by Nancy Mills
Just how frustrating is it to know that some locations you want are just sitting there waiting to be filmed, but budget considerations prevent you from using most of them? That was one of LM Klaus Darrelmann’s greatest challenges while working on The Girl in the Spider’s Web.
The story is set in Sweden, but the thriller shot there for just four days. “Filming in Sweden is very expensive,” Darrelmann says. “They have very good social security, which means taxes are high and therefore, the crews are expensive. I’m not sure about any rebates. Also,” he adds, “Stockholm is very clean. Spider’s Web director Fede Alvarez wanted to look at gritty, dirty locations. He wanted clean and shiny areas as well, but in general, the more rundown the look the better. He didn’t want to portray Stockholm as it is. That’s why he went to Berlin.”
“We scouted Stockholm, Prague and Berlin,” Spider’s Web producer Elizabeth Cantillon says, “and Berlin was the most production-friendly and had a number of great locations that could stand in for Stockholm. Studio Babelsberg also had full-service studio facilities, and there’s a tax incentive that helped us make the film at a budget.”
The Girl in the Spider’s Web is the fourth book about super-hacker Lisbeth Salander, played this time by The Crown’s Claire Foy. The story deals with battered women, spies, cyber criminals and corrupt government officials. Grime is still available in wide swaths of Berlin, home to more than 3.5 million residents. But when clean, upscale locations are needed, there are also plenty to choose from—for now, anyway.
Darrelmann, who has been working out of Berlin for two decades, has seen his career parallel the striking growth of the city as a filmmaking center. “It’s been fascinating from a location point of view,” he says. “In the early/mid-1990s, I was starting in the movie business as a driver for a very unsuccessful U.S./German co-produced TV show (Berlin Break), just to earn some money while still studying at the university. I would go into what had been East Germany and see all these Russian military bases that had been cut off from the public for 40 years and all the cities, towns and villages that hadn’t changed much since the end of World War II. It was a location wonderland. It was unbelievable!
“That’s changed now with the real estate explosion. Everyone wants to build a house or an apartment building. A lot of locations have been lost in the past 5-10 years. Now it’s much more difficult and more expensive, and you have to look further away. Filming here has definitely become way more complicated, but it’s still interesting. I often come across places no one has been to, but sometimes they may be 100-150 miles from Berlin.”
“We had heard about Klaus in Berlin and our great production designer, Eve Stewart, brought him on,” Cantillon says. “Together, they found interesting and unique locations in which to tell our story.”
“Klaus is brilliant,” Stewart says. “He’s done so many films. His knowledge of that European area is extraordinary. We all called him Eeyore, the donkey in Winnie the Pooh, because he’s so serious about everything.” Darrelmann agrees. “I think that’s me: Optimistic by heart, but pessimistic by profession. That way you don’t run into too many unpleasant surprises in your job. And as Eve rightly points out, the character of Eeyore is representing the professional part of my character pretty well I guess.”
Listing his skills, Stewart continues, “He’s extremely patient and good-tempered in the face of grumpy crew members. I like his zen-like approach to location hunting. He has a good eye, as many location managers do, but he has the added bonus of being a really lovely individual. We had a great time working together.”
Stewart and Darrelmann spent six weeks looking for locations and found most of them in Berlin itself or within a few hours’ drive. “I had worked in Berlin a few years before with Gore Verbinski on A Cure for Wellness at the same studios,” Stewart says. “The city is so vibrant and has so many brilliant bits of architecture. This time we started from ground zero. The Girl in the Spider’s Web is set in Sweden so we had to make Sweden in Berlin. We decided pretty quickly we’d concentrate on hard-edged brutalist concrete architecture that you get more of in Sweden. Not only would that suit the mood of the piece, but there’s also a rich vein of it in Berlin.”
The production made the most of its few days in Stockholm. “We filmed the area around the exterior of Mikael Blomkvist’s house,” Stewart says. “We filmed Lisbeth Salander on her motorbike near the waterfront. We also shot quite a lot by the harbor just because you could see the city in the distance and we needed to get some sea. It was tricky because it was meant to be really snowy, and of course, on the last possible day we were filming, the sun came out completely.”
