EUFCN Location Award 2020 Finalist: Moritzburg Castle
In a fairytale landscape, a Saxon castle hosts an ultramodern party. Surrounded by neon lights and historical red deer antlers, the new Charlie’s Angels are here to complete yet another mission and save the world.
Moritzburg Castle is one of the finalists of the EUFCN Location Award, the annual prize for European film locations organized by the European Film Commissions Network (EUFCN) in collaboration with Cineuropa. The location was submitted by the MDM Film Commission (Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung GmbH).
Markus Bensch, Production Executive Location at Studio Babelsberg, and Daniel Maaz, Head of the Technical Department of Moritzburg Castle, describe how the Baroque palace formed an interesting and exceptional backdrop for the Sony Pictures’ feature film Charlie’s Angels.
Moritzburg Castle might feel familiar to a lot of European film fans: it is where Cinderella famously lost her shoe in the popular Czech-German winter family film Three Wishes for Cinderella, a Christmas holiday classic in several European countries.
“There always was a strong connection between Studio Babelsberg and Moritzburg Castle, resulting from the 1973 DEFA production Three Wishes for Cinderella,” says Markus Bensch, Production Executive/Location at Studio Babelsberg. “I had originally scouted the location in Moritzburg for another project. The then-director of the castle, Mrs. Ingrid Moebius, proved to be a big film enthusiast. She was very supportive and gave me an extensive tour around the castle.”
The producers of Charlie’s Angels were looking for a location in Germany to act as character Alexander Brok’s wealthy holiday estate in the ski resort of Chamonix-Mont-Blanc in France, the place where the eccentric billionaire celebrates his annual Vision Party.
“Moritzburg Castle immediately sprang to my mind,” says Markus Bensch. “So we suggested the place, already communicating that Moritzburg Castle might not be the easiest of shooting locations due to the conservational requirements for the castle and its interior.”
The Baroque palace, named after Duke Moritz of Saxony, has four round towers and lies on a symmetrical artificial island. The surrounding woodlands and ponds have been a favorite hunting area of the kings of Saxony.
“The location had to show power and wealth,” says Daniel Maaz, Head of the Technical Department of Moritzburg Castle. “Director Elizabeth Banks liked the castle’s opulent and symmetrical architecture, which she used when establishing the location in the film: the camera flies towards the castle and the entrance area where rich party people are arriving in fancy cars. The director was also excited about the magnificent interior of the castle, mirroring the fictional characters’ traits.”
The film shooting took place over a period of 10 days in 2018, mainly in the castle’s Dining Hall (Speisesaal) and Hall of Monstrosities (Monstroesensaal). Epic fight scenes between the angels and their nemeses are framed by a large collection of historical red deer antlers, crystal chandeliers and walls full of 17th century leather tapestries with monumental figurative paintings.
“We discussed very carefully with the director and production designer as well as the castle’s administration: what should be shown in a specific scene? Which aspects of the scene are vital, and which ones can be dropped?” explains Markus Bensch. “We singled out two especially sensitive surfaces: the historical parquet flooring and the leather tapestry. To protect the floor, we covered all off-camera areas with special protection mats. For the party and dance scenes in the castle’s Dining Hall, the whole parquet was built over with another flooring. Finding protection for the leather tapestry in the Hall of Monstrosities was a bit more tricky. Here, a large number of security staff made sure that no person or spotlight came too close to the sensitive surface.”
The creative team succeeded in bringing a fresh look to Charlie’s Angels, not only in terms of the brand, but also cinematically. The well-preserved historical interior of Moritzburg Castle contrast beautifully with the ultramodern party scenes of the action-packed film.
“Production designer Aaron Haye came up with the brilliant idea of giving the baroque location a modern makeover without disturbing the walls and the exhibited collection of ancient red deer antlers,” says Markus Bensch. “Lots of neon tubes and a light installation turned the castle’s facade and Dining Hall into a really cool-looking party location.”
“For days on end, the production designer and his crew were busy installing the equipment for the laser projections before animated deer started to jump across the facade,” recalls Daniel Maaz.
Filming and dancing in the castle was some kind of a challenge for the party extras, but the Technical Department of the Moritzburg Castle offered prompt help.
“When shooting the party scene, some of the extras had to switch several times between the make-up department and the Dining Hall, which were located on different floors and connected only by a tiny staircase,” says Daniel Maaz. “The extras’ party outfits came with super high heels. While still being kind of enthusiastic after the first takes, they grew more and more tired from climbing up and down the stairs as the shooting continued throughout the night. One of our company technicians finally came to their rescue by activating an unused lift just for them.”
“Communcation was key throughout the film shooting at Moritzburg Castle to solve small problems right from the beginning, and the support by Mrs. Moebius and her team and their enthusiasm in this process was tremendous,” says Markus Bensch.
“Coincidentally, Mrs. Moebius’ last day before retirement also was the last day of shooting. We knew that she was a great admirer of Captain Picard and the Star Trek films. Sir Patrick Stewart was among our cast, playing John Bosley and being overall an extemely friendly guy. So we told him about Mrs. Moebius being a Trekkie and about her impending retirement, and he was kind enough to invite her over to his trailer for tea and some detailed Trekkie talk. What a special and memorable sendoff into retirement!”
The general public has now the chance to vote for their favourite location among the 5 in the EUFCN Location Award shortlist: Banská Štiavnica for Dracula – Slovak Film Commission (SLOVAKIA), Lake Resia near Curon for Curon – IDM Film Fund & Commission from South Tyrol (ITALY), Moritzburg Castle for Charlie’s Angels – MDM Film Commission (GERMANY), Pažaislis Church and Monastery Complex for Catherine the Great – Kaunas Film Office (LITHUANIA), Prilep Area for Vrba (Willow) – North Macedonia Film Agency (NORTH MACEDONIA)
One lucky name will be picked among the voters and will win a trip to the winning location.
The European Film Commissions Network is a non-profit association that supports and promotes the European film industry and culture. It currently represents 98 European film commissions and film institutions from 31 different countries.