Europe's biggest construction site challenges, inspires Minghella pic

LONDON — When Brit helmer Anthony Minghella hit upon the idea of shooting his latest pic “Breaking and Entering” in London’s King’s Cross district, he envisioned the area becoming a prominent participant in the film. Little did he imagine the logistical challenge he was presenting his producers and locations manager.

The run-down, inner-city district, once notorious for prostitution and drug dealing and home to one of London’s main railway stations, is undergoing a $3.7 billion regeneration program. Derelict tenements, dilapidated warehouses and rusty gasometers are being cleared to make way for an international rail terminus plus new offices and housing.

In the pic, protagonist Will (Jude Law) and business partner Sandy (Martin Freeman) set up a state-of-the-art landscape architecture studio in the area, partly because they are involved in its redevelopment. Within days, local petty criminals target the premises, burgling them repeatedly. As a result, Will becomes involved with the area and its inhabitants in an unexpected manner.

The transformation of King’s Cross is key to the storyline of “Breaking,” and in many ways the area is as much a character in the film as a backdrop.

“My ambition was to shoot London as a Londoner, to capture what I see on the way to work,” Minghella says. “I didn’t want it to seem more dreary, nor was I interested in showing the edited highlights.”

To this end, the film oscillates between a generic, leafy, north London residential neighborhood and King’s Cross. Getting access to “Europe’s largest construction site,” however, was no mean feat.

“It was a pretty stressful period. King’s Cross is a pivotal part of the story, and it was my responsibility to get access to it,” says location manager Jonah Coombes, who is working on the Canary Wharf-set “28 Weeks Later.”

“Part of the problem was that the land around King’s Cross is controlled by a variety of stakeholders,” explains Adrian Wootton, chief executive of the capital’s film and media agency Film London, which helped facilitate access.

“On top of this, the building contractors risk fines if they don’t keep to schedule — even if they wanted to, they don’t really have time to accommodate film shoots,” he adds.

All in all, the production had to deal with a dozen or so different entities ranging from the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL) to the office of the mayor of London Ken Livingstone.

“It was a protracted process,” Coombes recalls. “I’d get someone to sign off, only to find I needed someone else to sign off on their signoff.”

He, Minghella, Wootton, production designer Alex McDowell and line producer Anita Overland attended a series of meetings with the stakeholders to discuss the production.

“Anthony was very personally involved,” Wootton says. “He met the various groups face-to-face and even toured the building sites with them to explain what he wanted to do.”

Coombes, meanwhile, managed to ingratiate the production with key stakeholder CTRL by suggesting a series of work placements on the shoot for disadvantaged youngsters in the area. The production also made a donation to a local church involved in community work.

When approval finally did come through, it was for a stripped-down, documentary-style crew of half a dozen members and key actors only.

“All the cameras were handheld,” says Minghella. “We’d literally dive in for a few minutes here and there. It was shot like shooting a documentary. We learned to work within the dynamics of the building site — stealing scenes where we could.

“It was extraordinary to go inside Europe’s biggest construction site. I felt like I was collecting, capturing part of change. We couldn’t go back and shoot what we did now.”

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