Posted August 24, 2015 by admin in Resource

Catatan Produksi Film Serena (2014)

About the Production

“It is a love story that is balancing on the edge of where you want love to exist and yet you’re fearfully aware of its danger, and I think that’s fascinating.”
Susanne Bier – Director

Starring Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Rhys Ifans, Toby Jones, David Dencik, Sean Harris and Ana Ularu, SERENA is directed by Susanne Bier, written by Christopher Kyle based on the book by Ron Rash, and produced by Nick Wechsler, Susanne Bier, Steve Schwartz, Paula Mae Schwartz, Todd Wagner, Ron Halpern and Ben Cosgrove.

SERENA was filmed over eight weeks on location in and around Prague, the Czech Republic during the spring of 2012.

The Genesis of the Project

Producer Nick Wechsler’s interest in the story of SERENA was piqued when he received the manuscript of the original book about a year before its publication: “I fell in love with it on my first read. I optioned it immediately and at that time I had a first look deal with 2929, one of the financiers of the movie, and they agreed to come in and develop the project with me.”

To get the project underway, Wechsler needed to find a writer capable of adapting Ron Rash’s book for the screen. He explains: “We looked at a variety of writers and Chris Kyle had a wonderful take – he really seemed to understand the material and we liked his vision for adapting it. We hired him, and we had a very good development experience with him in getting a great script for the movie.”

When Producer Ben Cosgrove started work at 2929, he reviewed a number of the projects that were in development at the time: “I read the screenplay of SERENA and it was absolutely brilliant. I was completely riveted and very moved by the story and I thought this is the one, this is the very special project that you have to figure out how to put together.”

Writer Christopher Kyle was intrigued and drawn to the story from the moment he read Rash’s book. He explains: “My agent sent me the book a few months before it was published and I loved it. I called him before I had even finished reading it. It has such wonderful echoes of great tragedy like ‘Medea’ and ‘Macbeth’ in it, but also this wonderful language of the mountain people, so it was one of those books that as soon as I read it; I knew that I wanted to do it.”

With a first draft of the screenplay in hand, the producers set out to find a director who could bring a unique insight to the intense narrative turns of the film. Already an admirer of director Susanne Bier’s work, Nick Wechsler was very interested in what Bier could bring to the project: “One of the reasons I thought that Susanne would be a good match for this film is that she’s exhibited an incredible flair for bringing out power in relationships between people – she’s very accurate in observing intimacy, vivid emotion and passion.”

Bier was intrigued by the subject matter and explains: “I read the script first and was initially attracted to the world of logging with these huge big trees, and then to the woman being in this man’s world which I thought was fascinating and I could also identify with it. If you look around a set there are 10% women and 90% men and in a way I thought Serena had the same fate – and I found that interesting.” She delights in “telling a story which I believe is meaningful or entertaining for a contemporary audience.”

Ben Cosgrove was also thrilled that Bier was attracted to the film: “I think Susanne completely transformed this project when she came on board. Her particular genius is in her understanding of human nature and what motivates people and how characters behave and interact – flawed characters, who may make decisions that we might not agree with, or might be morally complex. She has done an amazing job of taking these individuals and really bringing them to life and making you feel like these people are not making choices that I would necessarily make myself, but I understand why they’re making them. I’m very moved by their experiences.”

Cosgrove continues: “The actors have signed on to this project as much for the opportunity to work with Susanne as for the material itself. She has a well-earned reputation as somebody who is extraordinary with actors and is able to help them reach the most profound levels of their character and their decision making.”

Adds actor Bradley Cooper who plays George Pemberton: “Susanne has a level of believability and a truth meter that you can see throughout all her movies…it was very interesting.”

Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Serena, also echoes an appreciation of Bier’s directorial truth. Lawrence explains: “My favorite thing about Susanne is the way that everything that she does is so real and it’s from this outsider’s perspective so that you don’t feel biased one way or another, which is a very interesting way to do a movie about somebody who is clearly a killer and is wrong. But for the longest time in the movie, the way that Serena goes about everything is that you could easily see both sides of it. There’s no manipulation in her movies. She tells a story and shows you these characters and shows you these situations but never once tells you how to feel.”

