On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, ambitious politician David Norris (Damon) meets beautiful contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Emily Blunt)—a woman like none he's ever known. But just as he realizes he's falling for her, mysterious men conspire to keep the two apart.
Are we in charge of our lives, or are decisions made for us long before we consider them? Do we control our destiny, or do unseen forces manipulate it? Oscar® winner MATT DAMON (the Bourne series, True Grit) and EMILY BLUNT (The Devil Wears Prada, The Wolfman) star in the romantic thriller The Adjustment Bureau. In the film, Damon plays a man who glimpses the future planned for him and realizes he wants something else. To get it, he must pursue the only woman he’s ever loved (Blunt) and defy the agents of Fate—a mysterious group of men exerting control over their lives. On the brink of winning a seat in the U.S. Senate, charismatic politician David Norris (Damon) meets beautiful, contemporary ballet dancer Elise Sellas (Blunt)—a woman unlike any he’s ever known. But just as he realizes he’s falling madly in love with her, strangers conspire to keep the two apart. David learns he is up against Fate itself—the men of The Adjustment Bureau— who will do everything in their considerable power to prevent David and Elise from sharing their lives together. In the face of overwhelming odds, he must either let her go and accept his predetermined path…or risk everything to defy Fate and be with her. Damon and Blunt are joined in the romantic thriller by an all-star cast that includes ANTHONY MACKIE (The Hurt Locker, Eagle Eye) as Harry, the sympathetic Bureau representative assigned to David’s case; JOHN SLATTERY (television’s Mad Men, Iron Man 2) as Richardson, Harry’s agitated and highly driven supervisor; MICHAEL KELLY (Changeling, Dawn of the Dead) as Charlie Traynor, David’s campaign manager and lifelong best friend; and TERENCE STAMP (Wanted, Valkyrie) as Thompson, the head Bureau agent who is called in to resolve the Norris problem once and for all.
In 2006, New York Congressman David Norris runs a promising but ultimately unsuccessful campaign for United States Senate. While rehearsing his concession speech in a hotel bathroom, Norris meets a woman hiding in a stall. The two share a surprisingly enjoyable conversation, ultimately leading to a kiss. Inspired, David goes off his prepared script and delivers a candid speech which is extremely well-received, making him an early favorite for the 2010 Senate race.
Some months later, Norris is preparing to start his first day at a new job. At a park near David's house, Harry Mitchell receives an assignment from his boss: Ensure Norris spills his coffee by 7:05 AM; shortly thereafter Mitchell falls asleep while waiting and misses David, who boards his bus. He encounters Elise, the woman from the bathroom, who writes down her phone number on a card and gives it to David. When Norris arrives at work, he finds his boss (and campaign manager), Charlie Traynor, is being examined by unfamiliar men in suits. David attempts to run and the men give chase. Eventually, David is incapacitated and taken to a warehouse to meet Richardson and his men.
Richardson explains he and his men are from the Adjustment Bureau. The job of the Bureau's "caseworkers" is to ensure people's lives proceed as determined by "the plan", a complex document Richardson attributes to "the Chairman." Charlie is fine and will not remember his adjustment, and Norris is warned that, if he talks about the Bureau, he will be "reset."
Finally, Richardson tells David he is not meant to meet Elise again, burns her phone number, and tells David to forget her.
For the next three years, David takes the same bus every day, hoping to see Elise. He encounters her one day and they reconnect. The Bureau tries to stop him from building his relationship with her, causing their schedules to separate them. David races across town, fighting the Bureau's abilities to "control his choices" to ensure he will meet Elise again. During the chase, The Bureau uses doors to travel, opening inconspicuous doors that lead to another location blocks away.
Richardson discovers that David and Elise "were meant to be together in an earlier version of the plan", and Harry speculates on whether or not the plan is always correct. David and Elise spend an evening at a party, connecting when David tells her he became a politician after the loss of his mother and brother. They spend the night together, expressing their bond the next morning.
The Bureau has Thompson (formerly called "the Hammer") take authority regarding David's adjustment. He takes David to a warehouse, where David argues he has the right to choose his own path. Thompson says that they gave humanity free will after the height of the Roman Empire, but humanity caused the Dark Ages. The Bureau took control again and created the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. When free will was returned around 1910 it resulted in two world wars and the near destruction of the planet with a nuclear conflict. Thompson releases him, and he runs to Elise's performance at her dance studio. Thompson follows, and tells him that if he stays with Elise, he will ruin his political future as President of the United States and also ruin Elise's future as a world-famous dancer and choreographer; with David, Elise will be limited to teaching dance to children. To make a point, he uses his adjustment power to cause Elise to fall and sprain her ankle. Overwhelmed with his future in jeopardy and faced with hurting Elise's future, David abandons her at the hospital.
