BRIDGE OF SPIES: Sven Martin – VFX Supervisor – Pixomondo

Amazing behind-the-scenes VFX shots and information on how the “death strip” sequence was created for Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies (2015).

All about Bridge of Spies

BRIDGE OF SPIES: Sven Martin – VFX Supervisor – Pixomondo

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2016 Oscars: Best Supporting Actor Won By Mark Rylance

In his acceptance speech, Mark Rylance salutes Steven Spielberg, calling him “one of the greatest story-tellers of our time”. 

“Unlike some of the leaders we’re being presented with these days, he leads with such love that he’s surrounded by masters in every craft.”

Out of its six nominations, Bridge of Spies wins only 1 Oscar – but an important one: It’s only the second Spielberg-directed film to win an Academy Award for one of its actors – following Daniel Day-Lewis for Lincoln (2012). Little by little, the Academy recognizes Spielberg’s craft as an actor’s director.

All nominations and wins of Bridge of Spies.

Mark Rylance plays the title role in Steven Spielberg’s The BFG (2016). Christopher Nolan casts Mark Rylance for his World War II film Dunkirk (2017). 

2016 Oscars: Best Supporting Actor Won By Mark Rylance

Crossing the Bridge of Spies

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Annotations to Spielberg’s superb portrait of the Cold War era

Now that Bridge of Spies has received six Academy Awards nominations (facing tough competition), I want to invite all of you who have watched it to follow me on my quest for some fascinating details that can be found in the film…

Some of them might be new to you…

1. Opening sequence

A. Triple Self-Portrait

Rudolf
Abel is the story’s pivot point – he is the first person we see in Bridge of Spies. In the first shot, the camera tracks back slowly,
revealing Abel in in a threefold representation:

– as a reflection in a mirror
– as a film character
– as a self-portrait painting.

This
shot deals with a typical Spielberg theme: “reality“ vs. perception. It
is inspired by a painting of Spielberg’s favorite artist, Norman
Rockwell: Triple Self-Portrait (1960). Right in the beginning, Spielberg poses the central question: Who is Rudolf Abel? Is
he “a threat to all of us, a traitor“, a mean-spirited spy who seeks to
„drop bombs on us“? Or is he “a good soldier serving a foreign power“
or an “artist“ as Donovan calls him?

B. Range of communication

In
the first couple of minutes, Spielberg decides to refrain from any
spoken words. Abel listens to the ringing phone, picks it up but does
not talk before hanging up. The sequence underlines another of
Spielberg’s favorite topics in this film: communication, its opposite
and its absence.

Communication: Spielberg’s
preceding film, Lincoln, demonstrated that persistent negotiations lead
to mutual agreements that help to solve pressing issues of society.
Bridge of Spies is not different: With his disarming words, Donovan
builds bridges on his quest for basic rights that are endangered during
the Cold War era. He wants to keep espionage “chess figures” from being
“shredded”.

Dysfunctional communication: The film
displays several variants of it, e.g. talking without listening (CIA
agent Hoffman), talking in different languages, intimidation,
interrogation, suppression of free speech, misinformation, propaganda…
The film’s most harrowing symbol for the lack of communication is the
Berlin wall, the very opposite of a bridge (and communication).

Silence: One of the film’s themes is secrecy. On the one hand, it’s the spy’s
pledge not to talk about any detail of their missions, on the other it’s
Donovan’s professional discretion as an attorney which is tested by the
CIA.

2. Standing Man

Rudolf
Abel tells his attorney Donovan a story about a “stoikiy muzhik“, a
“standing man“ (unshaken by his adversaries). Later, Abel compares
Donovan to that man. In the final iconic image on the Glienicke Bridge,
Donovan is literally depicted as a “standing man“.

3. Handkerchiefs

Spielberg
makes a point of having several people in the film repeatedly use a
handkerchief, cleaning their nose. First, it’s Abel in prison, then it’s
Donovan catching a cold in Berlin. Finally, it’s CIA agent Hoffman.
Maybe Spielberg wants to tell us that they are all human beings, sharing
the sniffles (regardless of the nations they live in and their
different points of views).