Rhys Ifans plays Galloway and was impressed by the manner that Bier presents the narrative of the film: “The story in itself is epic, so it doesn’t need wide brushed visual language to sustain it, so what Susanne’s done, I think, is made it more domestic and real and plausible. It’s not elevated to some kind of opera; it’s a very real world with very real people.”

Toby Jones who plays Sheriff McDowell is also interested in Bier’s story-telling, explaining: “She’s able to sustain several stories simultaneously. She’s very interested in the ripples of moral decisions and how these decisions and responsibilities affect several people and communities.”


The Characters and Cast

“I always feel with acting that there’s a certain character that’s described on the page and then the actor needs to embrace a certain number of those elements, but what is even more important is that the actor needs to bring something very unexpected to the character.” – Susanne Bier

Bradley Cooper’s Pemberton
Writer Christopher Kyle was immediately struck by George Pemberton’s fortitude. He explains: “When I read the book, Pemberton reminded me a little of Teddy Roosevelt, because he was born to privilege but that didn’t really interest him very much; to have a life of wearing a suit and going to work in an office. So he went out to the wilderness and learned how to chop down trees and build rail lines and hunt and fish and all of that – that exciting physical character who’s going against his background was really interesting to me.”

Adds Bier: “I think that the character of Pemberton with another actor would have been much less masculine and forceful. I think Bradley is bringing a physical force of nature to the character. He’s a very strong-willed, really intelligent macho man and she is a super strong-willed, beautiful, macho woman and I think that creates a very explosive energy.”

For Bradley Cooper: “What’s interesting about George Pemberton is that he lacks any feminine quality. He’s a man who is in search of that other half, that anima, and he finds it in Serena. So when you see him, he’s a very driven, self-contained man who has his own moral ethos as to what is right and wrong and it revolves around what suits him and then he meets her and you realize that he’s been looking for this other half. He’s fascinating to play.”

Before shooting SERENA, Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence had already worked together on David O. Russell’s ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and Lawrence was grateful for this previous collaboration: “We already knew each other very well, so it was extremely easy to just jump into it and to be with somebody that you’re comfortable with. Also, Bradley’s hilarious and that always makes the entire process easier. I had pictured his character in my head and then Bradley showed up on set and blew that completely out of the water – it’s so much better than I could possibly have imagined.”

Jennifer Lawrence’s Serena
For Christopher Kyle: “Serena’s a wonderful character. She’s a feminine, beautiful woman, but at the same time she grew up on her father’s logging camp in Colorado and she learnt to do all the things the men do at the camp, so she’s completely comfortable walking through a man’s world and matching their work with hers. She’s a fascinating character, and you really get that she’s the only person that Pemberton could possibly have fallen in love with and vice versa.”

Director Susanne Bier is interested in Serena’s strength, explaining: “Serena is very forceful and an expert rider. She knows a lot about logging and she manages to create a lot of respect by knowing all these things and also by having a very forceful personality. A more fragile woman could have known all the same things she does but not succeeded in generating the same respect in the men.” She continues: “She’s fearless as a character and actually Jennifer Lawrence is fearless as an actress as well. By making very little effort, she’s used to getting her own way, which is a character trait that is self-affirming. Once you get into that, then people tend to do what you want and then it becomes a self-fulfilling thing.”

From a story that on the surface appears quite traditional, it is fascinating to see how the characters, and in particular Serena, evolve. Explains Christopher Kyle: “She comes here and makes a difference in the camp. Helping Pemberton, they manage the men and they start to get better and better at harvesting the logs and getting into difficulty with the environmentalists, but her character really turns when she loses her baby in the eighth month of pregnancy and she finds out that she won’t be able to conceive another, and at that point in the story, something dark is awakened in her and she really loses touch with reality and Pemberton in the end has to fight against her.”

Adds Bier: “Serena gets to a place where she’s devastated and she feels that the only way to save their love is to become murderous. And it’s mad, but there is a certain inner dangerous logic to it and I think that arc is really interesting.”

For Bradley Cooper: “It would be very easy to portray Serena as a stock character, but there’s not one moment where you don’t believe that she’s a human being. Jennifer’s a wonderful actress, her biggest asset is her level of relaxation when she acts, and because of that, everything happens to her as she’s acting. It’s a very thrilling thing to be involved in, as the partner in the scene, as you really don’t know what’s going to happen, but you believe that she knows what’s going to happen.”