Eleven months later, David runs for election again and sees an announcement of Elise's imminent wedding. Harry, feeling guilty for earlier events, contacts David via secret meetings in the rain and near water. David learns from Harry that the Bureau's weakness is water, allowing them to meet without the Bureau finding out. Harry reveals that Thompson exaggerated the consequences of David and Elise's possible relationship, and teaches David to use the doors so he may stop Elise's wedding. He gives David his hat, empowering David to use the doors. David finds Elise in the bathroom of the courthouse where she is to be wed. Initially furious and hurt after his earlier desertion, Elise is shocked when David reveals the Bureau's existence to her, and shows her how he travels through doors. They are chased across New York. When David and Elise find themselves on the base of the Statue of Liberty, David decides to find the Chairman. Elise wavers, but follows David.
They go through the door to the Bureau headquarters. Eventually, they are trapped on a rooftop above New York, with Bureau members closing in. They declare their love for each other, embrace into a passionate kiss before David can be reset. When they let go of each other, the Bureau members have disappeared. Thompson appears, but is interrupted by Harry, who shows him a new, revised plan from the Chairman for David and Elise: a plan page; one half which shows where their paths were, heading side-by-side into a blank page starting just past their new current moment. Harry, after commending both of them for showing such devotion to each other, takes his hat back and tells David and Elise they are free to "take the stairs". The film concludes with David and Elise walking through the streets, holding hands, accompanied a voice-over from Harry, speculating that the Chairman's plan may be simply to get humanity to a point where they can write their own plan for themselves.
About the Process
George Nolfi was working on another script when his longtime friend and producing partner, Michael Hackett, brought up Philip K. DICK short story “Adjustment Team” during a phone call. Though he had not yet secured the rights to the story, Hackett had a solid working relationship with Dick’s estate and wanted to pursue optioning and developing the project. When the producer pitched Nolfi the concept of “Fate personified” trying to prevent a man from being with the woman he loves, Nolfi was intrigued. “He got very interested very quickly,” recounts Hackett. “In fact, he requested that we meet that day to talk more.”
Though Dick’s work can be both prescient and dystopian, the central conceit of “Adjustment Team”—that Fate is a group of people among us—melded with a love story, struck Nolfi as an original concept for a film that could dig into some of life’s “big questions” in a thrilling and compelling way.
Flash forward to Nolfi’s work with Matt Damon on Ocean’s Twelve; during this time, he and Hackett pursued the adaptation of what would become The Adjustment Bureau. They were certain that they wanted Damon as their lead, and Nolfi began to write the part of his protagonist with Damon in mind. Observes the writer/director: “Matt’s the best everyman that we’ve got, and because of that he’s extremely believable in a love story.”
Damon’s interest was piqued by this tale of a man who stumbles on a vast, powerful and unseen world that exists on the periphery of our own. He told the filmmakers that if future drafts looked as good, he would be ready to join. “George has been a friend and collaborator for a long time,” notes Damon. “He brought this script to me that he’d written on spec…because he wanted to direct it. I was a big believer in him and felt he could do it.”
Nolfi took the opportunity to polish the idea before revisiting the project with Damon during The Bourne Ultimatum, which Nolfi also co-wrote. “I got the script to a place where I thought it was ready for Matt,” Nolfi says. “Once he said he was interested in being involved formally…it was a back and forth collaborative process.” Together, the colleagues had many philosophical conversations about the material; from these discussions came ideas that Nolfi used to improve the arc and build out his story. Damon was impressed with the manner in which Nolfi expanded Dick’s work and made it particularly relevant for a modern audience. The performer commends: “George was specific about everything—from the look of it to the types of people that he wanted to cast. He saw what he wanted to do with this piece.”
Since Damon and Nolfi had both worked previously with producer Chris Moore, they agreed that he would be a great partner with whom they could navigate the development of this ambitious project. Of his interest in joining the team, the producer comments: “I was interested in George’s take on what control we have over our own lives. I also loved that the material crosses a number of genres. There are thriller elements, action and a great love story—as well as a personal crisis about what you believe in and who are you going to be. All that, plus a huge action movie about trying to outrun your Fate…that’s what popcorn movies are supposed to be.” Rounding out the producing team was notable New York City filmmaker Bill Carraro, whose experience both in development and in physical production would prove invaluable. The producer, who first partnered with Nolfi on The Sentinel, worked with the director for more than a year and mapped out how to physically shoot the numerous set pieces and locations written into the script as the production navigated across Manhattan.
Carraro, with his extensive experience in visual effects, understood that Nolfi required the effects be seamless in order to work. He says: “We track the men of The Adjustment Bureau from one environment into another every time they open a door. That’s apt to throw you into a lot of different locations.” With the core team in place, the project soon secured funding with Media Rights Capital and production was set in motion.
The original character from Dick’s short story is an insurance salesman, but for his protagonist, Nolfi felt strongly that David Norris should be a politician. For his main character, Nolfi imagined a charismatic and popular Democratic congressman from the rough-and-tumble streets of Brooklyn. Producer Hackett explains this logic: “Picking a politician allowed us a character whose decision can matter to people beyond himself. If he chooses to stay on his career path, he can actually, under the right circumstances, do great things for millions of people. This weighs against his own happiness and what’s best for him as a person.” Adds producer Moore, whose partnership with Damon extends back to the Oscar®-winning Good Will Hunting: “David Norris and Matt Damon…that is hard to separate. To some extent, it’s because George wrote the script for Matt. He is one of the few guys out there who literally becomes the character.”
At the beginning of Nolfi’s story, Congressman David Norris boasts a doubledigit lead in the polls during his senatorial campaign. Explains Nolfi of David’s rock-star appeal: “He’s the youngest congressman ever elected to the House of Representatives. He’s got an outsized reputation because he’s a big personality.” Although David’s affable nature and straight-shooting demeanor have made him a clear public favorite, he is, after all, only human. “He has a tendency to mess things up for himself,” Damon reflects. “He’s a little too honest sometimes…he’s not quite political enough.” It is just this shortcoming that causes David an embarrassing incident that costs him his first run for the United States Senate. “Due to his youthful exuberance, he makes a mistake,” says Hackett. “Dig a little deeper, and someone examining the character might say that he had a subconscious desire to derail the path he was on so that he could find his real self.” David’s misstep, which is picked up by the press at the height of his campaign, costs him his lead in the polls and, eventually, the election.
Though the Bourne and Ocean’s films have women in strong but supporting roles, this is one of the first projects in which Damon has been cast as the romantic lead and played someone who is specifically, and fatefully, linked to a lover. As written, David’s love interest needed to be a woman for whom he would move mountains. On the eve of the election, before David is to give his concession speech at The Waldorf Astoria hotel, he takes a moment to collect himself in the men’s room. Explains Nolfi: “He’s devastated that he’s lost the election. Not just for himself, but he feels like he brought all these people along for the ride and let them down.” It is in the washroom that he encounters stunning dancer Elise Sellas, hiding from hotel security after she was found crashing a wedding. David finds her charming and irresistible, while she recognizes him as the popular politico who is about to lose the election. He is instantly, and fatefully, drawn to her and starts to fall head over heels in love…something The Adjustment Bureau never intended. For the next several years, David will chase the elusive Elise and try and outwit what the men controlled by Fate have planned for him. And it could cost him, and her, everything.
So who exactly is this group who manipulates us from a position of unseen, immutable power? Who are its agents that seem to be nowhere and everywhere all at once? “They have a bureaucratic system that allows them to manipulate things in such a way that our lives are subtly adjusted, nudged, bumped, moved, encouraged, coaxed and cajoled in the direction that they have determined we should be going in,” sums Hackett. “The Bureau represents a cipher of all interpretations people may have for ‘the other.’ That other power, that thing outside yourself that guides your choices. It’s certainly not accidental that The Adjustment Bureau, distilled to its purest form, echoes a number of the great belief systems around the world, religious or otherwise.” Nolfi extrapolates upon his concept of the organization that drives his tale: “They’re an expression of a higher power, so it’s not like a government agency that doesn’t want you to do something. They have powers that go way beyond what the earthly powers of an intelligence organization would be. They set us on the course that we are supposed to be set onto so we will follow the grand scheme, or the grand plan. To them they just work at a bureau. They might as well work in the IRS; they’re just doing their jobs.”
The Adjustment Bureau is written and directed for the screen by GEORGE NOLFI (writer of Ocean’s Twelve, co-writer of The Bourne Ultimatum) and is based upon the short story “Adjustment Team” by PHILIP K. DICK (whose works also spawned “Total Recall,” “Minority Report” and “Blade Runner”).
