it back to 1957. …”
“This is where they transported everything they found in Abel’s studio and apartment after his arrest,” says DeAngelo. “This was essentially everything you didn’t have a chance to see in shots of the the loft tagged and laid out on tables in order to make a case against him.”
Judge Byers [Dakin Matthews] rules against the death penalty in this case. Donovan [Tom Hanks], in a moment of prescience, had suggested to the judge that Abel [Mark Rylance] might be needed in the future in negotiations with the Soviets…
The irony that he is soon to leave to negotiate with the Soviets the release of a downed U-2 pilot is not lost on Donovan [Tom Hanks] as he tries to sooth the concerns his son [Noah Schnapp] has about a nuclear attack on the US…
An exhausted Jim [Tom Hanks], having come straight from Berlin in an Air Force cargo plane, has collapsed on the bed, happy to be home. Mary [Amy Ryan] learns of his actual negotiations through the television news… He will later that year negotiate the release of 1,113 prisoners held by Cuba after the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion…
A dramatic thriller set against the backdrop of a series of historic events, BRIDGE OF SPIES is the story of James Donovan [Tom Hanks], an insurance claims lawyer from Brooklyn who finds himself thrust into the center of the Cold War when the CIA enlists his support to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot. This comes after he has defended in court the Russian agent Rudolf Abel [Mark Rylance], who will be involved in the exchange, as will an American student being held in East Berlin.
Navigating the unfamiliar waters of high-stakes international intrigue, the real James Donovan rose to the occasion with a modesty befitting the heroic acts that he performs, becoming an unsung civilian hero, and, in the process, the inspiration for an incredibly powerful story and film. -Dreamworks
Producer Marc Platt describes, “It was almost like we were making two separate films, which is representative of the extraordinary journey that James Donovan goes on. We first meet him in Brooklyn where he takes on the case, which was one movie, and then he travels unexpectedly to a completely different part of the world [East & West Berlin], a completely different culture, which felt like an entirely different film.”
To re-create the late 1950s-early ‘60s Brooklyn and the divided Berlin in 1961-62, Director Stephen Spielberg relied on Director of Photography Janusz Kaminski. Production Designer Adam Stockhausen, Set Decorator Rena DeAngelo SDSA in the US and Set Decorator Bernhard Henrich in Europe, and their teams on both sides of the Atlantic.
“Steven loves authenticity,” says Producer Kristie Macosko Krieger, “and we assembled an amazing group of artists to work with him…It was pretty complex. We knew we wanted the audience to go on a journey, and we shot, for the most part, in continuity.” Structurally the story is a study in shifting moods and environments, opening in Brooklyn in 1957 with the action eventually moving to East Berlin. This meant that the production began in New York, reproducing Rudolf Abel’s nondescript wharfside borough and then Donovan’s venerable law offices in Manhattan and the gentrified Park Slope neighborhood where he lived in Brooklyn.
The real Abel was, in fact, a very-skilled artist, something Spielberg chose to focus on in the film’s opening scene. He explains, “How we see ourselves and how other people see us, what we hide in order for others to discover something hidden…that was all part of this idea I had to start the film on Mark Rylance’s face playing Rudolf Abel, then to pull back and discover that he’s actually studying his face because he’s doing a self-portrait.”
“We have to find the villain and find the hero in real-life stories, and so by quickly targeting and earmarking a villain, we immediately stop being mindful, or even empathetic, about the person that we deem a villain,” Spielberg points out. “We give all our empathy to the hero, and we give no credit and no currency to the villain. By doing that, we become very one-sided and all our tolerance goes out the window.”
Thus, notes DeAngelo, “In Abel’s studio, I was trying to give him a personality beyond being a villain, because in actuality he wasn’t a villain at all, just a nice man doing his job. I added layer upon layer of dressing that I knew the camera would probably never see but I wanted it there for Mark.”
“Whenever we are basing sets on the lives of real people, I always do as much research into the person’s life as I can,” she relates. “You want to stay true to the actual character but can always embellish the reality a bit, as I did with Abel’s studio. In actuality, the hotel room is where he lived and worked. We took a bit of creative license in fleshing out his character and adding his loft. I had a lot of good photographs of the real Abel’s hotel room and his artwork from the authentic FBI files. So I based the hotel room on them and then just went to town on the studio loft!”