4. Transistor Radio

Donovan
manages to get a radio into the Soviet spy’s cell, so Abel can listen
to a broadcast of a Shostakovich concert. Silently listening to the
broadcast, Donovan and Abel share the music, which is a fundamental way
of communication between different nations and convictions. The
first film Spielberg centered around music as nonverbal communication
shared by different species was Close Encounters of the Third Kind
(1977).

The radio in Abel’s cell happens to be a
portable transistor radio, an innovation at that time. Spielberg’s
father Arnold designed the first transistor computer at RCA.

So, on
another level, it’s a nice nod to Spielberg’s father who was the
director’s main inspiration to tell the story about the incidents in
Bridge of Spies
. Arnold Spielberg was on an
exchange visit to the USSR in 1960 when the U-2 spy plane crisis
occurred, resulting in tremendous fear and hostility between the two
nations. Steven Spielberg recalls the story as told to him by his
father:

“The Russians were putting the pilot Gary
Powers’ helmet and his flight suit and the remains of the U-2 plane on
show for everyone in Russia to see. A military man saw my father’s
American passport and took him to the head of the queue and repeated
really angrily to the crowd, ‘look what your country is doing to us.’”

5. Berlin cinema

While in
West Berlin, Donovan and agent Hoffman walk past a cinema where one of
the movies playing is Eins, Zwei, Drei. It’s the German title of the
Cold War comedy One, Two, Three (1961), directed by Billy Wilder, one of
Spielberg’s mentors. The film is about an American business executive
who, like Donovan, must cross over into East Berlin and negotiate with
Soviet officials for the release of a political prisoner.

Other films displayed on the marquee are:

Das Geheimnis der schwarzen Koffer (1961) – an Edgar Wallace thriller, shot in Berlin and produced by Polish-born Artur Brauner.

Die
Verdammten
(The Damned), a 1969 (!) Italian-German film directed by
Luchino Visconti, about a wealthy German industrialist family who are
doing business with the Nazi Party. The film was given an X rating.

Spartacus
(1960), directed by Spielberg’s friend Stanley Kubrick. A film about
Ancient Rome, featuring a prime example of a “standing man“.

Read more background stories on Bridge of Spies

Photo: © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

2016
Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies is nominated as Best Picture by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences

Spielberg now holds the record for producing more films that have been nominated as best picture than anyone else. Bridge of Spies is his ninth Academy Awards nomination in the category.

The film receives six Oscar nominations in the following categories (click the links for background information).

Best Picture: Produced by Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt and Kristie Macosko Krieger

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Mark Rylance

Best Production Design: Adam Stockhausen; Set Decoration: Rena DeAngelo and Bernhard Henrich

Best Writing (Original Screenplay): Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen

Best Music (Original Score): Thomas Newman

Best Sound Mixing: Andy Nelson, Gary Rydstrom and Drew Kunin.

All Academy Award nominees and winners


Bridge of Spies is also nominated for the following awards (among others):

Golden Globes: Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Mark Rylance)

Producers Guild of America (PGA): Darryl F. Zanuck Award for Outstanding Producer of Theatrical Motion Pictures (Steven Spielberg Marc Platt, Kristie Macosko Krieger)

Screen Actors Guild Awards (SAG): Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role (Mark Rylance)

The Writers Guild of America (WGA): Best Original Screenplay (Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen)

American Society of Cinematographers (ASC): Outstanding Achievement in Cinematography in a Theatrical Release (Janusz Kaminski)

Art Directors Guild of America (ADG): Excellence in Production Design for a Feature Film, Period Film (Adam Stockhausen)

Satellite Awards: Best Motion Picture, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction & Production Design

Bridge of Spies wins the following awards:

Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

AFI Awards: Movie of the Year

British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA): Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

Boston Society of Film Critics Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

Hollywood Film Awards: Cinematographer of the Year (Janusz Kaminski), Sound of the Year (Gary Rydstrom)

Indiewire Critics’ Poll: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

National Board of Review (USA): NBR Award, Top Films

National Society of Film Critics Awards (USA): Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

New York Film Critics Circle Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance)

Toronto Film Critics Association Awards: Best Supporting Actor (Mark Rylance).

Photo: © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

2015, November 13

European Premiere for Bridge of Spies takes place in Berlin, with Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan and Sebastian Koch attending. Fellow directors Volker Schlöndorff, Tom Tykwer and Lana Wachowski are among the audience.