The accomplished and talented behind-the-scenes crew includes two-time Oscar®- winning director of photography JOHN TOLL (Legends of the Fall, Braveheart), production designer KEVIN THOMPSON (Duplicity, Michael Clayton), editor JAY RABINOWITZ (8 Mile, upcoming The Tree of Life), costume designer KASIA WALICKA MAIMONE (Amelia, Capote), visual effects supervisor MARK RUSSELL (Hellboy, Minority Report) and Grammy-winning composer THOMAS NEWMAN (WALL·E, Revolutionary Road).
The Adjustment Bureau is produced by MICHAEL HACKETT (Paycheck), George Nolfi, BILL CARRARO (The Golden Compass) and CHRIS MOORE (Good Will Hunting). The executive producers for the film are ISA DICK HACKETT and JONATHAN GORDON (Good Will Hunting).
The role of Elise was a far less obvious casting choice than that of the film’s male lead. Nolfi wanted the character to be a dancer so she could provide a balance to David’s structured, political world. “For many reasons, a dancer has a different life than a politician, far less calculating,” the writer/director elaborates. “You can argue that dance is about the purest expression of free will. Although alternately, you could say if you’re following a routine or a choreographed piece, then you don’t have any free will at all. There’s a complexity in this character that I like.”
Because Elise is a world-class contemporary ballerina, it was integral to her character, as well as the plot of the film, that she be an experienced professional. “I had envisioned the role to be played by somebody who was a professional dancer or an actress who had many years of ballet training,” offers Nolfi. But as it turns out, finding the right actress with the appropriate training, as well as the right chemistry with Damon, was a trickier feat than originally considered.
The production auditioned hundreds of dancers from around the world, with Nolfi being present for dozens of the auditions. “We put on tape eight or nine hundred women, and we found a few good possibilities who were professional dancers,” he remembers. “But at the end of that process, I went to established actresses to see how they played the scenes.”
When acclaimed performer Emily Blunt read the script, she instinctively knew a professional actress was needed for the part. “I called my agent and said this is tricky stuff and an actor should do it,” says Blunt. “If that love and that relationship doesn’t work, you don’t have a movie. That’s what I said to George, rather boldly, and he agreed.”
“In one meeting, Emily completely derailed my plans for casting the role,” admits Nolfi. “She came in and read with Matt. We filmed the whole thing, and you could just tell.” After she won the role, Blunt dedicated several months to vigorous dance training for the part. She knew portraying Elise Sellas would be immensely tough. Once her training brought her character’s physicality up to snuff, Blunt found that bringing the romance to the role of Elise was the fun part. “I thought, ‘Thank God. Nolfi has written a feisty, strong, layered, complicated girl who can hold her own. She’s tough, but she’s vulnerable,” Blunt says. “There was a lot to play with; the dialogue was witty, and the connection they have and how they fell in love didn’t seem contrived.” “David and Elise’s first encounter is unusual. The romance and the spark of the scene is fought against the backdrop of sinks and toilets,” the performer laughs. “It sets us up with the situation that you can’t help whom you’re attracted to, and you certainly can’t help the situations or environments in which you find yourself attracted to this person.”
David informs Elise that he has just lost the election, and she unexpectedly inspires him with genuine words of encouragement. “David’s just about to go make his concession speech and he’s at a point where he feels like he’s lost it all,” says Blunt. “My character pumps him up and reinvigorates this passion for what he does. She encourages a frankness in him, because that’s what she has.” Damon adds his take on the encounter: “He’s basically in love with her after a five-minute conversation. She gives him the idea to be himself in this concession speech, which he does. And the speech is so popular that he immediately becomes the odds-on favorite to be the next senator from New York.”
Unbeknownst to Elise or David, it was not chance that caused their rendezvous that night. It was a planned meeting, orchestrated by the agents of The Adjustment Bureau in a cunning, structured move. But they were only intended to meet once. Producer Moore elaborates on who these men are: “Fate has agents in the world, and Fate is this force. The idea behind The Bureau is that humans need a little bit of guidance throughout life to not self-destruct or blow ourselves up.”
For every human, there is an Adjustment Bureau case officer. David’s case officer, Harry, has been with David since he was born, helping him reach his potential. Elise was only needed to come into David’s life at the precise moment when he was at his lowest to bolster him up to greatness. After that, they were never meant to meet again. However, when Harry misses a crucial “adjustment” for David, this sets off a course of events that pits David at odds with his own Fate.
