V FOR VENDETTA: Set Visit Report

Thu, February 16th, 2006 at 12:00am PST

TV/Film
Jonah Weiland, Executive Producer/Publisher

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    Welcome to CBR's extensive coverage of the upcoming Warner Bros. film, "V for Vendetta." Throughout the day, CBR will publish a report from our visit to the set of "V for Vendetta" last June, plus interviews with the stars and director of the film. Before we get to those reports, we have a little business to take care of first.

    To start with, let's give you the credits for this film. "V for Vendetta" hits theaters in the states on March 17th. The film stars Natalie Portman as Evey Hammond and Hugo Weaving as the masked V. "V for Vendetta" marks the directorial debut for James McTeigue, having previously served as First Assistant Director on "The Matrix" films with Andy & Larry Wachowski, who adapted the Alan Moore & David Lloyd graphic novel. The Wachowski brothers adapted the graphic novel and wrote the screenplay and also serve as roducers on the film.

    Allright, with that out of the way, let's get down to business. Last June, CBR News was invited to the set of "V for Vendetta," filming outside of the Houses of Parliament in London, England. With this set visit having taken place almost nine months ago, some of what you'll read in the interviews, as well as some of my observations made on the set, have been revealed as the press roll out progressed for the film. So, for those of you who've been closely following the production over the past year, some of this might be a repeat, but there's still plenty of gems scattered throughout these reports. And for those of you who are relatively new to the film, having maybe been thrilled by what you saw in the commercial that ran during the Super Bowl, the following will bring you completely up to speed on the film and prepare you for what promises to be a thrilling cinematic experience.

    Throughout the interviews there are a couple of questions asked that need to be put in context. One recurring question regard "V for Vendetta" creator Alan Moore's dis-satisfaction with the film's production. On May 23rd, 2005, CBR's own Rich Johnston broke the news in an exclusive interview with Moore in which he discussed why he was dis-satisfied with how the production was being handled, his own quibbles with the final script and how it ultimately led to his decision to no longer publish further volumes of "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" with DC Comics, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. parent company Time Warner. Click the link above for the full interview.

    Also, the issue is raised that actor Hugo Weaving was added to the cast at the last minute, replacing another actor. Actor James Purefoy was originally cast in the role of V, but last Spring Purefoy was replaced on the film by Hugo Weaving.

    Finally, it should be noted that these interviews and set visits took place just a few short weeks before the subway and bus bombings in London in July of 2005.

    Allright, I think that about does it. Below you'll find my set visit report, plus we'll publish the first of our three round-table interviews right now. We'll post these interviews in the order they were conducted, so first up is Natalie Portman, followed by Director James McTeigue and finishing off with Hugo Weaving. You can expect the McTiegue and Weaving interviews to be published Thursday afternoon.

    We hope you enjoy our coverage of "V for Vendetta." We'll have more for you in the coming weeks.

    Sincerely,

    Jonah Weiland


    Executive Producer, CBR

    CBR NEWS V FOR VENDETTA SET VISIT

    On the evening of June 1st, 2005, a number of online and "real world" press gathered in Central London to witness a live shoot for the upcoming film "V For Vendetta." It was the final day of three days of shooting on the streets of London. Our evening started at around 10:45 when the American contingent of the press met in the lobby of our hotel, right off Trafalgar Square, to make our way over to our meeting location, One Whitehall Place, a spectacular looking Victorian Era building that serves as a convention and meeting space. All said, approximately 35-40 members of the press gathered and once all had arrived, it was time to for Production Designer Owen Patterson to chat with us for a short bit before we made our way over to watch the shoot take place in front of the Houses of Parlaiment.

    Now, for those of you who haven't been to London you should know it's one of those city's that just never sleeps. There's a constant whirl of movement, traffic and activity at all hours in the city. It's a busy place, even in the middle of the night. So, shutting down the streets of London for a film shoot, especially those in the busiest portions of Central London, isn't an easy thing to do. Add in to the mix a film shoot that takes place in front of the Houses of Parliament, the seat of British Government, and all the necessary security arrangements that go along with that and you can imagine this isn't going to be your typical film shoot.

    Patterson noted that in previous nights they had been filming in Trafalgar Square, home to Nelson's Column and the National Gallery, marching some 400+ extras dressed in the "V" costume down Whitehall road towards Parliament Square, which is the home to a number of government buildings, the House of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. Patterson noted the production had been given just a short number of days to film in front of Parliament and with the summer nights in London lasting only a short six hours at most. "There was quite a rush on to get those dozen shots we need," Patterson said explaining the mad scramble the production faced each night.

    In front of the Houses of Parliament is a four-lane road, two lanes moving in each direction. For both security reasons as well as a need to keep traffic moving, Patterson said the production was allowed to permanently shut down only one lane of the road. This provides quite a challenge for any film production as with most film shoots you can shut down the entire road, thus allowing greater control of the atmosphere you're working in. That wasn't the case for the "V For Vendetta" production crew as traffic flowed through the production for most of the night.

    It was now time for all us assembled press to make the walk down Whitehall towards Parliament Square. As we walked down the closed street, signs could be seen that said, "V For Vendetta apologize for any inconvenience caused during filming." Clearly the production was well aware of what a big deal it was to be filming live on the streets of London. While we walked down Whitehall we saw numerous extras wearing the now familiar "V" mask walking towards the set. They all had black capes, most preferring to wear the mask on the top of their head while they were walking. All of them held a wide brimmed black hat as well. The masks were colorful and as a group will clearly make quite an impression on the big screen. As we passed an underground station, you could see the sign for the station had been changed to look exactly like it does in the graphic novel. The familiar underground logo was slightly askew with the words "Station Closed, Do Not Enter" beneath it.

