The Fake Architecture of the Film World

ne of the most influential names in the history of film is one you’ve probably never heard of. His name isn’t on the walk of fame, nor inside your anthology of cinema, but if you’re an architect with a soft spot for German expressionist epics, then you might just be the exception.

Otto Hunte was part of a trio of production designers frequently called upon by director Fritz Lang to bring his scripts to life. His futuristic buildings towering over the city of Metropolis are reflected in some of the architecture we see today; a vertical city layered according to the social standings of the population.


Hunte’s team comprised of two other Germans: Erich Kettelhut and Karl Volbrecht, and it’s Volbrecht’s role of Filmarchitekt in Metropolis that got me interested in this story in the first place. Volbrecht helped bring Hunte’s sketches to life. Sketches of a futuristic city that lives forever on-screen but for only a fleeting moment in the real world.

This fleeting moment is a Hollywood obsession. Enormous sets are constructed in backlots for the perfect shot. These take months, sometimes years to construct. For Lord of the Rings, director Peter Jackson even asked the crew to plant real vegetables on set a year before any filming ever took place. This is the detail directors want, and teams of hundreds or more put their talents to use building villages that exist for only a matter of months. So, if the vegetables should look that good, imagine the details obsessed over architecture and aesthetics.


The Village that lasted how long?

Narrow medieval streets, cute, cobbled roads, a certain je ne sais quoi that the French always seem to have. This is Conques; a quaint village nestled in the south of France. It’s also the set of 2017’s Beauty and the Beast. The set of the Disney re-make and the town that it’s modelled on may be 688 miles apart, but they have a striking similarity.

Conques French

It’s no accident either. Production designer Sarah Greenwood took a whistle-stop tour around France looking for inspiration from old chateaus and traditional architecture that would help recreate France in the 1740’s. A team of over 60 sculptors and crew worked hard to build the 30-foot high sets over an 18-month period, and it’s sometimes impossible to differentiate the intricate details of ornaments and façades to the real thing.

But the real world of production is no fairytale. It was actually possible to shoot the film in the village, but when producers did the math, they got back to Sarah with a proposition: “It’s going to cost X to go to there, can you make us this village (for less)?”

Pulling inspiration from all the elements that they loved on that trip, Greenwood and the team set to work in the backlot of Shepperton Studios and began the task of bringing the village to life. One of the reasons a tangible village was created was that the Beast, the protagonist, was to be computer generated. Producers were worried too many digital effects would be a little jarring for the viewer, especially as this was the real-life adaptation of the 1992 cartoon original. Only the ‘real’ thing would do.

Artists and construction workers brought the village to life by carving, sculpting and plastering their way around the enormous set. Sketches were made, scrapped and re-drawn over and over again.

Over the course of construction, the team built, among other things, a 12,000 square foot faux marble floor, a 9,600 square foot forest (including real trees and hedges that took 15 weeks to put in place), and a 30,000 square foot village, including a cottage, school, church and village square. All of this was built by a crew of over 1,000 for just 3 months of filming between the months of May and August 2015.

Movie set

If you can’t build big, build small

When your city is too big or budget too small, just remember you can always fall back on the pioneering techniques of filmmakers in the 1920’s. Wes Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel might have won an Oscar for best production design, but there were no tricks used that we hadn’t seen before. Metropolis might look a little fake today, but it was this particular brand of artificiality that Anderson wanted to re-create.

The artificial feeling of Metropolis comes from the techniques used to construct and then film the set. Fritz Lang worked with his production team creating a mix of full size buildings, scaled miniatures, and an ingenious use of reflections to create the futuristic world.

The Metropolis team employed a technique devised by Eugene Shuftan, that combined miniature models with real people. A mirror, mounted at 45 degrees, reflected the image of the miniature set that was built behind the camera. When the mirror was scratched away it revealed a see-through panel of glass through which the actors (who were behind the mirror) could then be seen. If everything lined up just right, the camera saw the reflection of the miniature set behind it, while also seeing the real actors acting within it.

It was a clever piece of trickery, totally new at the time, and something that’s also seen in the more modern Grand Budapest Hotel. This time though, rather than using mirrors, the miniature was first filmed, and the actors then placed into the miniature set digitally, a technique known as digital compositing.