Jennifer Lawrence feels that the film’s take on the character of Serena is substantially different from that in the original novel. She describes that: “In the book she’s much more powerful from the very beginning and it’s an amazing thing to read, but when you’re watching somebody for two hours, you have to like them and understand where she’s coming from. I think the most important thing for Susanne and I was that we weren’t making a story about a crazy woman we were making a story about a woman who’s driven crazy by love, so in the movie she’s more cunning, she knows when to act like a lady…and she earns respect.”

Lawrence continues: “If she was a man she’d be very well respected and admired and ruling the camp within days. She’s smart, and knows how to run a business – she knows about wood and timber, and she also knows about men. She understands that she has to play along for a minute, earn their trust and prove she knows just as much, if not more than the men do, and she’s not shy about sharing that.”

Rhys Ifans’ character, Galloway, falls under Serena’s charm from the moment he meets her. He explains: “Serena can come across as cold and cruel and manipulative, which of course she is, but to enforce that it has to come with a certain amount of charm and those very powerful, baffling, wonderful feminine qualities. She’s a woman pretty much on her own out in the wood amongst all those drooling men and she holds her own, and I think Jennifer’s brought that balance…Initially Galloway’s willing to help and go along with Pemberton, but as soon as he comes under Serena’s spell, in Galloway’s fantasy, Pemberton is an expendable male.”

Already a keen rider, Lawrence was very comfortable sitting astride a horse, but was intrigued to learn how to handle Serena’s eagle: “It’s so fascinating to work with an animal that has literally no affection in its eyes at all; it’s looking at what it can eat and how. It’s a fascinating creature to hold on your arm, this thing that only kills, and it’s terrifying because its talons are huge but it’s unbelievable to do a scene with it…The eagle in a lot of ways is an embodiment of Serena; taken from its native place and trained enough, but then set free to wreak havoc, and then brought home again. Also, it’s a huge gesture, Serena never does anything on a small scale to prove herself to the men, it is always huge, and this is yet another example of that.”

David Dencik’s Buchanan
For director Bier, the dynamic between Pemberton and Buchanan at the start of the film is very interesting: “It’s typical of the movie, in the sense that it represents a relationship where each part thinks it’s slightly different from what it actually is. Pemberton thinks that they’re friends, he’s a real man’s man, and Buchanan knows that they’re friends but is also a little bit in love with him. And Pemberton hasn’t even realized, so there’s a bit of tension, it’s intriguing what’s going on between the two of them.”

Christopher Kyle sees the moment that Pemberton returns with his new wife Serena as a turning point in the relationship between Buchanan and his business partner: “It becomes evident to Buchanan that he’s a third wheel and there isn’t a place for him in Pemberton’s life, to the extent that ultimately he betrays Pemberton and forces him to make a very difficult choice.”

For David Dencik, Buchanan is out of his depth in the logging community, but he stays there to be with Pemberton. He explains: “Buchanan is out of his element, in the sense that he is more of an academic person – he is more into the books, the accounting and the business of the industry whereas Pemberton is more into the actual work, and he enjoys that a lot. I think Buchanan enjoys being there with him, but then things get complicated.”

Rhys Ifans’ Galloway
Christopher Kyle relished the role of Galloway, explaining: “Galloway is one of the best villains in a novel that I’ve ever read. He’s a local mountain man, an ex-convict, known to be the best hunting guide in the area. He’s Pemberton’s hunting guide and also works at the camp but at a certain point in the story, in a logging accident, his hand is chopped off and Serena happens to be there and she puts a tourniquet on it and saves his life. And from that point on he decides that he will serve her like a loyal dog and do whatever she wants him to do because he believes in some mountain magic, and his mother’s some kind of a witch, and she foretold that a woman would save his life. As the story evolves, and Serena becomes more and more deranged, so he does more deranged things at her bidding.”

