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Filming ‘The Bourne Legacy’ in Manila began in the San Andres neighborhood, its ramshackle houses and dark alleyways typical of the city’s lower- and middle-class areas. The San Andres neighborhood has grown organically over the years as locals have kept constructing additions to existing buildings. The casual visitor will find many a residential area that resembles a rabbit-warren maze of alleyways that have been cobbled together.
With its tangled web of utility lines and drying laundry overhead, and pleasant cooking smells merging with other odors of the city, the labyrinthine San Andres neighborhood is where the main characters Aaron and Marta find a place to hide from their pursuers: this time, the Philippine authorities.
San Andres was also the setting for a stunt in which Aaron, to save Marta from capture after she is cornered by the police, makes a daring slide three stories down a narrow opening between two buildings. Because of very specific requirements, this set, a narrow three-story structure that the filmmakers called “the chasm,” had to be built by production designer Kevin Thompson and his team.
Explains the production designer: “We needed a stretch that was about 100 feet long, only 20 to 24 inches wide and three and one-half stories high for the drop. ‘The chasm’ was the highlight for the art department because it incorporated so many things. It had to aesthetically work for Tony [Gilroy, director]. It had to work for stunts to drop down. It had to work for the camera department to have the jib on, and the technocrane arm had to be able to fit inside. We had to manage all the dressing and the platforming around it. It was a complicated, multifaceted set to build.”
Using the wall of an existing building, Thompson’s team built another wall next to it. Rather than employing scenic artists to “weather” the wall, the crew bought old siding from locals’ homes and installed new walls on their houses in return. The designer recalls: “We would often say, ‘We’ll redo the siding on your house or corrugated rooftop if we can have your old materials.’ Some San Andres locals also received new roofs when the team prepared for the filming of a major chase sequence. Much to many neighbors’ delight, approximately 50 roofs that were found to have holes or were otherwise deemed unsafe were replaced by the ‘The Bourne Legacy’ crew.
The production’s metro Manila locales also included the Ninoy Aquino International Airport; the historic Intramuros district, known for its Spanish colonial architecture; the Manila Yacht Club; the Marikina covered market; and the Metropoint MRT train station in Pasay City. The crew also traveled approximately an hour by plane from Manila to El Nido, located on the stunning Philippine island of Palawan, for scenes that take place amidst the magnificent islands of the South China Sea. The dramatic islands, with their limestone cliffs that emerge directly from the water, are more often associated with the landscapes of Malaysia and Thailand.
In Palawan, Thompson also found a 100-foot-long wooden-hull fishing boat, the Sabrina, for a critical scene. The working fishing boat goes out for three months at a time and houses up to 20 people along with chickens, goats and pigs. Offers Thompson: “We power-washed the entire thing because it was unbelievably smelly. Then we took off all the dressing and dressed it from scratch while keeping much of the character that was there.” Despite their best efforts, the production ended up filming alongside some of the fishing boat’s original tenants: a sizeable rat population.
For several days the crew also filmed part of a chase at Navotas Fish Port, known as the fishing capital of the Philippines, situated north of the city on Manila Bay. In the evenings, the location is a working fish market—1,000 feet long and 200 feet wide—that sells more than 100,000 fish every night. Every morning during the shoot, the crew had to scrub, steam and dry the market. Thompson and his team removed hanging tarps, added skylights and supporting posts, and scrubbed the floor to lessen the overpowering fish smell. This also served a practical purpose: to make the location safe for the complex stunt work that was to be performed there.