To the war room!

Sometimes a place that feels so tangibly real, its walls so strong, its occupants so comfortable, may in fact, not exist at all. The West Wing and House of Cardsbrought us right inside the White House. They brought us along extensive corridors and into plush presidential offices. As a production designer, it’s up to you to make it believable. But you also have the opportunity to change things. After all, cinema is art. So, what if it wasn’t just a picture here or a chair there that you moved? What if you let your imagination run free? What if the script spoke about a room that didn’t actually exist, but could?

In a position he called “the best role I ever played”, ex Hollywood actor turned President Ronald Reagan should have been more familiar with the tricks of the trade. Cinema, after all, was where he had become famous. But it was on his first day in office that, while touring the White House, he asked his aides to bring him to the war room. “What war room?”, they replied. “The one in the Dr. Strangelovemovie”, the President answered in a completely serious tone.

cinema set

Dr. Strangelove was a Stanley Kubrick movie from the 60’s, and that famous war room didn’t exist. It was a perfectly built set that set designer Ken Adam had taken inspiration from Dr. Caligari and Metropolis to put together. Adams was born in Berlin and trained as an architect in London. His iconic set consisted of an enormous round table lit by a large halo of light, a set which Stephen Spielberg called the best ever designed.

“I don’t know what the government facilities are like,” Adam said. “And I certainly didn’t base the war room on them!” His set is flanked by enormous screens showing world maps for the occupants of the room to analyse, and maybe this is one set you can forgive Reagan for mistaking as real.

set for a movie

Today, Hollywood fakery has made its way further than just the war room in the White House. Construction sites in China can now be seen with their perimeters walled off with beautifully fake facades, and many construction sites are printing enormous images that cover buildings under construction (Kensington Palace for example). Plus, for a curious look at what Paris would look like as a surreal two-dimensional film set, there’s no better project than that undertaken by Claire and Max of Melimonde.

My Film Angels

It takes a village to make a film. Here, NYWIFT member Jane Applegate give thanks to all those who lended a hand – literally and figuratively – over the years.

By Jane Applegate

As the holiday spirit flowed last month, my thoughts turned to angels. Not the winged ones in heaven, but the earth-bound ones who generously support independent filmmakers.

I owe everything to the angels who have supported my low-budget film and TV projects through the years. They not only wrote checks, but provided invaluable blessings in the form of donated props, boats, equipment, carpentry skills, political clout, psychological counseling and most of all, their time.

One of my biggest angels was Connecticut entrepreneur, Don Vaccaro. In 2014, he provided us with free access to his five-acre section of Mistake Island, a remote island located off the coast of Jonesport, Maine.

The rugged island is home to an elegant, unrestored 1800’s-era lighthouse, the perfect setting to shoot To Keep the Light, a period piece written and directed by NYWIFT member Erica Fae. Fae’s months of location scouting led us to Vaccaro, who on a whim one evening, purchased a section of the tiny island via an online real estate auction.

Vaccaro’s generosity enabled us to shoot To Keep the Light (www.tokeepthelight.comfor less than $1 million. In addition to providing the spectacular island, he covered the cost of a construction crew and $63,000 worth of building materials to build the exterior of the lighthouse keeper’s house. Years before, the original keeper’s house had been blasted to bits during a military training exercise.

Jane Applegate at the lighthouse on Mistake Island

Built mainly with cables and bolts, all the siding, lumber, windows and trim were salvaged by the construction crew after the shoot and stored on the island to build a future cottage.

Other Jonesport angels were Joy and Colin Alley. I met Joy in the church across the street from the charming inn we rented to house the crew and use as a key location. I was in the church crying and praying — two things many overwhelmed producers do often. Joy reminded me that her husband, Colin, owned the biggest fishing boat in Jonesport. She said if there was anything they could ever do to help out, please call her anytime.

Captain Colin Alley

A few days later, as the leaden clouds rolled into view, our fantastic line producer, Samantha Knowles, insisted that we get everyone off the island — fast. Harry Fish, captain of our tiny fleet of small fishing boats, told Sam it wasn’t safe for him and his sister to return to the island to fetch us. I called Joy and within an hour, Colin and his fishing boat crew arrived to rescue us and all our gear.

