New York Film Locations

Panic Room Opening Credits

30 November 2018

Perhaps the most inventive opening credits for any New York-based film were that of Panic Room’s and the use of the Manhattan skyscrapers to affix the titles to. Released in 2002, Panic Room was directed by David Fincher and starred Jodie Foster and Kristen Stewart as a mother and daughter whose new home was invaded by burglars, played by Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto, and Dwight Yoakam.

A seamless shot at the beginning of Panic Room took nine days to film on set but took several months to complete in post-production. The shot was a combination of camera footage and computer-generated effects. Screenwriter David Koepp originally wrote the opening scene to be a series of shots that would zero in on the brownstone house, but Fincher instead chose a sequence of landmarks in New York City with credits hovering in front of them before the sequence transited seamlessly to introduce the film's main characters. The opening titles were inspired by those seen in The Trouble with Harry (1955) and North by Northwest (1959).

Koepp was inspired by news coverage in 2000 about how safe rooms were becoming prevalent among the wealthy living in urban areas. He sold the script to Sony Pictures for $4 million. Before Fincher's involvement, director Ridley Scott was briefly connected to the project, and actor-director Forest Whitaker studied the script before declining the opportunity to direct. Fincher said he was interested in the script's omniscience and that he was reminded of "the specific subjectivity" of Rear Window (1954). He also saw Panic Room as a cross between Rear Window and Straw Dogs (1971), though he was concerned "a modern audience" would compare Panic Room more to Home Alone (1990) than to Rear Window. The director was also interested in the story's conciseness of happening in one place and in one night, and how the screenplay was well-laid out to let the director decide a variety of shots and use of set-pieces.

Koepp's screenplay emphasized pace over exposition. Koepp and Fincher agreed to streamline the film so the opening would introduce the characters as soon as possible. Fincher also sought to lay out the film so audiences could see characters make plans and thus be ahead of them, calling the tense foresight "a very cinematic notion". He wanted to track the different characters' agendas and to also keep scenes chronological, so he set up "computer-generated motion-control shots" to move the camera around the set. He planned scenes in which parallel scenes could be seen through the panic room's video monitors and also intercut between different characters. The final screenplay was similar in outline to the original one; there were minor changes in dialogue and specific moments, especially in the interaction between Meg and Sarah Altman.

The house was built on a soundstage on a Raleigh Studios lot. The set was designed by production designer Arthur Max, and it cost $6 million to build. The panic room was 6 feet (1.8 m) by 14 feet (4.3 m). Three versions of the room were built so Fincher could film scenes from multiple angles. A 3D computer model of the set on the soundstage was designed. Fincher, who had done pre-visualization for Fight Club, used the model to design shots and decide their sequence. The computer model also enabled the camera to have total freedom to travel inside the house. The crew applied photogrammetry, a form of mapping still images over the surface of computer-generated 'sets.

In conjunction with this article, Panic Room has been revisited with an additional film location and higher quality screen grabs added.


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