Hollywood returns to Berlin
The lure of Hollywood is such that thousands of Berliners will brave sub-zero temperatures and driving snow to catch a glimpse – or even become part of – it. Last weekend there was an open casting call for George Clooney’s latest project which, come March, he will be directing at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam.
Clooney, who has been spotted at various restaurants around Berlin this past fortnight (sadly, not by me), is in need of several thousand extras for the World War Two drama, The Monuments Men. The film, which follows the lives of the agents entrusted to protect cultural heritage in Germany during the 1940s, will be filmed all around Berlin and the surrounding area. It’s a big production with a star-studded cast list including Daniel Craig, Bill Murray and Cate Blanchett. And this was my chance to join them…
I donned extra layers, gloves and scarf and set out on Saturday morning to get the train to Potsdam. From there it is a short cold walk to the film studios, currently back on the international film map thanks to the influx of big name Hollywood directors choosing to make their blockbusters there. Quentin Tarantino, who has a street named after him in the studio complex, made Inglourious Basterds at Babelsberg in 2008, and obviously enjoyed his time in Germany – he plans to make another film at Babelsberg soon, and his current hit, Django Unchained, although a western, strangely has a strong German theme running throughout it.
As well as Quentin Tarantino-Str, there is Billy-Wilder-Platz – the great Austrian director worked at Babelsberg early in his career before moving to Hollywood (Wilder’s influence on cinema can be neatly summarised by the acceptance speech by the director of The Artist at last year’s Oscars, when he said, “I’d like to thank five people”, and went on to repeat Wilder’s name five times).
Babelsberg, the oldest film studio in the world (it started production in 1912), is a truly iconic location – where such classics as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis was filmed, and, more recently, the Tom Hanks sci-fi blockbuster Cloud Atlas (which has a special connection to Concorde Hotel Berlin). Cult favourite Wes Anderson (The Royal Tennabaums) has his new film in pre-production here. But it’s a weekend so the studio is pretty empty: just rows and rows of red brick buildings and the occasional prop (a fake tree, an iceberg), left out in the snow.
I walk past the offices for the soap opera Gute Zeiten, Schlechte Zeiten (“The Best of Times, the Worst of Times”) – well, it can’t all be high quality ‘art’ – and turn left down towards Marlene Deitrich hall. There’s a registration tent where hordes of would-be extras are filling out a form, so I take one and take a seat. Clooney wants to know all my vital statistics – height, hair and eye colour, shoe size (oh George, you are nosy!) as well as any special talents or abilities.
Looking around the room, I think I’m in with a chance – many of the people seem to have ignored the casting call’s requirement for no piercings, or dyed hair – in fact, a couple of young men appear to have come directly from a Kreutzberg rave. A man in black with a walky talky ushers us into stage eight for our headshots.
We file out of the tent and across a snow covered courtyard into a cavernous hall, where rows of people are lining up waiting to have their picture taken. I stand in the queue and wait my turn. Before I know it, I have been snapped, and the next person steps up. I put my form in a basket of other forms, and loiter for a moment. Waiting, I suppose, for a door to open, and Clooney to step out and call down “Get me that girl”. Maybe I’ll have a cup of coffee, and soak up the atmosphere. But it is cold and my I can’t feel my toes. I wonder if I should have put ‘Concorde Blogger’ as a special skill as well: Clooney has stayed there before, and we could discuss my character motivation over a drink at the bar.
There’s still no sign of Clooney. Reluctantly I have to face up to the fact that he is not here today. It’s a bit of an anti-climax, but I’m going to keep my eyes peeled for him during the forthcoming Berlinale. I suppose if I still don’t manage to see him there I could console myself with some of the other celebrities expected to attend, such as Nicolas Cage and Matt Damon.
Or, if I get a part in The Monuments Men, then we’ll be hanging out on set the whole time. Probably. Watch this space…