question of the day: How important is it for a film to be shot where it’s supposed to be set?

Alex Proyas, the filmmaker behind Knowing is in a bit of a scuffle with the Australian film agency, Screen Australia, over tax breaks for the film, according to IMDB’s Studio Briefing: Proyas is arging that the film deserves more tax consideration because while it is set in the U.S., the film was shot in Melbourne.

I want to talk not about tax breaks but about what it looks like onscreen when a movie is shot in a different place than where it’s set.
Many locations are fakeable. Some are not. The subway sequence in Knowing is supposed to be set in New York City, but it so obviously is nowhere near New York that it’s laughable… at least to this New Yorker. Not only do the physical locations not look right, but the people don’t look right, either. The escalators down into the subway station simply are nothing like anything in the NYC subway system, and they’re packed with crowds that simply doesn’t look like a New York crowd. The cop whom the Nicolas Cage character stops to talk to in the square outside the station (a square that looks nothing like anything in Manhattan) completely lacks a New York face and New York attitude (and she’s not dressed like an NYPD officer, either).

I don’t mean to imply that these things kill the film — they don’t. Knowing is not a story about New York or about New Yorkers. But in a film that already has a lot of issues with verisimilitude, it’s yet one more thing that rings false.

And it contrasts so startlingly with a sorta-similar sequence in Duplicity, which is also not a story about New York or New Yorkers but uses real New York geography and locations to further character and suspense in its own way. Clive Owen arranges to meet a contact in Grand Central Station, then follows someone out of the station, through the busy streets, and into the department store Lord & Taylor. Not only is that possible — you can walk from Grand Central to Lord & Taylor in a few minutes (unlike those movies that posit that one can walk from, say, Chinatown to the Plaza Hotel in mere minutes — you can’t) — but it borrows the energy of the actual bustling streets in a way that wouldn’t have been possible anywhere else.

What do you think? How important is it for a film to be shot where it’s supposed to be set?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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