For Bier, the chance to cast Rhys Ifans in this role was hard to resist: “I’d wanted Rhys Ifans to play Galloway right from the beginning because I’ve wanted him to play somebody super dangerous; he’s got a built-in kindness to him which I thought would be amazing, knowing that this was a very, very dark person. So it doesn’t become one dimensional, it becomes fascinating. First he falls in love with Serena. Pemberton and Serena are the kind of people that everybody falls in love with, and the minute Galloway sees her he falls in love with her – he falls in love with her strength and beauty, but also he recognizes an intrinsic darkness in her that he can identify with. So he falls in love and then she saves him, so he’s forever dedicated to her and that’s why he becomes her extended arm in terms of doing a whole load of pretty vicious things.”

Adds Jennifer Lawrence: “Galloway loves her almost from the day that he sees her and then she saves his life and he feels indebted to her and this becomes very useful to Serena. But she knew that he would be useful. She saw him having killer moments before, and knew somewhere inside her that he would be useful to her one day. They’re probably very much alike in that they’re tamed for now, but very dangerous.”

Rhys Ifans describes his character as being at one with nature: “Galloway is a tracker. He knows every plant and every insect and beast; every weather system that’s approaching. His mother has the vision; she has second sight, so he’s quite mysterious and aloof and separate from the other men. Industries such as logging, there was a lot of transience in terms of the work force. Of course they would have employed local people but there would never have been enough to sustain the size of this industry so he’s very much possibly the only figure that’s of this wood. He was here first.”

Ifans continues: “I look at Galloway like a wild animal and these people have encroached on his territory and in many ways modern life has polluted his pure soul and that pure soul is like nature, it’s beautiful, but has the potential to be very cruel, so if you view him as a beast of the forest, it’s forgivable the way he behaves…He certainly falls in love with Serena and again to use the wild animal metaphor, she tames him, and when you tame a wild beast you never quite tame them, you can only control them. He experiences unrequited love and in the same way that a cat brings its owner mice, Galloway brings corpses to Serena.”

Ana Ularu’s Rachel
For Ana Ularu: “Rachel is the unfortunate one. She is an orphan and can only expect to live a life of servitude. But she’s a strong character at heart and a survivor…Rachel is the kind of character that through a kind of self-preservation finds her strength and power throughout the film. She is very human and a young, innocent girl.”

Susanne Bier explains how the character of Rachel is important as it shines a light on how Pemberton reacts when he meets Serena: “Rachel is in love with Pemberton – Pemberton is very loveable. She’s a young girl who works in the camp who is clearly infatuated by him and I think he likes her, she’s beautiful, but she hasn’t made a real impact on him. Actually nobody has made a serious impact on him until he meets Serena. When Serena and Pemberton meet, there is an instant attraction and an instant recognition of a kindred spirit.”

Adds Ularu: “I think she’s really in love with Pemberton and the fact that she really hoped that she could stand a chance with him is even more beautiful, because it gives that impression of her being a child. Something in her believes that she deserves this man because she loves him, and the disappointment that she feels as the film progresses is heart wrenching, but beautiful.”

Once Rachel has her child, however, Bier appreciates that the character still has a degree of optimism: “Part of her wanting to come back to the camp has to do with some weird hope she still carries in terms of her and Pemberton. That hope has been clearly dismissed, but I think she feels that the child might draw his attention, and she’s right…Rachel has a feeling that Pemberton, being the man he is, is also a man who wants an heir somehow, and she does instinctively know that having this wonderful little boy is going to somewhat distract Pemberton from Serena. She knows that, and she uses it.”

Toby Jones’ Sheriff McDowell
Christopher Kyle describes the Sheriff’s role in the community: “McDowell is one of the people who wants to turn the land into a national park and he also represents the old South and the local people who are trying to keep alive their way of life that is being changed by the logging barons coming in with their money and corrupting this place and destroying the natural beauty of it. McDowell is one man against all these powerful people.”

Toby Jones explains the importance of the character he portrays on the local community and how he is a figure of hope within such a dark landscape: “McDowell is very aware of his responsibilities. He’s been elected by the community to represent them as Sheriff, and Pemberton and his wife have jeopardized his authority with the opportunities they are able to offer the local community. I think that we feel the tension of law and order against people’s economic situation and the hardship they’re going through and they’re forced to take jobs they might not normally take because of the financial situation. McDowell is not forced to do that, so he’s isolated in the community…he’s a kind of shepherd, and talking to Susanne, I think we decided that he was self-taught, but pretty smart and able to handle himself and the Pembertons in terms of reason, but not able to control their effect on the population. So that’s his dilemma. I suspect he’s someone who will favor doing good.”