How much time did Darrelmann and Stewart spend together? “Days and days and days,” Stewart says. “It felt like we were married. We’d meet up at 7 a.m. and work till 7 p.m., and then we’d have dinner together. You have to get on.” The two had moments of hilarity. “For a scene where Lisbeth is being chased, I had to fill a storage unit with lots and lots of pigeons,” Stewart says. “That was hard because I didn’t want them to all fly out and escape, so I was filling the unit with more and more net. Klaus had to beg anyone who lived in that block of flats to let me fly 50 crapping pigeons all over their stuff.
“Our funniest experience happened the day we drove six hours to get to a location. We wanted to get some lunch, but everything was shut. Finally, we found a shop that was open. There was a lady selling bread at the counter, and three feet away from her was a lady selling cheese and ham. We asked them if they would make us sandwiches, and they point blank refused, saying they were only paid to sell the food. So we stood there and made our own sandwiches in front of them. Klaus did it with good humor.”
Darrelmann has learned to be flexible—a quality especially useful for raising two young children, 6 and 4, with his wife, a former assistant in production services. “I’m way more settled than I used to be,” he says. “I can’t do the very stressful stuff anymore. I’m over 50 now. I can’t do 18-hour days for weeks and weeks in a row, although I still do them from time to time. I try to give my family as much time as possible. Having the kids is great. They’re only young once. I did my own thing before they came along. It was a good time to be at the height of things. I’m not regretting anything. If I’d started with kids sooner, maybe we would have had five, which would be more stressful than making a movie.”
With Spider’s Web, one of Darrelmann’s big stressors was replicating the Swedish coastline in Germany. “At first, I couldn’t get my head around it because there’s no place like the Swedish coastline in Germany,” he says. “No one expected us to find it in Germany. That was my biggest problem. The house on the cliff was supposed to be in a mountainous environment on the Swedish coastline, which has rocky paths, and it should overlook the Baltic Sea.”
After considerable research and thought, Darrelmann had an idea. “Let’s shoot it in a slate quarry,” he suggested to the director. “The gray and shiny colors of the stones would make it look quite good.” Eventually, he and Stewart stumbled on the perfect location. “We came across this quarry that had a museum and a hotel on top of the cliff,” he says. “They were 300-400 meters apart, so we used special effects to glue the two buildings together. I was kind of surprised how well that worked out.”
“Our most dramatic location was in Lehesten, where we shot the climax and the opening of our film,” Cantillon notes. “It was a shale quarry in the Thuringia region, and the buildings were constructed with this incredible black shale. It made the location unique, beautiful and spooky. It is Nordic Noir after all!”
“The quarry was very deep,” Stewart adds. “It was about 100-150 feet from the very top edge to where the water is. It had been dug out over nearly 100 years. You had to drive miles and miles to get there. It’s not a tourist spot. There isn’t much there—just a bit of trekking in the woods for real hardcore trekkers.”
“And great for sandwiches,” Darrelmann quibs, “if you’re up for a little bit of do-it-yourself work.
“For me, the biggest challenge was this sequence. We rebuilt the cliff edge partly for the final showdown. The location we used for that was a second quarry five minutes away from our main quarry. That quarry had a 200-300 feet drop to the bottom of the cliff. We could only have a part of the scene there because we couldn’t make it safe for more than a handful of crew. So for the majority of this scene, we had to use a set-built cliff in our main quarry that we could have our actors and crew on safely.”
A lake was also involved. “As soon as you jump over the cliff, you’re in a national preservation area,” Darrelmann says. “It was quite tricky to deal with and get the permits to access the nature preservation area with a full-on film team. We needed to have the sniper on the other side of the lake, which was in the middle of the nature preserve. There were some mosses that existed only in this quarry. We got the permit just three days before we shot, but we were confident of getting everything lined up in time because of the massive support of the local politics. Another bonus of this location was that it’s situated about 650m above sea level, so we had a very good chance of getting the required snow on the ground by the time we were filming there—which worked out like a charm.”
