Even though the grounds were precisely what Brest and Ferretti were looking for, considerable renovation and landscaping were undertaken by the art department and construction crew before the house and its surrounding area were ready for the cameras.
"It was necessary to build everything Marty and Dante needed," says executive producer Ron Schwary. "First of all we resodded the lawn so it was lush, green, inviting. Then we oversaw construction of a huge staircase that led from the back of the mansion down the length of the lawn to the sea. Dante decorated the staircase with lattice work and lighted globes. And we also built a bandstand large enough to seat a society orchestra, a dance floor inside a pavilion, and fountains spurting water."
"The globes on the staircase are one of my favorite effects," Ferretti says. "They give off a radiance, a soft, celestial light, just as we wanted because the party is like a vision of heaven. And of course at the climax of the birthday celebration there's an explosion of fireworks, and that adds to the color and excitement."
The party scene took six weeks to film; the sequence with fireworks alone lasted a week. Created and executed by Ron Smith and Pyrospectaculars, experts in the field, the fireworks had to be carefully coordinated for each shot. In the end, the fireworks spectacle provided a pleasant distraction for residents, crew, and the 600 extras who worked nightly while the long party sequence was being filmed. Most of the extras were locals, thrilled to be appearing in a movie with Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins.
For the party scene, Aude Bronson-Howard and David C. Robinson, designed more than 100 dresses for individual extras to wear. Then every night assistant directors placed these extras at strategic points in the action, a way of effectively controlling what Brest's cameras recorded.
"Marty really takes his time with wardrobe," Bronson-Howard says. "I think he managed to look at each and every extra at least once during filming."
"It goes without saying how much attention he lavished on clothing for the principals," David Robinson adds. "He truly understands how clothing reflects character."
Brad Pitts clothing is a case in point. Brest wanted a distinct look for Pitts two personas: the nameless young man Susan Parrish meets in the coffee shop; and the similar looking but very different Joe Black. Explains Bronson-Howard: "Marty wanted slouchy, wrinkled clothing for the young man while Joe Black had to look sharp and sleek. Joe's clothes are all straight lines."
Another character whose look required particular refining was Parrish's daughter, Susan. Notes Robinson: "Claire Forlani's look is more natural. For one thing, she has a job, she goes to work. She's a doctor and dresses casually. But she's also a beautiful young woman who looks great in what she wears. We dressed her to capture a distinctive look of youth, simplicity, sincerity and class that's essential to the character."
For the big party scene, the filmmakers searched for authentic designer dresses but couldnt find the perfect touch for the two contrasting Parrish sisters. Ultimately, they designed their own creationsa simple evening dress with spaghetti straps for Susan Parrish that was made of hand-beaded grey lace; and for Allison, a flowing satin gown in a vibrant shade of emerald green.
Surprisingly, the one character whose clothing offered a unique challenge was Bill Parrish. "The choices were obvious. We used a lot of suits in a distinguished Savile Row style and tweed jackets for the more relaxed scenes," Bronson-Howard says. "But when we started shooting, something extraordinary occurred. Once Anthony was in character, he altered his posture. He swayed his back to become Parrish and his clothing no longer fit. It was as if he had become Bill Parrish. We had to alter everything."
Filming completed in Rhode Island, the unit returned to the Park Slope armory for two scenes in the penthouse pool. Ferretti's opulent set became a fitting backdrop for a smoldering seduction scene between Joe and Susan.
"The penthouse overlooks Central Park so we decorated the pool room with allegorical murals depicting the park," Ferretti says. "We based our paintings on real murals made by a Spanish painter, Jose Maria Serte who in the 30s and 40s created murals for Rockefeller Center and the United Nations."
The love scenes concluded, the unit bid goodbye to Brooklyn and moved to Teaneck, New Jersey, for the scenes deep within Parrish Communications. The sequence in which Joe visits Susan at New York Hospital and encounters the terribly ill Jamaican patient, who thinks she recognizes who Joe Black really is, was filmed in New York City's Bellevue Hospital. With the completion of the scene in which the Jamaican woman privately pleads with Joe to end her misery and take her to that "other place." Filming wrapped on November 12, 1997.