Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy
Press Release from Framestore
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is released in the UK on 16th September 2011 and will open in the US on 9th December. Based on John le Carré’s eponymous 1974 novel, the dark, Cold War thriller is directed by Tomas Alfredson (Let The Right One In), from a screenplay by Bridget O'Connor and Peter Straughan. The film stars Gary Oldman as George Smiley, and co-stars Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, John Hurt, Toby Jones, Mark Strong, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ciarán Hinds. The film was produced by Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Robyn Slovo for Working Title Films. Framestore created the film’s digital visual effects.
It’s 1973, and a Circus (MI6) mission to Budapest ends badly in bloodshed. Following this fiasco, the head of the Circus (John Hurt), known as Control, is forced to retire, as is his right-hand man, the mild-mannered but razor-sharp George Smiley. But Smiley returns to work secretly at the government’s behest when it becomes clear there is a 'mole,’ or double agent, working for the Soviets from a senior position at the Circus.
For his first English language film, director Tomas Alfredson and his Right One cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema, opted for a gritty, rain-sodden, strip-lighted London, one a million miles away from the world of Bond and Bourne. In keeping with this the film, whilst authentically tense, violent and bloody, is not concerned with elaborate, effects-driven action sequences. Framestore’s contribution was to be largely one of atmosphere, period detail and subtle enhancement. Apart, perhaps, from the flaming owl.
Shooting took place between September and December 2010. Following a hiatus for crucial editorial work, post production was completed by Framestore between June and July 2011, with work taking place at both its London and Reykjavik offices. Visual Effects Supervision was undertaken on-set by Christian Kaestner – working in London and Istanbul - and during the subsequent post-production period by Sirio Quintavalle. “We have developed an excellent relationship with Working Title Films,” says Kaestner, “Which made it natural for them to come to us for the 30 or so shots that required a digital component. Tomas (Alfredson) was aiming for an authentic period feel, shooting in 35mm and scanning at 4K to maintain the grain and mood he wanted, so our work needed to be both invisible and of the highest quality.”
The film’s MI6 Headquarters is a cubical modern building located – and hidden – within the courtyard of a larger, older Victorian structure. Seen only briefly, just enough to establish it as the locus of Circus operations, but needing to be authentically ‘there’, the modern component was created in CG by the Framestore team and inserted into a real, if slightly manipulated building shot in Kensington.
Similarly briefly glimpsed is a shot within the HQ, as the camera peeps down from a large gallery-like vantage point onto the hive of activity in the floor below. Impossible to do on the shoot’s single-floor set, this was effected with a green screen mask and a re-dressed set. Simply and within a few seconds, the shot conveys a vibrant, spacious workplace.
Location material gathered by Kaestner was used to turn a hotel in London’s Aldwych into one in Istanbul. Another scene takes place in a Wimpy Bar in Piccadilly Circus. Wimpy Bars were the English fast food joints of the period, before McDonalds had leapt across the Atlantic. The scene is shot through the glass, as if from just outside the café, and the period is established almost subliminally with the addition of reflected cars and period neon signs for Skol Lager and Cinzano. Such light touches effortlessly transport you back to the precise time and place. Reflections also help convince the eye that three car shots, in London and the English countryside were actually occurring, and other digital touch ups help place us firmly in 70s locations around London and Istanbul.
And the flaming owl? It’s the centerpiece of a short scene in which ex-Circus operative Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong) is teaching a French class at a private school for boys. Suddenly, an owl flies down the chimney, through the fire and – in flames – into the classroom. As it circles the room Prideaux seizes a ruler and, with a single well-aimed slash, brings the hapless bird down and out. The scene extraordinarily and economically lets us know that Strong’s deadly spy training is still very much available to him if he wants or needs it. “We shot it in separate layers,” explains Quintavalle, “The owl (incidentally an old friend from Harry Potter shoots), the children and Strong. Smoke, fire, embers and feather elements were tracked on to the owl, with Strong striking a dummy at the appropriate moment. Mark Strong was a delight for us to work with in that his timing was remarkable: we had to do a number of takes, tweaking the timing as we went, and Strong’s ability to add or subtract a beat or a second to his movements, whilst staying true to his character’s actions was astonishing.”
Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy is already being hailed for its performances, direction and writing as prime awards material. The Daily Telegraph calls it, “A superb adaptation of John le Carré’s brilliant, intricate Cold War spy novel…a triumph…packed with superb British actors, all at the top of their game,” and Variety commenting, in its inimitable style, “An incisive examination of Cold War ethics, rich in both contempo resonance and elegiac melancholy. Finely hammered to appeal to discerning auds and kudo-awarding bodies, Tinker should do sterling biz.” All this and a flaming owl to boot! What are you waiting for?
Studiocanal presents a Karla Films, Paradis Films, Kinowelt Filmproduktion co production with the participation of Canal+ and CinéCinéma a Working Title Production
DIRECTOR Tomas Alfredson
PRODUCERS Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner and Robyn Slovo
Framestore is an Oscar-winning visual effects company and the UK’s leading authority on stereoscopic 3D. Framestore uses innovative talent and technology to create hi-end images for every platform. In addition to working for Hollywood studios, advertisers, ad agencies, production and gaming companies, Framestore also generates its own paid-for content: eg – VFX in Your Pocket and Polar Peril.