With opening scenes in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Istanbul and its main train station, the story was off to a great start. It was also decided that the train would be hit by storm and avalanche on the night of the murder. Dawn would break to reveal a further predicament, the locomotive is derailed and the carriages are stranded on a huge old wooden viaduct, with enormous drop on one side and a frozen mountain ledge on the other.
A huge amount of snow was required for two main reasons, firstly, most of the train sequences were filmed on the huge 500-foot-long viaduct with a 50-foot-high mountainside backdrop, and secondly, significant redressing was required to smooth trampled areas as the actors and crew 'switched' ends continually to obtain shots. The epic derailing and avalanche scenes occurred here.
The winter of 2016 was cold, which introduced other problems. It was important to schedule in extra time to avoid frozen dressing rigs. A heated container was brought onsite for small items of equipment that could be moved each day. Early starts, often 3 or 4 hours before camera, were necessary to run the previous nights anti-freeze through the rig and flush warm water through the lines that then had to be coiled in the sunlight during the day to avoid refreezing on the North face of the set. There was also a second battle with nature to keep the set safe and ice free.
We are set dressers, not set builders and hence work closely with the Art Department on film sets. A part of our role is to second guess what the Art Director wants to see. For example, the visual interpretation of 'icicles' to one person is different to another, so it is important to develop that relationship and an ability to read the situation well.
We also worked very closely with the Art Department throughout to aid contingency. Little details such as using the frost spray between panes of glass enabled us to control and replicate glass frosting. Contingency also required a high level of hand dressing especially around the wooden parts of the track set where space was limited. In fact, the design of the set demanded a lot of planning ahead due to its design.
What we did
In October 2016, we ran some test shoots with the production company and principal photography began in November and continued over the winter of 2016. It is one of the few productions in recent decades to have used 65mm cameras;
The snow scenes were mostly filmed at an area of Longcross Studios called the skid pan, using a specially built full-scale viaduct and full scale animatronic replica of the original train and four carriages. There was further track built to take some of the carriages to a second location for other scenes. Each carriage was mounted on a gimbal with built in lighting and surrounded by special effects to provide snow, wind and rain on a whim.
With recent developments in high definition LED screens it was decided to place 100 feet by 25-foot LED screens 18 feet away from the windows. With snow wind and rain lashing the windows, the effect was utterly convincing and the results spectacular.
"The practicalities of staying on schedule with a limited time frame on a 50-foot-high exterior back-lit set in January in the UK, were challenging. But thanks to the steady nerves of our director and his producer and the dedication of our cast and crew, filming was smooth, we completed the principal photography on time and all the drama was on the screen"
This was a huge project with ambitious snow scenes throughout. But the end result was a beautiful, cinematic triumph.