Written by Kianna Best on Feb 1, 2024. Posted in Interviews

An Interview with The Zone of Interest location manager Eugene Strange

After winning the Grand Prix at the 76th Cannes Film Festival last year and recently receiving 5 Academy Award and 9 BAFTA Nominations, Jonathan Glazer’s The Zone of Interest hits UK theatres tomorrow 2 February. Capturing the story of the commandant of Auschwitz, Rudolf Höss, and his wife Hedwig, as they strive to build a dream life for their family in a house and garden next to the camp. The production travelled to the historical landmark and surrounding areas in Poland. To facilitate this, Glazer enlisted the help of Salt Film and past location finding collaborator Eugene Strange. I spoke with Strange on this poignant experience, the career track that has led him here, and where it’s all heading next.



How did you get your start working in the industry and locations?

My first job in film was working for a director called Steve Barron, who directed the Michael Jackson Billie Jean Video and many other groundbreaking 1980’s music videos. He was working on a TV show called “Arabian Nights” based at the Jim Henson Company. I had a job working for his assistant as a runner.

I then had a few jobs after that, one working on a BBC production as a stand-in for the AD team on the floor and running. The AD team and the production team weren't massively jelling and I think the producers saw a requirement for the location department to have an extra pair of hands, so I fell into it totally by chance really.


What changes have had the most impact on your work in locations?

When I started off as a location manager, we were shooting on film, so all our photography would be shot on a SLR camera. You’d go and get your rolls of film developed in Soho at the end of the day. You would then use Pritt stick to mount them up on black boards and take them to the production company to present to the director to get some feedback. Often if the director was there, you'd get feedback face to face, they'd either like them or not, and offer you guidance nudging you in the right direction. But digital photography and images replacing film and hard copies is a huge part of how we’ve progressed in locations.



How have other technologies made location scouting more accessible?

When I started there was obviously the internet, but the much wider range of image-based research that has followed has been impactful.  Now with services like Google Street View, you can drop your pin pretty much anywhere around the world and get at least an understanding of what that road or street or countryside looks like. That rapidity means you don't necessarily need to go and fly out to parts of the world to investigate and you’re able to come up with ideas more quickly. You can be stood on top of a mountain or in a suburban kitchen, or whatever the location brief is that you're working on and take photographs or even video, send it to the director or the designer and get instant feedback. That saves huge amounts of time. The immediacy of it is brilliant.


“You can look at images of the place, but it's only by being there that you really can fully appreciate the scale and geography. Yes, you can do a 360 on a camera or video but nothing beats being there.



From his earliest career moments as a runner and stand-in to having a hand in the Cannes-winning The Zone of Interest, Strange’s career spans 23 years of pushing the boundaries of location work. During this time, the Salt Film Managing Director has worked with director Jonathan Glazer on multiple projects, including Under the Skin (2013) and the Sony Bravia commercial titled Paint. With a constantly evolving working relationship, no two project experiences are the same for the long time collaborators. That was certain during the first scouting visit for The Zone of Interest in 2018 to the Auschwitz museum.


The Zone of Interest’s chilling exploration of the holocaust is unlike any other. Neighbouring Auschwitz, the home of the commandant is conveniently obstructed by the wall that block any views of the atrocities taking place in the camp, but the echoing sounds are not so easily avoided. The A24 production is based on the novel by Martin Amis translated on screen by the directorial command of Glazer, who also wrote the adaptation, working alongside producers Jim Wilson and Ewa Puszcyńska.



What were the logistics behind scouting for and creating the home in the Zone of Interest?

Initially we were going to build the house, so we were looking at areas around Poland to create the space. It was a quite a lengthy process of finding patches of land that were similar and in keeping with the real-Life House. In terms of layout, because it's set in 1943, we were looking for land that didn't have any obvious signs of modernity. So we found pieces of land that we were going to build on and went through the process of getting building permits.

In trying to create as realistic a home as possible, we discovered a building that was about 100 yards down the road from this real-life Auschwitz Commandant's House. But it was totally derelict. It was structurally sound, but it had fallen into disrepair as had all the land around it. It was, however still on the perimeter of Auschwitz, so you could see the camp from the property and therefore had that emotion and realism of atmosphere.

Chris Oddy, the production designer came up with the master plan of how to renovate and revitalise the house and landscape the garden, bringing this house back to life to be our version of the real commandant’s house. So that was the journey of going from potentially building it, to then going back to the location we had originally dismissed as being impossible to shoot in.



So what’s next for Eugene Strange and Salt Films?

I love the intrepidness of being in locations, going to places you might not have been to before and working with new directors. That sense of searching and discovery is forever there. I am trying to forge a route, whereby I’m getting involved in the early part of the filmmaking process and being one of the first people attached to a film, TV show or any piece of work. Whether it be going out to photograph interesting locations early on or coming up with ideas for locations in the script development process, that is the direction I would like to keep progressing in.

With Salt, we are continuing our direction of being a location led production services company, which we have been doing a lot more of over the past few years. Working with International companies coming to the UK to shoot on location, we use our local knowledge, production experience and expertise to make that process as smooth and effective as possible with our creative location solutions.



Images courtesy of A24


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