All about the making of Bridge of Spies: Read more

2015
Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies
– a dramatic historical thriller written by Matt Charman and Ethan & Joel Coen – stars Tom Hanks, Mark Rylance, Amy Ryan, and Alan Alda. The supporting cast includes Austin Stowell, Domenick Lombardozzi, Michael Gaton, Sebastian Koch, and Burghart Klaußner.

This is Tom Hanks’ fourth film collaboration with Spielberg (their first in over ten years). Bridge of Spies allows Spielberg to finally do a genuine spy thriller… 

“I’ve always wanted to make a spy movie. This is not James Bond. Only James Bond can be James Bond. I’ve always been fascinated with the entertainment value of the James Bond spy series of movies, as well as the serious John le Carre spy novels, especially the Martin Ritt movie The Spy Who Came in From the Cold. Also spy pictures like The Quiller Memorandum and The Ipcress File, and Torn Curtain by Hitchcock in the ‘60s.”

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Photo: © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox

Click here for a photo gallery.

The story is based on James B. Donovan’s book “Strangers on a Bridge: The Case of Colonel Abel and Francis Gary Powers” (1964) and Gilles Whittell’s book “Bridge of Spies: A True Story of the Cold War” (2010).

The film follows Brooklyn lawyer James B. Donovan (Tom Hanks) who has to cope with the Cold War’s repercussions when he is given a mission to negotiate the release of Francis Gary Powers, a pilot whose U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union. Donovan is determined to get the situation solved, declaring “The next mistake our countries make could be the last one.”

In the official video for the film, Spielberg talks about how significant the U-2 incident was to him. His father Arnold, an electrical engineer, was on an exchange visit to Russia in 1960 when the U-2 spy plane crisis occurred.“The Russians were putting the pilot Gary Powers’ helmet and his flight suit and the remains of the U-2 plane on show for everyone in Russia to see. A military man saw my father’s American passport and took him to the head of the queue and repeated really angrily to the crowd, ‘look what your country is doing to us.’”

“I never forgot that story,” he says, “and because of that I never forgot what happened to Francis Gary Powers.”

Read this fascinating account of historical facts vs. cinematic fiction.

Matt Charman writes the script and pitches it to DreamWorks. Steven Spielberg quickly decides to direct and has Joel & Ethan Coen revise Charman’s original script. On March 3, 2015, co-producer Marc Platt reveals the title to be Bridge of Spies.

Principal photography begins under the working title of St. James Place on September 8, 2014, in Brooklyn, New York City. Filming continues in DUMBO, Astoria, and Manhattan. In order to match the style of the 1950s, Director of Photography Janusz Kamiński chooses to film on 35 mm film using anamorphic lenses in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

Further shooting is done at Babelsberg Studios in Berlin and Potsdam, Germany, and lasts there through the end of November. Filming in Berlin begins at the former Tempelhof Airport, for scenes that actually took place there, such as Donovan’s descending from a historic C-54 Skymaster. Another scene includes the prisoner exchange filmed on the Glienicke Bridge (also known as the “Bridge of Spies”) where the historical exchange actually took place in 1962.

The Glienicke Bridge is located near Wannsee, where the Wannsee
Conference
with Adolf Eichmann and the other architects of the Holocaust
took place – a fact that chills Spielberg twice as much during the winter shoot. The bridge is closed to traffic for filming over the last weekend of November. German Chancellor Angela Merkel visits the set to watch the filming of these scenes.

To film crucial Berlin Wall sequences, the production team travels to Wrolcaw, Poland where parts of the Berlin Wall and surrounding areas are reconstructed – supervised by production designer Adam Stockhausen who has won an Academy Award for his contributions to Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). Costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone who has collaborated with Anderson and Stockhausen on Moonrise Kingdom (2012) immerses herself in Cold War fashion. Janusz Kamiński can finally work in his home country again, after he experienced his first collaboration with Spielberg on Schindler’s List (1993).

Production wraps in Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville, California. Francis Gary Powers, Jr., founder of The Cold War Museum and the pilot’s son, is brought on as a technical consultant and has a cameo in the film.

