Bourne Legacy: Locations
The narrative architect behind the “Bourne” film series, Tony Gilroy, takes the helm in the next chapter of the hugely popular espionage franchise that has earned almost $1 billion at the global box office: “The Bourne Legacy.” Building on the foundation of the “Bourne” universe created by Robert Ludlum, the writer/director expands the saga with an original story that reveals a larger conspiracy. The film includes performances by Jeremy Renner, Rachel Weisz, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach, Oscar Isaac, Joan Allen, Albert Finney, David Strathairn, Oscar Isaac, and Scott Glenn.
Gilroy journeyed around the world to visit the locations where his story would be set, just as he did for the other “Bourne” films. From the Canadian Rockies to Southeast Asia, he tailored the action to the specific locales. As “The Bourne Legacy” rockets from Washington, D.C. and Manhattan to Alaska and Southeast Asia, Gilroy retains the spirit of the previous “Bourne” films.
Helping Gilroy to construct this world were key contributors to the film’s visual style: production designer Kevin Thompson, who crafted “Michael Clayton” and “Duplicity” with Gilroy, and cinematographer Robert Elswit, the Academy Award-winning DP for “There Will Be Blood” whose previous work also includes “Michael Clayton” and “Duplicity,” as well as “The Town” and “Mission: Impossible—Ghost Protocol,” both with Jeremy Renner.
Elswit and 2nd unit director Dan Bradley could shoot all the footage in the world, but if it wasn’t cut together correctly, there would be no scene. Joining the team as editor was another member of the Gilroy family, John Gilroy, the director’s fellow collaborator on his last two films.
After two days of filming in Seoul, South Korea, principal photography began at Kaufman Astoria Studios in Queens, New York, where all of the movie’s stage work—including D.C. interiors—was shot. Filming began with scenes involving Byer and his team at the Virginia-based NRAG, the group that designed the government’s program of killer spies. As Bourne’s exploits go public, Byer’s experts use every mode of technology available to minimize the damage. Here, Thompson’s crew built the crisis suite, the small amphitheater where Byer’s team holes up for days.
At Kaufman, Thompson built the lab where Marta engages in her pioneering work. The designer’s biggest set, however, was three stories high on Kaufman’s largest stage. Here, he created Marta’s home in the Maryland woods, which he didn’t initially plan to build.
The kickoff to Marta and Aaron’s journey, the house is where the two realize that they must team up. Unfortunately, their prized location, the national historic landmark known as the Plumb-Bronson House in Hudson, New York, was in need of even more rehabilitation than Marta’s fictional home. The structure could not support the equipment and crew necessary for filming. Thompson’s team quickly set about re-creating the interior of the house in precise matching detail. This included reimagining its parlors and vestibules, magnificent three-story elliptical staircase, peeling paint and faded wallpaper on the stage at Kaufman Astoria. While unanticipated, building Marta’s house on a stage did offer several advantages, including greater flexibility and control with lighting and camera placement for DP Elswit’s equipment.
In the end, the production traveled to Hudson to film the exterior of the Plumb-Bronson House for a key scene with Aaron, but other scenes outside Marta’s home were filmed at William H. Pouch Scout Camp, a 143-acre site in Staten Island, New York. Unlike Plumb-Bronson’s surroundings in Hudson, the Staten Island location offered the thick woods that surround Marta’s home in Gilroy’s story.
Among the many other New York area locations where the film shot were JFK Airport, The New York Times printing plant in Flushing, Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan, and residential areas of Syosset and Old Westbury in Long Island.
After 12 weeks of filming in the New York area, the production decamped and left the city for an environment where the “Bourne” series had never before ventured: the untamed wilderness. For two weeks in December 2011, the cast and crew filmed in Kananaskis Country, a system of parks renowned for its spectacular scenery, in the Canadian Rocky Mountains west of Calgary. The dramatic Canadian landscape filled in for the Alaskan Yukon, where Cross finds himself as the story begins.
“The Bourne Legacy” opens with an echo of the image that introduced Jason Bourne to filmgoers in “The Bourne Identity” – seen from below, a man floats motionless in water. However, unlike Bourne, who had been left to drown in the Mediterranean Sea in the first film, Aaron Cross is uninjured. After a brief moment of stillness, Cross reveals his incredible stamina: He has deliberately submerged himself in frigid waters in order to retrieve a canister left for him at the base of a freezing waterfall.