From Print to Screen – The Story of the Film

Ron Rash’s book Serena begins just after the Stock Market Crash of 1929 and the start of the Great Depression, and is set mainly in a rural logging community in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. For writer Christopher Kyle, the challenge is always what to keep and what must be dispatched when adapting the material. He describes his process: “Once you identify the central story then you have, sometimes the painful process, of cutting out wonderful things from the book that there’s just no room for. We have focused mainly on the love story of Pemberton and Serena. The way a passion like that can turn dark when things go wrong, so since we were so focused on that, as we developed the script, anything that didn’t fit with that had to be dropped away.” He continues: “The novelist has an advantage because he can tell us what’s inside the character’s head. Often in a novel you get to hear the thoughts of the characters and there’s no way to do that in a film. So what I do is try to create the language and try to define the characters by what they do in the story.”

The setting of the story was also very important for director, Susanne Bier: “We find ourselves in a real man’s world, in a world where they’re taking down huge big trees and accidents are happening and it’s rough and it’s a world which is definitely not fit for a woman and yet very fast we find a woman in that world and to an extent she’s controlling it.”

For producer Todd Wagner, it was the aspect of the story that resonated with the present day that he found particularly engaging. He explains: “I’m always fascinated by the era around the Great Depression and all that was happening in our country, and even today, with some of the things that are reminiscent of what went on all those years ago, in that you’ve got people who are doing very, very well and then a whole multitude of people who aren’t. And in a way, in this story we’re looking through the eyes of people who are doing very well, in high society, and then you’re seeing something of the underpinnings of people who aren’t doing as well. You see what’s really going on for the average person in society, trying to get a job of any kind, willing to take jobs where there’s going to be great risk to them, where they might even be killed, but doing that because they feel they have no other option.”

Into that challenging setting, Pemberton brings his new bride and an equally dangerous love emerges. Explains Bradley Cooper: “When Pemberton and Serena first meet, it has to be one of those moments when she just takes his breath away and he, in that moment, realizes that he has to have her. His sister Agatha has told him that Serena grew up on a timber camp and tragically lost her whole family to a fire and has really had to survive on her own…Serena’s impact on Pemberton is one of those things where it’s not so much that she changed him, but she brought out sides that may have been dormant in him – some for the better and a few for the worse.”

Adds Bier: “I think Serena and Pemberton are distinctly morally ambiguous and I think that’s why they’re interesting. They’re definitely not saints, either of them, but that doesn’t change the fact that they’re fascinating and intriguing and I hope you somewhat root for them, to a point, but I’d be very disappointed if you are not very invested in them in spite of their moral ambiguity. I find the fact that they are complex and not necessarily all that clean to be intriguing and sexy. Sexiness is often combined with a certain moral ambiguity and in their case it certainly is.”

Director Bier continues: “In the same way that their initial love is like an explosion, there is the same dynamic when something goes wrong. The extreme passion and Serena’s somewhat damaged personality means that if you move one element in their relationship, it becomes extremely dark.”

As the narrative of the film develops, other characters become inextricably embroiled in Pemberton and Serena’s all-consuming desire for each other and for power, with no thought for anybody who steps in their way. For Toby Jones, who could perhaps be seen as the moral conscience of the film, the quest for his character is that: “There’s been a fundamental injustice done at the beginning of the story, where Rachel is left as a single mother by someone who is still alive and married. There’s nothing that McDowell can do directly for her, but he sees that she needs help and he’s keen to help her.”

For Pemberton’s business partner and friend Buchanan, the marriage changes his entire existence. David Dencik, who plays Buchanan, explains that: “Pemberton introduces Serena as not only a wife but also a partner without consulting Buchanan at all. And Buchanan has invested money in this partnership as well, so I think it’s an act of treachery that Pemberton does that. He’s gone behind Buchanan’s back and in the middle of this Buchanan is left with some kind of feeling of deception.”

