It’s hot and humid and I’m standing by a very large lake. On my left is a massive 150 foot reproduction of a Merrimack ship from the late 1800’s. All around extras are wearing heavy coats and dentures to make sure their teeth look period specific. When I’m not careful, mosquitoes try and bite me. I’m an hour outside of New Orleans and spending the night on the set of Jonah Hex. I love my job.
Last June, when Jonah Hex was filming near New Orleans, I was invited – along with a few other online reporters – to visit the set and talk to the cast. While I’ve done a lot of set visits and told to bring certain things to make the trip more comfortable, I’ve never been warned to be careful of crocodiles while standing on set. It was definitely one I’ll always remember.
Of course I got to see many things on set and learn about the movie, so hit the jump for my recap:
Before getting started, I’d suggest watching the trailer. Because while I could tell you what the movie is about, I think the trailer will do a much better job:
For those that didn’t watch… Jonah Hex stars Josh Brolin, John Malkovich, Megan Fox, Will Arnett, and Michael Shannon. Here’s the official synopsis:
Jonah Hex (Josh Brolin) is a scarred drifter and bounty hunter of last resort, a tough and stoic gunslinger who can track down anyone…and anything. Having survived death, Jonah’s violent history is steeped in myth and legend, and has left him with one foot in the natural world and one on the “other side.” His only human connection is with Leila (Megan Fox), whose life in a brothel has left her with scars of her own. But Jonah’s past is about to catch up with him when the U.S. military makes him an offer he can’t refuse: in exchange for his freedom from the warrants on his head, he must track down and stop the dangerous terrorist Quentin Turnbull (John Malkovich). But Turnbull, who is gathering an army and preparing to unleash Hell, is also Jonah’s oldest enemy and will stop at nothing until Jonah is dead. Based on the legendary graphic novel, “Jonah Hex” is an epic adventure thriller about one man’s personal quest for redemption against the vast canvas of the battle between good and evil.
- Good hiking or work boots
- Loose clothing — long pants and long sleeved shirts (layering is good)
- Umbrella or rain poncho
- Bug spray
- Cortisone 10 or Benadryl Itch Stick for itch relief once you’re bitten
- Any other medications you may need for allergies given the high pollen content in these areas
- Small flashlight (for those who want to take notes on the night shoot)
- Extra batteries for tape recorders (as they seem to wear out quickly in this weather)
Keep in mind, I’ve never been given a list of what to bring on any set visit before.
Anyway, while we were staying in New Orleans, filming was taking place an hour outside the city, so the small group of reporters on the visit climbed on a bus to make the trip. But we weren’t alone. While we thought we’d be taking the trip by ourselves, we actually made two additional stops and picked up John Gallagher Jr and Will Arnett. Even though the two weren’t filming that night, they accompanied us to set and we spent the entire ride talking with them and doing a great interview. If you’d like to listen to the conversation, click here.
After a very bumpy bus ride, we finally arrived on set and that’s when I realized the scope of what we were going to see. While many movies build a small part of what they might need, Warner Bros. had commissioned a 150 foot reproduction of a Merrimack Ship! And not only that, we ended up climbing to the top and watching filming on the main deck. While I’m not happy about climbing small stairways with not much railing, I’ll admit the view was awesome.
But that’s getting a little ahead in the story.
When we first started to watch filming, we saw John Malkovich on the monitors as Turrnbull giving his men a motivational speech. I immediately noticed the movie was being shot in anamorphic widescreen and the way Malkovich was framed with the smoke behind him and his men in front of him was very cool. If you’re not familiar with anamorphic widescreen, it’s when the movie looks more like a rectangle than a square.
After watching a few takes of Malkovich talking to his troops, we got the chance to talk with director Jimmy Hayward. Even though he was very busy trying to get all his shots for the night, Hayward gave us a lot of time and explained how he got involved in the project and what he was going for.
A little while later, we walked around the set with Tom Meyer (the production designer). He explained to us the massive ship that was standing in front of us was designed only seven weeks before shooting started and they actually built it in three. That is a very short amount of time for something so large. He went on to say that a lot of the ship was made out of styrofoam and when the production ended, it would be recycled. As we toured the grounds, he told us that they reproduced some cannons from the era and the reason the ship was a bright red was they were going for a hyper real look in the film.
