On-Set: Shutter Island

The creepy trailer for Martin Scorsese's new thriller Shutter Island is fresh online. Watch it below.

Argentinean filmmaker Celina Murga shadowed Scorsese during the shoot.

This is Celina's account of her two months on-set with Marty and Leonardo DiCaprio...

Saturday 26 April

First impressions of script. It’s Kafka / Welles (The Trial) / Hitchcock / After Hours, set in the ’50s, given a film noir adaptation. The story of a man facing his fears...

Sunday 27 April

I tell Marty the script reminded me of The Trial by Welles. He says it’s one of the references they worked with. References to The Trial: corridors, tunnels and low, claustrophobic ceilings. Angular lenses.

General shots. Use of décors in keeping with characters. An atmosphere that is absolutely unbearable for the character.

Monday 28 April

Today, it’s raining a lot, all day, raining and raining. We talk about filming dreams, nightmares, hallucinations. The realm of reverie. Marty’s idea is to film them as directly as possible, like they were real.

We talk about Buñuel’s Los Olvidados, his favourite dream sequence. He tells me he thinks that for those who have dreams or nightmares or hallucinations, those things are real; which makes them even more terrifying.

His intention is to convey ambiguity. It must not be easy to clearly distinguish between the realm of the real and the realm of reverie. That, I think, places you more within the point of view of the main character, Teddy Daniels [Leonardo DiCaprio].

Many of his films tend to do that, to create deformed realities, which generate the sensation of nightmarish worlds. For many of his characters, reality is a nightmare being lived out (Taxi Driver, After Hours).

Next: Framing, Dialogue, Influences... [page-break]

Thursday 1 May

Scene 44 – Int. hospital cafeteria

Dialogues are filmed through close-ups with the characters virtually looking at the camera shaft. The result is something deeply disquieting. It is uncomfortable for the spectator since they are intense monologues of patients spouting their madness.

The effect is like screaming out at the spectator. For Marty the look is very important. He is well aware of the cinematographic power of the look, between actors and beyond the field of vision.

Wednesday 7 May

Scene 92 – Ext. rocky promontory

Scorsese and some of his collaborators discuss the difference between what they see on the video assist and what will actually be seen afterwards on screen.

Rhythm: how does one get to the specific action of the shot? Absolute notion of internal rhythm (the shot) and external rhythm (editing the shots and how they are related to each other). He thinks very thoroughly about rhythm.

Friday 9 May

Scorsese speaks of Roberto Rossellini the most glowing terms: “Rossellini shows the joy of spirituality,” he says to me.

Thursday 15 2008

Scene 95 – Ext. promontory – sunset

When he films characters looking at something, he is very careful about the exact spot on the rim of the frame to which that look must be directed.

He tries out many different possibilities, sometimes with no more than a few millimetres’ difference, until he finds the exact spot.

Those minute, millimetric differences substantially change the relationship between the character and spectator. In that way he controls the dramatic tensions.

Friday 16 May

Today we see the rushes of scene 13. Shots, one after the other, images one over the other: Welles to Bresson. Scorsese is the iconoclast inside the system.

Next: Set Design, Costume... [page-break]

Tuesday 10 June

A lovely day. Cool and sunny, but to finish the exteriors we need cloudy days. Today we continue with the warehouse interiors.

Scene 78 – Int Ward C

It’s asphyxiating, claustrophobic, labyrinth-like. In this scene I begin to get a more conceptual idea of editing.

“The idea is that the image kicks you,” Marty told me a few days ago. “Film the action from different angles so each cut gives you a good kick as well.” In this scene a succession of kicks unfold before my eyes, an almost infinite succession of images evoking the notion of being locked in, the inner prison of the character.

Wednesday 11 June

Scene 78 – Int Ward C – second floor

Today we talk a lot.

“For me costumes are pure character,” Marty says. He considers costumes as being crucial to a character as an element that tells the story of a character. That’s why in The Departed, where there was nothing special about the costumes (it’s set today), he chose to concentrate on THE FACES.