Bradley Cooper can see that his character is caught in a downward spiral, explaining: “At some point in the movie there’s a fork in the road in terms of the two characters’ journeys together and they cease to be a couple and begin to be two individuals together. Pemberton plays the partner in the relationship that’s in denial about it, and it’s only when it’s frighteningly clear what’s going on that he’s able to admit it. You see throughout the movie that he’s aware of what’s been happening, but he just doesn’t want to believe it and the ramifications of what has been going on.”

Bier adds: “I think that throughout the entire film they have an intense love, but the intense love is somehow without boundaries and therefore it becomes very, very dark. I don’t think they ever stop loving each other, the love just becomes poisonous.”

For Jennifer Lawrence, her character’s inability to have a child brings out this dark love. She explains: “Pemberton and Serena have a very fierce love and for Serena it becomes a kind of desperate love when she loses the ability to give him a child, and knowing that he does have a child, and that somebody else could provide him with something that she couldn’t. I think she didn’t feel like a woman anymore and she was convinced that he was going to feel about her the way she felt about herself and she couldn’t bear the thought of that and I think that in her post traumatic depression, she thought that the only solution was that this child could not be her competition anymore.” She continues: “Human life is devalued insofar as she can get Pemberton to do what she wants. I think in her case it didn’t matter if they were loggers, or children, or innocent people – they were in the way of her love with George and therefore anybody and anything is devalued.”

Alongside this intense, dangerous and provocative love story, there is the ecological theme which emerges throughout the film and particularly interested the filmmakers and cast. Explains Bier: “Pemberton and Serena think they can kill the woods and kill whoever they like – their love, their passions, their desires, come in front of everything and in the end nobody can nor should do that. As with nature, so with human beings, you are bound to lose if you don’t have dignity, and you can’t survive. So you can say the movie has two levels, it has the passionate, wild, sexy love story, but it also has that story which has to do with the way we treat nature.”

Adds Bradley Cooper: “I think what’s interesting about this film’s time period is that there are a lot of relatable ideas in terms of the current day – economically; not being quite sure what the future holds; but also people abusing the system. Also, environmentally speaking, Pemberton is destroying the forest for his own benefit without any real knowledge of what can eventually happen.”

Toby Jones’ character Sheriff McDowell is at the heart of this narrative thread and explains: “I think that one of the quirks of the script, a rather unexpected feature of it, is that McDowell is friends with a local environmentalist called Kephart, and I think they are intellectual allies and want to protect the very forest that the Pembertons are systematically cutting down and I think that McDowell understands the conservationist arguments on a philosophical as well as a political level.”


The Look of the Film

“All you had to do was look around you when we were filming this movie, and everything was feeding you in terms of who you were and where you were.” Bradley Cooper

It was essential for director Susanne Bier to feel that the environment that was being created suited her directorial style. She explains: “For me, it’s very important to have an organic flow in the scenes, and that it’s for real. One of the things that characterizes many of my films is that there’s a realness to them, and one of the things that I want for this movie is to maintain that, even though it’s a period piece and a different kind of storyline. In order to achieve that, you have to have that ability to move in and out; to open drawers and cupboards. If you wanted to make food, we could make food and we’re really aiming at that type of authenticity.”

She continues: “[Production Designer] Richard Bridgland read the script and immediately sent me some sketches and I thought that was fascinating and then there was a constant stream of images for the next few days. He was very accurate – everything he sent was very much what I had subconsciously been aiming at…The logging camp is like a real, tiny village and I must admit having made movies for years now, I’m still childish, I have this infantile excitement of walking into toy world. You walk into this set and you are being pulled back in time and place and we are in the Czech Republic and we’re filming America at the end of the 1920s.”

To create that sense of authenticity that the film demanded, Production Designer Richard Bridgland went to Tennessee and North Carolina to do some research for the film. He explains: “It was really important to me to go there and see the place, because we’re filming the whole thing in the Czech Republic, so there are no physical references to anything here, apart from the forest. I took off to Tennessee for a week and spent much of my time at a logging museum and with a whole bunch of people who knew all about the logging camps – their fathers and grandfathers had worked in the logging industry. I went into the Smoky Mountains and up the trails where the camps had been. It was a unique way of life that they had and to see it all was invaluable. They set up logging camps in the mountains and they’d send a train line in, special trains that they’d built, and all of that needed to be seen. I went to the parks archives and saw all the hundreds of photos that they have there – a way of life that is just lost now.”

