New Robin Hood 2010 Movie – Shooting On Location

Principal photography on director Ridley Scott’s latest epic 'Robin Hood' began in April 2009. Producer Brian Grazer commends that the director quickly earned his on-set epithet. “We called him ‘The General,’” he offers. “Ridley Scott is that kind of charging-forward general of our generation in filmmaking. There was once John Ford, and there have been others, but certainly Ridley is a gladiator himself.”

Rebuilding the 13th Century

One of Scott’s longtime partners, production designer Arthur Max, was charged with the Herculean task of building medieval England—re-creating as accurately as possible life in the villages and towns, as well as the grandeur of the castles from the period.

The production designer was tasked with giving Scott the experience of what it was like to live in England during this era. The two men drew on a wealth of resource material from museums, libraries, actual reconstructed environments in England and the Dordogne in France, as well as some Iberian villages in the Pyrénées that stand virtually as they did in the Middle Ages.

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Scott and Max also referred to the paintings of both the younger and elder Pieter Bruegel, which gave them the tone of dire hardship they were after. While not quite of the period, this art provided a great deal of insight about life in this era; they adapted the look for Robin Hood. “He wanted to see the bleakness and the impoverishment of the Anglo-Saxon population in all its glory,” sums Max.
One of the most important sites was the setting for Nottingham Village, the place where Robin comes to return Sir Loxley’s sword to his father. Built on the Hampton Estate, near Guildford in Surry, the set was ensconced on a private estate with ancient oaks, rolling fields and stunning topography. The land also offered a pine forest, a stream and a bog, and thus a wealth of shooting options for Scott. “Our primary requirement was a beautiful landscape,” says Max. “Finding the location was a great piece of luck.”

“We built the entire Nottingham Village, which is more than 50 buildings,” explains the designer, “most of them thatched and timber and made from wattle, a form of mud construction.” The buildings he describes were built around a town square, with a grain store, a tavern, a tithe barn and a church—as well as houses and hovels of all shapes and sizes—stretching out beyond the town center.

Max tasked his men and women to build a mill with a working water wheel, in addition to some ruined gates that would serve as a continuity link to another location about a 20-minute drive away. Sticklers for accuracy, they planted (and grew over many months) an orchard. Max explains that for the purposes of the story, they “burned it down in the end. Not entirely, but quite a few buildings. The rest was enhanced with CGI. We had to be very, very careful because most of the buildings were set within the oak trees, which were precious, but we managed to do controlled burns there.”

Fire was a terrifying scourge in medieval times, and with Godfrey’s men pillaging and razing villages at will, the filmmakers had to engage in plenty of controlled burning to capture what was in the script. Much of this was done in Bourne Woods, near Farnham in Surrey—a commercial forestry that allowed the crew to build sprawling sets.

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In Robin Hood, Bourne Woods served as host to the northern villages of Barnsdale (often acknowledged as one of the origins of the legend of Robin Hood), York and Peterborough. These are the same villages that King John’s men and henchmen, under the leadership of the duplicitous Godfrey, destroy for the crime of unpaid taxes. Bourne Woods also hosted the French castle.
Max was pleased to construct the French castle and the outlying English camp for the film’s opening sequences in the same location. “That was based on an actual French castle, roughly in the area where the Chalouse Castle existed,” he explains. “We decided it was better to build it on a location near the studio because the landscape there is magnificent. Many castles from that period are now surrounded by towns, so we decided we wanted a castle that was isolated in a landscape. Hence, we decided to build it and extend it with CGI.”

Extending it some 65 feet to the top of its tower on the crest of a hill, the French castle was built using traditional scaffolding and plaster. Moldings from existing English castles of the period were used to fashion the stonework. The team brought in an engineer to ensure not only that the structure would be stable in the wind, but also to guarantee the hillside wouldn’t collapse under the weight of the massive structure.

Shepperton Studios housed sets required to replicate key portions of London and, most notably, the Tower of London, at the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th centuries. An overgrown, flat field before the design team arrived, Shepperton’s back lot was transformed into an impressive medieval London in a matter of a few months. “We began by doing a lot of grading and ground prep, creating topography,” Max explains. “We dug a moat and created road networks.” To make the Tower of London more imposing, it was raised at least four feet higher than the rest of the site.

Another portion of the Tower of London, the Royal Dock, was built at Virginia Water in Surrey. Max and his team created an actual jetty, as well as the Royal Barge that brings Robin and his men, after many years away from their home, bearing Richard’s crown to Eleanor.

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“Our Tower set is based on the last surviving remnant of the Tower of London. I believe it’s called the Barbican Gate, which is of our period,” Max offers. “Its stonework is taken from Carnarvon Castle in Wales, which is probably the most intact castle in Britain. There’s very little left of the Tower of London, so we decided to re-create fragments that were accurate and then extend them with CGI.”

The interior of the Tower, built on sound stages at Shepperton, was every bit as impressive as its exterior, with the same staggering depth of detail seen throughout the picture. A composite set, it included an enormous corridor that leads to a giant throne room, off of which could be found the massive bedroom chambers for Prince John and Queen Eleanor. The sets were modeled in proportion and shape from rooms Scott, Max and the team had observed when they had scouted existing British castles.