Although Darrelmann has been a presence in Berlin’s film world since 1996, his familiar face apparently doesn’t always mean much at the permit office. “People in the offices change,” he says. “There’s nothing you can really rely on for a very long time because Berlin is still changing so much over a couple of years. On a long project, you get less contact with the permit offices than if it’s a TV show or a series of commercials. In general, I want to be sure to be causing less trouble to the people living or working in our filming area, but I bring loads of trucks and hundreds of people that I have to take care of. It can be a traffic nightmare if you’re not doing it right, and I try not to mess things up too much because I ALWAYS want to be able to come back to the locations I shot on. So far, that has worked out for me.”
He and his team aim to keep the citizens of Berlin happy—not an easy task. “It is getting tougher to shoot here,” he says. “The market is changing, what with lots of Netflix and Amazon requirements, as well as TV on an international basis happening here.”
Silver Cloud, a Charlie’s Angels film, is due to shoot in Berlin this fall. “Two international TV shows are filming in Berlin, and there are also German TV movies being made,” Darrelmann says. “The number of locations to pick from is decreasing, and it’s harder to get them. It’s quite crowded. It’s getting more complicated to get your foot in the door. It happens to every other filming metropolis over the world. Berliners no longer think filming in their city is THAT exciting. It’s been going on for too long. The ‘real’ Berliners themselves (Berlin is a mixture of native Berliners, people from all over Germany, and last but not least, from all over Europe and all over the world) are usually a little rough-edged. They come up to you with very aggressive-sounding conversations, but once you deal with them, they’ll soften up and be your best friend. However, people are not happy when film crews show up.”
And yet, filmmakers continue to come. Explaining why Germany has become such a popular filming destination, Darrelmann says, “The country in general has an advantage. It’s very densely populated and offers a wide variation of landscapes in a quite small area. There are a lot of cities in a relatively close circle, so you don’t have to travel for days. Sometimes it’s just a three-hour drive, which makes it much more interesting to go to a different city with a varying landscape without adding too many travel days to a schedule. In the north, we have the Baltic Sea and astonishingly wide beaches, although it’s not that warm. We’ve got flat areas, hilly areas and the beginning of the Alps. We also tend to use an Austria-like extension of Germany for the high alpine locations some movies require. We can go from sea level to 3,000 meters with lots of cities in between with historic and modern architecture, forests, rivers, you name it. There’s a lot of stuff in a relatively small area. That’s good production value.”
Other considerations: “Berlin is still one of the most interesting and fast-changing cities in Europe, if not in the world. That still attracts creative people like film crews. Most of the people I worked with in the past loved staying in this city with its nearly unlimited possibilities to enjoy your time here. You can live here for years without ever learning German because most of the people understand and speak English.
“Also,” Darrelmann adds, “film rebates went up. I think it’s now 25 percent with no capping.” Studio Babelsberg says: “The German Federal Film Fund (DFFF) distributes EUR 75 million yearly to stimulate production activities in the film industry. International co-producers can qualify for a rebate of up to 25 percent. In addition, a number of regional film funds provide efficient support to productions of any budget. Nearly all German states grant funds and additional soft money depending on local expenditure. The German film production rebate is internationally acknowledged: alongside numerous European co-productions, such films as The Reader, Valkyrie, The International, Inglourious Basterds, The Ghost Writer, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Cloud Atlas, The Monuments Men, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Bridge of Spies have profited from the program.”
Darrelmann has worked on six of them: Valkyrie, Inglourious Basterds, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, Cloud Atlas, The Grand Budapest Hotel and Bridge of Spies. He received the 2015 LMGI Award for his work on The Grand Budapest Hotel in the category “Outstanding Locations in a Period Film.” The following year, he was co-nominated (with Jason Farrar and Markus Bensch, LMGI) for the 2016 LMGI Award in the same category for his work on Bridge of Spies. His other credits include Mission: Impossible III, The Bourne Ultimatum and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay 1 and 2.