After getting a tour on the ground, we finally made our way towards some sketchy looking stairs and we climbed up towards the top of the ship. While the stairs didn’t feel school kid safe, for the cast and crew, it was good enough. Since I’m not great with heights, let’s just say I walked carefully and slowly.
When we finally reached the top, I could see why they built the set where they did. With the water on the left side of the ship, from certain angles and if the camera crew cheated a bit, they could make it seem that the boat was sailing on the water.
As we stood and watched filming, we were told the movie was going to take place in New Mexico, Texas, Mexico, Georgia and New Orleans. Needless to say, using New Orleans as a real location was a wise choice, as Tom Meyer told us some locations only needed a coat of paint and then they were ready to go. After all, New Orleans has been around for a very long time and some of the buildings are well over a hundred years old. The other thing that filming in New Orleans meant was a savings in the budget. The more practical locations that could be used meant more of the budget could be spent on other things.
After a little while watching from the top of the boat, we descended to the base and with all the folks in period gear, I sort of felt like I was walking through an episode of Deadwood.
As the set visit continued, we learned the set we were on was going to be used for 6 days of principal photography, a few days on a soundstage subbing for the interior of the ship, and then they had a few days scheduled for cleanup. While some locations might be used for a half a day or maybe a whole day, six days meant the ship is a big part of the movie.
Later on, we left the ship area and walked through what appeared to be a small town set. While it was very dark, I could tell the ground was covered with hay and I could make out some places to tie up horses and some small store fronts. When the back wall was covered, I couldn’t see the ship, which meant they could film on the set and cheat the location for somewhere else.
As we looked around, Josh Brolin had some time in his schedule and we walked over to where he was seated and took turns asking questions. While the makeup was clearly an issue in his ability to speak to us, Brolin couldn’t have been nicer talking about why he wanted to make Jonah Hex and what making the movie was really like. Also, while talking to Brolin, I got to stand next to him and stare at the makeup. You couldn’t tell where the makeup ended and his real face began, and I loved the look and what they were going for.
From there we talked to Christien Tinsley (special makeup effects) and he told us the makeup was being done practically and they didn’t want to use CGI. He then told us he was giving John Malkovich a prosthetic nose in the movie and a scar and the only reason he gave Malkovich those additions was to add character.
Other interesting things I learned was Brolin’s makeup took two to two and a half hours a day to put on and every character in the movie wears dentures to make the teeth look authentic to the period. Thumbs up to that. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’ve always thought that Hollywood movies that take place in the 1800’s have characters with way-too-perfect teeth.
After speaking with Tinsley for awhile and also checking out some of the guns used in the movie, we made our way to where some of the crew was building a submarine to be used later on in the film.
To get to see the sub, we had to walk in a very dark and muddy area. As we approached the riverbed, with a lack of light and thin wooden beams meant to provide safety across the mud and low level water, I couldn’t help but hear in the back of my mind, “be careful of the crocodiles.” I really had one eye on the ground and one where I needed to walk.
After we reached the dock, we approached a few people building the sub and while it was dark, we could see it was going to look period specific and it was pretty large. Also, in the distance, we could see the huge Merrimack ship and the lights shining all around the water and on the ground to keep the filming going at night. I stood there on the water taking in the scene…impressed with how many people it takes to make a movie and thinking this might be very cool when it’s done.
A short time later, we left the dock and walked across the muddy ground and hurried back to where I didn’t think crocodiles could catch me. We then walked around a bit more and eventually made our way onto the bus to take the long ride back to New Orleans. Just like that, many hours had gone by and the set visit was over.
After getting to visit the set, I left thinking Jonah Hex could end up being a very cool movie as it’s original and unlike anything that’s been made before. What I liked about the film is that it takes a genre we have seen a thousand times (the revenge film) and throws a new twist on it, as Hex takes place in the late 1800’s and it mixes in the supernatural and some crazy weapons. While I have no idea if the finished film will work, I definitely left Louisiana excited by what I saw and looking forward to seeing the movie. We’ll know how it all came together June 18. Until then…
For more on Jonah Hex: