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Behind the Scenes

Behind the Scenes

"We spent months scouting eastern Massachusetts for an abandoned school chemistry lab we could transform into the 1849 Harvard Medical College chemistry laboratory. The closest we got was an empty school in Waltham, but the lab was on the fourth floor, had no elevator and no heat.

Finally, in desperation, we decided we'd build our lab."

-- Eric Stange, Producer/Director

131850 floor plan of John Webster's laboratory. This floor plan is taken from the Report of the Case of John W. Webster, the trial transcript by George W. Bemis, published in 1850. The production team used this schematic as a basis for reconstructing Webster's laboratory.

Production 14Katha Seidman's sketch of laboratory. Designer Katha Seidman sketched out how Webster's lab might have looked, with an emphasis on a cluttered workspace.

1Detail of period books. "Since Simon Schama's book is about the nature of truth, we were as careful as possible. We tried to get the larger details and the smaller details just right."
-- Melissa Banta,

2Tim Sawyer, as John Webster. "It's very important to pay attention to the character whose space it is. You are telling the story as much with the space of the character as with the actions of that character."
-- Katha Seidman,
Production Designer

3Makeup crew applies a touch up to Tim Sawyer. "...Webster had facial hair that was glued on. When an actor is under hot lights and begins to perspire, the moisture under the artificial hair would make the glue visible in close-up shots. On the set, I removed any moisture so you couldn't see where the hair was patched on. "
-- Anna Brecke,
Makeup Artist

4George Parkman confronts JohnWebster. "...we needed to capture the crucial fight scene both visually and aurally. The dialogue here is very important as Schama imagines what Parkman and Webster might have said to one another... our sound recordist and boom operator managed to capture great stuff."
-- Amy Geller,

5Members of the production crew on set. "The lab tables and other set pieces were designed to be moveable, depending on the shot. We used what we call a 'dance floor,' pieces of smooth masonite -- in sections -- which we put over the rough board floor when we needed to do a dolly shot..."
-- Boyd Estus,
Director of Photography

6Webster clubs Parkman with large stick. "Blocking out all the actors' moves for the violent fight and murder scene took careful planning if we were going to make it look at all realistic. And because our film noir-style lighting relied on small pools of light among deep shadows, the actors had to hit their marks precisely or the camera wouldn't see them at all."
-- Eric Stange,

7Boyd Estus sets up a shot of Tim Sawyer. "Focusing is usually very difficult on a film set. There's so much going on behind the scenes: cameras moving about, cords being laid, lights being set -- a lot of stuff right in front of your face. Here, it was so easy. Because everything was real."
-- Tim Sawyer,
Actor ("John Webster")

8Detail of colorful liquid specimens. "When shooting in black and white, you have different color concerns. With the color liquids, you need to make sure that there is enough contrast and range. If you have the same color-value liquid in all the bottles, you get 'blah.' You've got to give it more punch when it's lit."
-- Katha Seidman,
Production Designer

9Eric Stange, Katha Seidman and Tim Sawyer on set. "It was a surreal experience from the first day of filming. I had thought about the characters' motivations for so long and to see them come to life... I felt like I learned new things about them. It was thrilling."
-- Melissa Banta,

10Sean McGuirk, as George Parkman, lies recumbent on a mattress. "I loved the costume, but the first day I put it on, we realized the shoes were a size too small. So I used that for my character. Anytime you see Parkman with a pinched look on his face, that's the shoes talking."
-- Sean McGuirk,
Actor ("George Parkman")

11Detail of George Parkman with head wound. "Newspaper accounts described Parkman striding around town in his purple vest. We had this red coat with matching vest for Parkman, but Eric [Stange] asked, 'Couldn't you put a purple vest on him?' So we did."
-- Ann Yoost Brecke,
Wardrobe Supervisor

12Boyd Estus and Eric Stange set up a shot of Parkman's felled hat. "For this shot, we were tossing Parkman's hat into the frame, as if had just fallen off his head. It's like shooting dice -- you keep shooting it until you get it right, with the hat landing in the proper place."
-- Boyd Estus,
Director of Photography

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