Volker Schlöndorff
Volker Schlöndorff, Jean-Claude Carrière, Franz Seitz

After my "amicable" withdrawal from THE LOST HONOUR OF KATERINA BLUM, I did not expect to be offered another job by Volker and Eberhard, his partner in BIOSKOP FILM, especially THE TIN DRUM, already a small sensation, based on the shooting announcement alone. My joy was short-lived because it didn’t take long to learn that I was not the first choice and a colleague had just withdrawn before the location scouting, and for reasons that were so obvious that I didn't even bother to ask.

The challenge was too great to refuse, or at least first read the script to know what would be in store for me. The movie would be filmed as a German-French co-production – in co-operation with studios – in Berlin, Gdansk, Zagreb, Paris, Normandy and Munich, but only because in BAVARIA’s back lot there was a set of a bombed street, once built for Bergman’s SERPENT’S EGG. The only positive thing was that I had inherited my predecessor's assistant Bernd, a talented graphic artist who had done awesome research in photo archives and libraries and had never worked on a film, but was determined to become a set designer. Bernd moved into my apartment where there were a drawing board and large tables, also my ex-girlfriend, an architect who helped us with line drawings, and a the current one who was hired as caterer to the art department. Unfortunately most of the time I was travelling because I had to recce all locations with Volker, then sketch the sets and come back with the final drawings for the local colleagues, who had the supervision, and be back for the finishing touches and deliver the set before the crew arrived for the shooting.

I do not remember if we went first to Berlin or Gdansk, but I'm sure that even on the plane I scribbled in the 230-page script my lists of sets in locations and countries. At first I collected boarding cards, but after 20 flights I lost count.



Before the 90s nobody in Germany used the term "production design". The set and costume designer, who was responsible for both, mostly got the joyless and ugly-sounding title "Gesamtausstattung", literally "total outfit", a term also used by the German auto industry for its models. On TIN DRUM, since I wasn’t responsible for the costumes – thank God – and since there would be a supervising set designer in each country, we ended up with the title "art director", which has something directorial, but also reminds me a bit of the "artistic director" of our bouzouki joints.

The reason so many design drawings were found is because the job was done in my office and Bernd gathered additional material for the publication of the Schlöndorff and Grass book he edited. They were kept in a very heavy chest of drawers that was hauled up to my balcony by the same mover who loaded my belongings in Munich, when I moved house in absentia in 2000.

DIE BLECHTROMMEL was a typical German co-production that, because of the script, that had to be and could be shot in "cheap" eastern countries like Yugoslavia and Poland as well as more expensive ones like Germany and France. Seeing the budget I realized that I had to work with a restricted means, as in most movies of the "New German Cinema".

I had very little time and many locations – which we had not even found yet – that had to be adapted and many large and small sets on the sound stages of CCC - Arthur Brauner Studios in West Berlin.

I must not forget the key location of the film, the Labesweg alley in prewar Gdansk (then German Danzig), birthplace of Günter Grass, where a large part of the novel takes place and which for subsidy reasons had to be filmed in West Berlin.

All drawings had to be done fast with pencil or ink on drafting paper which could be copied easily and had to include elevations for the director and the producers, as well as construction details and dimensions for the colleagues who would execute them. For all the above reasons, the DESIGN pages are only for BLECHTROMMEL freaks.



With the start of pre-production the co-operating producers from other countries sent their associates to photograph the locations so we could choose the ones to visit during the recce, military slang for reconnoitre. It may be of interest to show how location scouts of different professional backgrounds see their subject. They are often assistant directors or production assistants. Sometimes the art director or the production designer together with the cinematographer do the first scouting. In Hollywood even then there were companies that undertook the job. When I had enough time for pre-production I started scouting with my assistant or a production assistant at the wheel – to avoid getting killed. I’ve chosen the most typical photos – from hundreds – where in some cases the aesthetic of the photographers is apparant and in others their professionalism. Finally, there are some uninspired Polaroids I took at the recce for the reason that we were travelling continuously and there was no time to develop and print any photos.