    We made our way to Parliament Square, a grassy area directly across from the Houses of Parliament and adjacent to Westminster Abbey. As we surveyed the area, looking towards the Houses of Parliament, to our left were production tents filled with people and equipment. In front of them was a large platform, about two or three stories high, with men in military outfits on the top, as well as a number of production assistants. All the military personnel were wearing a grey/black/white style camouflage, most with a black beret except for one wearing a red beret, which we later learned was a General. In front of the platform was a Jeep military truck and a grey military tank with a trooper sitting on top of it. The tank was used during the filming that night, although it barely moved during the film shoot. A couple of feet here or there, but nothing much. The Jeep was also grey, your standard issue off-road two door jeep, that had a red double cross on the side of it with the designation "NF 101." What it meant, we're not certain, but I am sure we'll know better once the film hits theaters on March 17th.

    Across the street, in the one lane they were able to shut down, could be found close to 100 more extras in military outfits, all with very realistic looking gear and weapons, assembled behind concrete blocks meant to keep people and cars away from Parliament. Some of the troops were also equipped with riot shields and helmets. Behind them were the Houses of Parliament and the clock tower, which houses Big Ben. Now, it's generally referred to as just Big Ben, but one of the members of the British press noted that the bell itself inside the clock tower is Big Ben and that it's actually a mistake to call the entire clock tower Big Ben. So, we'll simply refer to it as the clock tower then.

    The Houses of Parliament are magnificently lit up at night and a section of the top portion of the clock tower is illuminated in green light, making it a beautiful site to see. Frankly, under these controlled circumstances, this was the perfect way to see the Houses of Parliament as a tourist. I've seen the building during the day on a previous visit, but never before did it look quite so impressive.

    Unit Publicist Nick Daubeny then made his way over to talk a bit about what we'd be seeing that night and to explain some of the logistics involved in filming in front of the Houses of Parliament. Apparently, it's been some 30+ years since a film production has been allowed to film in front of Parliament. Logistically, it's a manageable nightmare pulling something like this off. Daubeny explained that in order to pull this off, the production had to give detailed plans to British Security Services where exactly everything was going to be located, how many people would be involved, what kind of equipment would be used, etc. Daubeny was surprised earlier this year when he was informed there'd be numerous extras dressed up in military outfits on the set as well. Considering Central London was on a heightened alert level at the time, having a bunch of troops carrying realistic looking weaponry in the middle of government and security organizations, this was going to be a tricky proposition. "This is something that's never been done before," explained Daubeny. There were in total 17 police monitoring all areas, making sure no suspicious bags were left around the set, and Daubeny noted that extras who strayed from the location were in very real jeopardy.

    The great news for the production as they finished their last day at Parliament Square was that there were no problems at all with the shoot. They had to deal with a total of 14 different organizations to pull this off, such as the London Mayor's office, and Daubeny said "Everyone's been very well disposed to us." He said he thought that the success of this production might cause a change in legislation, allowing more film shoots of this size to film in Central London, although with the July 2005 bombings in London, that could definitely keep that from happening. In fact, had those bombings happened before this production one could theorize that for security reasons a production of this size wouldn't be allowed to take place in front of the House of Parliament.

    One note of interest was that this final sequence we were watching them shoot, the march of the V's on Parliament, takes place at the end of the film and in this sequence the House of Parliament are still very much intact. For those of you who remember the graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd you know that the Houses of Parliament were destroyed early on the book, not at the end. With the production taking place in front of these government buildings, Daubeny noted that the buildings do figure prominently in the scene.

    Daubeny left us and we watched them film some close-up shots on the set. Not a lot to see here, especially from our vantage point, but we did see that red beret wearing General filmed on top of that platform with a view of Whitehall road and Trafalgar Square behind him.

    Shortly there after Spencer Lam, who handled the Web site design for the Wachowski's on the "Matrix" films, stopped by to chat and happily answered some of our questions. First, when it came to stopping traffic, the production was allowed to stop it completely for only four minutes at a time so as not to impede the flow of traffic in the area. Most of the night we saw cars and buses driving directly through the set. Seeing all those men in military outfits had to be quite a site for late night commuters.

    As for the Web site, Lam was on the set taking pictures and working with the production in preparation for the Web site. While Lam had three years to produce the Web site for the "Matrix" movies, he's not been afforded nearly as much time to work on the "V for Vendetta" Web site, but that shouldn't be a problem. He noted they were working on creating interviews with everyone on the production staff for the Web site and they might even have some high definition content available for download. In addition, there's audio commentary on the Web site as well as detailed images from the set of the Shadow Gallery, home to the hero of our story. He also worked on Quick Time VR videos with hot spots, which took you on tours of the various sets including the Shadow Gallery. Quicktime VR is a technology built into Apple's Quicktime program that gives viewers a 360 degree view of a given location. Check out the Web site for more.

    It was well after 3:00 in the morning when the final shot of the night was to take place and the sun was already starting to peak through the darkness. The troops lined both sides of the street in front of the House of Parliament and on down to the right while the 400 or so Vs were located at the far right end of the Houses of Parliament, which is also known as the House of Commons. The V's marched on the Houses of Parliament as the troops attempted to hold them back. We were told these were mainly wide-shots, taken from a variety of different angles. There wasn't a lot of action to witness during our shoot, but it was quite something to see all those extras wearing the V mask standing together.

    When we saw this scene filmed in London, only a couple hundred extras were used in the shot, the rest were digitally added in post-production.

    As Big Ben chimed in the background and the cold got, well, even colder, it was time for us to walk back to our hotel for a night of rest before we got up the next day to conduct our interviews with stars Natalie Portman and Hugo Weaving and director James McTeigue, which you'll see next right here on CBR.

     
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