Principal photography on Ronin began
on November 3, 1997 in an abandoned workshop in Aubervilliers,
a working-class suburb of Paris. As a result of the filmmakers'
meticulous preparation, the company shot more than 20 set-ups
that first day, establishing a brisk and precise pace for the
rest of the shooting schedule. Another sequence was shot in the
Parisian subway station at Porte de Lilas, before the company
moved to Arles on November 17. The central location used in Arles
was the city's historic Place Du Forum d'Arles, an ancient arena
where hundreds of extras were utilized in one of the key set pieces
that characterize Ronin. Upon the completion of that sequence,
the company moved to its next base of operations in Nice. There,
the first of the film's harrowing car chases was shot on the narrow
Old Nice, under the supervision of veteran car stunt supervisor (and race car driver) Jean-Claude Lagniez and stunt coordinator Joe Dunne.
While they were based in Nice, sequences were also shot at the luxurious Hotel Majestic in Cannes, at the ancient village of La Turbie (between Nice and Monaco) and in the town of Villefranche. On December 19, the company returned to Paris for a two-week break for the holidays.
Shooting resumed on January 5, on the soundstages at Studios Éclair in Epinay. There, production designer Hanan had overseen the construction of the detailed interior of the Bar de Montmartre, the bistro where the team first assembles, as well as the interior of the rural farmhouse where Sam recuperates and hears the legend of the Japanese Ronin. "We used a completely run-down building," Hanan remembers. "I had to redo the exterior, alter the frame and do a retrofit of the modern architecture inside."
"Building sets for modern movies is something we've forgotten to do for a while, but it makes a lot of sense," Hanan continues. "It gives you perfect control of dimensions, proportions, lighting and sound. A movie set is a shorthand version of reality you take every element that is necessary to tell the story in as much detail as possible and eliminate the unnecessary stuff."
During this central phase of production,
John Frankenheimer was able to draw on his extensive knowledge
of Parisian sites. He incorporated locations as varied as the
Pont Alexandre III bridge, the Pere Lachaise cemetary, a deteriorating
truckers' café outside the city, and various elegant spots
the Duquesne, Segur and Breteuil avenues in Paris. An additional series of spectacular car stunts were staged in the city, at locations ranging from the Pont de Garigliano bridge to La Defense and in the Champerret Tunnel.
The film's climactic sequence was shot at
the huge arena at the Zenith, and involved nearly 2000 extras.
The scene, in which the story's various characters and several
parallel subplots converge, was another logistical challenge for
the filmmakers. After shooting an intricate high-speed car chase
near La Defense,
principal photography on Ronin was completed on March 3, 1998. At this point, director Frankenheimer began directing 23 more days of second-unit work, involving the film's elaborate action sequences. "This is movie that had to have one style, and I have a very definite visual style," explains the director. "I wanted it to look a certain way, and I knew the only way I could get exactly what I wanted was to do it myself."
Sound mixer Bernard Bats has worked on three projects with Frankenheimer, and he notes, "He's a man who is very precise and rapid, very organized a man who demands the same vigilance and reflexes from his collaborators. Once having defined a film's style in an exact manner which he follows from the first scene to the last John imposes a sustained rhythm on the set, and he chooses people who are able to follow this rhythm."
Editor Tony Gibbs notes the importance in post-production of this meticulous attention to detail throughout Ronin, noting, "All of these small details are at least as important as the heavy action scenes in the movie which are, in fact, a direct continuation of these intricate personal relationships. Each shot brings new information, not only in terms of action but also in terms of character."
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