Put us in the picture . . .

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 28 August, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 28 August, 2003, 12:00am

In true Hollywood style, most of the recent remake of The Italian Job was set in Los Angeles. But at least the opening sequence takes place in the country of the title. The Paramount production, which stars Donald Sutherland, Mark Wahlberg and Edward Norton, begins with a speedboat chase around the delicate canals of Venice, which almost rivals the classic Amsterdam chase in 1970's Puppet On A Chain. Here, director F Gary Gray and producer Donald De Line tell us the story of the Venetian shoot.

F. Gary Gray: 'The Venetians were great about us doing it, but we had to be very specific about everything that we were going to do. We went to Venice three times to prepare. We scouted each location, and storyboarded each shot. We had to give them not only the storyboard, but a camera grid that showed where each camera would be standing for every shot in every single camera sequence. Then we had to run it by their board of city commissioners and directors and things like that, to see if they would go for it. They did. It was a challenging shoot, and everyone was nervous, because no-one had shot a boat chase the way we did in Venice.

'Venice was wonderful to us. But I don't think they'll let anyone else do it again. We weren't always allowed to drive fast during the boat chase. I have to credit my second unit director, who shot the boat sequence, with doing a great job of getting the illusion of speed.

'There were other restrictions. There were certain sections where we could do only one take. You cannot close down the Grand Canal. We were able to clear boats for a certain amount of time, and that was it. When we shot in places like that, we only had time for one take, maybe two. So we had to put together the boat chase with these restrictions in mind.'

Donald De Line: 'We decided that we were going to set only the first act in Europe. We thought we've got to do it in Italy. We decided that to interest the audience we had to find a place with interesting and beautiful scenery. Also, we wanted something that hadn't been seen on screen much before. We decided that a boat chase would make an interesting start as you don't see them as much as car chases in films. Venice finally came up. We originally had planned to shoot the scenes in Genoa, in the harbour. But what can match Venice in terms of beauty?

'It was a long process with Venice. We had to agree to adhere to specific and strict rules about what canals we could shoot in, what hours of the day we could film, etc. We had to keep to very slow speeds for the smaller canals. The shoot was meticulously planned. The only issue that we had after we had signed off with the Venetians was when we actually started to shoot. The local population got upset - they don't like people racing around on their canals. Nor should they, as they are home to very delicate historic buildings. The worry is that a wash will be created that will damage the foundations. We were shut down a couple of times for just a couple of hours. We would go and have a meeting at the city hall and explain what we were doing. We reassured them that we were sticking to the letter of our agreement. They had to listen to the concerns of the local population, which was fair enough, but we reassured them, and it went fine. The last thing we did was a big stunt. We were a bit worried about it, but it turned out okay.