“There were personal touches such as the clothesline with handkerchiefs, because I read Abel had a sinus condition so he would have washed out his handkerchiefs each night and hung them to dry with his socks. His artwork was a way for him to pass the time between assignments and a great way for me to add texture to the room. I also added many layers of spy information such as vintage train schedules, aviation maps, city maps, photo equipment, piles of Sucrets cans he kept his hollow nickels in. Unfortunately, we only shot in that set for a day so we didn’t get a chance to see most of it on screen. But I like to think I helped Mark get into character.”
She adds, “I think Steven may have been surprised by the level of detail in Abel’s studio. I may have gone a little overboard but it was a fun set to decorate and he appreciated it. As he walked through the set, picking up the train timetables from 1957 or period tourist maps of NYC and Washington DC or film gear and short wave radios, he said, ‘Oh my, this is fantastic! I can’t believe we are only shooting here for one day.’” DeAngelo smiles, “That was a pretty good feeling.”
“The sets were all incredibly beautiful with an amazing amount of detail,” says Rylance. “As an actor, we are working among craftspeople, and just being surrounded by these people with such skill and love for what they do is very inspiring. It is the combination of all these crafts which make a great film…”
“Steven comes in and you see him take in everything all around him. He is in total command of the big picture and everything going through the frame, the sets, the background actors, all the movements. Watching him, I imagined Leonardo da Vinci at work. He was like a painter, but working with moving pictures.”
Tom Hanks agrees, “When you show up on Steven’s set, it has already been built, not only physically, but deep inside Steven’s head. Your job is to do exactly what he wants you to do, but he also expects you to add in all the little things he expects you to come up with. He has the film cut in his head long before we even get to the set. He reads the screenplay thousands and thousands of times, over and over and over again, so he knows what he's going to be doing, cinematically, five weeks from now.”
“I have never seen a director more prepared for a day’s work than Steven,” DeAngelo concurs. “He gets to set 45 minutes early every day with the day’s storyboarded in his head. We all started getting there early, too, because he would! Adam would present the illustrations and photos of the set dressing and Steven would give his thoughts. There were always certain things he asked for that were specific to a character or scene.”
“The set for Judge Byer’s chambers is a good example,” she recalls. “We scouted an office in a courthouse in Brooklyn. It had a green carpet with red furniture. Steven said, ‘Wouldn’t this be great if the carpet was red and the furniture green?’ We all laughed until we realized he was serious. But he was right, of course. It did look 100% better.”
Judge Byer’s house I decorated to look like a traditional home of the era, which would have been decorated by his wife as a comfortable home always ready to receive a guest…nothing out of place and a bar at the ready for a scotch and a cigar. My dad’s photo is on the mantle, in his cap and gown for college graduation.”
“The courthouse scenes were shot in one of the many courthouses in NYC that still retain the same elegance they had when they were built. Once you sweep them of the modern trappings of todays working court system, place appropriate photos and art, add the people in the period costumes and it’s 1957.”
The offices of the New York Bar Association, located in a classical historical landmark in midtown Manhattan, provided the ideal setting for Donovan’s law firm, instilling a sense of old-world money and prestige. “The reception area was set in a beautiful oak paneled room they use for conferences and seminars, so I brought in all the furniture and typewriters and office supplies,” say DeAngelo. “Bridge Props had beautiful chesterfield sofas and chairs, and the desks came from an office furniture place I found near Boston. I didn’t have any photos of the actual law firm, but did read about it in his biography. We were looking to create a contrast between the New York City lawyer and Vogel’s East German law office. It wanted to be a tasteful, working, old money NY law firm with lots of oak and grand portraits of bygone partners. The portraits were thankfully already there, saving my budget from the cost of renting them all.”
A residential area made up of quaint homes situated on peaceful, tree-lined streets, served as the setting for the Donovan home. Interiors and additional set pieces were built on soundstages at Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios. Says Macosko Krieger, “When I stepped onto the set of Donovan’s home for the very first time it was like I had gone back in time to the late ‘50s and I was having dinner with someone’s family…every little detail was perfect in that house.”