After watching his performance opposite Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker, Nolfi pursued actor Anthony Mackie to take the part of David’s guardian angel. Recounts Moore: “Anthony is a great story because we were having trouble casting the part of Harry. George went to the movies one day to see The Hurt Locker. I got a text from him that night in the theater that read, ‘We’ve got to cast Anthony.’” The feeling was mutual. “My manager sent the script to me, and he said, ‘I have something; you’re never going to believe it,’” remembers Mackie. “I was surprised by the depth and clarity of the characters and the way they were written. I said, ‘If I have to fly to L.A. and meet with George…I don’t care. Whatever I have to do, I have to play this role.’” Of the character, he adds: “Harry is a consummate professional, but he has a conscience. That gives you a great opportunity when it comes to a character.” John Slattery was brought onto the production to play Richardson, Harry’s supervisor at The Adjustment Bureau, who tries to right the chaos that Harry has inadvertently allowed David to create. “Richardson has been doing this job for a long time, and this is his red-letter case,” explains Slattery. “A person in his position wants to establish himself and then move up the line. But then it starts going badly for Richardson.”
Slattery, best known for his portrayal of Roger Sterling in AMC’s Mad Men, was cast after a chance encounter with Nolfi in Los Angeles. Nolfi, whom Slattery knew through a mutual friend, asked him to come in and read a few scenes on film as a favor. A few months later, Nolfi had edited them together and showed Slattery, who thought it looked fantastic. Once he read the script, he wanted to join the project. When David arrives at his office to share the happy news of reconnecting with Elise with his former campaign manager (and current business partner), Charlie Traynor, he stumbles upon Adjustment Bureau agents who are in the middle of “adjusting” Charlie and fiddling with his memories. David has now become one of the very few people who have ever seen the way these men operate.
Damon recounts the pivotal moment: “The Adjustment Bureau is forced to abduct me and pull me into this bizarre place. Richardson tells me: ‘You’re seeing behind the curtain right now. You were never supposed to see this, but you have and we’re going to have to ask you to not ever tell anybody about this…or we’re going to erase your brain.’” Once Richardson discovers that David wasn’t delayed, but actually ran into Elise again on his way into work, he warns David that if he divulges their secret to anyone, or pursues Elise any further, David will invite the wrath of The Bureau. And Richardson gives David no more answers, despite David’s protestations that he’s fallen for Elise. To play the part of David’s childhood best friend, Charlie, Nolfi tasked actor Michael Kelly, whose pivotal turn in Dawn of the Dead launched his film career. “After I read the script, I called my manager and said, ‘I’ve got to do this movie,’” says Kelly. “At the audition, I told George, ‘I want to be a part of this film. I don’t care what part I play.’” For Kelly, the appeal of the story was its originality. “The fact that you can take a true, beautiful, romantic story and combine it with all this action and elements of otherworldliness is just amazing.”
To provide the film’s on-screen campaign partners with an introduction to a political mindset, Nolfi had Damon and Kelly meet with former congressman Harold Ford to discuss politics at the start of production. Recalls Kelly of the day: “We chatted about politics and what my position is, and Ford gave us reading material and films to watch, including The War Room, about James Carville and Bill Clinton’s campaign. He also had me read ‘Counselor,’ written by Ted Sorensen, who was a big part of Kennedy’s rise.”
Ironically, much of Charlie’s job is to keep tabs on David and ensure he stays on script. “As his best friend and political advisor, it’s a difficult job for Charlie,” explains Kelly. “Because they get so close so often, and over and over, David does something to derail the campaign.”
To round out The Adjustment Bureau’s principal cast, Nolfi cast the legendary Terence Stamp as Thompson—the last resort in the hierarchy of agents to “adjust” the Norris situation and quash insubordination. Shares Nolfi: “Thompson has an enormous latitude to change the physical realities and mess up other people’s lives in order to put David back on track. Putting David back on track means he cannot have a relationship with Elise. You look at Terence Stamp, and there’s a certain amount of gravitas that comes with him.”
Similar to the other performers, it was Nolfi’s intricate story that attracted Stamp to the project: “Most actors are suckers for good writing,” remarks Stamp. “If you send an actor a wonderful script, that’s always a great hook. It was going to be directed by the writer, which, to me, is always a wonderful thing. Great writers have a vision of the script, and who better than the writer to direct it and to manifest that vision?” Playing a mystical agent offered a great appeal to the actor. “The members of The Bureau have been around for a few thousand years,” he shares. “That was unusual for me to try and give an impression of somebody who has a timeless aspect about him.” It would prove impossible to the cast to work on a romantic thriller about the powerful forces of destiny and Fate without some reflection upon these factors in their own lives. Stamp sums what many on the project felt with a touching story. He reflects: “There was something that my mother said to me very late in her life. I was talking to her once about my dad—about how she met him and what it was like. “She said to me, ‘Well, he wasn’t what I would have chosen. He wasn’t what I wanted at all, but I couldn’t help myself.’ I’ve thought about that a lot. Because that’s the destiny, isn’t it? Where your mind doesn’t want something, but you have to do it anyway.”
