Vienna with a Woman in Gold



“We enjoyed shooting in the Scottish Highlands (although it had many challenges) and also Yorkshire. Vienna, too, was a wonderful place." - David Thompson.

Vienna with a Woman in Gold 
We talk Woman in Gold & Vienna with Origin Pictures producer David Thompson.

Woman in Gold captures the story of Maria Altmann, an octogenarian Jewish refugee who took on the Austrian government to recover a Gustav Klimt portrait she believes rightfully belongs to her family. Shooting began on May 23, 2014 with eight weeks scheduled in the UK, US and Austria.

Starring Helen Mirren as Altmann, as well as all-stars Ryan Reynolds, Daniel Brühl, Katie Holmes, Charles Dance, Max Irons, Jonathan Pryce, Elizabeth McGovern and Frances Fisher, the 2014 shoot took place in the UK, Vienna and Los Angeles. It’s reported that the film’s Berlin airport scenes were filmed in the UK at Shoreham Airport in West Sussex.

In this In-Depth, Beyond Cinema had the luxury of connecting with the Emmy and BAFTA winning producer David Thompson of Origin Pictures. Thompson is the former head of BBC Films and has executive produced Oscar-caliber titles including An Education, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, In the Loop, Iris, Eastern Promises, Revolutionary Road, Dirty Pretty Things, Cannes Jury prize-winners such as Andrea Arnold’s Fish Tank and Red Road and Lynne Ramsay’s Morvern Callar, as well as the hugely popular Billy Elliot.

What countries would you say contributed to the production of Woman in Gold. What were their respective involvements?

1. UK – London, for 4 weeks (half) of the shoot. Our production base and various studio builds were in Twickenham, and we shot interiors at a number of locations around London.  2. Austria – Vienna, for 3 weeks. As Vienna is a major location in our story and Austrian culture and identity so key to it - it was very important for us to shoot as many of the beautiful and distinctive exteriors of Vienna as possible to make our film cinematic and authentic. Also, a key interior location in the story is a grand family home circa 1930-40 and we found that nowhere other than Vienna could provide the very specific style and architecture to do the location justice.  3. USA – Los Angeles, for 1 week. Many of the LA and US scenes in the script are interiors, and were filmed in the UK – however, for authenticity, we shot some exteriors and aerial GVs [general views] in LA.

How do you weigh the following elements in your decision-making process for the locations required for Woman in Gold?

  • Place, as specified in the draft of the screenplay/story: Important – but it is possible to utilize locations and set builds so that you don’t necessarily need to film at the locations in the script.
  • Whether the country in which you’re filming is a key target audience for the film’s potential box office: Not very important
  • Filming incentives: Extremely important – we will always try very hard to find ways of shooting in places with substantial film incentives.
  • Proximity to the above-the-liner’s homes and families: Important due to the costs to accommodate them away from home. Equally as important is for a place to have good film infrastructure – so, good crew bases and facilities houses.

What’s the best physical location at which you’ve shot in the last 5 years? Why?

We enjoyed shooting in the Scottish Highlands (although it had many challenges) and also Yorkshire. Vienna, too, was a wonderful place to film. It is hard to pick a favorite as each place has its own joys and challenges.
What’s the most a location manager or film commissioner has done to accommodate your production? 

The Vienna Film Commission were enormously helpful in providing location and physical support on our initial recces, and the location manager provided by the service company (2nd District) did a very good job securing the locations we had found. This is some of the best support we have received from a film commissioner abroad and was a big factor in helping us reach our decision to film in Vienna.

What services do you hope to get from a good film commission office?

The provision of comprehensive information on the local locations, crew, facilities and administration processes - as well as assisting with and ideally funding the initial recces when we are considering but haven’t yet settled on where we will shoot.

Who gets final say on where to shoot? You, or the director?

The director is the creative decision maker and it is important for them to be in control and feel free to achieve their vision. However, the producer is there to make the tough decisions and ensure the director’s decisions don’t take the production over budget or schedule – and to ensure 

the film creatively stays on track with the wishes/expectations of financiers and distributors.

We enjoyed shooting in the Scottish Highlands (although it had many challenges) and also Yorkshire. Vienna, too, was a wonderful place to film. It is hard to pick a favorite as each place has its own joys and challenges.

Would you rathershoot on location or in a controlled studio environment?

It depends on the costs to hire a location versus building a set. For the grandest locations it is better to shoot on location but for smaller ones it is often easier to shoot in studios where everything is more contained and manageable.

Would you prefer to shoot somewhere exotic and be immersed, or in your home city where you can return to your own bed at night?

‘Exotic’ shoots, although exciting in principle are often the most difficult to manage (and expensive). With so many people needing to stay in hotels, being away from home, needing to be travelled, etc problems tend to arise more regularly.

With whom have you had the most collaborative relationship? What makes it work?

The BBC. We have a longstanding relationship. We understand their broadcasting taste and requirements well – and they like and have trust in the content we produce.

Have you seen “Wag the Dog”? What do you tell people when they ask you what exactly your role is as a producer?

A myriad of tasks but essentially to be the driving force, creatively and financially, to take a project from an idea all the way to a delivered film – and, on the way, managing the various crises that inevitably arise and making sure the project stays on track!
Balancing artistic credibility and minimizing financial risk is a big part of the producer’s job – a good example is ensuring that we filmed in Vienna for as long as possible to guarantee the authenticity of the film.

It seems like a producer’s job must be harder when working on a period piece. How does a period project actually make the process easier?

There are a lot of very specific visual and stylistic reference points for period films. Therefore, there are given boundaries and constraints for making artistic decisions. On contemporary projects it can be more difficult to pin down an authentic style.

You’ve been involved in several Oscar, Cannes and Emmy-winning features - how much of a game changer were those projects on your career?

All award-winning films help to further one’s career. I have been in the business for a very long time, therefore an award is unlikely, now, to be a game changer. However, they always help reinforce my own and Origin Pictures reputation as filmmakers and encourage financiers and talent to work with us.