Written by Shona Smith on Oct 4, 2019. Posted in On Location

Filming on location in Amsterdam: Behind the scenes of The Goldfinch

Warner Brothers’ adaptation of Donna Tartt’s sprawling novel The Goldfinch takes place between New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam. A stolen seventeenth century painting by Dutch Artist Carel Fabritius implicates the Dutch capital and becomes the setting for some of the film’s most dramatic moments.

Directed by John Crowley, and adapted for screen by John Staughan, The Goldfinch stars Angel Escort (pictured) as a young antiques dealer, and flashing back between formative moments when he lost his mother in a bombing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he picks up the valuable Goldfinch that fuels an obsession and entangles him in scandal. TLG spoke to Dutch location manager Thijs Bolle, of Locatiegoed and location scout Roy van Rosmalen, the location team behind the the Amsterdam shoot

Production itself took place in March 2019, and spending five days in the capital city. Rosmalen scouted the city with Production Designer K.K. Barrett. “We created our own world, all the locations needed to be scouted. Barrett and I did a lot of research and scouting together. He would come to Amsterdam and we would speak about the world of the Goldfinch. Step by step, we found the perfect locations that could work for the project”.

“The Amsterdam world was supposed to be a bit dodgy. The fate of the priceless painting The Goldfinch hung in the balance and you have to feel that tension in all the locations”. Key locations required included the hotel room where Theo stays, a local coffeeshop, an underground parking garage and a café.  

"Canals are narrow and sometimes not accessible for trucks. Placing big cranes, trucks etc. is a logistical challenge, which requires creative thinking".

Rosmalen notes that “finding the Hotel room was the biggest and most difficult location for me. In the end, we created it in a living room in an apartment on the Canals owned by a Dutch artist”.

This location proved to be a challenge during the shoot itself too, “The hotel room was built by the art department inside an apartment on the 1st floor of a narrow canal house—beautiful stretch of canal by the way with a gorgeous view!” says Bolle. “Amsterdam has a small city centre with very limited parking space. Parking spaces available for parking along the canals, vary in sizes.  Canals are narrow and sometimes not accessible for trucks. Placing big cranes, trucks etc. is a logistical challenge, which requires creative thinking.  Ultimately, we managed to make everything fit in the small spaces with the help of good old-fashioned measuring tape”.

The underground parking lot required the most preparation too. “It was part of a residential flat where the cooperation of the residents needed to be gained in order to clear the 75 parking spaces for a couple of days for lighting and continuity purposes”. Bolle adds that “we shot an action sequence where a dangerous confrontation takes place here.  After gaining the cooperation of the residents to clear the parking garage for a couple of days, the most challenging part of this location was finding a way to relocate all the cars, but the shoot itself went smooth”.

While the film focuses on the grittier side of the city, Amsterdam’s famed canals feature too. Bolle notes “An important scene between Boris and Theo on a beautiful stretch of canal in the snow.  The environmentally safe snow was prepped by Snow Business from Germany, a couple of hours ahead of shooting call”.

"Due to a snow blizzard in New York the crew ended up arriving in Amsterdam a day later than scheduled resulting in exchanging two shooting days, which is always a challenge changing permits etc.

The shoot itself took place at the end of March, 2019. “I remember that the US crew had problems flying in from New York to Amsterdam due to a snow blizzard in New York” says Bolle, “The crew ended up arriving in Amsterdam a day later than scheduled resulting in exchanging two shooting days, which is always a challenge changing permits etc. Also, the first shooting day, March 25th, was daylight savings day, so the clock advanced one hour at 3 am in the morning. First call times for locations was 3:30 am, so you can imagine what that is like. Luckily nobody overslept”.

About 75% of the crew were location, with 25% coming from the US. “It was a good mix of crew, and the workflow and collaboration within departments worked excellently and fluidly” says Bolle. Crews in the Netherlands tend to be fluent in English, an advantage for incoming productions.

As an experienced location scout, Rosmalen notes that the country can provide settings for a wide range of projects “We have a big diversity of locations. If you are looking for an American-looking neighbourhood, we have it. All kind of locations can be found here. The council is also very open to International film productions”.

While the city is a particularly popular tourist destination, Bolle asses that it “did not have any impact on preparing the shoot”. However, he says “if you would ask me the same question one year later for present projects, I’d say yes, this has become one of the bigger problems. Not only with tourists, but contractors, the film industry, tourist company and events. Like many other major cities, the city of Amsterdam at the moment is very crowded and the city needs to make itself future proof. With new ways and terms, Amsterdam will be brought into the next phase, ready for 2020 and beyond”.

The film accessed the Netherlands Film Production Incentive, receiving a EUR566,000 investment in the form of a cash rebate and the film’s Dutch co-producer was Hollands Licht (formerly Kaap Holland Film). Feature films, documentaries or animations can obtain a cash rebate of up to 35% for film productions and 30% for high-end TV series on eligible production costs.

Image Credits: Warner Bros / Roy van Rosmalen

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