Films pony up to corral perfect locale

An iconic location lends itself to the story

Want to convey moneyed Gotham or modern London? Need a transition shot that says more than 1,000 words of dialogue?

An iconic location or landmark often conveys more background or exposition than a filmmaker can get with a costly set. These instantly recognizable sites not only visually establish location but also communicate an emotional subtext.

A crucial locale, whether a demand of story or director’s vision, typically entails serious location fees as well as the cooperation of multiple government entities or private property owners.

“Each city is significantly different in response to movie crews,” says producer Pat Crowley, now lensing “The Bourne Ultimatum,” third in the Bourne series that has shot worldwide from Goa, India, to Manhattan.

Following a template set up in “The Bourne Identity,” filmmakers take an oblique approach to establishing location, which often sets up the next plot intricacy. “There’s a conscious effort to avoid a postcard look or landmark approach to a city,” Crowley explains.

If the Eiffel Tower is used, it’s in a small corner of the frame, as Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) needs to move about unobserved. Train stations are essential locations, as Bourne tends to avoid airports. In London, “The Bourne Ultimatum” filmed at Waterloo Station but only during the off-commute hours of 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “The Waterloo fees were not big, and we got the production value of all that architecture,” Crowley says.

Gotham’s Waldorf-Astoria’s film credits stretch back 62 years, including recent work for “The Tourist” and “The Bourne Ultimatum.” “We give them a sense of history and an establishing shot of New York City,” says Anton Moore, the hotel’s director of entertainment sales. “No matter where you are in the world, you know our name and building.”

Location fees are determined per production and based on how much of the hotel’s day-to-day business will be interrupted.

When a production must have a certain location is when a fee can really escalate. Location manager Rick Schuler (“Zodiac,” “National Treasure II”) notes the most expensive location he secured was for David Fincher’s “The Game,” when the production shut down San Francisco’s Palace Hotel lobby and four ballrooms, including the famed glass-covered one, for 72 hours.

The six-figure fee was due to a combination of factors, chiefly believability, as Michael Douglas’ character must fall spectacularly through the glass ceiling in the film’s finale.

“The Bourne Ultimatum” needed a specific London bookstore for a major sequence. The store’s asking price was £20,000 ($39,000) per hour. “We had to bite the bullet,” Crowley says. “You can get held up the same way in downtown Los Angeles or anywhere. If they smell you’re hungry, you have to pay for that appetite.”

One of the most important considerations in moving forward with the production of Focus Features’ “Evening” (based on Susan Minot’s book) was to find the right house that was both an iconic piece of landscape central to the film’s story and a manse that epitomized a bygone era.

Producer Jeff Sharp scouted the East Coast from Maine to Long Island before finding the perfect house in Newport, R.I., dramatically positioned at the end of Newport’s most historic street. Although the production paid fees equivalent to a summer rental, it was a fraction of the cost of trying to re-create such a setting.

“The house spoke to the film so much so we changed the location from Maine to Newport,” Sharp explains. “The house suited the characters in a way we couldn’t have anticipated.”

He credits Steven Feinberg of the Rhode Island Film/TV Office with establishing a welcoming rapport with the home’s owners.

New Mexico is a state that, since it introduced extremely generous filming incentives, recognizes the importance of state support, according to Lisa Strout, director of New Mexico’s film office.

She helped smooth the way for Sony’s “Seraphim Falls” to shoot the pic’s opener at the top of environmentally sensitive Taos Mountain.

“The scene sets the tone for the whole movie,” Strout explains of the landmark location. “The land is a character in the story, and to shoot somewhere else or re-create it digitally would have taken what something away from what story is about.”

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