On Location in New York City
Aside from the fact that David Norris is a congressman from the area, New York City represented much within the context of the film. “New York is central to my vision of the story for a number of reasons,” Nolfi says. “If there is an American city that stands for the most powerful city—the city where the headquarters of Fate would be—it’s got to be New York. “Aside from filmmaking, my favorite art forms are architecture and dance,” he continues. “So by setting it in New York and constructing in my head an Adjustment Bureau that was a big, massive, tall building—that allowed me to play out my interests in architecture. Then, Elise allowed me to get into the dance world. Both of those things are centered, at least in the U.S., in New York City.”
To build the visual style of The Adjustment Bureau headquarters—a timeless structure that exudes power—the team leaned on production designer Thompson and location manager ROB STRIEM to create a pastiche of rooms, roofs, stairwells and façades from some of New York’s most stylized buildings. Reflects producer Carraro: “The richness of these practical locations are particularly hard to duplicate, and we needed to access some of New York’s toughest places to gain permission to film.” “When I first met with George, he had only a half dozen reference pictures, but they were all strong imagery of a particular era in New York—moody and graphic,” says Thompson. “Those images, along with the script, immediately gave me a lot of information about where he was coming from.”
Specifically, Nolfi drew inspiration from notable structures throughout history that implied spiritual weight. “If you think about the history of architecture, Greek temples or the Vatican, or large-scale buildings in which human beings feel small, they are suggestive of otherworldly power,” Nolfi explains. “I went out of my way to pick the most beautiful spaces I could find to suggest that if they controlled things…this is what that world would look like.”
“The Adjustment Bureau itself is an amalgamation of different locations,” says Striem. “I worked with Kevin to piece together rooms and spaces, interiors and exteriors that are architecturally appropriate but might be on opposite ends of New York. In the movie they comprise this singular office building. It’s been a challenge to make it all look correct to the period of architecture and the nature of the location.” As he is quite familiar with New York, Nolfi already had many of the locations in mind, whereas other locales he happened upon while walking to lunch around the city. If a structure struck him as beautiful and of a similar style or era to the other buildings he was considering for his Adjustment Bureau palette, it was marked for scouting. So what exactly makes up the palette of the firm? “It’s a lot of white or tan marble, with dark wood similar to 1910, 1915 New York,” Nolfi clarifies. “It’s not quite Art Deco, because Art Deco announces itself, like the Chrysler building. It’s not these heavy baronial giant columns. It’s got this soaring feel that Art Deco has. But then it has some of the heavier features…Beaux Arts is what that would be called. We just found a way to mix them.”
“The physical structure of The Adjustment Bureau is a made-up building that exists in the middle of Manhattan, and it is a composite of six different great locations in the city that we cobbled together,” explains Thompson. “We took the base of a building in Madison Square Park. We took the roof of a building in Midtown. We took the lower sections of the New York Public Library. We were in the U.S. Custom House downtown for some of the hallways and stairwells. We took pieces that all represented the grandness and perfection that was found in a certain period of architecture in the city, and we married them together.”
Thompson elaborates on creating the world of The Bureau from existing locations: “Quite often in the spaces and rooms, we took out the details such as exit signs or light switches. We wanted to represent the space in its purest form without the sort of things that have been added in the last few years.” Based on the sheer number of locations, shooting in the city proved to be a bit of a behemoth. Says Striem, who has worked on such recent location-heavy New York projects as "Across the Universe," "The Interpreter" and "The Brave One": “There are probably more locations on this film than any that I have ever done in New York. We had about 85 locations during a 70-day shooting schedule. We were rarely in one place for any length of time, so this was a paramilitary operation.”
