TIFF 2019: The Goldfinch
Hot on the heels of Christopher Nolan's Dunkirk (2017), the new $40 million Warner Bros/Amazon Studios drama The Goldfinch, starring Ansel Elgort and Nicole Kidman, is the second major Hollywood film to shoot in the Netherlands in recent years.
Whereas Dunkirk used the huge fresh water lake the IJsselmeer, The Goldfinch, by contrast, was shot in the heart of Amsterdam, where the production spent a week.
"Amsterdam is an incredibly cinematic city," Mari Jo Winkler, executive producer of the film, says of the decision to come to Holland. "We very quickly got a grasp of the rebate system. Bas van der Ree (Netherlands Film Commissioner) helped walk us through that and our local line producer Erwin Godschalk is a seasoned professional."
"They were happy with the work we did on Dunkirk and so they approached us again," adds Maarten Swart, MD Kaap Holland Film, the Dutch co-producer on both projects, on Warner Bros decision to return to Holland.
Picturesque it may be but Amsterdam has narrow streets, listed buildings and lots of canals, and its layout could have presented a daunting challenge to the filmmakers. "America is built for cars and when Amsterdam was built there were no cars," Godschalk sums up the situation in a nutshell. The Americans couldn't have big trailers and trucks. However, once they became used to working on a smaller scale, they rose to the challenge.
Production Incentive support on the film amounted to €435,013. What's more, both Winkler and Swart are full of praise for the Netherlands Film Commission and for the "pragmatism" and "flexibility" of the indefatigable commissioner Van der Ree.
"Bas is always doing a terrific job bringing people into Holland and (then) once they are there, giving them extra attention," Swart agrees.
The Goldfinch is shot by legendary cinematographer, Roger Deakins, an Oscar winner for Blade Runner 2049 and whose other credits include No Country for Old Men and Barton Fink. As his Dutch collaborators quickly discovered, Deakins is an arch-perfectionist. At his request, all the low wattage bulbs on a bridge over one of the canals where The Goldfinch was shooting were replaced so that the light would be brighter and more dramatic.
Godschalk provided The Goldfinch with local technicians, among them art department staff and set decorators to work under revered art director K.K. Barrett (Marie Antoinette, Her). One difference he noticed was that the Americans tended to be very specialised in their jobs whereas the Dutch would generally expect to take on many more tasks. Nonetheless, the Dutch and their American counterparts worked well together.
Furthermore, Godschalk made sure to consult City Hall and to make sure that the production didn't antagonise the residents of Amsterdam, who sometimes become frustrated at the huge amount of tourists clogging up the city. When they were shooting a scene with fake snow early in the morning on the Reguliersgracht, one of Amsterdam's most beautiful canals, some locals made mild grumbles - but an advantage of a big production like The Goldfinch is that the filmmakers could afford to address their complaints directly rather than let a dispute develop.
After Dunkirk and The Goldfinch, it is expected that the Americans will soon be back again. "What I saw is that they really enjoyed working here. They now see Holland and Amsterdam as an opportunity to shoot... I think they experienced that it will work out here. If there is something that can be done in Holland, they will absolutely consider it," Godschalk concludes.
SEE NL Magazine #36 September 2019 / Locarno - Venice - Toronto - Netherlands Film Festival Issue
SEE NL is published four times per year by Eye International and The Netherlands Film Fund and is distributed to international film professionals.