Fall, 2001 – Journal entry by Charles Darby, Line Producer
Why not go to the original source – present day London and Paris? These two bustling cosmopolitan cities are filled with many historic structures, but the imposition of the 21st century is unavoidable. Filming, even on a street filled with historic structures, would require the removal of all vehicles, the covering of the pavement with dirt, removal of all street signs, street lights, the covering of modern signage. AND THEN, when all this is done, all the period historic elements that replicate 18th century street “life” must be brought in and put up. The imposition to the owners of all the buildings on the street requires that they be compensated. In short, to turn such a street back in time almost three centuries is a very expensive undertaking.
With the limited funds we had to make “Benjamin Franklin”, we probably could only afford to create one period setting in London or Paris, when in fact we needed dozens. Our problem: we needed to find a single location that was generally inexpensive (London & Paris are not inexpensive places to visit) and that had a plethora of historic architecture that was unscathed by the 21st century.
Prague became very popular with filmmakers in the 1980s, with the fall of communism. It has many wonderful historic buildings and could easily “double” for any number of European cities. Under the Soviets, the lack of a market economy and the fiscal conditions of the State meant that little had been done to “modernize and commercialize” the city. Many city streets, in the 1980s, looked as they had for centuries. But as money and tourists flowed into Prague, this rapidly changed. Old historic streets now boast McDonalds, Starbucks, neon signs, Prada shops, etc. Cobblestone streets have been covered with asphalt, in deference to the automobile. While labor costs are much cheaper than in London or Paris, it would still be expensive, if not impossible, to turn these streets back in time a few hundred years. We needed to find the “new Old Prague.”