Quint on the set of the con man caper THE BROTHERS BLOOM, starring Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rachel Weisz, Day One!!!
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. I sit here, typing to you, in a room located in a building called the Aero Club, which is located in Belgrade, which is the capital city of Serbia. The city is an old one, the evidence of its Communist government still very prevalent. Communism didn’t fall here until the late ‘90s/early ‘00s.
I arrived yesterday after nearly 20 hours of travel, which included 2 change-overs (one in Houston, then another in Amsterdam, which has the biggest damn airport I’ve ever seen… there’s literally a mall… a full mall in this airport as well as a real-deal casino, built right into the center). I had planned to use yesterday to rest, but I managed to catch an hour of sleep on the long flight from the States. I was offered to come by the last couple of hours of shooting on the film I’m here visiting. I don’t know if you’ve ever traveled a long distance, but you get a second wind when the travel is complete, an excitement to be in a new place.
So, I cleansed my body of the slick of travel and was taken to the set of THE BROTHERS BLOOM.
I’ve written a little about this movie on the site. I got my hands on an early script a little over a year ago and I flipped for it. THE BROTHERS BLOOM is a quirky Con Man flick with an undercurrent of high adventure. The flick is about two brothers who are talented con artists, who have, since childhood, been able to plan and execute the most elaborate schemes imaginable.
The two brothers are close, but Bloom has always been more unsure of his life’s work than his brother. Stephen loves the Con, loves the work, loves the reward. Bloom can’t help but get personally invested in each con and every one tends to end with him feeling either guilty or the pang of a broken heart.
The script is smart and the characters are well drawn, real, fleshed-out. There’s an undeniable quirk, a comedic edge to it that really makes the thing move.
Rian Johnson wrote the script and is directing the movie. BRICK, Johnson’s first movie, was great and this story shares BRICK’s off-kilter originality, but in a completely different form. It’s bigger, it’s more fun, more of an adventure.
They got Adrien Brody to play Bloom and Mark Ruffalo to play Stephen, the older and more gung-ho brother. They also nabbed Rachel Weisz to play Penelope, a rich heiress who is bored with her life and craves adventure. Penelope also serves as the main mark for the con men.
So, the set-up is out of the way. Here’s what I have seen.
Before I was walked into the set, I was met up with an Austin friend, Kevin, working behind the scenes on the movie, and was introduced to Rinko Kikuchi, the hot chick from BABEL. She plays a character in this movie called Bang Bang, a mostly silent partner in the Brothers’ operations. She’s kind of a badass. Strong, but silent type, you know? Here’s a shot of her, one of a pair of exclusive stills from the production in this article (Click to make bigger):
Everybody was really nice and friendly. Rinko and I bullshitted a bit about Kiyoshi Kurosawa (CURE), a filmmaker we’re both fans of, before I was taken into the set, which was a local bank that was transformed into a Monte Carlo casino.
There was a single small scene being shot in this location, so only the main lobby was changed, a few roulette tables inserted and a dozen or more extras dressed to the nines.
I was taken inside by the lovely Alisa, the set publicist whom I first met on my trip to Prague last year for HOSTEL 2. I was taken to Rian Johnson and was warmly greeted. We had met during the first publicity push for BRICK. I saw the film at a festival screening many months before release and talked to him about the flick then.
Before the shot was underway, Johnson introduced me to Mark Ruffalo, who was also very personable. When he heard I was with AICN, he noted that the very first review of ZODIAC appeared here and he ventured over to read it. Of course, that sparked a conversation about David Fincher, which ended in a discussion of the ALIEN series between Ruffalo, Johnson and myself. I can’t help it… I’m a geek.
The crew finished setting up the shot and I left the two to plant myself in front of a monitor and watch the scene unfold.
The camera was set low, tilted up, and on a dolly so that it sped along, seeing the fully dressed lobby, before settling on an interesting image.
Lying on the ground, being cradled by a large-chested woman wearing a revealing red dress, is Mark Ruffalo. Standing over them is an older man clutching a curved dagger, his arm raised high and ready to strike. The busty woman has her hand out, trying to stop the old man from stabbing the man she’s cradling.
After a beat, Ruffalo puts his hand up, index finger pointed to the ceiling in a “one moment” gesture. He reaches into his coat pocket and pulls out a cell phone, flips it open, puts it to his ear and says, “Hello? Ehh… about nine-ish…” then hangs up.
