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‘Contraband’, starring Mark Wahlberg and Giovanni Ribisi, was filmed on location throughout the many diverse communities of New Orleans. Under the creative eye of cinematographer Barry Ackroyd, the thriller was filmed using multiple cameras to capture real-time action. Ackroyd’s decision to use more than one camera allowed the actors greater ability to improvise, without worrying as much about hitting specific marks. Director Baltasar Kormákur and the cast trusted the action-veteran DP to capture their natural movements on film.
Shooting in New Orleans
Production designer Tony Fanning offers that his team envisioned a layered, textured New Orleans. “We see a lot of economic status differences, industrial versus suburban, in Contraband,” he explains. “Most of us know the French Quarter, and we know about New Orleans from Hurricane Katrina and the catastrophes that have happened there. It’s nice to see real people living in their environments in different parts of New Orleans; these are not places that we ordinarily see in movies.”
Of lensing in less commercially recognized areas, Kormákur says that he didn’t want to be predictable. “It’s the same thing I do when filming in my own country. I want to dig in and see sides of places you haven’t seen a thousand times before. That is more interesting to me.” The setting offers ferry docks with freighters seen coming from both directions. “Tony, Balt and I had many conversations about where we should set the characters,” adds location manager Sam Tedesco.
“We came upon the idea of placing them on the West Bank of the Mississippi River. This allowed us to show their blue-collar upbringing, with the river as a dividing line between the two sides of the city. That informed everything else. The locals in Algiers call this area the ‘French Quarter with parking.’ It’s got a lot of the flavor, and yet it’s got a real neighborhood feel.” Fanning says the place chosen as the set for the Farraday’s home represented their past and present. Situated under the Crescent City Connection Bridge, the house, according to the designer, “is a visual connection to the life that Chris and Kate had across the river before they moved.” As Chris rebuilds a life away from his criminal past, he is in a more sheltered, protected spot.
The majority of the thriller’s scenes take place on the West Bank. However, as one of the Farraday’s friends who moved to the warehouse district, Sebastian has a loft apartment that ran the other end of the spectrum. “Ben brought a lot to a character who is confused, unsure of where he wants to go,” Fanning offers. “He wants to have this macho life, but he also wants to have quality goods. He’s not a good judge of it, so we made both of his spaces uneasy. He’s constantly renovating and not sure how to finish it. He has well-known design pieces, but also old chairs that he can’t part with.”
For Briggs’ apartment, Fanning contacted the owners of Crescent City Apartments, a large complex that had been hit hard by Hurricane Katrina. The building had been going through a renovation when the owner went bankrupt. Permission was granted to take a location in the building from its run-down condition to a state of even further decay.
“We put graffiti on the walls and trashed it in order to give the place the right look,” explains Tedesco. “The people were incredibly generous to let us come in and literally paint graffiti all over a five- or six-story building. They had people coming there every day to look at apartments to rent, and the whole time we had trash strewn everywhere…with mattresses and furniture hanging off of balconies. They were incredibly generous with letting us do that as they tried to market the property at the same time.”
Tedesco adds that Ribisi was so into his character that when the actor saw the place, he asked if he could temporarily stay there. “We literally had to talk him out of moving in,” laughs the location manager. “He thought it would be a great way to get to know his character and inhabit the role.”
The challenge in the search for the location that would become Kate’s salon was that the production team had to be able to control the street on a busy Friday night and allow for a truck to crash through the window.
Most of the contenders were in very populated areas, but a yoga studio off the beaten track turned out to be ideal. The owner saw Kormákur and Levinson standing out in front of his place on a scouting mission, so he invited them into the studio.
Fanning shares that the yoga studio was formerly an old metal shop, and it turned out to be perfect for the crew’s needs. “It was this house that was connected to a brick shop that had a garage door in it,” the designer says. “We took the garage door out and put a glass door in and worked with the existing space. We added a salon element to it, but on top of the owner’s style, we also tried to play up New Orleans.” Discussing the location that became Sebastian’s shipping company, Tedesco says the team was lucky to work with Avondale Container Yard. Both the father and son owners became part of the crew and were generous with their time. Foster shadowed Mike O’Brien, Jr., to see what it was like to run the place. “Mike always had a smile on his face,” says Tedesco. “He would come in extra early on the shoot days saying, ‘How can we help? What do you need?’ We shot that place thoroughly and got a lot of production value out of it.”
For Beckinsale, lensing on location helped her develop her character and accent. “We were shooting in a city we were supposed to be living in,” she provides. “That doesn’t happen as often as you might think. In terms of placing where the character is from, it’s great to actually be there and to walk around. New Orleans is such a particular city that you have to be there to get the vibe.”
To help her prepare, Beckinsale says she arrived a few days prior to shooting and visited several hair salons in the parish. “I met some fantastic women who were helpful in terms of listening to their accents.”
A good portion of the production was in New Orleans as Mardi Gras heated up. As the crowds and the street closures made it impossible for the cast and crew to get to work, Contraband shut down for four days during the event. Sums Kormákur: “It was a treat to be able to really enjoy the true spirit of New Orleans in the height of the season.”
Image Courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/Contraband