To make "The Book Thief," the screen adaptation of Markus Zusak's novel about a young girl who develops a passion for books amid the chaos of World War II-era Germany, the filmmakers might have shot somewhere in Eastern Europe with generous tax credits and other financial incentives. In the end, they instead chose to shoot in Germany: in Berlin as well as the eastern city of Gorlitz and the surrounding countryside.
At a recent installment of the Envelope Screening Series, "Book Thief" actor Geoffrey Rush talked about what it meant to be filming in Germany.
"On a mercenary financial level, it's probably highly likely that Fox 2000 might have thought we could shoot in Romania, we could shoot in the Czech Republic, we could shoot in Hungary," Rush said. "But [director] Brian Percival felt pretty assured that this is a German story."
Rush said it was "fantastic" having access to the heritage of the famed Babelsberg studios: "When I was a student in Paris in my early 20s, I would go to the cinematheque and see all the films by Fritz Lang and [F.W.] Murnau, [Georg Wilhelm] Pabst and a young Billy Wilder, etc. And suddenly I was on the backlot going, 'This is where they did all this stuff.'"
(Other recent films shot at Babelsberg include Quentin Tarantino's "Inglourious Basterds" and next spring's "The Monuments Men.")
Another benefit of shooting in Germany was working with the natives. "We had a predominantly German crew," Rush said, including cinematographer Florian Ballhaus. "To have 23-year-old third ADs and runners and 68-year-old props guys, you were constantly keeping alive some sort of dialogue about, 'How do you all feel about living through the worst century any country could probably have ever gone through, with two World Wars, the Stasi in the '80s, the Wall, everything.' And there is, I think, a pretty glorious resilience and honest reappraisal of that, which is why I think telling these kinds of stories is still fairly important."
For more from Rush on "The Book Thief," watch the full video above, and check back for daily highlights.