Johnson ended up bringing one of the extras from the casino into the main part of the scene. A good looking blonde in a green dress was told to be trying to restrain the older man with the dagger, pulling at him.
From this point on, Ruffalo always said something as the slate was clapping, before the shot started. It was usually a variation on “I didn’t know they were both your wives!” or “I didn’t know they were both your daughters!” That wasn’t intended for the movie, I don’t think, but it set him in the right place for his performance.
The one thing he did in the last few takes which made the whole thing completely work for me was when he answered the phone, he stole obvious and long glances at the heaving chest of the busty woman holding him. When he hung up he looked back up at the man holding the knife and said, “It’s not what you think!” then snuck another sidelong glance at the boobs next to his head.
Obviously the idea is we only see a glimpse of what he’s up to as he’s pulled into the main thrust of the story.
This was the last scene of that day, but before I could crash I was invited to a dinner that ended up with a pile of meat on the patio table of a traditional Belgrade restaurant as me and about 8 other people, including Austinites Kevin and Angela Bettis, Joseph Gorden-Levitt, Rian, his cousin and composer Nathan and a few others from the crew, being surrounded by a gypsy band who leaned in closer and closer and got louder and louder until they were paid to stop singing and playing for us.
Add in the most amazing sounding rolling thunder storm I’ve ever heard (it was right out of a movie), a small amount of the most harsh, potent alcohol I’ve ever put in my mouth (some local specialty that is, like, 300 proof) and you get the perfect way to end my 28/29 hour day. Yeah, I was loopy, but what else would I be in that situation?
Now on to today’s goodies.
They were shooting in the Aero Club, as I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. The place is doubling for a hotel bar in Prague, but they used this same location for the house of one of the big supporting characters, The Curator (Robbie Coltrane). The part they used was a spiraling marble staircase and an intricate and huge stained glass window. Here’s what the window looked like… keep in mind that both pics are from the same piece… it’s not broken up, the stairwell is built around it.
A depiction of the tale of Icarus. Pretty sweet. I was told by Nada Pinter, the script supervisor, that those pieces have been there since just after the first World War.
When I got to the bar set I was asked how I wanted my coverage to go for this set by Alisa and the producer, Ram Bergman. I pointed to my MIST visits and said that’s my ideal. Candid photos and detailed nightly reports on what I saw that day. Everybody was cool with that, especially Rian, and my day began. Enjoy the exclusive pics and forgive my shoddy camerawork. I’ve got a decent little digital camera, but when I’m using it on the set I have to keep the flash off and keep it as silent and non-intrusive as possible, which means some blur and darkness.
Shooting today was Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and veteran screen actor Maximilian Schell as the repulsive, sleazy, but incredibly entertaining Diamond Dog. More on that character in a minute.
There was one major scene shot today, the introduction of Diamond Dog. Johnson only used one camera, so every set-up was a move. He explained that the shots he needed, especially on these locations, tended to rule out the use of multiple cameras, since the other camera would almost always be in the shot. I pointed out that it would also almost certainly bring a subtle difference to the movie since most people use multiple cameras to get 2 or more set-ups each take. Just the way the actors respond to it and the camera crew and DP perform, etc…
So, the first shot was a dolly shot that pushed in on Adrien Brody sitting alone at the bar. He has a bottle of wine in front of him, a half-full glass and is hard at work sketching a portrait of Rachel Weisz. By this point, his character is really falling for her.
Then he hears it. The Ting-Click… Ting-Click of a lighter being opened and closed. Before the first take went up, I was talking politics with Ruffalo and Maja. When the AD called for quiet, that the rehearsal was up, Ruffalo leaned down and said, “Listen… you can hear the call of the Diamond Dog.” The sounds of the lighter opening and closing were what he was referring to. When Bloom hears the lighter sound, he freezes. Doesn’t look up, but stiffens.
Up walks Maximilian Schell, in full costume. You’ll see a pic of him and Brody below, so you’ll see the gypsy sleaze outfit he’s decked out in.
“Diamond Dog, carrying a cup and a cane…” To this, Schell responds by singing the character’s name. “Bloooommm, Blooommm, Blooommmm.” With Schell’s gravelly voice and creepy smirk, this really came off as disturbing.
Talking with Schell later, he mentioned Dickens inspiring this character and that’s what he’s grabbing on to as an actor. He’s not incorrect. Diamond Dog is Fagin, albeit a more gypsyfied kid-toucher version of Fagin.
Schell starts with some small talk and is interrupted by Bloom. “If I call Stephen down he’ll kill you.” With a laugh, Diamond Dog replies, “Well, then please don’t call Stephen down.”
