Updated: Mar 15, 2019
The commercial Passage Macca-Villacrosse from Bucharest is one of the most cinematic locations I have seen. This is a location known in films, tv shows and commercials production and often proposed by location scouters and managers. At the same time it is also a very expensive place to shoot in due to its numerous commercial premises that often need to be shut down and even transformed during production.
I was the location manager for the U.S. feature film "Charlie Countryman" produced in 2012, directed by Fredrik Bond (it was his debut film) and featuring Shia LaBeouf, Evan Rachel Woods and Mads Mikkelsen. During this project I scouted hundreds of shooting locations and managed about 40 final locations over a very intense day and night production that lasted about 30 days in Bucharest. The commercial Passage Macca-Villacrosse was one of them and Charlie Countryman was also my debut film in my working pathway as a locations manager and executive producer.
Passage Macca-Villacrosse: a tourist place to see in Bucharest, Romania
Tourists are very attracted to Passage Macca-Villacrosse as it still is a fresh reminder of the Parisian atmosphere of belle epoque, Bucharest being known in the past as the 'Little Paris' due its rich and diverse architecture similarities. Today you can find there clothes and jewelry stores, an exchange house, oriental coffee shops, a glasses point of sale, you can smoke nargileh or eat at the small Chinese restaurant Pekin located on the first floor, a place where Mads Mikkelsen loved to eat when we shot there.
The passage's modern history begins with its architect Felix Xenopol who envisioned it and it was finished in 1891. Its name suggests two branched alleys Macca and Villacrosse, one begins in Victoriei Boulevard and it was named in the memory of Xavier Villacrosse who was the capital city's chief architect between 1840-1850, while the other alley, Macca, begins in Eugen Carada street (on one side of the National Bank of Romania) and it was named after Mihalache Macca who was the brother in law of the builder.
The passage's old history begins 100 years earlier when it was Hanul Câmpineanu ("inn" as a rough translation), a building inherited by the revolutionary Ion Câmpineanu from his parents, a place dedicated to the rich. Câmpineanu's vision was to transform it in a place for arts of national importance like an Atheneum or Philharmonic filled with libraries, conference rooms and a theatre hall, but his plans were ruined by Russian Consul that became a protective power of the two Romanian principalities that were still under Ottoman suzerainty, after the defeat of Napoleon emperor in 1812.
In 1838, Hanul Câmpineanu suffers great damages after an earthquake that hit Bucharest and in 1846 the wife of the deceased dragoman Petros Serafim gives it to their two daughters, one married with the architect Xavier Villacrosse and the other with the luxury furs merchant Mihalache Macca.
On the floor it used to be also a Masonic temple, the door of the temple and some of the symbolic decorations survived until today.
In 1979 the entire passage had been refurbished, since then it was never modernized.
The ground floor of the passage is commercial while the floor is a fusion of offices, commercial premises and residents homes.
Producer's analysis and views about Passage Macca-Villacrosse
Shutting down the commercial Passage Macca-Villacrosse is a hardcore task. You need a strong business sense and a complexity of skills to make it work: budgeting, negotiating with a variety of multicultural typologies, a film locations eye and good understanding of director and crew visions and needs, sharp operational abilities, a very sharp logistic mind, coordination with the locations in proximity, as you will be the one managing the production in the location and coordinating hundreds of people and things.
As a locations manager you are the person everyone turns to with millions of questions and needs to fulfil. You practically have to know the insides of the place by heart, as if you live there for a lifetime.
Costs & Negotiations
In the case of our project, despite its big production budget, we could not afford to close both ramifications of the passage, we closed the alley Villacrosse on both sides and we negotiated intermittent traffic for Macca.
I negotiated separately with each business owner and resident, and that proved to be a smart decision, as it kept the costs far from getting crazy. Being a high trafficked locations, business is very good there and when negotiate their fees, business owners take into account all the sales they lose during your preparation, production and wrap days plus the loss of client traffic generated by clients redirection to other locations and the time needed for people to know they are back in business. The disruption of a business holds many components and as a location manager you have to understand this well and turn things around to fit also your budget.
