In the romantic sci-fi thriller "Code 46," Tim Robbins stars as a detective sent to neo-Shanghai to investigate a suspected passport forger played by Samantha Morton. When they fall in love, the two can either terminate their doomed affair within 24 hours -- the amount of time before the investigator's passport-visa becomes invalid -- or escape into the desert to keep their love alive.
Unlike most science fiction films, expensive special effects and computer generated animation were not in director Michael Winterbottom's $6.5 million shooting budget. "We knew the cost to come up with elaborate sets like 'Blade Runner' would be huge," producer Andrew Eaton says. "So instead we thought it would be interesting to go to locations that gave you this modernity and incredibly futuristic architecture -- and show the future through design and culture."
After extensive scouting took him from Sao Paulo, Brazil, to Bangkok, Thailand, Eaton set the "Code 46" production schedule. The 15-person crew would shoot on location in Shanghai, Hong Kong, Dubai and Jaipur, India, for six weeks before finally returning to London. "About a week into shooting in China, Tim Robbins says to me, 'I've met some guerrilla filmmakers in my time but you guys really take the biscuit,' " remembers London native Eaton, 44. "I took it as a compliment."
Locations were selected for their startling contrasts as much as their visual appeal. "In Shanghai, you have the most modern, over-the-top architecture in the world, then you look around the corner and you've got a guy strangling a chicken -- it's an amazing juxtaposition," the producer says. "Dubai has miles and miles of open desert, yet they build enormous skyscrapers beside the sea simply because they quite like the idea."
In postproduction, exteriors from a well-known building in one city were edited to match the entrance or interior of a building in a different city. "It's an incredibly hard thing to make seem seamless," Eaton says. "Watching the film with my family I love pointing out, 'Now we're in Shanghai. OK, now we just walked through a door -- and we're in India!' "