Also built at Shepperton was the interior of Peper Harow, seat of the Loxley family. This space was modeled on a manor farm of the early 13th century that had been seen in Shropshire by the scouts. That team fell in love with the Great Hall, detail, character and the patina of age it showed.

Practical reasons prohibited them from actually filming in Shropshire, so Scott’s crew built it on a sound stage at Shepperton. The spaces that Lady Marion and Sir Walter inhabit—including the Great Hall, bedrooms, kitchens and tack rooms—were all crafted from scratch. Max’s team grafted this interior onto Oxenford Farm, an exterior manor farm near Surrey. To complete the look, they added onto the existing structure several barn buildings, a fortified gate, multiple hovels and another water wheel. Thus, Peper Harow was reborn.
The cast was in awe of the efforts of their production designer and his massive team of artisans. Blanchett sums their feelings: “Arthur is truly wonderful and is really committed to preserving these crafts in England. He’s very passionate about the loss of skill sets. I marvel at the level of care that he has employed in the creation of all of the buildings in the Nottingham village set.”

Creating the Battle Sequences

Re-creating the world of the latter Middle Ages would prove quite an ambitious task for all involved in the Robin Hood team. To the director who has spent decades making films, however, nothing seemed impossible—not even shooting with the masterful cinematographer John Mathieson on one of Britain’s most sprawling and exposed beaches…in some of the harshest weather conditions the British Isles can muster.

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Working every day with anywhere between five and a dozen cameras allowed Scott and DP Mathieson to film scenes with full coverage in minimal takes; it truly enabled the director to generate the remarkable energy he brings to his storytelling. With multiple camera setups, Scott also consciously avoided tiring the actors, crucial on a film in which they faced immense physical challenges. Knowing that they would often be wearing heavy, uncomfortable costumes and shooting in cold and wet weather conditions, Scott decided that every shot had to count.

Offers Blanchett, who watched the director at work for the first time on Robin Hood: “Ridley loves the adrenaline and the energy of shooting the way he does. He wants to capture that the first time, so we didn’t rehearse a lot. He prefers to rehearse on film, and with so many cameras, he knows he can then cherry-pick his way through it. He is astonishing to watch.”

Halfway through the shoot, the production relocated to Wales and to Freshwater Beach in West Pembrokeshire to shoot the epic battle scenes as the French, under the command of King Philip, seek to invade English soil and reclaim the land. It was a vast undertaking that marked the climactic scenes of the film, and the filmmakers assembled more than 1,500 cast and crew to pull it off.

The team undertook an ambitious series of sequences, with nine standard cameras, a steadicam, a Wescam and a helicopter contributing to Scott and Mathieson’s vision. “In Australia we’d say, ‘That’s bigger than Ben-Hur,’” laughs Crowe, “and that’s how it felt.”

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Naturally, the experience was not without its challenges, and the production faced a good deal of difficulty trying to land an invading French army off the windswept Pembrokeshire coast. The surge was so high during the first days of photography, and the team faced enormous swells on the way out to sea that the most seasoned of sailors buckled with motion sickness. That necessitated building a portable dock in the nearby Pembroke to get the shots necessary.
Lensing in this uncontrollable environment for nearly two weeks in weather conditions that ranged from unexpected blasts of heat to torrential rain, the crew fought its own battle with the tide coming in at approximately a meter a minute. This required them to keep relocating 1,500 people and 150 vehicles up a beach that is half a mile long.

For the actors playing Robin’s Merry Men, however, the epic battle sequence was worth all the hardship. “What we did in Wales, I was scared out of my mind every single day there,” laughs Scott Grimes, who plays the flame-haired Will Scarlet. “We had more than 100 horses riding side by side, galloping down the beach, and we had no idea where the cameras were. It felt like we were in the war. The whole shoot was incredible.”

Little John himself, Kevin Durand, agrees. “Trying to explain what I did that day to a friend on the phone, or to my fiancée on Skype, was wild. She’d tell me, ‘I went to the gym and to work. What did you do today?’ I’d reply, ‘I rode at the front of a 130-horse cavalry across the beach in Wales. Then, I attacked a bunch of Frenchmen and killed about 17 of them before lunch.’ How do you explain that? That’s been this entire movie. It’s been amazing.”

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The actor who portrays the murderous Godfrey also had his share of showmanship on the battlefield. After he betrays his childhood friend King John and defects to the French side, Godfrey must face off against Robin in the final battle.

Mark Strong recounts how he almost got too into character: “As I wheeled my horse around, in front of me were dozens of horsemen galloping toward me through these kneeling Frenchmen. Out of that, I had to pick out the two who I was due to fight and slash one around the head and take one around the chest as they fell off their horses. It was incredibly exhilarating. So much so that when I’d done that bit, that was all we’d rehearsed. But, of course, the cameras were still rolling and I decided to turn my horse around and join the melee and start whacking everybody I could find—my own men included. I felt the bloodlust.”


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