After this chat I remember: Travis’ jacket in Taxi Driver, the tunics in The Last Temptation Of Christ, the dresses and suits in New York Stories, Rupert Pupkin’s suit in The King Of Comedy.

I also think of GoodFellas, Casino…

In Shutter Island, the character of Dr Cawley (Ben Kingsley) smokes a pipe: that’s very good for the character who in some shots is literally hidden in a cloud of smoke. It gives him that aura of malice he needs in the film.

Thursday 12 June

We are in a studio outside Boston in a huge warehouse where one feels very small. It’s quite an off-putting place. Wherever you look there’s a set being built. I enter the set early in the morning.

When I come back out two or three hours later, I suddenly come upon a huge corridor that brings to mind images of a concentration camp. It’s a very shocking feeling; that corridor wasn’t there early in the morning. Before there was nothing there and all of a sudden this cold, gigantic, terrifying corridor appears.

Next: Lighting, Directing Actors... [page-break]

Friday 13 June

Scene 79 – Ward C – cells on the 3rd floor

“This is storytelling: pure information,” Marty tells me. In this scene it’s very interesting the way light is used dramatically. On the one hand there’s the light of the set, the cell, which doesn’t function well in terms of the narrative – it goes on and off in key dramatic moments of the scene.

Then there’s the light that comes from the matches that Teddy lights, which also go out. It’s very interesting and powerful – the combination of these two sources of light depending on the dramatic charge of the dialogue in this scene.

In this scene, the camera often literally adopts the point of view of Teddy. The patients who are locked away in their cells look at Teddy and react as he arrives, moving closer to them. They look at and directly approach the camera shaft. That is quite disturbing.

Wednesday 18 June

Scene 117 - Int. lighthouse

They’ve been rehearsing since we got here. Just Marty, Leo and Ben Kingsley. It’s a long, complicated scene. The dramatic finale of the film. The rest of us, the rest of the crew, are waiting outside the set. Waiting and listening.

In complete silence. Everybody’s moving slowly, not wanting to make any noise. Like we were in a child delivery ward.

Later, shooting starts. In the shots with dialogue Marty looks at them through the video assist and moves his arms and hands along with the rhythm, like an orchestra conductor with his instruments.

He wants to direct them during the take and at times he anticipates, with a gesture, what the actor is about to do.

Next: Pacing, Action Scenes, Editing... [page-break]

Thursday 19 June

It’s very exciting to see how he always finds the right word to suggest something while directing an actor or to elicit a change of tone. It’s also very interesting to follow his trend of creative thought. It might sound obvious, but his concept of cinematographic language is total.

He absolutely understands the importance of the inter-relation between all the elements. Perhaps the most surprising thing for me – probably because we have a different concept of cinematographic language – is how he views the relationship between acting and editing.

The way an actor plays during the shot is conceived in relation to the shot before and after it. The editing room is therefore the ultimate place where the pieces (the shots) that are marvellously put together and conceived will ultimately make sense in relation to the other shots.

A few days later, Marty tells me he prefers the editing room to shooting. In each new take he asks his actors for something different, a different tone.

He tries out different things: with and without text, with more or less intensity, with more or less speed, with more or less pause. Especially in action scenes.

He knows he needs different nuances so he can have different options in the editing room, in order to assess which shot works best in relation to the previous scene and the one after it.

This is another difference between his style and mine. In my shoots, I often have the sensation that I am capturing something unique, that I’ve got to be constantly on the look out for that moment of unique truth that an actor might just produce.

At times I feel like my work is all about the preparation of fertile ground, so that the truth that’s hidden in a scene, in a situation, in a character, can really spring forth and blossom.

On this set one gets the feeling that can happen at any time, over and over. In the tradition of the American cinema – and Scorsese has drawn so much from that tradition – cinema is representation, the construction of fiction stories.

Each shot constructed by Scorsese refers to the history of the cinema, which is always there.

His love for the cinema informs his creative work. He’s a director who understands that such baggage is a marvellous work tool.

Monday 23 June

We’ve come to the island. A jeep takes some time to get started before going out of the frame. The decision is made to move it out of the frame by having it pulled from in front. Eight men get down to the task, among them production and direction assistants.