With this wealth of research material in hand, Bridgland set out to create a real logging camp in the forest just outside of Prague: “We created logging life as it was in the 1920s in North Carolina. When we built our camp, it’s not really a set, we literally built a camp. Its cabins are very much as they were built at the time, with the same architectural practice, and apart from the fact that we now have motorized chain saws instead of hand saws, pretty much built in the same way as well, so it’s been a really interesting experience. What we’ve created is an entire environment, but it feels real, because it’s pretty close to being real…We wanted to create a set that was an exterior back lot, but then you could walk into any of the rooms in any of the cabins at any point so that the drama was unimpeded.”

Toby Jones is very interested in this method of design and is intrigued how Bier and her cinematographer Morten Soborg use space. He says the director: “Searches out spaces and she doesn’t necessarily fix the angles beforehand around which the camera is operating, that’s why these sets allow for spontaneous decisions. Often one doesn’t know where the camera’s going. That relates to the sense of liberty that’s in these spaces and that’s very interesting to work in a period film like that. You associate that kind of camera work with contemporary stories, so I think that will give a new style to a period piece.

Adds Bier: “You can say that the cinematography in this movie, it has to look beautiful, the lighting needs to be beautiful, but it has to be dynamic. We don’t make set ups where the actors feel they have to stand in a certain way and look in a certain way. The cinematography is an extension of the human interaction.”

Bridgland also worked very closely with costume designer Signe Sejlund and cinematographer Morten Soborg. For Bridgland: “The collaboration between Signe, Morton and I has been a very tight process because we’ve discussed palettes and colors very, very closely. A lot of it has been with a real eye to the psychological impact of color, so I’ve tried to dial back on the color in the sets in many instances in order that the color in the costumes could come forward and there’s been a very interesting collaboration with Signe to do that. We work very closely on the kinds of characters you’ll see in the background of places, and generally there’s been a lot of detail orientated work.”

Susanne Bier and costume designer Signe Sejlund have collaborated on several of Bier’s previous films and she asserts that: “Signe has amazing taste and she’s very creative and very accurate and like Richard Bridgland it never comes before the human action. The costumes and set design are, at all times, an extension of the psychology of the film and who the characters are, the way they work and live and particularly for costumes, it’s a very important tool in terms of addressing a specific psychology at a specific time and Signe is masterly in using that.”

Sejlund and Bier have specific shorthand and demonstrate great trust throughout their collaboration. Explains Sejlund: “The way Susanne and I work together – she doesn’t say much which is scary and very nice at the same time. She doesn’t say what’s in her mind, she lets me make up my own universe and she didn’t want to talk to me before I really knew the script and had made my mood boards. It’s an interesting way to start a movie.”

In order to immerse herself in 1929 America, Sejlund: “Listened to period music, only watched movies from that period, looked at art books and just was completely in this period to get all my senses clear. This script is very interesting because it has so many different social environments. We are in the logging camp with really, really poor people – it’s the Depression, everybody is poor and starving and they’ve lost everything. And then we are also in a very rich hunt club and ballroom. We are in two different towns, Waynesville really poor, and Kingsport, richer, so we got around so many areas.”

She continues: “Richard [Bridgland] sent me some pictures from the research he’d done in the Smoky Mountains and between his pictures and my pictures there were so many similarities, which was very nice, and immediately I felt like we had a really good connection and I think his ideas and mine work very well together. We discussed a palette of colors and we agreed from the beginning on the colors for costume. This environment especially the logging camp is very brown, grey green, muddy, soil, dust, so there has to be some colors in the movie, so we agreed that Serena should have color.”

Not unusually, the character of Serena has the most diverse costumes. Explains Sejlund: “She’s the one who changes most and has most costumes. She is from a very wealthy family, she knows exactly how to behave correctly in different environments. She is both a man and a woman and so I had to find costumes for her where she could look extremely stunning and beautiful and sexy and at the same time we would believe that she could actually work with wood; pick up an axe and talk with the men and they would obey her.”

