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BEIRUT

About The Production (Cont'd)
Shooting in Tangier

Except for one day of filming in Rhode Island, Beirut was shot entirely in and around Tangier in northwestern Morocco during the summer of 2016. "We chose Tangier as the perfect 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 quirky chapter 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 hammers and bulldozers and reduced the buildings to rubble. It was incredible to find all of that existing in Tangier."

Given the wealth of scenic locations to work with, production designer Arad Sawat focused 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 atmosphere. The architecture of these torn-down buildings really tells the story of a place filled with blood, religion and revenge."

For Hamm, making the movie in Morocco and its outlying desert regions gives the film a sense of immediacy that he says would have been impossible to replicate in the United States.

"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 we constructed 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 perfectly 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 requires devout 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 great job."

Morocco's adherence to Islamic practices also imposed some startling gender restrictions: non-local women in the cast and crew were advised not to go out in public unless accompanied by men. "I really wasn't allowed to go anywhere or do anything on my own," says producer Levinson. "One time I walked home from having dinner out with another woman and we were followed."

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 Belgian 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 Roger Deakins' handheld camera work in U.S.-Mexico border thriller Sicario as a model of taut filmmaking. "Brad 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 cameras with 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 the '70s."

In evoking Beirut's murky themes of corruption and betrayal, Anderson and Charpentier 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 slow-motion footage. That meant Charpentier had to use high-speed film, which generally requires generous 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. "On set, 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 movie-in-progress with a steady stream of dailies, came to respect the brisk pace maintained by Anderson and 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 options."

A Different Color Scheme

A period thriller loaded with resonance for contemporary audiences, Beirut revisits the 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 a difference, however small. In a bad situation, you have to suit up and try to make things better."

Beirut also invites audiences to experience an exotic locale teeming with intrigue. "We've 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 the current 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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