Kent Newton, underwater DP and boat wrangler

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) was another angel. A few weeks before shooting started, we learned that the shrill audio signal generated in the lighthouse blared every two minutes — making it impossible to shoot on the island. As luck would have it, Sen. Collins chaired the committee that oversaw the U.S. Coast Guard. Her office was instrumental in accelerating the switch from the automated signal to a ‘marine-activated’ signal that allowed us to shoot on the island.

Other angels included members of the Jonesport Historical Society, who lent us priceless antiques to outfit the general store and provided access to the original post office for the final scene. Those precious antique gave the film its authentic look and feel.

When my friends heard I was finally getting to produce my ‘dream film’ on the scenic coast of Down East Maine, several volunteered to help out on set. Kent Newton, a former Navy diver and underwater cinematographer with 40 years experience, spent nearly a month working with the camera crew, serving as a safety officer and wrangling boats for various scenes.

Alice Look, a post-production supervisor at a major cable network, spent a week on set, grappling with all the SAG paperwork.

My dear friend, Linda Denny, drove us from New York to Jonesport — shopping for food along the way and then cooking for the cast and crew along with Todd and Butchie, our full-time catering team.

Another close friend, Jay, an experienced DP, spent a week on set helping the crew, while also serving as my bodyguard, therapist and driver.

Two years later, on writer/director Harris Doran’s Beauty Mark shoot, I met Brian, the owner of a downtown Louisville ‘gentlemen’s club.’ Brian not only let us shoot in the club for a couple of days, but played himself and did a darn good job.

Auden Thornton (left) and Cathy Curtin on the ‘Beauty Mark’ set- shot in Louisville, KY 2016

On our last day of shooting, the piece of crap car purchased by the line producer I stepped in to replace after she had a meltdown, died. We had one final, critical driving scene and no car. Someone remembered that our club owner friend, Brian, owned a big, flat bed truck. At midnight, Brian rolled up in the truck, winched the crappy car on to the flat bed and helped the exhausted crew rig up the camera car.

Brian and his truck saved the shoot. While they drove off, I dried my tears and unloaded a few bottles of tequila and a trunk full of soda, beer and snacks I had been squirreling away because I was determined to have a wrap party.

We had been shooting non-stop for 12 days under battlefield conditions including a sizzling heat wave and roaring thunderstorms. I spent my own money to rent a car, (that’s another story) but had enough cash left to buy one hundred Fourth of July sparklers. At 2 a.m., when Doran called “Cut—That’s a wrap!” I set two handfuls of sparklers ablaze and passed out the rest to the exhausted crew.

This time, I was crying tears of joy.

Jane Applegate is a producer dedicated to producing ultra-low budget films. She’s also a production consultant and teaches film financing and the business of film at the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at Brooklyn College.

16th RAI Film Festival Prize Winners

Who triumphed at the 16th RAI Film Festival? See below to see which films our judgesawarded prizes to.


Awarded biennially since 1980, this prize is for `the most outstanding film on social, cultural and biological anthropology or archaeology’. The value of the prize is £500. 

Winner: Of Love and Law (Dir. Hikaru Toda)
Commendation: Abu (Dir. Arshad Khan)


Awarded biennially since 1986 this prize is for a film in the ethnographic tradition that takes advantage of the evocative faculty of film as a means of furthering a concern for humanity and for communicating that concern to others. The value of the prize is £500.

Winner: Thank You For the Rain (dir. Julia Dahr)
Commendation: Awake, A Dream From Standing Rock  (dirs. Josh Fox, James Spione, Myron Dewey)


Voted by the audience at the RAI Film Festival, and sponsored by Dartmouth Films. The value of the prize is £250.

Winner: Even When I Fall (dirs. Kate McLarnon, Sky Neal)


This award has been offered by the Film Festival Committee since 1990 and is for the best film about the social use and cultural significance of material objects, be it at the present time or any previous period in human history.  The value of the prize is £250 

Winner: The Book of the Sea (dir. Aleksei Vakhrushev)


Named with reference to the UNESCO designation ‘Intangible Culture’, this prize is for the best ethnographic film that deals with music, dance, and performance. The value of the prize is £250. 

