Movieline's Interactive Shame Map: Explore NYC With Director Steve McQueen
Among the most admired (and controversial) films of 2011 is also one of the most striking New York-set movies in years: Shame, director Steve McQueen's unflinching glimpse inside the life of Manhattan professional Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender) as he struggles with sex addiction and his reckless sibling Sissy (Carey Mulligan). The quotidian nature of Brandon's routine -- subway commutes, nondescript office work, late-night jogs -- not only mask his emotional freefall, but belie the everyday tensions, pleasures, challenges and privileges associated with living in one of the world's most intoxicating cities. Now you can tryst where Brandon trysts, drink where Brandon drinks, and brood where Brandon broods thanks to Movieline's interactive Shame location map.
McQueen, who first visited New York as a child in 1977, said his ensuing trips to the city commenced an enduring fascination with the its inhabitants and functions. "I remember Elvis dying and the blackout," he recalled in a recent chat with Movieline. "But the thing about Brandon -- and it was very meticulous -- was where he would live, where he would work, how he would travel to work, what he would eat, where he would eat, take-out, where he would do his laundry... etcetera, etcetera. So that was, for me, very important to me. By coincidence, people talk about it being a 'New York movie,' but really, it was about his ritual. That was it."
After developing international renown as both a visual artist and a feature filmmaker (his debut Hunger, also starring Fassbender, won the Cannes Film Festival's Camera D'Or prize in 2008), McQueen returned to New York for his second film -- but only after he was essentially rebuffed in his first choice of London.
"No one would talk to us," McQueen said. "I think it was a time when sex addiction was very much in the media, and I think people just went underground. Of course, people very wary of the British media in London, and I think people thought we were a part of that, and that therefore they couldn't talk to anyone. So it was myself and Abi Morgan who flew to New York and talked to two experts in the field who happened to live here. Then they in turn introduced us to people who had the addiction or were recovering from the addiction, and I thought to myself, 'Well, why don't we just shoot it in New York?' And that was it."
McQueen's sense for the city only translated so far to its practical locations, however. Enter David Velasco, a veteran location manager and scout and native New Yorker.
"I'd already known of Steven off of Hunger," Velasco explained. "I was a big fan of that film, and that immediately piqued my interest. And when he explained the subject matter, that extra-piqued my interest. So when I got the script, I gave it a read-through, and right after the first read, I called him back right away and was like, 'I'd love to do this. What do you need me to do to get on this project?'"
Working in concert with McQueen, cinematographer Sean Bobbitt and production designer Judy Becker, Velasco helped pin down a list of sites to evoke not just Brandon's story, but Brandon himself. In the tradition of our interactive Drive map from earlier this fall, click on the map below for more information on each Shame location, and see each in action when Shame rolls out this Friday, Dec. 2, in limited release.
(WARNING: Some spoilers follow.)
Address: 9 West 31st Street, 15th Floor
McQueen: "Something that's fascinating to me about New Yorkers is that they live and work in the sky. It's amazing. They live and work in the sky. And what it does, of course, is [introduce] a situation where there's always a huge bloody window. There's always a huge vista on the city, and you're always framed by the city. I think it's kind of interesting, because being framed by the city, you're always in perspective of the city -- and your own perspective of the city. It can actually be quite lonely in a way -- to have that view all the time and be in the frame of this huge metropolis. What are you within that metropolis? What am I? Who am I? You're always questioning in this view."
Velasco: "The apartment is actually an empty apartment that we scored in the building. It was a one-bedroom, empty, on the market. Luckily we came across it. It was one of those fluke things where it happened to be available. I immediately jumped in there and talked to management and was able to secure it and hold it for the span of a month, and luckily there was another apartment that freed up for logistical purposes to use as a staging space. As you can imagine, it was a super-tight location to shoot in."
McQueen: "Logistically it's helpful to have everything in the same location -- less time-consuming, to be honest. But also, I don't see the reason why you'd want to make it any different. It is his building. This is Brandon -- this is a way we identify with him, get to know him. This is it. It's integral to the film, the same way that music he picks to play -- the Glenn Gould -- is integral to Brandon, too. There's no way around that. I'm not making a TV commercial; I'm making a movie."
Velasco: "All the other units were occupied; there were people across the hall, down the hall... We were surrounded by people. [Did you encounter any problems?] I kid you not: Not one complaint from one neighbor the entire time we were there. If anything, people were super-curious. At that point, Michael was starting to get some serious press because of the upcoming X-Men movie that was coming out. If anything, people were starting to poke around and catch a glimpse; they heard, 'Oh, Michael Fassbender's in the bulding.'" ↑
The Flatiron bachelor pad occupied by our protagonist and his sister. Read more
28 St N/R
Address: Intersection of Broadway and West 28th Street
McQueen: "It's like rituals -- it's like tai chi: You follow the movement, and wherever the movement leads you, you go to it. Some place we wound up shooting were very ugly -- the lot where Brandon runs back to his apartment or wherever. But you work with it, because those kinds of limitations are beautiful to me because I have to work with that. Again, I am not making TV commercials about being in a beautiful spot, and 'This is gorgeous,' and, 'Oh, isn't this great?' None of that. It is about how people move and operate in the city. Like the subway. He takes the subway. It is what it is. Do you know what I mean? And I love that because it's limiting, but it gives me so much. That's the thing: It gives you so much that you have to deal with. Sometimes it's a huge problem to have to deal with it, but it's like... No. It gives you shit."
