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Director Series-Lasse Halstrom, Casanova

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Casanova is more than a mere costume romp, and credit for that goes to the taste and deft skills of Swedish director Lasse Hallström, who now makes his home in the US. For Hallström—who is known for helming such critically acclaimed films as My Life as a Dog, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, Chocolat and The Shipping News—Casanova was a rare venture into the realm of farce, albeit with moral—and amoral—overtones.Though based on the historic character of the legendary lover, the plot of the film is an imagined encounter between Casanova, played by Heath Ledger, and a strong-willed but chaste beauty, portrayed by Sienna Miller. The backdrop is 18th century Venice, visually resplendent but beset by intrigues and inquisitions. Hallström likes to film on location and Casanova was no exception, becoming the first significant studio production to be shot in Venice in decades. Helping to realize this world was a gifted production team that included cinematographer Oliver Stapleton, production designer David Gropman, and Oscar-winning costume designer Jenny Beavan. The film also reunited Hallström with film editor David Mondshein, who’s cut many of the director’s previous films. Hallström recently talked with Below The Line.Below the Line: You shot Casanova on location in Venice, and the city ends up being one of the stars of the film. How did that come about?Lasse Hallström: This project was handed over to me a couple of years ago and after reading the script, the obvious choice was to shoot it all in Venice. There were a lot of logistical problems in getting it made—lots of waiting for approvals—but in the end that turned out to be the right choice because Venice contributed so much to the sense of realism I wanted. And its seductive visual settings added so much to the look and feel of the film. This is the first major American film to be shot in Venice in over 30 years. Venice also proved inspiring to the entire crew, and everyone had a good time there. I myself spent half a year there and I have no complaints about that period.BTL: By locating in Venice, you were able to utilize some of its grand public spaces like the Piazza San Marco for the big Carnivale scene, and you also obtained access to some magnificent baroque interiors, some of which had never been filmed before. But it can’t have been easy shooting in such a historic city.Hallström: It wasn’t easy. Several producers had a full-time job working to make it possible. It took a lot of negotiation and preparations, and often we wouldn’t get permissions to shoot until the last moment. There was a lot of red tape to deal with. The bureaucrats wanted to have a locked script before they would issue approvals, and that’s not the way I work. I like to leave open the chance for spontaneity.BTL: Did you ever consider another location?Hallström: Because of the difficulties, we considered using Prague at one point and our location manager went there to check out the possibility of putting down canals. There were also thoughts of shooting just the exteriors in Venice, and then going to England or Prague to shoot the rest. However, after we reached a big impasse and the producers threatened to pull the entire project from the city, suddenly the approvals became available and we were given the opportunity to shoot it all in Venice.BTL: What was the look you wanted from your production team?Hallström: The film may seem a bit stylized because it’s a period piece. But I didn’t want to stylize it too much. My ambition was to do a film about the realities and particularities of Casanova’s life. So I wanted to realistically recreate Venice in the 18th century and everything about life in Venice at that time. So that even though the actual story of the film is a complete invention, I asked my production designer, David Gropman, and Jenny Beavan, who did the costumes, to be as real as we possibly could in depicting the Venice of that era.BTL: There are several well-known painters from that period like Canaletto that documented the era. The paintings seem to come alive in the movie.Hallström: You’re right. We used not just Canaletto but Francesco Guardi and Pietro Longhi as major visual references. And many of their paintings hang in Venice. I know David and Jenny both studied them for inspiration.BTL: What were you going for in terms of cinematography.Hallström: I encouraged my director of photography, Oliver Stapleton, to be more daring in finding new ways to photograph Venice, and to get away from cliché images of the postcards. We wanted to try to capture the magic of the city in a more unconventional way.BTL: When it came to the interiors, how much were David Gropman and others on your crew able to add to what was already there—or was this prohibited?Hallström: We had to deal with a lot of restrictions because we were always at real locations. We couldn’t work nights or use the walls and had to be very careful not to alter the interiors. Recreating the candlelight look of the era was also challenging. Oliver had built his lighting style on atmospheric smoke but that wasn’t permitted so we had to rethink quickly. But with a lot of research and attention to details we were able to make it all come alive and work.BTL: The elaborate costumes and the amazing wigs were another key component of the overall production design.Hallström: It was an ambitious group of costume makers, headed by Jenny. We borrowed from costume houses everywhere in Europe. Jenny worked up the color scheme with David Gropman and others in art direction and it worked out great. And she did it quite reasonably, because there wasn’t that big a budget, believe it or not.BTL: The main arteries in Venice are those highly trafficked canals. They were used to great visual effect in the movie. How did that affect the shoot?Hallström: The Italian crew was one of the most professional I’ve ever worked with. And they were really knowledgeable about moving equipment around on barges through the canals. They know for example not to try to get a barge filled with equipment under a bridge during high tide. That’s their job. They enable local shoots in Venice. But overall I have to really applaud the huge number of Italian crew and technicians who with their English counterparts did an amazing job.BTL: How long was the shoot?Hallström: We did an extremely long prep—David Gropman must have spent a year in Venice doing research and preparation—but in the end the shoot was only 74 days. And quite remarkably it came in on schedule.BTL: While most of Casanova was shot on location, there were some elaborate special effects sequences, most memorably, the delightful balloon journey near the end.Hallström: Many more effects than viewers picked up on. I hope it was not all that obvious at all times. The nighttime views of the broad squares we had to do digitally. And when we had the leads in the balloon flying over Venice and looking down on the city, there was nothing real there. It was all done by computer and took a lot of work to create. That was all new and fascinating to me.BTL: What do you have up next?Hallström: We recently finished shooting The Hoax, a fascinating film about Clifford Irving, the man who in the ’70s forged a biography of Howard Hughes, starring Richard Gere, and it’s now being edited.

Written by Jack Egan

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