Winner: Ballad on the Shore  (dir. Chi-hang Ma) 
Commendation: A Delicate Weave (Anjali Monteiro, KP Jayasankar)


Introduced in 2019, this prize is for the most outstanding short film on anthropology or archaeology. This prize is sponsored by the Marsh Christian Trust. The value of the prize is £500. 

Winner: Even Asteroids Are Not Alone (dir. Jón Bjarki Magnússon) 
Commendations: Father’s Prescription (dir. Enke Huang) and Fire Mouth (Luciano Pérez Fernández)


Awarded for the first time in 1990, and since 2005 sponsored by Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, this prize is given to the most outstanding film in the ethnographic tradition made by a student enrolled in a recognized educational institution. The value of the prize is £250.

Winner: The Absence of Apricots (dir. Daniel Asadi Faezi)
Commendations: It Was Tomorrow (Alexandra D’onofrio) and A Very Dai Girl (MengHua Zhang)

The following Awards were announced prior to the Festival:


Assigned by the Film Festival Committee to a film of truly exceptional merit that addresses issues of great contemporary importance and concern in anthropology or archaeology. This film may take the form of either fiction or fact-based documentary, and need not necessarily belong to any conventional ethnographic genre. 

Winner: Edge of the Knife (dirs. Gwaai Edenshaw, Helen Haig-Brown)


Funded since 2011 by Richard Werbner, this award is given to a film that is made by an anthropologist – preferably as part of a doctoral or post-doctoral research project – based upon extensive fieldwork. The value of the prize is £250. 

Winner: Heartbound (dirs. Janus Metz, Sine Plambech)
Commendations: Horror in the Andes (dir. Martha-Cecilia Dietrich), This is My Face  (dir. Angélica Cabezas Pino), and Tindaya Variations (dir. Isaac Marrero-Guillamon)


This award is the most outstanding film about music/sound in the world. The award is sponsored by the British Forum for Ethnomusicology.  The value of the prize is £250. 

Winner: Up Down and Sideways (dirs. Anushka Meenakshi, Iswar Srikumar)


Bestowed by the RAI Film Committee to honour outstanding contributions to ethnographic documentary film-making and/or academic visual anthropology. 

Winner: Kim Longinotto

4 Window Film Options for Reducing Residential Energy Consumption

home energy consumption

Window films help cut down glare, reduce heat gain in the summer, and keep heat in during the winter. It’s estimated they block around 40% of heat lost during colder seasons and approximately 70% of heat during hot seasons. There are a variety of options to choose from when looking to reduce energy costs with residential window films.

3M Ceramic Series Film

The 3M Ceramic Series films are a good balance between savings and quality.

In addition to providing low-reflectivity and heat reduction, the Ceramic Series gives you premium clarity from inside your home. Ceramic films do not contain metal, so your view remains undarkened, the film retains its color and appearance, and there is no interference with electronic devices or signals.

The Ceramic Series offers almost as much infrared heat rejection as the Prestige Series, which makes it a great candidate for cutting energy costs.

3M Classic Series Film

The most common film in the Classic Series is the Neutral 35. These films give you great performance and come with an abrasion resistant coating to maintain a quality appearance.

The Neutral 35 sun control film transmits an increased amount of light with low reflectivity. Made from polyester, this film reduces 99% of harmful UV rays. The Neutral 35’s metal coating gives it a gray tint, but the color will not fade or change. As opposed to non-metallic films, the Neutral 35 may cause increased interference with electronic signals.

This film is an ideal solution to reduce solar heat gain as well as glare, discomfort, and air conditioning costs.

3M Prestige Series Film

Like the Ceramic Series, Prestige Series films do not contain metal. This means you don’t need to worry about corrosion or any interference with electronic devices or signals. These films are also less reflective than the Ceramic or Classic Series.

Prestige Series films utilize layers of polymer to achieve the best performance, and their appearance and clarity beats out other films, too.

This multi-layer film rejects up to 97% of infrared light and is one of the top films in the industry.

3M Select Series Night Vision Film

3M’s Select Series Night Vision films have high-performance features designed to maximize sun control, making it one of the most energy efficient options.

Unlike other high-performance sun control films, the Night Vision films offer low interior reflectivity. The Select Series also works to protect your home from harmful UV rays while addressing heat and glare.

