—Director/Writer Tony Gilroy
Over the course of three runaway hit films, Jason Bourne [Matt Damon] unearths the Black Ops Treadstone program, its CIA handlers…and their attempts to destroy both it and him! Director/writer Tony Gilroy extends the story into THE BOURNE LEGACY. “It pulls back the curtain to expose a darker layer of intrigue…and a new hero, Outcome program’s super agent Aaron Cross [Jeremy Renner], who must battle to stay alive when his program suddenly becomes a liability.”
As Treadstone is exposed, the ruthless head of NRAG, Retired Colonel Eric Byer [Edward Norton], is certain he must sacrifice Outcome to protect his other, deeper black ops/warrior enhancement programs. This requires eliminating everyone involved, including the super-agent warriors in the field and the science and medical researchers who helped to create Outcome.
Cross survives several termination attempts in the Yukon wilderness and escapes to the outskirts of the nation’s capital in order to find the only person who can help him, biochemist Dr. Marta Shearing [Rachel Weisz], who is now also in peril. When Outcome is rapidly shut down and systematically obliterated, she becomes a target, first at the top-secret lab in Maryland, then at her woodland home. Cross appears in time to save her, but not the house! [Serious explosions, fire, inferno…] The two form a partnership out of necessity, fleeing to the other side of the globe…
Director Gilroy relied on Production Designer Kevin Thompson and Set Decorator Leslie E. Rollins SDSA to provide visual realism upped a notch. This was not a world of heavy CG. The sets were instantly believable and authentic, whether shot on location or on stage. Gilroy notes, “It wants to feel like the world we really live in….”
Line and form...
In the pristine bio-chem research lab, cylindrical bottles fill the straight-lined and angular cabinets. Stacks of round-capped containers in the rectangular refrigerator mirror the porthole door.
For the pharmaceutical lab, Rollins notes, “Kevin has marvelous taste and a very good eye. It was always our goal to bring a good design sense to the realism of the environments. For the Red Lab, we wanted clean lines and everything white, punctuated with splashes of color. In this case, the color was provided by the packaging and liquids normally found in such a place. We curated the interiors of the glass cabinets carefully using real materials as background to our color ideas. It is fortunate that authentic lab supplies are generally pretty boring in their packaging design, which allowed us freedom to add our own color as we needed and wanted.”
Pink was a key color in Manila—the bright pink of the pharmaceutical factory workers’ uniforms against the gray and hazard-yellow of the machinery was picked up in a bag dropped on a flophouse bed…and then joined a riot of color in the numerous street scenes.
“Manila is a colorful city to begin with,” Rollins points out. “Teeming masses of people and outrageous Jeepneys fill the streets. We stressed realism throughout, but maintained a strict color control in the pharmacy we built and in other locations as well as we could.”
A seedy hotel room had an unexpected simple beauty: the contrasts of the slats in the blinds against the curled window grate, the rounded-corners of a floral etched mirror in a room of linear shutters and slatted floor, an impressionist’s palette of mismatched linens…muted plaids, florals and stripes. Rollins relates, “The Flophouse Hotel Room was perhaps the moodiest of the sets with its slatted lighting and slowly rotating fan. The bed sheets and other fabrics were carefully considered—we discovered that the department stores in Manila are fantastic! The mirror was a lucky find. Philippine Set Decorator Sammy Aranzamendez brought it in and I knew immediately that it was exactly right for the moment.”
A studied lack of color was used in Byer’s world to quietly define power and a sense of omnipotence. Rollins explains, “The NRAG work spaces, crisis suite and Byer’s office were designed with very tight color restraint to emphasize the anonymous underworld of American covert operations. In doing these kinds of sets, it is essential to decide on a point of view from the outset. Kevin wanted to create an almost innocuous blandness with subdued earth tones, woods and very ‘ordinary’ government-issue furnishings. We were able to bring about some visual interest by playing with textures and tone-on-tone combinations. We searched for weeks for the perfect sofa for Byer’s office, only to finally have it made. Even the ordinary requires lots of searching!”
Marta’s House: “Tony wanted to have a house that was a bit of a fairy-tale fantasy,” Thompson reveals. “A larger-than-life decayed mini-mansion that Marta invested in when she was in a relationship…a place she hoped to someday restore.”
After searching 150 homes, the historic Plumb-Bronson House in Hudson, NY seemed ideal. However, the structure, built in 1815, could not support the equipment and crew necessary for filming, so Thompson re-created the 3-story interior onstage!
Rollins says, “Marta’s Woodland House is in many ways one of my all time favorite sets. Kevin selected a very distinctive house to copy with a truly beautiful central staircase. The house had to appear to be in the midst of renovation that had stopped due to Marta’s relationship problems. It was exciting to tell her story strictly through the set and set dressing. There is barely a word spoken in the dialogue about her private life. We let the audience figure it out through the visuals. The house is almost monochromatic in tone. Even the furnishings were based on shades of brown and white. Her Ex’s tools and leftover building supplies added the only pops of color to emphasize their presence and make the audience wonder what is going on.”
“The set was a wonder of engineering and scenic work,” he adds. “The three story decaying house was built on stage E at Kaufman Astoria in Queens by Construction Coordinator Ken Nelson right next to the Red Lab set with its epoxy floor and stainless steel trim. A fantastic juxtaposition.”
