ALTHOUGH IT WOULD HAVE BEEN EASY TO HIDE A cut digitally if anything went wrong and the camera had to be stopped, lighting issues meant that the shoot would have to start from scratch in the event of a flub. And if they didn't get it right on December 23, the film would have to be scuttled: The participation of orchestra conductor Valery Gergiev was an essential component of the grand finale (which re-creates the last royal party before the Bolshevik Revolution), and he had a contractual requirement to be in New York for a series of Christmas concerts scheduled to begin the following day. Gergiev was unable to return to Russia before the end of the year, and the December 31 expiration date of a government grant meant the money wouldn't be there for a 2002 rain date.
The need to shoot during daylight — and for Gergiev to make his 5 p.m. flight — provided what BÃ¼ttner calls "the pressure points that put us in force to get it right." Assorted foul-ups torpedoed the first three attempts after 20 minutes or less, but the fourth take went off without a hitch and yielded the finished film. Was the production carrying enough insurance to cover the all-too-real possibility of a complete wipeout? "I can't say — only the producers can answer that question," answered BÃ¼ttner with a smile. "We worked as if there was no insurance, which made it that much more of an adventure."