The budgets are usually estimates and they rarely match the reality. They usually use a corporate poor technique to under-budget in order to hook the client and then they increase, sometimes quite abruptly generating a lot of hysteria.
I usually opt for exploring and researching the field first for at least one week to identify unpredictable, unexpected and hidden elements, and for doing a round of pre-negotiations. Based on that, I then do realistic budgets that do not hide surprises. During negotiations, I usually get some considerable savings.
The biggest challenge at this chapter was the owner of the Egyptian coffee shops. He had (I guess he still has) 3 coffee shops places in strategic positions: one in center occupying both ends of the two ramifications, one on Villacrosse at the first floor and one on Macca. They are positioned in such a way that we needed to close all three. This was the hardest negotiation and it took me dozens of trips and phone calls to reach a common ground.
The second biggest challenge was a coffee shop where the main characters had a moment in the movie (the one when Evan Rachel Wood sings the cello). That location needed a consistent transformation and the owner just wouldn't have it. Eventually, I managed to settle this, but there were moments when I was not sure about the ending.
The third challenge were the residents and the office spaces from the first floor. We needed access in their homes to install various lights and cameras, and we also needed them to not come and go, for offices we needed their employees and clients to have a break. There is not another access to redirect traffic. The costs were not to ignore.
The fourth challenge were all the other small shops. Even though their sales volume was not as big the one of coffee shops and restaurant, they expected to be paid the same.
Overall, I needed to negotiate with over 20 business owners and loads of residents, synchronize and harmonize their interests. The overall discussions lasted for about 3 weeks and they were crowded with ups and downs, turns and twists.
When you compromise on the location budget, you usually increase the costs in the other departments and the time to shoot. In this case for example, not closing the full passage caused issues in sound department, being necessary to do more shots for one scene than necessary. Then, some of the people who were in charge with various aspects of the production were redirected to Macca to control the pietonal traffic, a thing that caused disruptions in other areas of the production. This is a very common mistake many field and executive producers make that is mainly due to a not enough sharp sense of logistics and operations, of not well correlating all departments' necessities and implications.
If my memory does not betray me, I think we spent around 40.000 Euros to shut down the passage as we did and some connex expenses with the base camp and other locations related things.
Logistics and Operations
From the logistics and operations point of view, the Passage Macca-Villacrosse is a very complicated location, for both shooting areas and base camp challenges.
Being in the heart of the capital city of Romania, Bucharest, and near the National Bank the challenges are at their pick.
Parking and Access
Parking is a critical issue from many points of view. First of all, there is only one way to access the location by car and that is on Eugen Carada street which is highly restrictive from two reasons: it is a historical place part of the Old City and it is where National Bank has one of its entrances, the one where the special cars transporting values and money come and go after a very specific schedule. During their in/out, there are top restrictions, so you need to coordinate with the National Bank's security manager and representatives to make it work. This means sending them your full schedule in all phases of the project (preparation, shooting, wrap), a list with the crew in all phases, a list with all the crew's cars in all phases. Then you need to coordinate with the guards from the barrier, as the access street is restricted. They change all the time as they work in shifts, so you need to make a list with all of them and their contacts during all phases of the project.
Both ramifications of the passage are accessible from Victoriei Boulevard (from two separate pietonal entrances) and they emerge on the restricted access street, Eugen Carada. Victoriei is the most trafficked venue and the access in the passage is only pietonal, so it is impossible to park there. On our project we had an impressive number of cars and trucks, so we had to find an alternative solution for our film caravan.
The residents living in that part of the old center park their cars in the restricted area, so we needed to identify them all and move them in a far away private parking lot, as we needed our dozens of trucks near the shooting locations. That was quite a difficult task and lasted few days to complete. Some of the cars we needed to just move them with a special device and leave a note in the car's windscreen in order to avoid scandals and complications.
