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Glasgow doubles for San Francisco and London in epic Cloud Atlas shoot

Glasgow has doubled for both San Francisco and London in an epic shoot for sci-fi drama Cloud Atlas. Co-directed by Tom Tykwer and sibling filmmakers Andy and Lana Wachowski, the film’s multiple stories span millennia.

Base camp for the production was Studio Babelsburg in Germany throughout its shoot and so the filmmakers always intended to keep location filming elements within Europe. Glasgow’s full potential as a filming location wasn’t discovered until the scouting phase of the project, when the nature of the city and its UK location helped it stand out.

David Brown worked on the Scottish leg of the shoot as Line Producer: “Barcelona and Berlin were scouted as potential doubles for San Francisco, but then when we started looking closely at Glasgow the real possibilities of what it offers became clear very quickly.”

The city’s grid system – a highly unusual feature for UK cities – made it immediately appealing as it was clear that road closures would be easier to arrange. Its hilly geography and distinctive architecture also made it a good double for the iconic sloping streets of San Francisco.

A crucial factor was the willingness of the city authorities to help out with the logistics. We were actually offered a 16-block road closure, although in the end we only needed ten.

David Brown, Line Producer

Brown adds: “A crucial factor was the willingness of the city authorities to help out with the logistics. We were actually offered a 16-block road closure, although in the end we only needed ten. Once you’ve taken care of the street furniture it’s all fairly straightforward.”

The Glasgow Film Office co-ordinated with a group of municipal organisations to plan the road closures and the production team spent around four weeks turning the streets into San Francisco. Police officers and stewards directed pedestrians from the main junctions during the four-day shoot.

Beverley Murray is with the film office: “The production removed street furniture, painted out road markings, covered modern signage and added American signs and traffic lights. They also dressed shop exteriors in one location.

“The wide streets, easily manageable grid system and eclectic architecture make Glasgow a good proposition for on-location filming. In the past the city has doubled as other locations such as London, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco so there is a range of possibilities available in the city.”

Glasgow had a strong year in 2011 with Cloud Atlas arriving only a few weeks after Brad Pitt’s World War Z turned the city centre into Philadelphia to stage a zombie holocaust. The two films spent more than GBP20 million in the city.

(Main page image courtesy of Glasgow Scotland with Style. Cloud Atlas filming images courtesy of Glasgow Film Office)

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