In the Cold War-era Bridge of Spies, an American lawyer, James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) is recruited by the CIA to help rescue a pilot arrested and detained by the Soviet Union. Directed by Steven Spielberg, the film is filled with stunning and scenic production design by Adam Stockhausen, known for his work on 12 Years a Slave (2013), which was nominated for an Academy Award and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), which won an Academy Award.
Stockhausen was drawn to the story of Bridge of Spies as soon as he read it. “The story is incredible. I thought it was a fascinating story and I found it incredibly timely with what’s going on today. Also I live in New York and half of the story happened right around the corner from where I live and I had no idea. It was remarkable. I was thrilled to be involved,” he said.
The production designer began his work on the film by diving into research. “This is a real story. There was a great deal out there to find and a great responsibility when you’re telling a real story to make it right.” The details he found during this process were even richer than he imagined. They felt more interesting than if he were to have made them up. This was particularly true with the Berlin section of the film. “We watched documentary footage, we looked through photographic research archives both from the U.S. as well as Germany,” Stockhausen said.
One image especially stood out to Stockhausen. “There was a family trying to escape through a second floor window and there’s a German soldier looking up to the window right next to them. It’s terrible and haunting and you can’t even imagine this happening. I’ll never forget that photograph,” he said. The moment ended up being poignantly recreated in the film.
The striking color palette helps tell the story and was carefully constructed. The New York section of the film consists of warm colors and the world gets cooler as the story moves into Berlin. Stockhausen expertly balanced the two palettes by paying attention to the details. “We drained all the color out of Berlin, and tilted it so it was much cooler and we did the opposite when we were in the New York portion of the story with the yellows and the warmth of the Donovan home and also with the greens that we see in the park and the red curtains in the Supreme Court,” he explained.
Stockhausen loved the experience of working on Bridge of Spies. He remembered one moment from working on the film that he especially cherished. “We were on the Atlantic bridge where this event actually took place and it was incredibly special. It’s always special when you get to go shoot places where these events took place. On this one, we were shooting right at the end of filming. We had gone through this whole journey together and to end up on that bridge together was really special. You could feel it all coming together in a really great way.”