George Clooney films World War II drama The Monuments Men in Germany
George Clooney filmed on location mainly in Germany for his World War II drama The Monuments Men. The movie tells the true-life story of a platoon of museum directors and curators who were sent into the European battlefield to safeguard precious artwork from destruction.
Clooney was producer, co-writer and director as well as star, and the decision was made to base the German filming at two separate hubs.
“Berlin and Brandenburg were chosen because of the stage facilities in Babelsberg, some rural locations and the grander buildings which stood in for Paris,” explained Markus Bensch, production executive in charge of locations at Babelsberg.
Nearly all of Babelsberg’s 20 stages were used at various points during the shoot. The studio’s immense exterior green screen was also utilised to digitally enhance a large set build recreating the courtyard of Neuschwanstein Castle, an historic building in south-west Bavaria near the Austrian border.
Outside the studio, shooting also took place at Krampnitz, a former military base near Berlin that had been used before as a filming location for Jude Law’s 2001 Stalingrad-set war movie Enemy at the Gates and Quentin Tarantino’s more recent Inglourius Basterds.
“We were looking for a huge piece of land close to the studio,” Bensch described, “ideally partly concreted so we could easily build on it to shoot a couple of huge Allied army camps. We were looking for a huge field. In reality the camps we were trying to recreate housed up to 50,000 soldiers.
“We had to throw some money at Krampnitz for an ammunition search and cleaning up some vandalised buildings we used for crew holding and workshop space on-site, but all in all it was worth every penny. We had to rent it for a long period - approximately six months - because we wanted to show the camps in various seasons.”
A separate abandoned factory close by called Ruedersdorf also became a useful filming location and offered piles of rubble that were extremely useful as wartime set dressing.
“Production designer Jim Bissell immediately fell in love with the site and saw the opportunities it offered,” Bensch added: “We ended up shooting sets which were scripted for Italy, Belgium and Germany on that site. We were building sets on location, attaching them to existing structures and so on. Again, we secured that site for about six months so we had plenty of time to play around.”
The production team also filmed on location in the Harz region of Germany, 120 miles west of Berlin. Here they found a “quaint and unspoiled look” and timber-frame buildings that were used to double for locations in northern Europe. There were also ore mines available where artwork was actually hidden during the war.
As is often the case with high-profile productions of this sort, filming with Clooney and a stellar support cast including Matt Damon, Cate Blanchett and Bill Murray attracted a lot of media attention, but also had its benefits.
“All those names obviously really make it much easier to access locations which might be difficult to secure otherwise, such as Neuschwanstein Castle and the interior of Halberstadt Cathedral (in central Germany), which is almost a thousand years old,” Bensch concluded.
(Photos: Claudette Barius/Columbia Pictures Industries/Twentieth Century Fox Film)
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