It’s so good to see that beyond the obvious and logical differences, a shoot is often like a shoot anywhere; there are certain features that are the same.

The best solutions are always found based on teamwork, and the need to maintain control over what is being narrated is always the priority of the director. The boat that is a film-shooting crew must always be piloted to a safe port.

Next: Scorsese's Passion, Max Von Sydow, World Cinema Foundation... [page-break]

Tuesday 24 June

Martin Scorsese. There’s something fundamentally quixotic about his objectives; the way he seems to want to grasp what is huge and transcendental.

That gives his films that epic tone. It’s in that idea of the quixotic that his independent spirit still lies: the idea that a project can be carried off through sheer passion and determination, regardless of production conditions.

Marty fights to defend his look, his place as an auteur, his independence, whatever the production structures. When faced with difficulties, he always shows that spirit and he’s like me in that respect.

That quixotic, titanic spirit also informs the actions of the main character, Teddy.

Wednesday 25 June

Scene 121 – Ext. park

Final scene with Max von Sydow. There’s virtually no dialogue; Marty stresses the importance of body language. Max von Sydow is a very big man, a real giant.

He is perfect for the character – that way of walking. He reminds me of my grandfather – that elongated head, his huge hands, his tall body, wrapped in a doctor’s overall.

The first day, I can’t find the courage to talk to him. Marty insists and I finally do. I’m thrilled to discover that he’s a nice human being!

Friday 27 June

Today we talk about the World Cinema Foundation. He tells me about the last films that have been restored. He is very passionate about it. His love for the cinema runs in his every pore.

He is a director fully conscious of the history of cinema and of the place it occupies in the social and cultural history of a country and the world.

He thinks as much about the past as about the future: Scorsese is fully conscious of his place in all this and is determined and fully committed to the defence of the world film heritage.

Next: Teamwork, Last Day Of Shooting... [page-break]

Sunday 29 June

Many of the scenes are filmed in three or four consecutive days; there’s an atmosphere of intense concentration as actors, Martin Scorsese and the DoP think of new ideas, which are brought to the shoot the following day.

There is constant work on the CONSTRUCTION of the film that’s being shot, during the shoot. There is a great deal of work on each detail of the shot. There is absolute professionalism, which must not be confused with automatism. It is something that’s often misunderstood.

Being professional doesn’t mean doing things quickly and efficiently, without any emotional attachment to the job. It’s wonderful to see how, here, professionalism leaves scope for craftsman-like search, so the set is a place where questions are asked, a creative place where the work of the head of each department is valued and the passion they all have for their work is very clear.

There’s something of the amateur spirit in that, which takes nothing away from their professionalism. On set, a great sense of teamwork is palpable.

Marty, as well as the DoP, the AD and the continuity director work together, thinking and rethinking the mise-en-scène, to get the most out of each shot, to make it better, more complex and interesting, with different levels of reading, in order to produce something more subtle and powerful.

The point of departure is always the screenplay; there’s always a very clear notion that the basic scene from which they depart will always grow and grow with the mise-en-scène. It is in the mise-en-scène that the film lives and breathes.

Wednesday 2 July

The last day of shooting. It’s very hot. Retakes. It is quite remarkable because the set for the interiors of the ferry bath are constructed in the same parking lot as a corridor in Dachau.

On one side, a corridor in Dachau with all the famished-looking extras, behind barbed-wire fences. On the Dachau décor it is snowing (artificial snow is poured on) while on the other set it isn’t.

This almost surreal superimposition of sceneries creates a strange, hallucinatory feeling on set. Cinema as the purest, most fantastic fiction/recreation.

Like This? Then try...

Sign up for our free weekly newsletter for the latest news, features and reviews delivered straight to your inbox.

Follow us on Twitter

The Total Film team are made up of the finest minds in all of film journalism. They are: Editor Jane Crowther, Deputy Editor Matt Maytum, Reviews Ed Matthew Leyland, News Editor Jordan Farley, and Online Editor Emily Murray. Expect exclusive news, reviews, features, and more from the team behind the smarter movie magazine.