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About The Production

In early 1997, shortly after Jonathan Demme had agreed to direct "Beloved," he and producer Edward Saxon began to assemble their team of behind-the-scenes personnel. Longtime collaborator Kristi Zea ("Philadelphia," "The Silence of the Lambs," and "Married to the Mob") signed on as production designer and also served as film's second unit director.

According to Zea, their first priority was to secure a location that would work for the film's time frame, which ranges from 1855 to 1873.

Their search took them to eight states before they discovered the ideal spot 45 minutes south of Philadelphia, in Maryland. The Fair Hill Natural Resource, a wooded area of more than 5,000 acres that had once served as hunting grounds for the wealthy Dupont family, was where they built Sethe's Bluestone Road house. Zea looked to historical research and the novel for its design, saying, "A lot of clues are in the book for the look and feeling of the house."

The early challenges in finding a location were quickly forgotten, says Demme. "Once you do find the spot, it's inevitably going to be an extraordinary, breathtaking place to work. It's been arduous finding the right places, and then it's a source of great joy to actually be there filming." Principal photography began on June 25, 1997.

The commitment to detail was evidenced in every facet of the production. While filming, the filmmakers faced a particular challenge in mounting the flashback scenes that are interspersed throughout the story.

Demme, director of photography Tak Fujimoto, and production designer Kristi Zea explored several possibilities using different kinds of film stock. Fujimoto is one of Demme's most frequent collaborators, having shot eight films for the director.

For the 1855 flashback scenes, Fujimoto used a reversal film stock originally created by Kodak for news reporting's quick turnaround needs. "To our eye today, it's a very grainy stock, but it had the quality we were looking for," says Fujimoto. "The colors are very saturated, but we overexposed the film to wash it out, and added a sepia tone to give an older look to it."

For the 1865 scenes, Fujimoto used a regular film stock which was digitally de-saturated during post-production.

Fujimoto describes his approach to the film's lighting design. "I rely a lot on the production design. Early on, they had decided on the main house's design, where the ceilings are very, very low, so all the lighting was dictated by the physical nature of the set. All the lighting was very low to the ground and shadowy. The wardrobe department helped out a lot by keeping the clothes in darker, warmer earth tones."

All the painstaking detail work served to inspire the director and actors. For actor Thandie Newton, it felt that "all the departments involved just seemed to have a perfect understanding, and the attention to detail on every level. I felt I was in the midst of great artists, and it's not every day that you feel that on a film set."


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