During his lengthy career, Darrelmann has trained a lot of local location professionals. One of his former assistants, location manager David Pieper, found period locations in Berlin for the Netflix 16-episode series Babylon Berlin, which is set in late 1920s Germany. “A lot of people are heading further east if they want to shoot historic Berlin,” he points out. “In Berlin, things have been cleaned, and it doesn’t look like it used to look in the ’70s and ’80s.
“Atomic Blonde was shot nearly entirely in Budapest, with just five days in Berlin—where we shot all the iconic bits and pieces that were left from the pre-fall of the Wall. It definitely looked right. I also did Red Sparrow in Budapest, and it looked exactly how historic, rundown Berlin should look. You can’t stop that clean-up process in a city like Berlin, unfortunately.”
For Darrelman, obstacles are simply challenges to overcome. Once in a while, a location causes no problems at all. For example, with Spider’s Web, “The airport in Leipzig was very easy to work with,” he says. “It was expanded some time ago with the idea that lots of people would be flying in and out. It was a total miscalculation! Now 80%-90% of it is used for cargo because you can fly all night without restrictions. That makes it easy to use the passenger parts of the airport without too much hassle. It would be impossible to do anything like that at a Berlin airport.”
“Leipzig Airport is the scale of a London airport, but only about a dozen planes a day fly into it,” Stewart adds. “It’s like a ghost town. We were even allowed to drive around the runway. We were thinking of shooting the plane in the scene where a character is arriving from the States, but we would have needed a giant airplane. We couldn’t get one in the end. But we used the bridge and the passport area, and they let us change all the screens.”
Another location that turned out to be easier than expected to find was a spectacular penthouse apartment. This is where Salander attacks a wealthy industrialist who beats his wife. “There’s a scene where Lisbeth pushes over a statue of an angel,” Darrelmann says. “We shot that in a very unique Berlin apartment built on top of a World War II bunker. The owners, Christian and Karen Boros, bought the bunker from the city. It was really a giant block of concrete, roughly 20 meters high, 30 meters long and 30 meters wide in the center of Berlin, in the Mitte district.” (20 meters is about 65½ feet.) Constructed in 1942 as an air-raid shelter, the bunker was later turned into a prison. Eventually it became a warehouse, then a nightclub and finally, an exhibition hall. Boros and his wife renovated it in 2003 and added a glass-walled penthouse on top.
Stewart found it. “We needed a really amazing penthouse, and we couldn’t afford to build it,” she says. “I typed into Google, ‘Most amazing penthouse in Berlin’ and this place came up instantly. Klaus said, ‘We’ll never get in there. The owner has this massive art collection. He’s one of the richest guys in Berlin.’ After some pushing, he did ask, and of course the owner loved the idea. I think he thought it would be fun, and probably Klaus was really charming. It was a fantastic location. What a place to live! It was covered in bullet holes and shell holes because it was an actual bunker.”
“The property had never been used before,” Darrelmann says, “and every request to film up there had been turned down by the owners. That’s why I didn’t put it on the plate in the first round. I spent nearly a full day formulating a very detailed and honest letter to the owner asking for his permission to film in his penthouse, and for some reason he was up for it. I do admit that I did mention some money changing hands if we filmed up there, but I couldn’t get nuts with my offer for the sake of my budget. For me and my key assistant location manager Steve Sauthoff, it was one of the most stressful shots in the whole movie. The owners had millions of dollars’ worth of artwork in the penthouse, and in addition to that, they turned the bunker underneath the apartment into a private museum with even more art. It’s all modern art, including installations that you can easily mistake for some random object or even garbage that someone put in the corner or under a glass dome on a pedestal. Imagine a film crew running through that. Steve and I stayed up for more than 20 hours in a row to make sure there were no problems and we didn’t end up damaging anything.
“We originally planned for two days of shooting, but the owner said, ‘Nah. You’ve got one day of shooting.’ It was all very tight. The logistics were challenging. There was one elevator, and it was 12 years old and occasionally breaking down, so we installed cranes and furniture elevators like you use for moving. With the help of a specialist company dealing with art exhibitions, we carefully stored all the expensive artworks aside and brought in our relatively cheap artworks, and it all went well. Unfortunately, in the film you can’t see its unique position on top of this big concrete block, but the editor had to cut it together with film from Stockholm, and it’s very sleek.”
