“Of all the movies I’ve written,” says Charlie Kaufman, “‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ might have the strongest sense of place.”
With many of the locations in the film preserved from the original script, keeping the production in New York was key for Kaufman (a New York native) and French director Michel Gondry. Despite usual budgetary pressure to consider shooting elsewhere, the creative duo didn’t have to put up much of a fight to convince a largely homegrown production team raised on low-budget indies that the picture be shot in Gotham.
“It was important that the depiction of memories were very real rather than romanticized,” says Gondry, who’d only been to New York several times before six months of extensive scouting in preparation for the film.
Focus Features co-prexy James Schamus, whose company financed the pic, saw it “as a miraculously romantic movie that allowed a more real New York to take on epic romantic proportions. We didn’t have to pretty it up.”
Gondry began with a precise map of the entire story, “almost like a subway map of all the memories. I wanted to physically see the connection of the memory in the Chinese restaurant to the memory of the bookstore. And to see the deterioration of those memories.”
Reality was an essential element for the urban locations. “New York City is one of the most photogenic cities on Earth, and I really wanted to feel the city including all of its mundane environment,” says Gondry.
For Joel’s apartment and the doctor’s office, Gondry wanted the reality that typifies New York quarters (Yonkers, the Lower East Side). The only sets used were duplicates of the actual locations built on studio stages at the Bayonne naval facility.
One of the pic’s producers, Anthony Bregman, who came up through the ranks of Good Machine, understood “that it had to be really grounded in reality with live streets and real extras to balance the high-concept, futuristic element of the story.”
“Because we began prepping the movie less than a year after 9/11, there was a strong sense of goodwill to give back to an ailing film community. It enabled a higher-level crew for an ambitious film with a limited budget,” adds Bregman.
With award-winning N.Y. cinematographer Ellen Kuras and veteran Gotham producer Michael Hausman (serving as first assistant director) among the ranks, it was definitely the A team, says Schamus.
Pulling off an unplanned scene of Ringling Bros.’ arrival to the city was a real testament to the speed and creativity with which the New York film industry can react, according to Schamus. “We turned that plan around in less than a day with permits, releases — it’s exactly what people think you can’t do in New York.”
Circus elephants were not the only fantastic things that New York provided. When a monster snowstorm hit while shooting in Montauk, Gondry insisted on using it to their advantage despite concerns about continuity.
For Kaufman, raised on Long Island, Montauk signified “the end of the road, especially in winter. It captured the loneliness and isolation intended in the story.”
On location with “Eternal Sunshine”
1. Lacuna Office: 504 Grand St. at Columbia, NY, NY
2. Commuter Train Station: Mt.Vernon East Station, Mt. Vernon, NY
3. Montauk Train Station: Montauk, NY
4. Beach: Montauk Beach, NY
5. Beach House: Georgica Assn. Road, Wainscott, NY
6. Diner: Plaza Restaurant: Montauk, NY
7. Clementine’s Apt: 59 Orient Way, Brooklyn, NY
8. Joel’s Apt.: 123 Valentine Lane, Yonkers, NY
9. Rob & Carrie’s House: 46 Mt. Pleasant Road, Yonkers, NY
10. Antic Attic Store: Hole in the Wall: 229 E. 14th St., NY, NY
11. Bookstore: Barnes & Noble: Columbia, NY, NY
12. Bar: The Pour House: 790 Metropolitan Ave., Brooklyn, NY
13. Flea Market: Orchard Street, NY, NY
14. Charles River: FDR State Park, Yorktown Heights, NY
15. Forest: South Mountain Preservation, West Orange, NJ
16. Park: Madison Square Park: 26th/ Madison Ave., NY, NY
17. Joel’s parents house: 105 E. 23rd St., Bayonne, NJ
18. Chinese Restaurant: Tien Fu Guong: 180 Third Ave., NY, NY
19. Stage: The Peninsula at the Bayonne naval facility, Bayonne, NJ