The film’s score is composed by Thomas Newman. It is the first time a Steven Spielberg film is not scored by John Williams since The Color Purple (1985). Newman replaces him due to Williams’ commitment to compose the music for J.J. Abram’s Star Wars – The Force Awakens (2015) and a temporary health issue.

The first poster for Bridge of Spies is released on June 4, 2015, with the first trailer appearing online the following day. In European film posters, the US flag is replaced by an abstract illustration of the Glienicke Bridge in the style of the 60s famous poster and title designer Saul Bass.

Bridge of Spies is produced by Steven Spielberg, Marc Platt, and Kristie Macosko Krieger and  distributed by Touchstone Pictures in North America, with 20th Century Fox covering the remaining territories.

The film has its world premiere on October 4, 2015, at the 53rd New York Film Festival. Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Amy Ryan, Mark Rylance, and Sebastian Koch attend in person. After the screening, Bridge of Spies gets the crowd to its feet for a standing ovation and opens to universal acclaim by critics and audiences.

Variety’s Kristopher Tapley praises Spielberg’s sturdy craftsmanship, Tom Hanks’ and Mark Rylance’s strong performances and the film’s story that he describes as “thematically potent, dealing in notions of idealism particularly
meaningful in the face of today’s perceived Constitutional slippery
slopes.”

The European premiere takes place in the Berlin Zoo Palast on November 13, 2015. Steven Spielberg, Kate Capshaw, Tom Hanks, Amy Ryan and Sebastian Koch attend the premiere.

Following the event, Steven Spielberg intends to travel to Paris to attend the French premiere of his film. However, the terrorist attacks in Paris put an end to these plans: 20th Century Fox cancels the premiere which was scheduled for November 15.

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Bridge of Spies grosses more than $162 million worldwide (against a budget of $40 million). 

For more behind-the-scenes information on the making of the film, jump to our Bridge of Spies Special.

2015
Edward Snowden
, former U.S. government contractor who fled to Russia in 2013 after leaking documents about NSA surveillance programs, says he’s willing to go to jail in order to return to the United States: “I’ve volunteered to go to prison with the government many times. What I won’t do is I won’t serve as a deterrent to people trying to do the right thing in difficult situations.”

According to Snowden, he is still waiting for Department of Justice officials to respond to his offer. Snowden faces multiple felony charges for theft of government property and espionage in the United States that may result in three decades imprisonment.

Steven Spielberg’s spy thriller Bridge of Spies recounts events from the 1960s Cold War era – but offers chilling similarities to the present…

2006
Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
’s superb debut as film director, The Lives of Others (German: Das Leben der Anderen), portrays the monitoring of East Berlin residents by agents from East Germany’s secret police (the screenplay is written by von Donnersmarck). The excellent cast includes actors such as Ulrich Mühe, Ulrich Tukur, Sebastian Koch, and Martina Gedeck. 

The film is widely praised by critics and audiences alike and goes on to win many awards. The Lives of Others costs only $2 million and grosses more than $77 million worldwide.

Released 17 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it is the first noticeable German film drama about the subject after a series of comedies such as Sonnenallee (1999) and Goodbye, Lenin! (2003). The film’s authenticity is considered notable, given that the director grew up outside of East Germany and was only sixteen when the Berlin Wall fell.

Spielberg is deeply impressed by the film and casts Sebastian Koch for Bridge of Spies (2015). 

When The Lives of Others wins the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, Steven Spielberg tells the young director, rather mysteriously: “You will not recover from this“. Von Donnersmarck’s next film, The Tourist (2010) starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, receives mostly negative reviews but is an international success at the box office.

2005
Angela Merkel
is elected as Germany’s first female Chancellor

The former physical chemist grows up and lives in the German Democratic Republic. After the fall of the Berlin wall, she eventually becomes Minister for the Environment under Chancellor Helmut Kohl and is later appointed Leader of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)

International media describe Merkel as the de facto leader of the European Union. In 2013, she is ranked as the world’s second most powerful person by Forbes magazine, the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman

In 2014, she becomes the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union.

When Steven Spielberg is shooting Bridge of Spies (2015) at the Glienicke Bridge near Berlin, Angela Merkel visits the set – meeting Spielberg and Tom Hanks for an improvised photo session.