Another difficult location to find was the safe house where a little boy is taken. “We finally found a detached housing project, still under construction,” Darrelmann says. “It had another construction site next to it. People had just moved into the new houses and were not very keen for us to take over the place. That location took an awful lot of preparation. With the support of the construction company, we held a full evening presentation and invited all the owners and neighbors. We got a Mexican food truck and poured a lot of wine and beer. Then my other assistant location manager, Mario Wittmann, and I presented what we wanted to do, asked for their understanding and answered questions. People thought, ‘That’s nice. They think about us beforehand and try to make it as nice for us as possible. They’re getting parking spaces for me nearby.’ My goal since I started was to make filming bearable for everybody, make them feel, ‘These are nice guys.’”
And when someone was not onboard with the plan, “We steered around him, and everything went very smoothly,” Darrelmann adds. “But there was only one person out of 150 that didn’t want to cooperate with us. We could have thrown money at all the residents there—everyone gets $5,000 and then they shut up—but first, we couldn’t afford it; and second, I’m convinced that collaborating with the people when you are entering their privacy and homes is always the better way to go.”
One location that Darrelmann thought would be easy to find—one of Lisbeth Salander’s apartments—turned out to be hard. “I expected that set, a 2-3 room apartment, to be put on stage,” he says, “but the director wanted a location and green screens in front of the windows. We came up with something nice in the end—a ’70s rundown style. Really rundown places were too far out or required too much work. There aren’t that many left. You have to go hunting for them. We found this one in the Tempelhof area, a very nondescript part of town famous for the since 2008 disused airport. It’s not in the eastern part of the city, although it looks very Eastern. There’s an apartment complex owned by the famous German film producer Artur Brauner, who did a lot of the cheesy German movies in the ’50s/’60s. He turned 100 just a couple of weeks ago, and his daughter takes care of his business. He keeps two of the apartments empty for filming. Otherwise, it would have been filled up with people, and we would have had to buy them out of their apartment.”
Another potentially difficult location to find was the Millennium office, where Salander’s ally Blomkvist worked. “The director was asking for a cool ’60s location,” Darrelmann says. “I found one in Berlin on the first floor and showed it to him. He could have put green screen around it and used it as is, but he said, ‘Nah. I want to be able to look out the windows.’ I was like, ‘Uh oh.’ There are not many high-rise buildings in Berlin where you can look out the windows and not look at one of the iconic Berlin buildings like the East Berlin TV Tower, the Brandenburg Gate or similar stuff—instead, it should look like Stockholm or at least nondescriptive. Our set decorator came up with a former CEO office in an area of town where you normally wouldn’t go for that kind of thing. It was on top of this historic high-rise building, one of the first high-rises built in Berlin. In my opinion, it was a little too small for what we planned to do there, but it worked out, although it was a logistical nightmare. It was on the 12th floor, so we had to light everything from the inside or from the small 1m-wide balconies surrounding the room. There was only one elevator, and it was tiny. The shoot lasted two or three days. Nobody died. No one tried to kill themselves. Even more important: No one tried to kill me, although there were threats with all these stairs people sometimes had to walk up or down. So I would call it a success.”
Darrelmann’s dry humor can be a stress-breaker. It certainly helped him when he decided to change careers. “I finished high school in 1985 and had the idea that being a doctor would be fun and a good job,” he says. “I grew up in the northern countryside in West Germany, near Osnabrück, when the Iron Curtain was still there. I got my studying permit and arrived in Berlin in 1986 to study medicine at the Freie Universität Berlin. After completing more than half of the studies I thought, ‘Maybe this is not the best idea for me.’ But I couldn’t think of anything else, so while I was at it, I finished my studies, just to have something done. I became a doctor in 1995, but I thought to myself, ‘I can’t do this for 40 years.’ Back then it was a lot harder for young doctors, although nowadays it has become a little better. I was interested in cardiology and intensive care medicine. In my earlier education, I took a brief look at cardiac surgery, which I found quite fascinating. But then I took a longer look at all the cardiac surgeons under the pressure of their job, and I didn’t want to end up like them. A lot of them had weird, depressed personalities—which is the best way to put it.”
