For the set visit to Gangster Squad, we were driven from Hollywood to the middle of Bellflower, California, which had been dressed to look like 1940’s Hollywood. It was a cold night, but before we can get to set, we were hustled around the hundreds of onlookers near the edges of the shoot. Ryan Gosling was shooting that day, and that meant many of the people from the neighborhood wanted to have a look, and were trying to take picture or film him with their phones. It was impressive to that many people at considering that it was already ten at night and the weather was already cold.
We were on set October 20, 2011, and at the time we had no idea that Gangster Squad would ever become controversial. But how could we know that a shooting in the summer of 2012 would change and delay the film? Such will explain why they talk about shooting a shooting in Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and why these interviews didn’t run months ago. At the time, spirits were high as they were halfway through the shooting process and Sean Penn has just started filming, though he wasn’t on set that night. To find out more about the things we learned on the set of Gangster Squad, read on after the jump.
Instead the focus of our trip was a steadi-cam crane shot which followed Gosling as he walked down the street and into the club Slapsy Maxie’s where Mickey Cohen is enjoying a dinner. It’s a show-off shot as the crane starts high and Gosling must talk to a shoe-shine boy and do other bits of business as he enters. As the producers said, it was reminiscent of something Brian De Palma would do. Which is no surprise as The Untouchables was very much the touchstone for the film, and the film everyone involved referenced the most. As they did take after take, Gosling would spend his down time jumping up and down and spinning around, perhaps to keep up his energy, or to keep warm. The main drag of Bellflower was all done in late 40’s style, but the extras would spend their time playing with their phones in between takes. With a shot that long and involving so much timing, on top of having to switch from exterior to interior. There were going to be a number of takes, which meant downtime in between shots.
We were also taken inside Slapsy Maxies where the other half of the shot took place, and it was dressed up as a very impressive period club. With a location like that, there is few evidence of the seams of filmmaking until you get into the back areas of the club, which are loaded with riggings and extras all lined up according to how they look. The crew were moving into the night shoot part of the film, which meant lunch breaks weren’t taken until three in the morning. It was a long night, but spirits were high.
- Gangster Squad was shot digitally: It was pretty apparent early on that this was a digital shoot, and we were surprised that they didn’t use film (though now – a little more than a year later – 35mm is quickly becoming extinct). The producers also talked about how the colors pop in the film. So this should look unlike any other period film, as is apparent from the trailer.
- Modernity: As the producers said they wanted to approach the film (like producer Dan Lin’s Sherlock Holmes) as something that is both period and modern, so digital may have been part of the approach. But this is no homage to period films.
- The Untouchables was the touchstone: When referencing other period films of late, be it L.A. Confidential or Public Enemies, everyone deferred to The Untouchables as the film that they wanted to be compared to. If that had something to do with it being a hit (while L.A. Confidential didn’t do that well theatrically), well, that’s anyone’s guess.
- The film features a lot of reunions: Josh Brolin and Sean Penn worked together on Milk (on top of knowing each other since they were kids, while Anthony Mackie and Ryan Gosling worked together in Half Nelson, Mackie and Michael Pena worked together on Million Dollar Baby, and director Ruben Fleischer’s first movie starred Emma Stone. Which must help with an ensemble film.
- Action movie first: Though it is set in period, everyone described this as an action film, with a number of big set pieces.
- Josh Brolin made a book out of his emails to Diane Lane: Brolin told us that during his first year with his now wife, the two would send each other romantic emails, and he eventually turned it into a book for them. Which is pretty romantic.
- Robert Patrick lost 30 pounds for the part: To look more like a cowboy, the actor changes his diet to look more gaunt.
- Shooting California for California: Everyone was happy to be making a movie in the location it was set in, even if Bellflower is outside of LA. But for the most part they had real locations and sets.
- Race is dealt with subtly: Both Pena and Mackie make the Gangster Squad make the team seem more modern in its racial diversity, but there was a sense from the interviews that this was mostly true, and that the filmmakers and actors know this is tricky, and it’s dealt with, but also never a big deal in the film.
- Slapsie Maxie’s wasn’t always a nightclub: As we learned on set, the big nightclub in the film was originally an old furniture store that was converted. Bellflower was hit hard by the recession, and so they were able to take over a main street and turn it into period Los Angeles.
- Ryan Gosling is press shy: This is the second set visit we’ve done to a Gosling movie, and it’s the second time he hasn’t wanted to talk to press while obviously being there. Not that we hold it against him.
- True Story: The film is based on a series of L.A. Times articles that were turned into a book written by Paul Lieberman. He turned those stories into a book, which was released August 7, which would have been perfect timing if the film hadn’t been delayed. There are two surviving members of the original gangster squad, and they, along with family members of the deceased members came to set.
- Guy-Centric: There are two big roles women in the film. One is the character played by Emma Stone, who is caught between cop and crime lord, and the other is played by Mireille Enos, who plays Josh Brolin’s wife. Everyone said that those parts offered dimension, they weren’t throwaway characters, but this is mostly going to be about men.
- Sequel-Ready: Though it’s going to have to come out first, the producers suggested that this has the possibility to continue as a franchise if it works. Of that we’ll see the results when it hits theaters January 11.
For more on our Gangster Squad Set Visit:
- Josh Brolin Talks GANGSTER SQUAD, Fascination with Gangster Culture, His Character, Working with the Incredible Cast and More During Our Set Visit
- Director Ruben Fleischer Talks GANGSTER SQUAD, Classic Gangster Movies, the Incredible Cast and the Level of Action During Our Set Visit
- Producers Dan Lin and Kevin McCormick Talk Story Origin and the Vibe They Were Going for on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD
- Giovanni Ribisi Talks Gangster Fascination, 1940s Technology, and His Character Moustache on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD
- Anthony Mackie Talks the Appeal of the Gangster Genre, African-Americans in Film Noir, and More on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD
- Robert Patrick Talks Gun Tricks, Ensemble Chemistry, and Losing 30 Pounds on the Set of GANGSTER SQUAD