Velasco: "The interesting thing with Steve from the very beginning was that his whole thing was, because of the nature of the material, Michael's character has to be relatable -- real, authentic -- for the audience to make a connection. So when we started to lock down this world -- like when we picked his apartment for instance -- that's why that train got picked. Right away, Steven said, 'Well, if Brandon lives in this neighborhood, what train would he take to get the work?' And Judy and I are from New York; we know it inside and out. So we said, 'Yeah, 28th Street. Totally.' Or in the jogging scene: 'What direction would he go jogging in?' Well, he would go toward the Hudson River. The train wound up being closest to his apartment building." ↑
28 St N/R
Brandon's nearest subway stop, where he leaves each day for work and returns with a strange premonition after his all-nighter. Read more
Address: Citigroup Center, 601 Lexington Avenue
Velasco: "There was a floor controlled by a legal company, and Judy had actually shot something there in a corner office not that long ago, but she remembered there had been this whole other wing to the floor that she had been on that nobody had bothered to do anything with. So we went up there with Steve and checked it out -- checked out the sightlines -- and made a deal. If I'm not mistaken, a couple months after we started shooting there, the legal company that owned the floor was in the process of gutting it out. So what you see on the screen no longer exists. I believe that might have been on the 33rd floor." ↑
Where our protagonist works at an undisclosed job and crashes his computer with porn; seen only from the interior. Read more
Sissy's performance/Brandon and Marianne's tryst
Address: The Standard Hotel, 848 Washington Street
Velasco: "Steven had spent time at The Standard when visiting New York, so during the process of him writing the script with Abi Morgan, he had always pictured that scene with Carey being there. Originally we thought we'd think about The Standard, but maybe we'd go find something else. But as time went on, and the more discussions we had, we said, 'Well, if The Standard is where you want to be, and it's what you imagined when you wrote it, why don't we just do it there?' It took some finagling with the hotel; they're very particular about who does what there. Most of what they've ever allowed at The Standard is photo shoots. I think the only thing other than Shame that ever shot there was a piece of an episode of Gossip Girl -- and that was like two people in a corner booth somewhere. You never even knew it was The Standard; it was just like this throwaway thing. [...] The only reason that even happened was because one of the higher-ups on the board at The Standard was a fan of Steven's -- not just his movie work, but his work as a visual artist. It was for that reason that the door was cracked open and we were able to slip in."
McQueen: [Was the impulse again about being in the sky?] "I kept on being up in the sky. I had just come off this plane; I was stuck in the sky. New Yorkers tilt their head to one side and look at me and say, 'Is this guy crazy?' But the views -- when you look out at that broken jetty from The Standard Hotel? It's amazing. It's like people: some submerged, some with their heads just above water. It was that. The ordinary for me here is extraordinary. That's what it was about. But at the same time, I'm not going for shots. I'm looking at how people move."
Velasco: [On The Standard's reputation for guests having sex in the windows] "What's interesting about all that is when Steven first wrote the script, and I met with him and his producer Iain [Canning], I casually mentioned, 'It's interesting reading these scenes, because that's actually happened at The Standard.' And they looked at me kind of confused at first and asked, 'What are you talking about?' And I literally Googled 'Standard Hotel' and some other configuration for images and said, 'Yeah: People have actually had sex against the glass, and it's caused problems with the city.' They were unaware that was a situation with the hotel. [Did the hotel management have apprehensions about the scenes or the subject matter?] Talking to the hotel about it, it's something they really can't control. People will complain and call the city, but going into it we were very clear about laying out exactly the nature of what we were trying to do with regard to the script. We didn't sugarcoat anything, but we also made a point of saying, 'It's not a gratuitous thing.' [...] Of all things, the one thing that got the hotel rep nervous was that moment where Fassbender does a line of cocaine. 'Oh my God -- he's actually gonna do coke?' And I was like, 'The coke bothers you, but everything else is OK? All right; that's interesting.'" ↑
The Standard Hotel
Sissy performs "New York, New York" at the hotel's top-floor nightclub; Brandon and Marianne tryst on the 12th floor. Read more
Business drinks (and "Shots!")
Address: Flatiron Lounge, 37 West 19th Street
McQueen: "David was a genius. I spoke to him about bars that people go to and what not. We talked about that, and that was it. He did his research. That bar was perfect -- the first bar he goes to with his boss to pick up girls. It's just one of those things where you walk in and say, 'This is good; this makes sense.'"