The cars and trucks we didn't need in the immediate proximity were moved in another private parking lot on another side of the location. Different negotiations, contracts and arrangements.
During the preparation days which lasted about two weeks with location transformation, our set construction and set design departments' trucks had to be very well scheduled with the materials supply as they had to be right at the entrance, a thing that blocked the supplier's trucks that fueled the businesses in the passage on a daily basis.
The costumes and catering trucks needed a direct access to water hydrants / water source, and the catering department needed its own space for the meals time. Other spaces were needed for the eco toilets and various tents. The eco toilets needed access for the cleaning trucks, so it couldn't be any space. The cleaning team on set needed its own corner for garbage bags and other stuff they used. At the end of each day, one of the location manager task was to leave the location clean and to call the garbage company to pick it up (another negotiation, another contract that usually is done after closing all locations, so you can estimate the garbage volume and tariffs for the project).
The Passage Macca-Villacrosse is much more than what you see when passing by or at first sight. It has all sorts of hidden accesses, underground spaces, roof spaces, inhabited apartments and loads of doors that lead to unexpected places. On top of that, parts of it are very secretive.
I was lucky to develop a very good relationship with its administrator and to get access to its plans, but even the plans weren't enough to master the location, as they did not contain all spaces and corners there were. However, it took us a two days detailed tour of the location so I can learn the space.
A location manager needs to know everything about the shooting location: exits, accesses, water sources, electricity control panels, who are the keys holders from various spaces, and so on. That is because a production crew is made of many departments and each department has loads of needs. All the needs are usually estimated during the tech scouts, they are adjusted during prep days, but during shooting there are always dozens of unpredictable issues that weren't sized. The light department usually has the most adjustments and requests, new accesses they need and so on.
Then, each business premise and residential home owner or representative need to be and stay in their location, because during shooting all places need to be open and accessible. You need to know all their names and have all their contact details because the dynamics is quite high during production and you always need something from them.
Another challenge that worth mentioning here are the extras. If you close the passage, being a quite big space, even though it is tight, you need a certain number of extras to fill in the place during shooting. Not all executive producers and directors evaluate this aspect and they usually have a lot of problems and extra costs because of it.
The main outdoor challenges are the ones related with sound issues (like open terraces where you need to nicely ask the owners to turn off the music, like suppliers trucks to nearby business premises that usually disrupt things, noisy pedestrians or neighbours, events taking places in proximity you usually need to know about in advance and discuss some arrangements, etc) and curious tourists or pedestrians who usually crowd the place and may create many disruptions. Not all people are nice, there is always someone who feels very disturbed about productions and chilling them down is always a challenge.
Shooting licences, authorisations and releases
To shoot in Passage Macca-Villacrosse the papers department is quite complex. You need contracts and property releases with/from the business owners and residents. You also need property release from the owners/administrator of the passage for both interior and exterior shots of the property. City Hall and National Bank authorisations for the outdoor spaces used and subject of shooting. Contracts with all conex partners for the base camp and other production needs in the location.
There are many other particularities I haven't listed in this post, but I think I mentioned the main ones. What is worth adding is that with each new shooting, you need to go and reassess the location and its surroundings, as there is always something happening or planned to happening during your shooting (like the city hall repairing some conducts, gas or water suppliers having some construction rehabilitation mission, banners in wrong places, lights that need to be controlled etc).
On such big projects, but also at smaller projects, the producers must estimate at least two people in the locations department, as one closes a location while the other opens the next. After the shootings are done in one location, the film caravan and all the crew moves in the next one, and so on, following a cascade type of flaw, until the production schedule is fulfilled. There is also a problem during preparation days, when one of them needs to accompany the other departments that work on location transformation during the entire day. The same happens at wrap when one stays behind to close the location, operation that lasts for days many times, as the transformed locations need to be delivered as received. During these times, one person hardly covers the field operations, arrangements and documentation for the other locations.