The scene is pretty creepy, Schell chewing the scenery, relishing the creep of a character he’s playing. The Diamond Dog needles Bloom, presses his buttons. He gets a rise out of Brody and laughs it off, calling it “piss and vinegar,” and that Bloom had it as a child. “I still crave that youthful joy… even today…” he says as he puts his hand on Bloom’s knee, rubbing it and the lower part of his thigh.
Bloom doesn’t look down, but his jaw muscles are clenched. Without a raise in his voice or a turn of the head he says, “You’re going to take your hand away or I’m going to break your arm. There’s no in-between.”
This set-up was done as a dolly in, started in a medium almost profile shot and ended very close, a two-shot of Bloom and Diamond Dog from the upper chest to the top of their heads.
The scene continues on with Schell telling Brody how similar they all are and how their life is a fiction “like Peter walking on water or Wile E. Coyote running off a cliff. If you look down in doubt you’ll fall.” He says one day Bloom’s brother, Stephen, will fall and when he does, to “remember me.”
At this point, Mark Ruffalo walks into the scene, looking more than a little upset. Without a moment’s pause, the Diamond Dog smiles and says, “Hello, Stephen. We were just talking about you…” as Ruffalo puts himself in-between Bloom and Schell.
They cut here, but there is a confrontation that they picked up in later shots. I’ll get to that in a moment.
In the downtime between set-ups, Brody looked over and saw me sitting by the monitor. He was like, “Hey! New Zealand!” remembering me from my time on KONG. We chatted a bit about traveling, since he’s been all over Europe shooting this movie, and then he tried to give me some pointers on where I can pick up some Cuban cigars while I’m over here.
I also got a chance to have a conversation with Schell. I’m happy to report that I didn’t go all gooey over THE BLACK HOLE… alright, that sounded incredibly filthy… let me rephrase that… I didn’t geek out about Schell’s work in the feature film from Disney pictured titled BLACK HOLE.
I asked him about Robert Shaw since he appeared in AVALANCE EXPRESS, Shaw’s last film, as well starred in THE MAN IN THE GLASS BOOTH, which was an adaptation of Robert Shaw’s book of the same name. I asked how Shaw was like to work with. Schell thought for a long while and then said, “He was… difficult.” But he followed that up saying that none of his personal difficulties ever showed up onscreen and that he was a brilliant writer and actor.
It was this conversation where he brought up Dickens and his character’s debt to Fagin. “Who played him in the movie…” he asked. I said, “Ron Moody?” “No, no, no. The David Lean movie.” “Oh, it was Alec Guinness wasn’t it?” “Yes. Alec Guinness. He was a great actor.”
We ended up talking about Alec Guinness movies for a few minutes, mostly his Ealing Comedy work, before Schell was pulled back to the scene.
Schell is the real deal. This man learned English from Marlon Brando, for God’s sake. It’s always fascinating to me to meet people that have lived history, real honest to God film history.
They went back to the scene, where Ruffalo comes in and immediately grabs the wine bottle in one hand while holding down Diamond Dog’s wrist. He smashes the bottle and takes the jagged end and slices the Diamond Dog’s hand with it.
Johnson got much coverage of this whole scene, from close-ups to wide shots. He got the coverage of Schell first, hoping to get him while he was fresh, but the wide was my favorite framing. It was a total Stanley Kubrick shot, with the lighted bar on the far right of the frame, Brody and Schell sitting at it and the room stretching back far in the distance. You get a real depth in that shot and get a good look at the beautiful architecture of the interior of this building.
There was some trouble with the breaking of the wine bottle, though. The first attempt shattered the whole thing, leaving nothing but a 2 inch chunk of the bottle’s neck in his hand. He had nothing to slice with.
There was a real concern about running out of candy glass bottles. They had 6 total. One was gone on that take and as they poured a little bit of wine into the second, it broke, too.
Luckily the third break was perfect. Brody suggested that Ruffalo smash the whole bottle on the bar’s surface, instead of striking the bottle on the lip of the bar. It worked like a charm. The wine splashed all over the glass-top and knocked over a glass of wine already on the bar, sending it flying over the edge. Looked great.
The scene continued with a reverse shot, a nicely designed shot that starts below the bar and rises up to the bar’s surface, where it glides along the bartop as Ruffalo pushes the Diamond Dog down to the ground and is restrained by the waitstaff.
