The Lives of Others was shot mainly at practical locations in Berlin; the production built one set, the interior of Wiesler’s high-rise apartment, in an empty warehouse. Cinematographer Bogdanski said, “Berlin has changed so much in the last 10 years that finding the right locations took almost two months”. “At one point we thought we might have to go to Bucharest, but we really wanted to be true to the story and shoot in Germany. The most challenging location to light was Dreyman’s apartment, where much of the film’s action is set. “It was on the third floor of an apartment building on a narrow street in a very crowded neighbourhood,” recalls Bogdanski. “Because of the schedule, we had to shoot day for day, day for night, and night for day there; it was a wintertime shoot, so the days were short, and Florian began each day with a thorough rehearsal of the scene at hand. Some of the scenes in the apartment are quite long, and we had to be ready to recreate daylight very quickly.” The light is the perpetual dusk of an unknown season and there’s a claustrophobic feeling to all of the shots that’s only lifted at the end. The camera rarely moves, so the sense of stasis is tangible too.
In some instances, the camerawork was influenced by a 70s film that was not at all political in nature: Love Story. “What Bodanski and I noticed when we analysed Love Story is that director Arthur Miller uses quite smooth and inconspicuous editing, but from time to time, as if to show us what we’re seeing is real, he’ll have one shot that goes on forever and ever,” explains Donnersmarck. “I really like the idea of staying in one take for a long time, but inconspicuously, not in a dogmatic way. We did it, for example, in the scene where Dreyman is pretending to write in the foreground while Christa is getting dressed for her date with the minister in the background, and he confronts her about the affair. There are a few shots like that which go on for a very long time, but they seem natural. I stole that directly from Arthur Miller!”