Two things everyone should know about the making of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2:
New Yorkers loved that it was set and filmed in New York…and it was amazingly collaborative.
Production Designer Mark Friedberg, a New Yorker, was especially excited by the prospect of shooting on his home turf. “I believe in the crews. I believe it brings a lot of energy to our creative process. And I believe it helped us tell this story – it’s a New York story and we were able to make New York part of the storytelling.”
After last year’s INSIDE LLEWYN DAVIS, set in early ‘60s Greenwich Village, fellow New Yorker Set Decorator Susan Bode Tyson SDSA welcomed the opportunity to once again work in the city and its surrounds, but on a totally different project and scale.
“It was going from a small, little film to a gi-normous film, in terms of what was expected, budget, staff and sets,” she shares. “ILD was this little jeweled egg and there was a lot to it, but this was just enormous…and most of the sets were enormous. I was fortunate to have the staff that I needed to get this done, and I couldn’t have been more pleased with the people working for me. I had my stalwart corps, who are always dedicated to bringing about the best, particularly Assistant Set Decorator Jennifer Alex Nickason, Lead Bruce Lee Gross, and Buyers Imogen Lee and Val Nolan, and then when we needed them, major set decorators were available to help, which was pretty incredible.”
Bode brought on Set Decorator Regina Graves SDSA and Set Decorator David Schlesinger SDSA, both New Yorkers with much experience filming in New York. “I was really lucky to have them come on. They were a fabulous addition to the set dec team,” she states emphatically.
“I think the film does sort of show off New York, from Times Square to smaller streets,” she continues. “And I think Mark Friedberg made it sparkle in the best possible way.”
While shooting all over the city, the production drew thousands of spectators who were eager to spot their local hero in action. “New Yorkers respond to Spider-Man with such love and joy,” says Andrew Garfield, who plays the title character. “It just gets everyone out…out of their apartments, out of their houses, out of their shops, and it gets everyone screaming and dancing. Spider-Man is their character. He belongs to them. He belongs to the city. So it felt right to be there.”
“People come from far and wide to see a Spider-Man movie being shot, because it’s such a New York story, and such a big production,” adds Emma Stone, who plays his girlfriend Gwen Stacy. “He’s such a beloved character and you really feel that in the city.”
The film shot all over New York City, including outside the Hearst Building, which fills in for Oscorp Industries, on 57th Street at Eighth Avenue; at Lincoln Center on the West Side; in the Bensonhurst neighborhood in Brooklyn; Manhattan’s Flatiron District; Union Square; Park Avenue; Chelsea; the Upper East Side; DUMBO in Brooklyn; the Financial District; Throgs Neck in the Bronx; East River Park on the Lower East Side; Windsor Terrace in Brooklyn; and Chinatown in Manhattan.
In one of the larger action sequences of the film, Max Dillon, played by Jamie Foxx, newly transformed into glowing, blue-skinned Electro, wanders through the streets of Manhattan, amazed by his newfound power to control electricity. Finding that his strength increases as he drinks in more voltage, Electro naturally gravitates to Times Square – a location that ties with the Las Vegas Strip for using the most electrical power in the U.S.
The production filmed with Jamie Foxx on location in busy Times Square for one night, while the majority of the sequence was filmed on the Gold Coast Studios backlot in Bethpage, New York. “We built a huge section of the northern part of Times Square to have as much control over it as possible,” says Director Marc Webb.
The replica included perfect copies of the storefronts along Broadway and Seventh Avenue from 46th to 47th Streets, including Father Duffy Square, with its red bleachers and TKTS booth surrounded by the bright billboards of Times Square. Bode reveals, “Regina could do Times Square with her eyes closed. She just knew, ‘Oh, you get this here and you get this there…’, which of course, was a fantastic asset. And I loved that when I saw the film, it worked seamlessly between the real Times Square and our set out in Long Island. ”
Among other outstanding huge sets were the various interiors of Oscorp Industries, the story’s mega-corporation that is in the forefront of military and genetic research. Brooklyn’s cavernous Marcy Street Armory, which the production used as a stage, became the setting for the sleek, three-story tall Oscorp lobby, filled with authentic artwork on loan from some of New York’s most prestigious galleries.
Bode describes, “Mark Friedberg designed this incredible set where you really thought you were in the atrium of a big corporate lobby. It was a beautiful, sophisticated design that was then reconfigured for different perspectives. So at one point, we were up many floors, with galleries, corridors, landings, offices and labs, and then we were brought down to the lobby where one entered the building. Taschen did a bookstore for us. We did all the furnishings, but they supplied all the books. At the other end, this wonderful NY-centric bakery-lunch-coffee place, Financier, did a shop for us that looked great, and Chilewich did most of our flooring in there. It was one of those movies where, no matter the vastness of size, everything just came together.”
“The Oscorp sets were phenomenal to do, in terms of the labs and all the tanks. David worked on a lot of the labs and sourced much of the equipment, along with Jenny, my longtime assistant set decorator, who was just unbelievable on this. My leadman, Bruce Gross, was also amazing, particularly in co-coordinating the crews. We were in so many places, getting so many sets ready…at one point there were over 100 set dressers on one day.”