It took a little while for Johnson and the crew to strike the right balance with the waiters’ attempt at restraint. After a few takes they finally got a good one where the waiter and Ruffalo really struggle. Ruffalo’s out for blood, whatever Diamond Dog did to him and his brother in the past has not gone forgotten.
The last take had both the big, Serbian waiter and Ruffalo wiping out. When the waiter grabs the Ruffalo, they tussle, like usual, but their balance is thrown off and they both hit the deck. I saw Ruffalo’s leg come flying up into the frame, then dip back down again for a moment before they stood up, still tussling and wiping out a second time.
Johnson asked to see playback after that take and said, “You know… that kind of works.” I don’t know if that’s the take he’s going to use, but he didn’t ask for any more takes.
It was getting late in the day by this point and they grabbed a couple quick insert shots, including Maximilian Schell’s final shot of the movie. The very last thing Mr. Schell did on this film was put his hand on Adrien Brody’s knee and rub up and down. The camera was close on the hand and it pulls back to reveal a pencil in Brody’s hand, clutched tight, like a dagger.
After a few variations on this (including varying speeds of the hand clutching the knee and pulling away), they cut and announced a picture wrap on Maximilian Schell. Don’t worry, even though this was his character’s introduction, he has a lot to do in the movie. It’s not a cameo. They’ve already shot the rest of his stuff.
There was one more shot done this day, but I’m going to save that for the next report as I’m falling asleep at the keyboard.
I had a blast today and tomorrow brings me my first glimpse at Rachel Weisz in the flick… I hope I can control my fluttering heart. In the meantime, take a look at the 2nd official production still of the report, a beautiful picture from the set photographer Slobodan Pikula, featuring the gorgeous Ms. Weisz herself.
Thanks for reading, squirts. If I petered out a little on this one, lost some steam, I apologize. I’ll make sure tomorrow’s follow-up is a bit more focused. I can say tune in tomorrow for your first real look at Brody and Ruffalo together as the Brothers Bloom! Goodnight!
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May 7, 2007, 7:44 p.m. CST
Make the first post, no matter what is it about.
May 7, 2007, 7:44 p.m. CST
by THE KNIGHT
May 7, 2007, 7:58 p.m. CST
i get the frisson of delishishniss from the photos and your coverage...man, was brody ever born to wear that costume! *girlie fluttering*
May 7, 2007, 9:10 p.m. CST
by Regina V. Dudley
...is the photo of aforementioned "large chested woman" in red dress?
May 7, 2007, 9:55 p.m. CST
This is the stuff I love about AICN! Always got the goods!
May 7, 2007, 9:56 p.m. CST
Rinko looks like an Asian Carmen Sandiego! YEAH!
May 7, 2007, 10:14 p.m. CST
good for you, nerdboy1423!
May 7, 2007, 11:50 p.m. CST
I was gonna say your camera work wasnt shoddy at all,good pics.But then the set photographer went and upstaged you.
May 8, 2007, 5:27 a.m. CST
I'll bet it's Steak le Beef, right?
May 8, 2007, 6:22 a.m. CST
Nice composition of a director setting up the composition of his own shot. Great article, as always.
May 8, 2007, 3:10 p.m. CST
aronofsky-may day-belgrade-quint-"i'm heading for belgrade"-report on brothers bloom in belgrade-rachel weisz-Ah! <br> I love Schell's grown up Pin look. It washes away all the über-pretentious taste I got from watching him on german tv. Yes. He is a talented guy. But I don't like the way it sometimes seems to be written on his forehead. That's why this role...and COSTUME looks fanfuckingtastic. <br> You gotta adore that arrangement of fruits next to Weisz. I've heard that some people (not of this production of course) suffer severe digestion problems from Czech catering. I hope that all the fett and knödel don't harm this production...or Quint's ability to continue his report on it.
May 8, 2007, 4:15 p.m. CST
I'm really looking forward to this, thanks a lot, Q.
May 8, 2007, 9:18 p.m. CST
by Bronx Cheer
I love the photos, too. You got some clean shots that give the feel of what life's like on a set. I am just amazed that there are so few posts in this TB. I guess everyone's busy with Spidey. Keep up the good work, Quint.
May 8, 2007, 10:38 p.m. CST
You Aronofsky-schtupping, flesh-baring, widely-spaced-eyes-having Hebrew UK goddess, you.
May 9, 2007, 10:55 a.m. CST
by Stuntcock Mike
shoddy, shoddy performance. The last pic is niiiiice.
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