Night Vision films give you clear views during the afternoon and evening, and they reject up to 71% of the sun’s heat, which means more comfortability and a lower energy bill.

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  • When you start to write a podcast script, you’re going to make a series of choices.
    • The first choice: what kind of tools are you going to use to make your story? How are you going to format your script? Where do you want to write your script? Final Draft, Celtx, Microsoft Word, etc… Maybe you want to start by hand writing.
    • The next choice: what sort of episode and series structure would you like to use? What kind of story do I want to tell, and how do I want to break up that story for listeners? An episode can be as long or as short as it needs to be to tell your story. A piece of advice that has stuck with Sarah: “There is no such thing as a podcast that’s too long, only too boring.” We aren’t working within a regulated medium. Think about how you want to structure your show beforeyou start writing it so that you are writing it to the structure. There is no set structure in fiction podcasting right now which is what makes it such an exciting time to be a fiction podcaster.
    • You also get to choose how much planning you want to do ahead of time. There’s room to be flexible—you can plot methodically, or you can write by the seat of your pants. You can be a “plotter” or a “pantser!” It’s also okay if things change along the way.
  • One thing that’s unique in audio fiction is that the writing stands out in a way that’s unique from other mediums. Visuals are often a band-aid for bad writing in movies and TV—we don’t have that luxury in podcasting. We can only rely on our dialogue and our sound effects. The audience is relying on you as the writer to navigate them through your world. It’s going to make your writing a bit different.
  • Dialogue
    • You’re not focusing on things that are happening, but on things that are The interaction is what creates the sound. This will create an immersive experience where the listener becomes a participant in what you’re creating. To accomplish this, I use stage directions to indicate what things sound like. All actions need to be audio-focused. What does it sound like, and how do you convey what it sounds like within you’re writing?
    • Who is going to be reading this script? Do you have a team? Are you going to be doing your own sound design? If not, how can you make the sound cues as clear as possible for the people who will be doing your sound design to help them create the soundscape you are imagining.
    • Be sure to be explicit about the emotions and tone you need to come through in stage directions for the actors. This is especially true if you are doing remote recording.
    • It’s so important to have dialogue that sounds natural. Audience will be filtering it through their “reality filter” – is this how people actually talk? Be honest to your world, but if you’re writing something contemporary, be sure to make it natural sounding. Listen in your life how people actually talk to each other. Part of creating natural dialogue is interruption, “um”s, gasping, laughing at jokes. Adding these little details make things feel real.
    • Too many fiction podcasters rely on dialogue to convey action. Be very cautious and make sure you are writing things that people would actually say.
    • You can also develop your characters through dialogue in a way you can’t in other mediums. Having someone who cuts everyone off, or interrupts. These details indicate what a person is really like.
    • Silence can be your friend. One of the most powerful things you can put into your dialogue is silence, a heavy pause. You need some space between dialogue to let your listener digest.
  • Characters
    • Develop characters through dialogue
    • Your characters need to be flawed
    • Every single character in your story needs to have a motive. Plot should be driven by character’s motivations
    • You want your characters to grow and change as a result of the things they’ve been through
  • Plot
    • You need obstacles for your characters to overcome.
    • Causational storytelling. Instead of “and, then” connection all of your plot points, think of it like: [plot point] – but [plot point] – however etc… It creates little hooks to keep audience engaged
  • Atmosphere
    • Keeping the atmosphere immersive. The atmosphere is 100% the soundscape that you create. Keep things interactive – how do people interact with the atmosphere in a way that produces sound? Silence is also a powerful tool here. Listen to what’s out there and think about what’s compelling for you yourself as a listener.
    • You’re guiding a blind audience through your world.
  • Final tips
    • Ask yourself: is audio the right medium for the story that I’m going to tell? Why is this not a play, a screenplay, a novel, a short story? Use the medium to your advantage.
    • Don’t overdesign the sound. Silence is an effective tool. In sound design, less is more. Make sure to lose anything that doesn’t need focus or emphasis.
    • How can I innovate? How can I move storytelling forward with this audio drama/fictional podcast? There is so much space for innovation right now. How can I use the superpowers of this medium to tell a compelling, addictive story?