Some of the locations used for pivotal scenes include the roof of 30 Rockefeller Center, also known as Top of the Rock; the New York Public Library; the historical Custom House in lower Manhattan (home to a Native American museum and offices of Homeland Security); the Waldorf Astoria hotel; 60 Centre Street courthouse; Fort Tryon Park and its New Leaf Restaurant & Bar; the South Street Seaport neighborhood; the Fulton Ferry Landing in Brooklyn; the field at Yankee Stadium; the performance and rehearsal space of the actual Cedar Lake dance company in Chelsea; Madison Square Park; and the streets of the West Village. Scenes were even filmed on the Hudson River on a Circle Line ferry that moved up and down alongside Manhattan’s west side. Hackett appreciated the unfettered access to some of New York’s most spectacular landmarks the team was given. In fact, for a pinnacle moment in which Elise and David find themselves on a huge, expansive roof of The Adjustment Bureau, the production had yet to find a viable location. Nolfi and Hackett happened to be sightseeing on the roof of 30 Rock with family when they realized they had found the perfect locale.
“Initially we were looking for size,” Hackett explains of 30 Rock’s modest roof space. “By doing the opposite of what we tried to do initially, we found something more useful and dramatic. The location that we found suggested something that we weren’t thinking of when we first went through the movie and blocked it out.” Because so many locations were put together to represent singular areas, much attention had to be paid to continuity. “George has been diligent about wanting to be geographically correct,” Striem observes. “Even though the agents are moving through doors and crossing town, Nolfi’s been conscious not to make it incorrect. We’re not going downtown when we’re supposed to be progressing uptown in pursuit.”
Accomplished cinematographer John Toll was integral to capturing this unseen magic of the city. “Toll was a crucial piece of the puzzle for how the film looks,” stresses Moore. “The movie has multiple balls that are in the air, and the audience is going to need to seamlessly move in between the action and the love story.” Beyond the singular beauty of New York City, however, the story of The Adjustment Bureau called for locations and rooms that could not possibly exist in the real world. Though Nolfi aimed to keep the look as realistic as possible, and rely on actual footage when he could, there was a point when the production needed to bring in the special effects. Remarks Hackett: “It’s the forward edge of filmmaking in terms of what’s done and how. Whether it’s visual effects or real shoots, miniatures or a combination or composite…there are 15 ways to skin a cat.”
To create the seemingly impossible Escher-like stairs, hallways and rooms of The Adjustment Bureau’s main offices, Nolfi relied on Thompson to build new sets, as well as on visual effects supervisor Mark Russell to create the unimaginable and add on where needed. Russell’s previous work on another Philip K. Dick-inspired film, Minority Report, assured that he was familiar with the author’s unique sensibilities. Because the agents travel through doorways throughout the city, the art direction crew had to make sure how the men moved made sense. “A lot of our concentration and our construction involved doorways—like combining this side of this door with that side of that door,” Russell explains. “Which way does it swing? Which door exists in reality, and which door do we have to create on a location so that it will match up with what’s supposed to be on the other side?” “My favorite thing is weaving it all together and making sure that it feels seamless,” Russell continues. “There are other locations that we built to look like they’ve always been there. Those are the things I’m most proud of…when they disappear into the tapestry of the movie.”
Many times the perfect visual location had layout issues that would impede the narrative of the scene. For example, though the roof of 30 Rock provided the perfect expanse for the climatic scene with David and Elise, reaching the top of this building after a stairwell chase could not be done at 30 Rock. “We built a stairway that’s on top of The Adjustment Bureau,” Thompson explains, “with a big green screen around it. Then we took sections of that and put it on the roof of our building on which we shot the climatic scene. So, a lot of the construction we did was to tie in different locations to one another, supported by visual effects.” Perhaps the greatest feat for both Thompson and Russell was creating the Plan Room, the library of The Adjustment Bureau. In the story, this library exists on the 90th floor of the fictional New York building. But a room in The Adjustment Bureau headquarters cannot be understood logically through the lens of a human eye. Much like the roof-staircase trick, Russell and Thompson needed to create an infinite library. This needed to be comprised from only one shot of an empty room at 20 Exchange Place in New York that was chosen for inspiration. It also needed to work within the context of a chase scene in which Elise and David are running from agents.
The intended effect of playing visual tricks on the characters, as well as on the audience, is to build the scope of The Adjustment Bureau beyond human comprehension. “The idea is that this is one section of a large room. We only had one section to actually shoot,” explains Russell of the book-filled space that the crew replicated ad infinitum. “It’s 13 setups essentially, from different angles and different pieces that ultimately come together to make the Plan Room,” he continues. “This is a fast sequence, but it seems much more elaborate than it is.”
To complement the carefully selected architecture within the world of The Adjustment Bureau, Nolfi knew that the agents’ wardrobe should also visually set them apart from humans…without drawing too much attention to their presence. The director decided to express this mystical notion with the most unassuming of apparel: timeless suits and hats.