“One of my favorite sets was the abandoned Roosevelt subway station, where the train rises up from the tracks on the hidden spur. It’s just the opposite of the Oscorp sets. We built the station, found old turnstiles, found old train lighting…and David pretty much spearheaded finding the train, even though it wasn’t a set dec thing. It was from a museum in Connecticut and was sort of a wreck that they hadn’t restored yet, and they ended up letting us build the lab inside of it! Another favorite was the morgue. It was absolutely breathtakingly beautiful. We tiled it from floor to ceiling and made it a teaching morgue. It’s just one of those sets that will always be one of my favorites, as will the train station.”
“And it was fun to go between the world of Aunt May and Peter Parker and then the world of Norman Osborn and Harry,” she smiles. “I loved doing Norman’s office. I thought that was a really spare but great set to be able to put together. I loved that nothing was over-crowded in it. The desk and the conference room table were designed by Mark and built by Head Welder Dave McAllister, a fabulous metal guy who did all of our metal structure. We ordered the breakaway glass and multiples of the objects on the desk, so when they did their number of action takes, if the pieces broke, we had the replacements ready to go in.”
Action & collaboration…
“Audiences intuitively know when they are seeing something real,” says Producer Matt Tolmach. This applies both to the sets and the film’s action sequences. “The idea that as much of the film’s action as was possible would be performed practically was a decision that came at the direction of Marc Webb. We have tons of visual effects shots – Spider-Man does some things that no human being can do – but we wanted this world to have weight, believability and gravitas. So wherever we could, doing it for real was a very big part of Marc’s vision for Spider-Man.”
This, of course, means more involved set decoration and intensive collaboration between set dec, special effects and visual effects teams. Bode notes, “Again, it starts with Mark. We all worked really well together and he ironed everything out in terms of what would be built that visual and special effects needed and what we would provide. He made detailed models, particularly for meetings with Director Marc Webb and the department heads, where you really could see how things were going to come together.”
A classic example would be the enormous Clock Tower set. “That was another set that was just remarkably beautiful,” Bode recalls. “It was done in 2 pieces. There was the upper clock tower with all the gears and the gallery around it, and then another portion that was multi-storied, which was the lower clock tower. Both of those component sets were extraordinary. Watching everyone working together was a bit like peeking at Santa’s workshop…the design of the huge gears, Dave McAllister the iron-guy putting them together, special effects co-coordinating so the gears would move the way they wanted them to, the scenics giving everything the right patina…We provided all the antique lighting and seemingly miles of old rope. Around the gallery and in the lower clock tower where you would enter, we put in layers of real life, great old work stations with real gears and equipment.”
Another example of in-depth collaboration is the set created for the scene when Peter is literally climbing the walls of his room. For this scene, the entire bedroom set was held by two massive rings, around which the room would rotate. During filming, Andrew Garfield remained mainly upright as the room and camera turned 360 degrees, using the same technique as the famous Fred Astaire sequence from the film ROYAL WEDDING, in which Astaire danced on the walls and ceiling.
Bode explains, “They referred to the mechanism that makes the set rotate, as ‘the rotisserie’. We first shot Peter’s room on our full Aunt May’shouse set. After they finished shooting the regular scenes for that room, the set was re-built onto the rotisserie and we dressed and propped it. Everything was nailed, glued, stitched down. Again, my lead Bruce Gross and his crew did an amazing job. I don’t even know how they did half of it, including the clothes being stiffened and then attached in place with monofilament and different wires…all the paperwork on the walls, the bedding, the lights…everything! It wasn’t green screen and CG, it was all there!”
Collaboration with the first… Aunt May’s house was a significant group of sets in the first film of the series, which meant Bode and team were charged with re-creating sets that were filmed originally in Los Angeles and done by Set Decorator Leslie Pope SDSA. Bode shares, “Leslie’s notes are meticulous and beautiful, and I try to emulate her. I spoke to her on a couple of occasions. We had great pictures for reference and were able to duplicate pretty much everything. Most of the things that we weren’t able to duplicate, we were able to find from places like the lovely little shop Evolution that had all the skulls and spiders we needed, and Wayfair, where we ordered Aunt May’s kitchen island, which turned out to be a perfect, identical match.
I also worked extensively with Alan Songer at Omega Cinema Props, who had a lot of the pieces used in the previous film. He was wonderful to work with, as was Ken Sharp at Modern Props. We sourced a lot from Modern that we would reuse in different configurations, because that stuff is great and it doesn’t really exist here, especially in quantity.”
“I always like when I can learn something new,” the set decorator concludes."And I learned so much on this movie, from the variety of set elements we researched and found to collaborating with other set decorators and most of the departments, especially special effects and visual effects. Seeing how they were going to do things was really an interesting way to learn. All in all, the making of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2 was, indeed, amazing!”