Hanks remarks, “There was not a single day when we didn't show up on the set for the first time and think, ‘Holy cow, this is not just an odd little re-creation…this is a three-dimensional, authentic, holographic representation of what it was!’ These people do work that I can't even begin to fathom…and they always seem to be just barely operating in time to get it all done. But when you see the end result and it is so evocative that even someone like myself who knows that it is a set still lingers on it as long as possible, that is a special talent.”
We first meet the Donovan family in their dining room. DeAngelo reveals, “I love the wallpaper in this room – it’s from Astek, of course. It makes the dining room more formal but still comfortable enough for family dinner. The furniture would be what they have had since they were married, but in the living room, I added some pieces in a more modern mode to make it a more casual TV room.”
Scenes of tension and scenes depicting a deep sweetness played out in the bedroom. DeAngelo says, “I wanted their bedroom to be traditional but not stuffy, nor look like my grandmother’s bedroom. It was decorated by his wife, so it is very bright and pretty. A place that he would be dreaming of during his stay in the dismal safe house in Berlin.”
Stockhausen and his department built approximately 300 yards of the Wall at different phases of its construction with the same materials and same dimensions as the original. Henrich handled the set decoration. Stockhausen says, “I love the bits of the real pieces that you are able to find and bring forward and use, and then my job is to try to add the bits in between that don’t exist anymore.”
Spielberg says, “It brought back a time in my life when walls started to go up all over the world, most of them invisible walls, but walls nonetheless.”
“It was terrifying, and it felt so permanent, too,” adds Hanks. “What Adam was able to do with the Wall, finding that perfect crossroads in the city of Breslau in Poland that matched up so well to the architecture of the time, was truly amazing.”
Portions of Friedrichstrasse Checkpoint, known as Checkpoint Charlie, were re-created in Wroclaw by Stockhausen and his team as well, including its iconic sign which reads: You Are Now Leaving the American Sector in three languages. “Everything about the Checkpoint Charlie set was remarkable,” says Platt. “You felt as though you were living in that moment in time, in history.”
Berlin’s historic Glienicke Bridge, where the actual exchange of Abel for Powers took place, was the setting of the story’s historic climax. Production in Berlin coincided with the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Color was drained from the Berlin part of the production, whereas in the New York portion, Stockhausen explains, “We did the opposite, with the yellows and the warmth of the Donovan home, the greens that we see in the park, the red curtains in the Supreme Court…”
When asked about getting to film New York for New York, Stockhausen replies, “Half of the story happened right around the corner from where I live and I had no idea. It was remarkable. I was thrilled to be involved.” DeAngelo says, “I love shooting in NY. I had the incredible Phil Canfield as my lead man and his wonderful crew. All the locations are here, the ease of having the prop houses at my disposal makes it a little easier. I used Bridge Props, Eclectic Encore, Prop and Spoon, City Knickerbocker for lighting, Robert Gerwig for all ephemera and period products. I have never done a period film without Robert. He is the greatest. I shopped at Brimfield during prep and filled a 24 foot truck, and then just all the antique stores in the upstate NY and CT and NJ areas. And, of course, History for Hire when we shot the aviation scenes in CA.
And when asked, “What was your takeaway from this filmmaking experience?” DeAngelo smiles, “To work with Adam Stockhausen was fantastic. I knew Adam when I was an assistant decorator and he was assistant art director on THE PRODUCERS and ACROSS THE UNIVERSE. But I hadn’t seen him in years. I saw THE GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL [for which Stockhausen received an Academy Award®] and said to my friend, “I should call Adam because I need to tell him what an amazing job he did.”
The next day my phone rang and it was Adam!
I said, “I was going to call you today, that’s so funny.”
He said, “Do you want to do a Spielberg movie?
I said, ‘YES!!!’
And Steven Spielberg was a delight.”
“It was an amazing experience to work with someone of his caliber. He was prepared, professional and just a pleasure to be around every day.
I am very proud of this film and think the heightened attention to detail that went into the sets shows on the screen.”