Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner. Facebook Messenger An icon of the facebook messenger app logo. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Facebook Messenger An icon of the Twitter app logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. WhatsApp Messenger An icon of the Whatsapp messenger app logo. Email An icon of an mail envelope. Copy link A decentered black square over a white square.

‘It melted my heart to see the crowds’: Tetris director’s pride at bringing Hollywood to Aberdeen

Jon S Baird hopes the legacy of his Apple TV+ film will be to bring more big productions to the north-east.

Jon S Baird filmed part of his new film Tetris in and around Aberdeen. Image: DC Thomson / AppleTV+
Jon S Baird filmed part of his new film Tetris in and around Aberdeen. Image: DC Thomson / AppleTV+

Tetris director Jon S Baird hopes the legacy of his new movie – which was partly shot in Aberdeen – will be to usher in more big TV and film productions to the north-east.

The Apple TV+ film, which stars Taron Egerton and tells the origin story of the popular Nintendo video game, was released on the streamer today and is also screening exclusively at Peterhead’s Arc Cinema.

Its release comes just over two years since the film crew arrived to transform parts of the city into Soviet-era Moscow and Japan.

The Peterhead-born director, who was speaking from Canada as he prepares to start his next film, said he didn’t need to persuade his producers to shoot in his home city, but the local authority was a different story.

“The big convincing was with Aberdeen City Council to let us film up there,” he said.

Taron Egerton and Nikita Efremov in Tetris. Image: Apple TV+

“They were very scared initially of what this entailed because we went to them and we were like ‘we’re gonna have to close down these roads … we need to do this, that and the other’ and I think they were just overwhelmed by the thought of it because they’ve never had a big film before.

“But with a little sort of gentle persuasion and just pushing the right buttons at the right time I think they saw that they couldn’t turn this away.

“They couldn’t turn us away because we were bringing a big-profile movie up there, which had never happened before. I’m obviously a local person and I don’t think they could be seen to not support that.

“But I have to say, in fairness to the council, when they did get on board eventually they were really great and they helped us out a lot. I think they must have learned a lot as well from that.”

‘The crowds in Aberdeen were the best thing’

Shooting got underway in February 2021 and the production attracted large crowds.

One of the biggest locations was Aberdeen University’s zoology building, which was transformed into the state-owned Soviet electronics company ELORG.

Jon said he was taken aback when he saw how many locals came out to watch the filming.

“The crowds in Aberdeen were the best thing,” he said. “It melted my heart to see two or three hundred people turning up each day to watch this film at the zoology building or down by the Mounthooly Roundabout at the flats down there.

“The crew had never witnessed crowds like this before. And they’d never witnessed crowds behaving so impeccably well.  It was a remarkable thing to witness and it gave me a massive sense of pride as well, being from that part of the world.”

Crowds gathered to watch Tetris being filmed outside the zoology building in Tillydrone.

The puzzle game Tetris, created by Alexey Pajitnov, became a global smash hit in the late 1980s when it was bundled was the release of Nintendo’s new Game Boy and Jon’s film tells of how the game almost never saw the light of day – at least in the West.

Protracted contract negotiations with rival factions – including US software salesman Henk Rogers (played by Egerton in the film), infamous UK press baron Robert Maxwell and even the KGB – had to be overcome before a deal with Nintendo could be struck.

Jon said: “When I was a kid I had a Game Boy, but I wasn’t much of a gamer. I played computer games, it was more the sports kind of stuff. I had a ZX Spectrum back in the day and I would’ve played something like the Winter Olympics games or a football game.

“I wasn’t particularly good at Teris but I have since become a lot better at it because I just thought there’s no way I’m meeting Henk and Alexey and not being able to play this game.

“So I’ve got better, but I’m still not as good as my daughter, who’s 13, and can just absolutely wipe the floor with me.”

Director Jon S Baird, centre, directs a scene during the shoot at Seamount Court in Aberdeen. Image: Darrell Benns

Jon says he was drawn to the script, by Noah Pink, because of the Iron Curtain-era political intrigue.

“I studied politics and international relations at the University of Aberdeen and it’s always something that’s interested me,” he said.

“Politics is always interesting and particularly the Cold War, because I was a teenager around about the time that these things were happening and I remember being fascinated by it. I probably took way too much interest in Gorbachov and Reagan’s summit at Reykjavík and all these kind of moments.

“I remember the Berlin Wall came down the day before my birthday and I was very, very aware of the geopolitical circumstances surrounding the film as I lived through them.

“The film’s not about the game really. It’s a buddy movie about these two guys coming together through their love of this particular game but it’s not really about the game itself. I was more interested in the human aspect and the geopolitical aspect of it.”

‘I directed scenes from a wheelchair’

After a problem-free shoot, that also took place in Glasgow, Jon revealed his final days on the film were almost derailed by two things: the war in Ukraine and a game of football with friends.

He said: “We were due to do re-shoots in June. We had a week in London and a day in Serbia. The war had started in Ukraine and we couldn’t get the Russian actors into the UK because they weren’t allowed visas, so the only country that would let them in was Serbia.

“I broke my ankle playing football in May so I had to fly with a broken leg and I directed the last few scenes from in a wheelchair, which was very memorable.

“I think the football career has ended.”

Tetris is released on March 31. Image: Apple TV+

The director remains tight-lipped about his new film, which is currently in pre-production north of Toronto.

“I can’t say what it is yet but it’s a film with two of my favourite actors on the planet,” he said. “It’s a lovely little story – kind of like Little Miss Sunshine.”

As Tetris is released to global audiences today, Jon says he hopes the success of the shoot in Aberdeen may spur other productions to shoot in the area.

He said: “I think what puts a lot of people off is there’s not a massive amount of crew that live up there and they mainly stay in the Central Belt. But we’ve shown it is achievable to go up there, whether you’re driving up or you’re flying to Aberdeen.

Parts of Aberdeen were transformed into the Societ Union. Image: Kath Flannery

“I think it’s just because we’re so remote on the map that people are put off.

“I kind of hope it encourages more producers and studios to go up there.

“I’m in Canada just now. It’s four hours north of Toronto, there’s a lot of the Toronto crew coming up and they’ve all got to find places to stay.

“When you’re making a movie, you don’t have to have all local crew. You can pick up some local crew but it shouldn’t put people off.

“And look, there are enough hotels in Aberdeen and there are deals to be had, so there’s nothing that should put people off filming up there.

“It’s an incredibly welcoming place. It makes a huge difference when you’ve got people in local shops or houses, who you’re asking for favours, and when they’re excited about something, it makes your filming experience way more enjoyable.”

You might also like…