Velasco: "We searched for that for a while. It needed to feel like the kind of place that Brandon and his boss would go to after work, so we looked at a lot of different options for that. We came across that right as we were going into our last two weeks of preproduction -- it's one of the last things we settled on. It has some interesting detail to it, interior-wise. I believe we were there for actually two days." ↑
Brandon and his boss have business drinks with clients and exchange tequila shots with a trio of women. Read more
Broken pedestrian signal
Address: Corner of West 31st Street and 7th Avenue
Velasco: "That's kind of an interesting story. When we arrived there that night to shoot that run -- which wasn't an easy thing to get the city to allow us to do, but they relented -- there was a food cart guy on that corner. Obviously he was in the shot where we wanted Fassbender to land before he crosses Seventh Avenue. So we actually asked him, 'Can you move your cart?' And the guy was nice about it; he's like, 'Yeah, sure.' But he was kind of flaky, because he backed his cart up into the post, and apparently broke the signal. It was just hanging there. But Steve liked it: 'Hey, let's just leave it there.' 'All right; it's your movie.'"
McQueen: "We could have put it back, but I left it like that. It was perfect. It was gorgeous. He knocked it down, and was like, 'The police...' 'No, no, leave it. It's fantastic. Wonderful.' It was hand-in-glove for us. Perfect for that moment when Brandon is jogging on the spot before he crosses. It was genius." ↑
Broken pedestrian signal
The corner where Brandon interrupts his fraught late-night jog. Read more
Brandon's thinking spot
Address: Pier 54, Hudson River at West 13th Street
Velasco: "The pier where he's at when he's looking at New Jersey at night, that's the one he goes back to during the day -- the exact same spot as before. Basically, Steve wanted that because in the story, [Brandon]'s from New Jersey. So he'd go down there occasionally to look at where he grew up -- for whatever reason. That's why he ends up going back down there toward the end."
McQueen: "The thing about Brandon -- and it was very meticulous -- was where he would live, where he would work, how he would travel to work, what he would eat, where he would eat, take-out, where he would do his laundry... etcetera, etcetera. So that was, for me, very important to me. By coincidence, people talk about it being a 'New York movie,' but really, it was about his ritual. That was it." ↑
Brandon visits the Pier for a smoke before dinner with Marianne -- and a breakdown after seeing Sissy in the hospital. Read more
Address: 98 Rivington Street
Velasco: "Judy and Steven both liked the intimacy of the location for one; two, the neighborhood it was in felt right." [The server is vaguely incompetent, but isn't that place renowned for knowledgeable servers and sommeliers?] Well, as far as the whole waiter part of it... We scouted a lot in preproduction -- it was myself, Steven, Sean and Judy in a minivan going all over the city looking at location options. And in the course of that, we would always trade stories, especially Judy and myself, about going out to dinner, or great waiters or terrible waiters. And apparently it made an impression, because the next thing you know we're watching them play this scene out and seeing the waiter do his thing, and we just started to laugh. He would do that a lot: Ask us or pick our brains, because again, he always wanted to draw from something real." ↑
The Lower East Side eatery where Brandon takes his coworker Marianne on a date. Read more
Address: Parkside Lounge, 317 East Houston Street
Velasco: "It's a great bar. They've got that pool table in the back. We were there for I think one day of shooting. I remember taking Steven there for the first time; the minute he looked at it, he said, 'This is great; this is where we want to do it.' So that worked out perfect. [Where does he get beaten up?] That's the corner right outside. The camera is facing Houston; you're actually right next to the bar. It's right there as soon as you walk out." ↑
Brandon makes a new friend and a new enemy before taking a beating from the latter outside. Read more
Address: Quo (exterior), 511 West 28th Street; The Eagle (interior upstairs), 554 W. 28th Street; Le Trapeze (interior downstairs), 17 East 27th Street
Velasco: [What's the club that shuts Brandon out?] "That's not even a club; that's just an industrial storage locker. That's the best way to describe it. It's just some random guy who stores propane tanks in there. That's technically the club entrance. [And then he crosses the street to a place called Quo?] That was one of the only times we actually did a Frankenstein and just created a location. It was such a specific thing that Steven wanted. It didn't even start out that way: The bar he winds up in is Quo, which was on 28th Street. But when he walks in -- that blackened room he walks into with the neon and he's following the guy? That's a leather bar also on 28th called The Eagle. And then we cut to the inside of one of the last active sex clubs in New York City -- a place called Le Trapeze. That's where you find him going through that blood-red labyrinth. They have this hidden upstairs area; we didn't even know it was there. We were just about to leave, and Judy noticed some spiral stairs. 'Hey, what's that?' And we walk upstairs and go, 'Oh, this is nuts.' And then he winds up in that booth -- that booth was actually the only thing we built on a stage. Judy built that to mirror the labyrinth that we saw. So really it's four different pieces that made up that one location." ↑
Shut out of his first choice after the beating, Brandon stakes out the gay club across the street. Read more
Brandon and his Flatiron Lounge conquest go for a quickie against a wall beneath the bridge. Read more
Brandon walks Marianne back to the train after their dinner and conversation. Read more
Fulton St. Exchange
Brandon follows the nameless redhead from the subway off the train and up the stairs. Read more