Pemberton has certain items in his wardrobe that are quintessentially Pemberton. Sejlund describes that: “He has a leather coat which is very much him. I think his coat and hat is a silhouette of a man and he’s very strong and also very gentle. His color palette blends more in with nature where Serena’s sticks out.”

Adds Bradley Cooper: “I love putting on George’s outfit every day and walking onto the set as if he was coming into his camp and I loved spending time there – I would eat in the commissary and sit in his office – it was incredible. The production design on this movie is so helpful and then the wardrobe was key, especially his boots, which informed how he walks.”

Sejlund adored: “My favorite dandy Buchanan – it’s really lovely that there is a character like Buchanan in the script because all of a sudden it was possible to do something that stuck out a bit, and David Dencik is such a wonderful actor and the way he plays Buchanan is just perfect. He makes those little cravats and silk shirts dandy in the most interesting way. Being gay at that time it was not easy, so it’s always hidden, but I think the costumes might help him to show it in an elegant way. He’s always wearing a little silk scarf.”

For Sejlund the character of Galloway took her away from her traditional designing style: “Galloway is very interesting – at the beginning I didn’t want any of the actors to wear costumes. You shouldn’t really think so much about costumes, but for Galloway in the beginning I thought he could be different. For me he’s kind of a musketeer – Serena’s musketeer. He’s so mysterious but also fragile and very, very interesting, and because in make-up he has a wig and teeth and a contact lens, you cannot immediately see what’s wrong, but there’s something weird about this character. So it’s all about finding a level where it’s not too much, where we still believe in him. He has little trophies on the inside of his jacket which you only see once in a while, maybe very little, but it’s there – little voodoo things maybe, we don’t know, but he’s a wonderful character.”


The Locations

Although SERENA is mainly set in North Carolina in the United States, the production chose to shoot the film entirely in Prague and the surrounding countryside of the Czech Republic. Executive producer Peter McAleese explains why: “Initially, our decision was based on finance as these things usually are, in that there’s a very attractive rebate available in the Czech Republic. I think that was allied with the fact that the locations here are uncannily similar to those in the Smoky Mountains which is where the story is actually set. So we found it easier than you might imagine to create the illusion that we’re in the Appalachian Mountains.”

He continues: “We were lucky in that many of the locations in the film are set in mountainous forest regions and that allowed us to get the whole unit out of the urban environment of Prague, because although it’s a beautiful city, it’s more difficult to imagine yourself as a 1930s American if you’re constantly surrounded by European architecture.”

For the logging camp, it was difficult to find a location where there was a perfect forested valley which was correctly sunlit and offering enough space adjacent to the set to erect a base camp for the production. Finally, close to the village of Nizbor, just outside of Prague, the filmmakers found the perfect spot.

The search for Kingsport and Waynesville was even more difficult as the location needed to be next to a train track. The village of Kolec provided just that and production designer Richard Bridgland then had to construct first one town (Waynesville) and then another (Kingsport), supposedly further down the train line. Although he used the same buildings, Bridgland dressed them entirely differently to show the disparity in the economic prosperity of the towns. He explains: “The station is built on a real railway line which we closed down for the days of shooting. While we were building we had trains going past, but on the days we shot there, we closed down a real bit of railway line, which was a fantastic opportunity, so we could create a real station.” He continues: “The train that we used is an original train from the 1930s which we got from a railway enthusiast museum. We chose all the cars individually and revamped all the cars on the inside.”

The production did move into Prague for a few days of shooting, when the National Museum hosted the elegant hotel and the Bank of Boston scenes. Explains Bridgland: “There’s some wonderful contrasts in the movie as it moves between the real poverty that you found in a logging camp which was wooden shacks and where people lived in these string cabins which were literally off loaded from trains and that people would rent for $1 a month. Then by contrast there’s this wonderful hotel that Pemberton and Serena go to in Kingsport where they attend a big dinner and dance reception and we’ve been really lucky that we’ve been able to get the National Museum in the centre of Prague for that. It was closed for five years and for the first year of its closure it was completely empty – they had taken everything out, so we were able to move in and use it, which gave us terrific production value. It’s a very good contrast to the logging camp.”