Big-Pharma, pharmaceutical plant: “Kevin found the New York Times Printing Plant in Queens with Location Manager Joe Guest and fell in love with it immediately, realizing its potential as a stand in for the Pharmaceutical Plant that was supposed to be in Manila,” reveals Rollins. “What an amazing piece of machinery! The long and complex conveyor belts and overhead walkways gave the perfect visual image of Big-Pharma.”
“My assistant Christine Moosher found 5000 red plastic bins and 20,000 white pharmaceutical boxes to which we applied the thousands of labels created by graphic designer Joan Winters.”
Rollins continues, “Because the printing plant was actually still fully functioning, Lead Phil Canfield, Key Dresser Chris Heaps and their crew began work at 4 a.m. each morning after the daily run of the NY Times was complete to set up everything for a 6 a.m. call. They reversed the process in the afternoon so that the next day’s paper could be printed! It was very much a military operation which required complete interdepartmental cooperation.”
Drone Control Center: One of my other favorite sets was the Drone Control Center we built on stage in Queens. I loved this set. It was small, tightly controlled, perfectly scaled and built to government specs. We really nailed the technology thanks to Craftsperson Paul Mantell and Computer Graphics Designer Jaz Nanini.
Alberta, Canada stands in for the Yukon…
The idea of shooting in the Rockies in December didn’t faze Rollins, “I loved working in the cold of Alberta, Canada with Set Decorator Paul Healy SDSA and his Key Dresser Allan Macullagh, and their incredible team of set dressers. The Cabin was built on site for both exterior and interior scenes. It’s a good thing I had a wood stove installed! Tony wanted a palpable ‘funk’ to permeate everything in this cabin and Paul rose to the challenge locating contemporary and vintage technology, furnishings, survival gear, weapons, etc. to convey the age of the camp and the missions that were trained there.”
“Shipping to other countries from the US is a pain…awkward, complicated and expensive,” Rollins points out. “So I tried to source everything locally. It pretty much worked, since we really weren’t trying to play any place for anywhere other than itself. The only time we ran into a snag was that Kananaskis, Alberta was a stand-in for Alaska and there’s no MacMaster-Carr in Canada!” [Editor’s note: MMC is an overnight delivery supplier to industrial and commercial facilities.]
Manila and the Philippines…
The labyrinthine San Andres section of Manila, with its ramshackle houses and dark alleyways was used for a major chase scene across rooftops, through a maze of alleys and doorways. Thompson recalls, “We would often say to one of the locals, ‘We’ll redo the siding on your house or corrugated rooftop if we can have your old materials.’” When preparing for the filming of that chase sequence, approximately 50 roofs that were found to have holes or were otherwise deemed unsafe were replaced.
Nets and a table the color of sky and sea, fluorescent yellow floats and bright hanging towels enhance the Sabrina, the almost ancient wooden-hulled boat that closes the film. Re: the 100 ft working fishing boat, Thompson remembers, “We power-washed the entire thing because it was unbelievably smelly…and then washed it again! Then we took off all the dressing and dressed it from scratch while keeping much of the character that was there.”
“LEGACY was a huge design project that went from big-time stage work through location building and then into Manila and all of its challenges,” Gilroy states. “All of that with the mandate of staying absolutely photo-real at all times. It was the highest degree of difficulty, and they crushed it.”
When asked about the collaborative aspects of the film, particularly with Production Designer Kevin Thompson and Writer/Director Tony Gilroy, Rollins replies, “I absolutely adored working with Tony and Kevin. Both of these men are highly collaborative, supportive and just plain easy to get along with. Kevin is a dream designer. He gives inspiration and listens to ideas. What more can a set decorator ask? Tony welcomed input and had constructive comments and ideas in every meeting. I always felt that I was an important part of the creative team.”
“Cinematographer Bob Elswit and I worked together on SALT a couple of years ago, as did Propmaster Diana Burton and I on NEW YEAR’S EVE. Both of them are collaborative, thoughtful and creative craftspeople. Diana and I especially had a close relationship as so much of what we did in the labs and foreign locations crossed into each other’s areas.”
As the film’s Supervising Set Decorator, Rollins worked with set decorators across the globe. “I relied heavily on Set Decorators Paul Healy SDSA in Canada and Sammy Aranzamendez in the Philippines to shop the set dressing and act as key in those countries. Without them and their amazing crews, it would have been impossible to have those locations ready while we were still shooting in New York. In fact, Paul and Key Dresser Allan Macullagh came to Manila with me right after Christmas to meet up with Sammy and his crew to pull the Manila sets together for shooting in early January. Paul and Allan stayed on in Manila through February to handle the enormous second unit.”
“In New York, my long time assistant Christine Moosher and Buyers Lisa Scoppa and Harriet Zucker SDSA and Lead Phil Canfield made the entire project run smoothly while I coordinated the operations in three countries.”
“As any set decorator who works on sizable movies will tell you, you draw on every experience you’ve ever had to pull off a project of this scope. It is about collaboration and consultation on all levels and with all departments; having a vision and following through with it; and about organization and hiring the right people. Having the right people for the right job is key to making each project work to its full potential. My team was exactly right for the job.”
And when asked, “What was the one thing you could not do without?” Rollins replies, “Warm boots in Kananaskis and flip flops in Manila!”