About The Production (Cont'd)
Shooting in Tangier
Except for one day of filming in Rhode Island, Beirut was shot entirely in and
Tangier in northwestern Morocco during the summer of 2016. "We chose Tangier as
location to recreate Beirut because it has not developed in the way that many
other areas in the
region have become modernized," Weber says. "Being in Tangier and seeing all
those locations, it felt
like we were going back in time."
Tangier proved to be especially suitable as a stand-in for Beirut because of a
in the city's recent history. "Tangier had a building boom 10 years ago and it
all came from drug
money," Levinson explains. "When the government figured that out, they
immediately put a stop to
the construction, so you have a ton of buildings in Tangier that are just
half-built shells. The
government didn't want squatters to dwell in these buildings so they took sledge
bulldozers and reduced the buildings to rubble. It was incredible to find all of
that existing in
Given the wealth of scenic locations to work with, production designer Arad
on finding pre-existing sites that best served the story. "We didn't actually
create a lot of set design,"
Sawat says. "The value from shooting on location in Tangier was huge in terms of
architecture of these torn-down buildings really tells the story of a place
filled with blood, religion
For Hamm, making the movie in Morocco and its outlying desert regions gives the
sense of immediacy that he says would have been impossible to replicate in the
"Tangier felt very foreign to me and I hope that translates in a positive way to
the people who watch
the movie," says the actor. "We could have shot this on the back lot in Burbank
or Warner Ranch or
Albuquerque, but Beirut feels real because you don't have to paint out things
like skyscrapers or
school buses or stop signs."
Since Beirut spans the city's 1970s heyday as a glamorous tourist destination as
well as its
civil war-ravaged incarnation a decade later, production designer Sawat made use
of Tangier's richly
textured environments to embed the locations with hints of a happier past. "When
the look of the film, we used the background of the '70s as a kind of back layer
to the 1982 story,"
Sawat says. "We looked at signage in the street and figured out which parts are
French, which parts
are Arabic, which parts are Western and Middle East together. So what you see is
not just some war
zone in the Middle East. What we shot for Beirut has a lot more flavor to it."
Culture Shock in Morocco
While locations in the largely Islamic country of Morocco offered filmmakers a
imperfect landscape as stand-in for 1980s-era Beirut, the production's timing
proved to be
challenging. Beirut was filmed during the month-long Ramadan holiday, which
Muslims to fast all day. "For all of our local crew members, nothing could pass
the lips during
daylight," producer Weber says. "No water, no food. We had some very hot, sunny,
dusty days and
that made it challenging to work efficiently." Under the circumstances, Weber
says, "The crew did a
Morocco's adherence to Islamic practices also imposed some startling gender
non-local women in the cast and crew were advised not to go out in public unless
men. "I really wasn't allowed to go anywhere or do anything on my own," says
"One time I walked home from having dinner out with another woman and we were
The cultural differences extended to the set itself, where Levinson learned to
tone down her
demeanor. "I knew I couldn't raise my voice or be too outspoken," she says. "If
I needed something
done I had to go to the men and have them be my mouthpiece."
In an unsettling irony, Beirut's story about terrorist violence almost got
derailed by local
extremists. Across the street from the film's production offices, authorities
discovered an ISIS cell.
There, Islamic terrorists had reportedly built a bomb and were planning to blow
up a nearby
McDonald's on the first day of Ramadan. "We saw these ISIS guys getting captured
right in front of
our offices," Weber recalls. "The security people said, 'We got them. Don't
worry about it.'"
The Limits of Darkness
To document the native grit and vitality of Tangier-as-Beirut, Anderson enlisted
cinematographer Bjorn Charpentier to serve as the film's director of
photography. Winner of the
Cannes Grand Prix prize for his Leica television commercial "Iconic,"
Charpentier readily embraced
Anderson's rough-hewn aesthetic. "Brad wanted Beirut to be dark and dirty and
fast, not too clean
like an American movie but more European style," says Charpentier who studied
handheld camera work in U.S.-Mexico border thriller Sicario as a model of taut
wanted to shoot everything handheld with two cameras so we could stay with the
actors' energy and
keep on rolling."
Charpentier paid homage to the time period chronicled in Beirut by fitting his
vintage lenses. "We decided to shoot everything with vintage anamorphic glass
from the '70s
and '80s, which are not too sharp," Charpentier says. "You get a soft contrast
and soft focus.
Because those lenses were built from that era, when you combine that with
Carlos' beautiful costume
design, you look at the screen and Beirut looks like it's actually a movie from
In evoking Beirut's murky themes of corruption and betrayal, Anderson and
favored a dark palette for many of their scenes. "Stylistically, we wanted to
push the limits of
darkness," Charpentier says. "I didn't want to use any false moonlight in the
night scenes. The way I
see it, nights are black, so I wanted to have black skies."
For one particularly suspenseful sequence, Charpentier filmed in a desolate part
of town for
two nights without any conventional lighting rigs. "There was no electricity and
no light where we
shot." Charpentier says. To make matters even more difficult, Anderson wanted
footage. That meant Charpentier had to use high-speed film, which generally
amounts of illumination. "The challenge for me was that I didn't want to break
my rule of not
creating false moonlight, so I had to light the scene with no streetlight or
electricity and still shoot
high-speed. We didn't rehearse a lot but I knew my approximate angles. From
there we just let things
flow. The camera movements were completely motivated by the action in that time
and space, just as
you would in a documentary."
Producer Levinson marveled at Anderson and Charpentier's efficient partnership.
Brad understood exactly what he needed to get each day," she says. "In the
middle of a shot he'd talk
to Bjorn and they'd have a mind meld. The two of them would change the shot ever
so slightly to
save time on the setup. Normally the director goes, 'Let's reset,' and you come
up with a new angle
and relight. But Brad and Bjorn knew how to find the shot on the fly, and that's
how we were able to
shoot a movie with so many moving pieces and so much scope in just 33 days."
Editor Andrew Hafitz (Equity, Bully), who put together a rough cut of the
with a steady stream of dailies, came to respect the brisk pace maintained by
Charpentier. "I was very impressed with how scenes were designed," Hafitz says.
"Brad shoots very
few takes and has two cameras rolling almost all the time so we had lots of
A Different Color Scheme
A period thriller loaded with resonance for contemporary audiences, Beirut
roots of Middle Eastern terrorism as a backdrop to a timeless story about one
man's quest for peace.
"I think audiences who see Beirut will become interested in some of the history
that we touch on,"
says producer Weber. "I also think it's about the idea that one person can make
however small. In a bad situation, you have to suit up and try to make things
Beirut also invites audiences to experience an exotic locale teeming with
created this smoky, dirty, grimy, beautifully tattered world," Anderson says. "I
want audiences who
see Beirut to feel like they've been transported for an hour and a half. In the
end, if people walk away
with questions about America's involvement in Beirut in the '80s, that's great.
If the film leads to
people trying to learn more about this time frame, that's fantastic. But it's
really more about the
sensual experience of the movie and putting the audience into this world, in all
its screwed-up glory.
To me, that's what's interesting."
His character's willingness to engage in dialogue stands in stark contrast to
political climate, observes Hamm. "Everything's so polarized now that you can't
say anything for fear
of being a traitor to your party or a traitor to your country or a traitor to
your religion," observes the
actor. "It seems like we only have the capacity to see things in black and
white, but the world doesn't
exist in that color scheme. If we're not talking, we're fighting, and that
doesn't seem to be a very
legitimate way to move anything forward. So honestly, that's the message I hope
people take away
from this movie: Instead of fighting, maybe talking works a little better."
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