Where was ‘The Midnight Sky’ filmed? From George Clooney's bizarre beard tales to shooting in -28 temperatures
'All the guys on the crew with beards including George froze with icicles including their eyebrows and eyelashes'
A lonely scientist. A mysterious global catastrophe. A group of astronauts stuck on another planet. George Clooney's ‘The Midnight Sky’ boasts of visionary screenplay and top-notch cast. Based on Lily Brooks-Dalton’s acclaimed novel ‘Good Morning, Midnight’, the post-apocalyptic film follows Augustine (Clooney) as he races to stop Sully (Felicity Jones) and her fellow astronauts from returning home.
The grandeur of the movie has caught many eyes, and if like us, you're wondering where the movie was filmed, here's all the scoop from behind-the-scene excerpts from the filmmakers provided to streaming giant Netflix. As sophisticated as some of the tools would be, the film was shot on the large-format Arri Alexa 65 camera with a significant amount of digital work - sometimes the solution to a problem is the most obvious one.
Where was it shot?
How do you shoot scenes of wintry isolation? Go where the snow is. The movie production was finalized to be held on the glacier of Vatnajökull, the largest ice cap in Iceland (and the second largest in the whole of Europe), where white-out blizzards and crisp vistas wouldn’t have to be faked. “Iceland’s just a magnificent place,” Grant Heslov says. “We were a five-and-a-half-hour drive outside of Reykjavík. So when I say we were in the middle of nowhere, we were really in the middle of nowhere. Depending on the weather, it could take up to two hours just to get to the basecamp where the trailers and trucks were. And then from there, we would have to get on snowmobiles.”
Clooney was impressed by the natural landscape — but also by its inherent dangers. “It was proper glacier work,” the actor-director recalled, “where we’d be advised, ‘Don’t step too far off because you actually might fall off, like, a 1,500-foot cliff.’ So we had experts around to keep us from doing stupid things. But it was a lot of fun getting to ride around in the snowmobiles and live that kind of life for a minute. It was the only place we could shoot, quite honestly.”
When was it shot?
The month for shooting was pinned onto October as there would be no snow any earlier and it would be prohibitively cold later. Shedding light on the discomfort in the temperature, Clooney said, “I mean, the ice you see in my beard is real,” still marveling. “If I’d gone inside for, you know, 10 minutes and it had melted, I’d just get on a snowmobile and spray water on my beard and it would all freeze up again in seconds. I would take off my mask to do a scene and my eyelids would freeze shut in about 30 seconds. You could only shoot for a minute or less in those sequences.”
“When we were filming in Iceland the weather was brutal, -28 with wind chill on top. All the guys on the crew with beards including George froze with icicles including their eyebrows and eyelashes,” hair and makeup designer Jan Sewell, who devised the spray-on technique, recalled.
George Clooney and beard tales
Sewell soon became a huge fan of Clooney’s icicled beard. “I knew once George had finished filming, he’d be dead keen to get this beard off,” she remembered. “And I kept saying to him, ‘Please, please, can you wait?’ Because his beard was extraordinary — it’s got all these colors in it. It’s beautiful. If we had re-shoots copying his beard would be almost impossible. I must have gone on about it quite a lot because when he finished his shooting, I knew I was going see him on Monday without the beard.”
“In walked George, beard completely shaven off, looking about 12 years old, and he had a present for me,” she said. “When he started to shave, he realized it was all coming off in one piece, so he put some cling film around it and said, ‘There’s your beard.’ It’s fantastic. But I also have a plan for it—it’s my pension plan. I’m going to sell it on eBay, I think.”
How did the cast and crew manage?
Cinematographer Martin Ruhe found clarity in the harsh Icelandic conditions and beautifully captured the poetic side of the story. Talking about the shoot schedule, Ruhe said, “Our filming style was basically dictated by where we shot things,” adding, “We were in real storms and it was very heavy, shooting on a glacier that was hard to access. So our filming became pretty pragmatic. We were trying to keep everything as small as possible so we could move quickly and get our shots. But it was a health and safety issue as well. We were making a survival story, but it also felt like being in one. I like that — when the where of what you’re shooting tells you how to shoot it.”
Not just the adults, the young newcomer also adapted to the climate quite well. Was Clooney worried about filming with six-year-old Caoilinn Springall in such harsh conditions? “Well, she’s Irish,” Clooney joked. “She’s tough. Come on — I’m Irish. We understand that kind of stuff. That’s like a Friday afternoon for us, right? It’s on your way to the pub. Yeah, Caoilinn was on the back of the snowmobile with me, 40 degrees below zero, 70-mile-an-hour winds. You could see her blown around a few times when we were walking. And she was just game. Her mom was right there. No one was in danger. We were all tied to one another and had whistles and lights. She never once complained.”
Where was the space station filmed?
From the bitter cold of the Iceland shoot, the production settled into blissfully controlled conditions at London’s Shepperton Studios, the creative laboratory for such sci-fi classics as ‘A Clockwork Orange’ and ‘Alien’. At Shepperton, the team constructed the sleekly designed interiors of Aether, capturing the other half of the movie’s two-stranded story. Actor Oyelowo appreciated the real-world “practical” construction that went into the Shepperton sets, décor that added immensely to his performance.
“We very rarely are interacting with things that are pure artifice,” Oyelowo explained. “It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a movie where you have three stories of a space station, all of which are built literally one on top of the other, so it’s a very interactive space. You could walk the set and feel like everything that you are interacting with is real—it’s right there.”
‘The Midnight Sky’ released globally on Netflix on December 23, 2020. Catch the 125-minute movie on the streaming platform.