Helmer reinvents '30s New York at Pinewood

There was nothing organic about the decision by Texan director Richard Linklater to shoot “Me and Orson Welles” in the U.K.

This coming-of-age drama takes place in and around the legendary Mercury Theater in 1930s New York. But the budget came from CinemaNX, the production company backed by the Isle of Man, and that dictated the location. “Me and Orson Welles” filmed its Mercury scenes in an old theater on the Isle of Man and built its Gotham exteriors at Pinewood Studios.

“It’s a bit of a magic film,” Linklater says. “It pushes the boundaries for where films can shoot.”

When the movie premiered at the Toronto fest, Linklater was gratified to be quizzed by New Yorkers about where exactly in their city he had lensed certain scenes.

“We built one little street in Pinewood with a greenscreen at the end,” he says, “and every single exterior was shot on it, from different angles, dressed a different way. The only thing we did in New York was shoot some photos and a little footage for the digital effects. Our English production designer, Laurence Dorman, did a great job.”

The British crew and mostly British cast threw themselves enthusiastically into the challenge of re-creating the feel of 1930s Broadway. Only one or two details got lost in translation. Linklater had to point out to his set designers that the signs saying “Stalls” and “Circle” inside the theater would need to be changed to “Orchestra” and “Balcony.”

With Linklater having previously filmed in Paris and Vienna (for “Before Sunset” and “Before Sunrise”), coming to Blighty wasn’t much of a culture shock. His only awkwardness arose over the issue of overtime — he didn’t initially realize that British crews, unlike their American counterparts, don’t get paid when the day goes over schedule, so they are extremely reluctant to work over their contracted time.

“The pressure is enormous not to go into overtime, even if you’re on the second take and you need another 15 minutes or half an hour to finish the scene,” Linklater says. “It wasn’t explained to me in advance, so once or twice it was a case of me saying, ‘Oh, you’re kidding, we have to stop now?'”

Nonetheless, he describes the experience of shooting in the U.K. as wholly positive.

“I totally see why people come here and don’t leave. It’s very relaxed,” he says, adding that he’s already thinking about coming back. “I have a script and I do think, if I can’t get it done in the States, I can change it up and make it in Britain.”

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