Darrelmann was living in Berlin when the Wall came down. “The downfall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most memorable moments of my life,” he says. “You rarely have the chance to witness history that close and with a peaceful changeover from one political system to another at that scale. The ’90s were a ball, a never-ending party. Maybe that’s why I quit medicine.”
He got into locations work through a location manager friend, Markus Bensch, LMGI. “Markus called me to work with him on Enemy at the Gates, my first project as a location manager,” he says. “We used a huge open cast mining lake for all the scenes situated at the river Volga, and I had to stay there, down in the pit, for half a year to make sure we got all the big boats in there and that all the logistics for a crew of 400 and up to 600 extras in military gear were in place. I set up a small container-and-marquee tent city down there, building water pipes, high-currency electrical lines and roads to access this place with all the heavy equipment. That was quite something. I had my own wheel loader! I haven’t had anything on that scale after that, even though I’ve done movies with bigger budgets. It was big fun, I liked it a lot, and as you can see nearly 20 years later, it definitely got me hooked.”
THE GIRL IN THE SPIDER’s WEB LOCATION TEAM:
Nothing of the above would have been possible without the support and work of my colleagues and assistants, most of the ones below I have known and been working with for 10 and more years:
Steve Sauthoff, Key ALM
Mario Wittmann, Constantin Brandenburg, ALMs
Sabine Schulmeyer, ALM/2nd Unit
Bashaar Wahab, Location Scout
Alex Biehn, Location Coordinator
Badr Zouhir, Set Manager
Martinus Eriksson, LM/1st Unit
Josefine Rosengren, LM/2nd Unit
Cecilia Zollitsch, ALM/1st Unit
The Quarry Incident
by Klaus Darrelmann
The most nerve-wracking, and on the other hand most hilarious experience I personally had on this movie was down at the lake in the beautiful Lehesten quarry. There is this amazing wide shot in the movie where Lisbeth is approaching the mansion on top of the cliff, walking over the frozen lake below—it’s all in this picture, frozen lake, cliff, mansion, all under a light snow cover—just perfect.
So of course, we did the full drill preparing that shot, checking the thickness of the ice in all places to ensure it is safe to walk on, put up signs for the crew letting them know that nobody was allowed to step on the ice, not to leave any footprints on the immaculate white surface (there was a thin snow cover on the ice), etc. To make sure that nothing would happen to this set until the day we wanted to shoot it, I put a security guard in place 24/7 and three weeks out, just for the occasional hiker or village resident passing by. What could possibly go wrong?
On the morning of our last prep day and right after the arrival of all our technical trucks the previous evening, I showed up on location around 9 a.m. just to see if final prep was going well and if any department needed additional support or anything else.
Peeking over the edge of the cliff down to the until-then-immaculate frozen lake, I was hit with the view at left.
I found out that some hardcore surviving-in-the-wilderness nature lover had shown up at the lake with a backpack and an ax over his shoulder. But because he didn’t walk down directly to our filming spot, the security guard didn’t think it would be necessary to ask the guy what he was up to in a nature preservation area with that ax casually resting on his shoulder. So this guy went down to the lake unmolested, changing direction literally exactly to the spot where we planned to have our actress start her walk across the ice later that week. Without further ado, he then hacked a hole of 1.5 meters by 1.5 meters into the ice and took a bath in the freezing cold water. He took a video of the action as well, as we found out later on Facebook.
After all that exhausting morning exercise, he took a quick walk down to the base of the cliff, just to make sure his footprints were all over the place, packed his stuff and left. Again, he did not raise any suspicion with the security guard I was paying to prevent just that from happening.
My immediate phone call to the UPM was initially met with laughter because he thought I was joking. I had to send the above pictures to make him aware that this wasn’t me trying to be funny. In the end, our SFX/artificial snow company “Snowbusiness” saved the day. They covered the hole and removed all footsteps with some effort, but I will never get back the 10 years of my life I lost on that very morning.