To shoot this scene, the filmmakers did everything they could to keep their lead actor safe in the cold water. The initial plan was to shoot only part of the scene in Canada, with Renner in a full wet suit and in the cold water only up to his waist. However, just before rolling, Renner removed the wet suit’s top. As cameras rolled in below-freezing temperatures, a bare-chested Renner dunked himself into the icy water for a shot of Cross emerging. Fortunately, Gilroy and his DP got the shot in one take.
In the film’s opening sequence, Cross is dressed like a speed climber, posing as one of the few brave souls who might be found alone in the Alaskan wilderness. However, after Cross arrives at the appointed spot, a log cabin where another agent known as #3 is based, his Alaskan mission is brought to a violent end, one which he barely survives. The tables suddenly turned, Cross is now the target of the most sophisticated technology and weaponry on Earth. He returns to the mainland U.S. to find Marta (Weisz), one of his few contacts in the program who may not be out to kill him. Their journey of survival ultimately brings them to Southeast Asia, where the production would travel next.
During preproduction, Gilroy and Crowley toured Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) in Vietnam, Jakarta in Indonesia, and Manila in the Philippines. Ultimately, Manila’s history as a shooting location won over the team. Major Hollywood features, such as “Apocalypse Now,” “Platoon,” “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Brokedown Palace,” were shot in the Philippines in the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.
The filmmakers called upon Lope V. Juban, Jr., president of Philippine Film Studios, who has worked on most of the films that have come to the Philippines over the past few decades, to give them a tour of Manila. Not only could Juban—who came on as a line producer—offer locations that Gilroy was looking for, but his contacts with government entities would also be vital for a shoot that involved major stunts on city streets. In fact, The Bourne Legacy would be the first Hollywood film in which Manila plays Manila.
It was important to the locals to show off the progress the country had made and their big new areas of development. The Philippines also offered the advantage of a mainly English-speaking local crew. English, the legacy of the American presence for 50 years before World War II, is widely spoken in the country.
Filming in Manila began in the San Andres neighborhood, its ramshackle houses and dark alleyways typical of the city’s lower- and middle-class areas. The San Andres neighborhood has grown organically over the years as locals have kept constructing additions to existing buildings. The casual visitor will find many a residential area that resembles a rabbit-warren maze of alleyways that have been cobbled together.
With its tangled web of utility lines and drying laundry overhead, and pleasant cooking smells merging with other odors of the city, the labyrinthine San Andres neighborhood is where Aaron and Marta find a place to hide from their pursuers: this time, the Philippine authorities.
San Andres was also the setting for a stunt in which Aaron, to save Marta from capture after she is cornered by the police, makes a daring slide three stories down a narrow opening between two buildings. Because of very specific requirements, this set, a narrow three-story structure that the filmmakers called “the chasm,” had to be built by Thompson and his team. Using the wall of an existing building, Thompson’s team built another wall next to it. Rather than employing scenic artists to “weather” the wall, the crew bought old siding from locals’ homes and installed new walls on their houses in return.
The production’s metro Manila locales also included the Ninoy Aquino International Airport; the historic Intramuros district, known for its Spanish colonial architecture; the Manila Yacht Club; the Marikina covered market; and the Metropoint MRT train station in Pasay City. The crew also traveled approximately an hour by plane from Manila to El Nido, located on the stunning Philippine island of Palawan, for scenes that take place amidst the magnificent islands of the South China Sea. The dramatic islands, with their limestone cliffs that emerge directly from the water, are more often associated with the landscapes of Malaysia and Thailand.
In Palawan, Thompson also found a 100-foot-long wooden-hull fishing boat, the Sabrina, for a critical scene. The working fishing boat goes out for three months at a time and houses up to 20 people along with chickens, goats and pigs. Despite their best efforts, the production ended up filming alongside some of the fishing boat’s original tenants: a sizeable rat population.
For several days the crew also filmed part of a chase at Navotas Fish Port, known as the fishing capital of the Philippines, situated north of the city on Manila Bay. In the evenings, the location is a working fish market—1,000 feet long and 200 feet wide—that sells more than 100,000 fish every night. Every morning during the shoot, the crew had to scrub, steam and dry the market. Thompson and his team removed hanging tarps, added skylights and supporting posts, and scrubbed the floor to lessen the overpowering fish smell. This also served a practical purpose: to make the location safe for the complex stunt work that was to be performed there.
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