  • Q+A
    • I’d like to write a scripted comedy podcast, how would you suggest drawing an audience to the podcast?
      • This will come with your marketing. Marketing begins the second you get the idea for your show. Understand who your audience is going to be, where they are online, and how to engage with them to establish community. The best way to market a podcast through my experience is word of mouth. Promo swaps are a good tool as well.
    • Are there any standards that are recommended for age appropriate audiences?
      • I use film and TV guidelines. You can decide if it’s considered “explicit” or not on Apple Podcasts. G/PG is generally clean, and PG-13+ would be explicit.
    • I’m not too familiar with any scripted podcasts. Can you recommend any?
      • Girl in Space, Lime Town, Cybernautica, Wolverine The long Night, The Bright Sessions, The Big Loop, The Black Tapes, Spines, We Fix Space Junk. Check the Audio Drama Subreddit.
    • Where can we find improv comedy shows?
      • Hello From The Magic Tavern, The End of Time and Other Bothers, The Adventure Zone, Mission to Zyxx
    • How many speaking characters can be in a scene?
      • As many as you want without it being confusing. Make sure their voices are distinct enough to avoid confusion.
    • Are you directing your actors remotely or are they self-directed using your script?
      • They are largely self-directing. If you want to be remotely directing on a skype call it’s possible, but I just ask for multiple takes of each line, and over communicate through stage directions.
    • How much focus do you put into writing the non-verbals in your stage direction in your script, or do you rely on your voice actors to breathe life into that part of the characterization?
      • It depends on your actors. Some actors read purely their lines, and that is it. When in doubt, communicate.
    • Should I have a narrator?
      • It’s up to you. A narrator might add to a story, but it could also distract. There are no should and should nots, just ask yourself if you can make it sounds professional.
    • What are the drawbacks to working through your sound as the show is airing as opposed to having a solidified signature sound right out the gate for episode 1?
      • If you’re new to this, you might not have a signature sound out of the gate. My signature sound emerged as I kept going. You start with a blank slate. If you’re working with a sound designer who has a sound pallet they are already working with. The drawback is you might not sound incredibly original as you start out, but in your first few episodes you will basically just be finding your footing.
    • Can you recommend links to sample scripts?
      • If you have a show you really like, transcripts are likely to be on their websites. You can also ask on Twitter if anyone is willing to share any scripts with you. Girl in Space scripts are available on my websites, or you can email me.
    • Can I submit written like a short story or should I transcribe it to a screenplay format?
      • For AFF it needs to be transcribed to a screenplay format. This is also best practice if you’re sending it out to actors.
    • Can you tell a story like a traditional storyteller with no sound effects and minimal music?
      • Yes! The rules are here to be broken. If it’s not boring and it’s not confusing, then it can be successful.
    • I hear a lot about scripted fantasy, but not scripted comedy? Thoughts?
      • Scripted comedy is hard. It’s one of the hardest genres to write. If you can do it and be successful, you’re going to really stand out.
    • Do you format the podcasts the same as you would a screenplay?
      • Any tips on adapting a general idea into a proper plot? I have many nuggets of ideas but don’t know which to use.
        • Basically, you must pick the one that’s going to be the most fun. Otherwise you will lose interest and it will fade away. As far as adapting it into a plot, ask yourself: who are the characters, what are their motivations, and what are the obstacles that are getting in their way? You can also work “premise first.”
      • How do you pay your voice actors, sound mixers, and editors? Monetary standards?
        • My budget is really small. Most of my voice actors are friends and family. Others, I do a trade with, where I play a voice on her show and she plays a voice on my show. Other shows pay SAG rates. It’s up to you and your actors. Be sure to keep your expectations realistic.
      • What is the hardest writing part you had to get through for Girl In Space?
        • The finale. It took me five months because it was my first time ending something.
      • Can you speak to what editing software and recording software is best?
        • I use Audacity. There are many other great paid services, like Mixed Crat, Reaper, Audition.
      • If the main character is narrating, how important is a gimmick, such as a radio host, audio log, etc… for legitimizing the narration?
        • You set the expectation for your listener. You establish what’s believable and what is not. You don’t have to have a gimmick for your narrator. If you feel it would add an air of authority to your show, you can try it. Be willing to experiment.