In theory, agents of The Adjustment Bureau dress in clothing similar to the outfits worn by the humans that they shadow. Because David Norris is a well-heeled politician, the agents in his life mirror the more formal attire. “The idea was to have great-looking suits and hats, but not to have them indicate any one specific time period,” says Hackett. “It could be ’40s, it could be ’30s and it could be today. There’s something retro but also modern about them. It’s evocative and adds to their otherworldly element without having them be exaggerated angels or demons with nonanthropomorphic bodies.”
The powers of The Adjustment Bureau are a clever function that Nolfi instilled into his visual symbols: the ability of agents to travel through the fabric of the city under the radar and to adjust humans. “In order to use their higher powers, agents have to have a hat on,” Nolfi says. “Inside all the hats there is a power ranking; the higher-up executives have hats that allow them to use more power to influence humans. “It also fits nicely with the architectural palette of the movie because there’s this morphed combination of early 1900s New York architecture,” Nolfi adds. “In that period in men’s dress, all men wore hats.”
To bring the director’s vision of crisp, timeless suits and stylish, yet unassuming hats to life, costume designer Kasia Walicka Maimone was tapped to cull the looks from a much more dapper time. As Walicka Maimone remembers, few words were spoken between her and Nolfi when they first met, as they simply browsed and selected images from her inspiration boards, coming together on a vision for the costumes. “I had plenty of photographs, so we could both find our visual language just by responding to those images. That’s how we started building the vocabulary for the film,” she explains. “George was interested in portraying reality as it is—close to reality. All the characters were not completely real, but they had to be rooted in reality.” For a timeless look that could be pulled off in the modern day, they began looking at 20th-century styles. “We looked at a lot of references from period clothing, beginning at about 1910, when men’s contemporary clothing language was invented. All the suits are trim in fit, and we created this quiet palette of grays and dark greens, with streamlined silhouettes. We felt that for The Adjustment Bureau, all the guys needed to have that function of being able to blend in among the street crowd.”
For the suits to conform with the hats’ nod to a higher power, Nolfi and Walicka Maimone considered what touches they could add. “We kept thinking, ‘What is the color that calls for all the powers that The Bureau is supposed to represent?’ Intuitively, I thought it needed to be green, and that green needs to trickle down all through The Adjustment Bureau. It needed to stay within that quiet palette.” However, the look of the agents also has an ominous and militaristic feel. Just as when one visits the inside of The Bureau, there is a clear, regimented order to how they operate.
“The leading vocabulary for us was that The Adjustment Bureau has a military elegance: it’s a streamlined, clean-lined; everything is pressed and strict,” Walicka Maimone explains. “As George referred many times, there is an underlying military-like structure in The Adjustment Bureau, and the ranks are clear.” The costume team spent weeks researching uniforms of military forces from throughout history to find subtle inspiration for the agents’ outfits, as well as for the more intimidating Intervention Team of The Bureau. “We knew that we were not going to be in the world of suits with the Intervention Team, because it would take us out of the vocabulary of the film of what needed to feel immediate and instantaneously threatening,” Walicka Maimone elaborates.
To customize each agent’s suit, she used material details such as scarves and handkerchiefs. The team also took care to distress each individual agent’s hat to give the appearance of a well-worn fedora that has withstood the test of time. The designer reflects: “There is the humanity factor that comes into each of the characters. So each character has slightly different versions of the outfit.” For the characters of David and Elise, Walicka Maimone developed wardrobes inspired by their professions. In her mind, American politicians have their own uniform: “It was a clear vocabulary that we created for the world of David and the politicians around him: a dark navy suit with a solid tie, a conservative and classic suit. Navy blues, blues and khakis—that became the world of David.”
Elise, however, comes from the opposite end of movement and expression. “She needed to have this dramatic contrast to the word of the politicians, of their superstructured uniform look,” the designer explains. To accentuate Elise’s fun and free attitude, Walicka Maimone relied on vintage dresses with modern touches and added additional expression through color.
To create Elise’s costumes for her dance p, Walicka Maimone worked directly with the Cedar Lake company. The opportunity was exciting for the designer, who views Cedar Lake as “rebels of the ballet world,” with an urban, street sensibility to their style. “That process was fun because we knew that we wanted to acknowledge the vocabulary of that contemporary dance company,” says Walicka Maimone. “We collaborated with Swan and with George to create this flow, but at the same time, hardedge, modern, sculptural look for the company.”