How did Roman Polanski direct scenes shot in America in Ghost Writer
August 10, 2010 6:20 AM   Subscribe

In what sense was Roman Polanski the director of "Ghost Writer"? I see in his wikipedia article that he has been unable to visit many countries because he would be deported to America to face rape charges. I just watched the movie and was clear to me that a lot of stuff was shot in America; the IMDB indeed lists Germany and the UK as locations, but also Massachusetts. How did he direct those scenes from across the ocean? And..when was this all shot? Apparently Polanski had been under house arrest in Switzerland in 2009. Maybe I just don't totally grok the job of a director, but I don't see how he could have directed the scenes in America. Nobody else is listed on the credits as a director. Was there a Ghost director involved?
posted by Osmanthus to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
From IMDb: "Some part of the movie was filmed on the German island of Sylt as a stand in for Martha's Vineyard. To look more American it was dressed up with an attention to details: American style cars, US signage, added telephone poles (phone and energy lines run mostly underground in Germany), wooden houses, American extras, etc."

IMDb shows a second unit director based in Boston, as well.
posted by mkb at 6:28 AM on August 10, 2010

The Director's Guild basically forbids a film to have multiple directors. If there is a second location where they are shooting scenes where the director is not present, that would be the second unit and would be run by the second unit director / assistant director.

Anyways, it doesn't seem like much was shot in the U.S. Per Wikipedia:
The film began production in February 2009 in Germany, at the Babelsberg Studios in Potsdam. Germany stood in for London and Martha's Vineyard due to Polanski's inability to legally travel to those places. The majority of exteriors, set on Martha's Vineyard, were shot on the island of Sylt in the North Sea, and on the ferry "MF SyltExpress". The exterior set of the house where much of the film takes place, however, was built on the island of Usedom, in the Baltic Sea. Exteriors and interiors set at a publishing house in London were shot in downtown Berlin, while Strausberg Airport near Berlin stood in for the Martha's Vineyard airport. A few brief exterior shots for driving scenes were shot by a second unit in Massachusetts, without Polanski or the actors.
posted by smackfu at 6:29 AM on August 10, 2010

It was shot primarily in Germany. The house was built on a sound stage and that all-so-pretty office view is all CGI. I don't know what scenes got Massachusetts a location credit, but they were either minor or incorporated into a blue screen.
posted by geoff. at 6:32 AM on August 10, 2010

Second unit directors work on pretty much all film shoots. It would be completely within the realm of normal to have the second unit director shoot the American footage even if Polanski weren't forbidden from coming here.

Dressing up locations to look like foreign locations is also completely normal, even though here there is a special reason for it. Toronto can be New York, Bucharest can be Columbus, Prague can be Moscow.

My favorite bit of American set dressing inspired by Polanski's fugitive status is in The Ninth Gate. Interesting duplication of Greenwich village there, complete with Bleecker Bob's.

Incidentally, Stanley Kubrick's self-imposed exile from America contributed to the dreamlike pseudo-recreation of the West Village in Eyes Wide Shut.
posted by Sticherbeast at 6:55 AM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

You can shoot establishing shots sans actors anywhere without a director. That is done very regularly especially with aerial establishing shots. Many times establishing shots are just purchased outright and not shot with the movie at all. Look at many scenes from military movies where shots are provided by the military or other archival sources.
posted by JJ86 at 7:44 AM on August 10, 2010

The key is that the 2nd unit footage, shot in Mass. would be tiny establishing shots, not incorporating the actors. It's entirely normal and usual for this to happen on all sorts of movies. So it's easy for the "real" director to instruct the 2nd unit director to get an establishing shot of, say, a Martha's Vineyard exterior.
posted by BlahLaLa at 8:11 AM on August 10, 2010

You would be shocked by what gets directed by non-directors in Hollywood. I have worked on large budget features that had up to five separate units consisting of anything from little bittty inserts to huge stunts units that last for weeks to scenes that involve actors and recorded dialog, all done by second unit directors, friends of directors and sometimes no director at all. Chaos reigns supreme in Hollywood and many if not all rules are broken continuously. The more money often the higher the level of chaos.
posted by silsurf at 9:46 AM on August 10, 2010

In addition to everything said above, the external street scenes in Ghost Writer—say, where Ewan McGregor's on the pavement after his meeting with the publishers, or after the book launch—looked to me as though they were shot against a green screen, using footage shot by a second unit. Green screen technology these days is really quite amazing.
posted by hot soup girl at 3:50 PM on August 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

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