Written by James Peak on Jun 18, 2010. Posted in On Location

Sony's Eat, Pray, Love gets the best from Bali's locations

Before Julia Roberts’ hotly-anticipated Eat, Pray, Love was filmed earlier this year, nobody had ever managed to pull off a large studio shoot on the Indonesian island of Bali. But Marco Giacalone’s innovative use of professional coconut harvesters, poisonous sea-snake wranglers and lightning-quick house builders got the job done on budget and on schedule. He also learnt a lot about not looking rabid monkeys in the eye…

The location roster for Eat, Love, Pray, directed by Ryan Murphy, reads like a Bond film: New York, India, Italy and Indonesia. This was necessary as it was decided during development that the film had to remain true to the Elizabeth Gilbert’s best-selling book, so as not to alienate the fan base that kept the book on bestsellers lists for three straight years.

So, Marco’s Herculean task was to prepare Bali for its first ever Hollywood studio film.

“They tried to film in Bali before with Point Break 2, but it didn’t happen. Bali has five million people, but virtually no film culture. We had to import absolutely everything. All our kit came from New York and Los Angeles, travelled through Italy, India and then on to Bali, and we had to grab extra stuff from Australia too.

There were no proper film generators, or large-scale production lighting and grip packages… nothing! It was amazing starting from scratch.”

The crew swelled to 200 local people surrounding a well-travelled core of 50 US crew, as Bali does not support a trained crew base. Marco had a team of four managers and ten local location boys, just to keep local liaisons and location scouting as efficient as possible. They decided their base of operations would be the tourist area of Sanur, and the less developed region of Ubud, the mountainous region where most of the filming was done.

“We picked the town of Ubud due to its proximity to lots of jungle, mountainous roads and rice fields - all required by the script. Unfortunately due to the rainy season, we encountered heavy rain, but just 40 minutes south, in Sanur, the sun would shine. It was interesting juggling the two weather systems, but we made it work well.”

One of the most challenging aspects for Marco was wildlife that became very interested in the shoot:

“The monkeys! Oh my goodness, these monkeys were not cute. They would steal anything! You could not even wear glasses, as they were attracted to the shine. We would get to set early in the morning, when the monkeys were at their most aggressive. If a monkey bites you, you have to ship out because of the risk of rabies! We had to hire a full-time monkey wrangler just to deal with them.”

Eagle-eyed viewers may see some strange credits at the conclusion of Eat, Love, Pray, not just ‘Monkey Wrangler’, but ‘Venomous Snake Trapper’ too.

The script called for a lot of time filming on an incredible Balinese beach called Padang Padang, particularly in twilight. A local marine co-ordinator was hired for his experience of tide charts and swells. However, what made him really invaluable was when deadly poisonous sea snakes were attracted to the film lights on the beach. After some discussion, Marco hired local fishermen with buckets to patrol the shallows and scoop up the sea snakes to make the set safe.

Despite its lack of filming infrastructure, Bali is a luxurious place to be because of the high-end tourism that creates so much money for the economy. Marco was impressed with the local caterers and notes that there is no shortage of household name luxury hotels, like the Four Seasons, Intercontinental and Hyatt. There was also absolutely no shortage of beautiful places to film. Marco’s favourite locations were those used for the film’s many bicycle scenes:

“An amazing choice of fantastic places to shoot. We had to find a ‘jungle tunnel’ location, roads good enough for rig cars, but surrounded with enough jungle vegetation so the light would not be too different depending on time of day, and looking rural enough.”

As well as the benefits of the local topography, Marco explains that the Balinese are the sweetest people in the world, with an amazing work ethic. He remembers one incident where the locally-sourced Art and Construction Department really showed what they could do:

“We needed to shoot on a deserted mountain road where Xavier Bardem‘s Land Cruiser nearly hits Julia Roberts on her bike. The construction team needed to build a two-storey house in a heartbeat. I was worried about how long it would take, I turned around and it was already there! They had built a traditional wooden house, full of architectural detail, in a few days! Where else in the world would you find that?”

Marco had to get creative to solve some production problems. To create a shade over the set one would normally use a crane and rig a square silk to create shadow. But Bali had no cranes, so Marco hired five death-defying professional coconut climbers to fix it up instead. He explains that being aware of the resources on offer made all the difference. In a country where no big films have shot before, Marco’s attitude was always that he was a guest:

“You never want to make the next producer’s life difficult. At any rate, the people were very obliging and keen to learn what we needed. We were careful not to ride roughshod over the culture. You may have permission to film on a street and then suddenly find a funeral procession and cremation taking precedence. Who are we to challenge that?”

So, after a challenging, but ultimately successful experience, would Marco recommend Bali as a place to film a big studio movie?

“It’s beautiful, but only if the script demanded. You have to import everything. Motorhomes, lights, kits, everything! It was like filming on the archetypal desert island. That said, there was something very liberating about having to make it up as you go along.”

Marco is now in Hungary working on the New Line/Warner Bros feature The Rite.

Additional images supplied by the Bali Film Center.

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