Adam Stockhausen, Production Designer Talks Bridge Of Spies

film reviews | movies | features | BRWC Adam Stockhausen, Production Designer Talks Bridge Of Spies

Adam Stockhausen (Production Designer) won an Oscar® for his work on Wes Anderson’s “The Grand Budapest Hotel.”

He was also nominated for his work on Steve McQueen’s Oscar-winning film “12 Years a Slave.”

Among Stockhausen’s other credits are “Moonrise Kingdom,” “Scream 4,” “My Soul to Take,” “The Switch” and “Every Day.” As art director, Stockhausen’s credits include “The Darjeeling Limited,” “Margot at the Wedding” and “Synecdoche, New York.”

Stockhausen was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He was educated at Marquette University and received a Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University School of Drama.

Q. Tell us what drew you to the project. 

A. It is a great story, and what’s amazing is that it’s a true story, as well.  I had heard of Francis Gary Powers, but not James Donovan, so it was fascinating putting all those pieces together. And it’s so timely and interesting how it relates to what’s going on in the world right now. Steven Spielberg and I had numerous conversations about the historical relevance and significance of the story, and it’s just fascinating to see how our judicial system worked in this time of crisis.

Q. Explain your process when you first come on board a film.   

A. The first thing is really breaking apart the big set pieces and figuring out where the film is going to shoot and what sets and exterior locations are needed. From day one we talked about shooting in Germany, and I have some experience shooting there and am familiar with the architecture, so I went back to my photos and notes to determine which areas could best meet our needs. We were looking for the Berlin of 1960, but today’s Berlin looks completely different due to all the new architecture. A crucial part of the film is the creation of the Berlin Wall…in fact, the story actually bridges the moment in time when the wall was constructed, so we needed to see that construction taking place and see the immediate, brand new wall.

Obviously, the wall doesn’t exist anymore, and the immediate surroundings have completely changed. There aren’t any beaten-up remnants of the war in Berlin either, so we ended up shooting most of those exteriors in Poland. Fortunately for us, there was a huge amount of video and photographic material available so we could see some of the actual people and events. From there, my job was to fill in the bits in between that don’t exist anymore in a way that makes you believe they never disappeared.

Q. Tell us how you went about constructing the Berlin Wall.

A. We spent a lot of time focusing on the look and height of the first wall (which was eventually replaced with the wall that most people recognize), and how it was constructed. The first wall went up quickly, and as a result, the construction was very rough and simple with no foundation. It was basically concrete blocks mortared together with a Y-shaped piece of steel and barbed wire on the top. We actually had to build the wall in several different locations throughout the film, so we became really good at moving it around.

Q. Did you speak with cinematographer Janusz Kaminski and costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone early on to discuss the palette and colors for the film?

A. I went out to Los Angeles and met with Steven Spielberg and Janusz together, and we talked through the locations and the color palette of the film and how there would be a muting and a draining of the color as we came into East Berlin.  Kasia and I have worked together several times before. We spoke frequently and shared photographs to point out what colors each of us were planning to use so we didn’t double up.

Q. Can you talk about some of the locations used in both New York and Berlin?

A. We spent a lot of time shooting in Donovan’s house in Brooklyn, in an area called Ditmas Park. It just felt right for his family, which was important because we wanted to show that he had a strong connection to his neighborhood. The actual home which doubled for the Donovan’s was a free-standing Victorian, full of charm and period detail with an open floor plan, a front porch and a small backyard area. We built the kitchen and the entire second floor on soundstages at Steiner Studios, also in Brooklyn. For the offices of Donovan’s law firm we shot in the New York Bar Association’s building on 44th Street, and for the New York subway scenes we filmed interiors inside an actual subway car from the ‘60s, thanks to the New York City Transit Museum. The hard part was shooting a period subway car from a station platform. In order to make it look realistic, we needed to use a live subway system, and the Metropolitan

Transportation Authority was happy to work with us, giving us access to the Broad Street subway station very early on a Sunday morning. We had to work fast in “blitz-style,” which meant swapping out posters and signage, changing lighting fixtures and redressing everything from top to bottom, and then everything had to be put back in place as quickly as possible. We also used locations in Manhattan, including the Federal Hall Courthouse in Foley Square.

In Germany, Messe Berlin, which is a sort of a fair park/convention center site, was used for the Hall of Trade Unions in Moscow where Gary Powers’ trial actually took place. It had the right scale, and we were able to add onto it and bring in pieces that we had seen in the research. We also shot at Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport, which is quite iconic and has been featured in many films over the years, where we did a wonderful shot underneath the real sign exchange when everyone is about to get on the plane, which looked amazing.

Q. Can you talk about the collaboration between your department and the props department? 

A. I had a wonderful team on this film, starting with Annie Atkins, our graphic designer, who did an amazing job building the newspapers and all the graphic props, and, whenever possible, researching, finding and clearing real things, like all the advertising in the subway. Sandy Hamilton, our prop master, created the Holland nickels and all the other spy gear, and Rena DeAngelo, the set decorator on the New York portion of the film, did all the work on Abel’s studio. Bernhard Hendrick and Marco Bittner Rosser, our set decorator and supervising art director in Berlin, respectively, did an incredible job making the Berlin Wall sequence possible.

Q. Tell us about filming on the “Bridge of Spies,” Glienicke Bridge.

A. It was a remarkable experience to shoot on the actual bridge where the exchange of Rudolf Abel for Francis Gary Powers took place, as it gave us a real sense of the events that happened there. That doesn’t mean it was easy, as we weren’t just shooting one tiny little scene at the bridge, but the film’s big, climactic moment. Today the Bridge is an arterial traffic route for the city of Pottsdam. I’m sure it was inconvenient for the residents, but the government was excited to help tell the story of what happened on the Bridge and really went out of their way to help. It sounds easy, but it took months of work by our great locations department for it to go so smoothly.


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