Set Visit: Terminator Salvation
Not having the luxury of seeing production studios every day, I'm definitely taken aback by how huge of a facility the Albuquerque Studios is. (See it here http://www.abqstudios.com/ ) Since it’s smack dab right in the middle of the desert, its seclusion from any kind of city, town or community, definitely adds a bit aura to the joint. In addition to TERMINATOR SALVATION being filmed at Albuquerque Studios, Frank Miller’s THE SPIRIT and also the TV show "Breaking Bad" makes its home here.
Not that you need it, but to catch the peeps up who may not know the overall story for TERMINATOR SALVATION, here’s a synopsis: ”Set in post-apocalyptic 2018, Christian Bale stars as John Connor, the man fated to lead the human resistance against Skynet and its army of Terminators. But the future Connor was raised to believe in is altered in part by the appearance of Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington), a stranger whose last memory is of being on death row. Connor must decide whether Marcus has been sent from the future, or rescued from the past. As Skynet prepares its final onslaught, Connor and Marcus both embark on an odyssey that takes them into the heart of Skynet’s operations, where they uncover the terrible secret behind the possible annihilation of mankind.”
To reiterate, you’ll have already known most of the story and the players involved. But at at the time of the set visit in July 2008, little was known about the plot of Terminator Salvation. And after a few weeks of speculation, Helena Bonham Carter had just the day before signed the deal with Warner Bros. to play the key role of “Serena”. The day of our set visit was to be her very first day on set but nothing was promised as far as meeting with her (interviews with her were out of the question).
Things are highly sensitive, security-wise, when we initially arrive on set. We're given numbered “Project Angel” visitor badges that we have to mark down and sign, and eventually given back to security at the end of the day. I'm expecting a blood sample at some point.
Once we met up with the unit publicist, our tour begins.
The first pit stop is a conference room that's filled with production art for the various terminators and machines in the movie. You have drawings of T600s, T700s, T800s. These little things called Hydrobots that look like Sentinels from The Matrix. Or maybe if a T800 had crabs. Plastered all around are drawings of Hunter Killers, Aerostats (they find survivors and send them to the harvesters.) There's also art of the vehicles driven by the Resistance such as a modified Jeep and modified tow trucks. Not like the tow trucks that tow your car when you're too hungover in the morning to move your car. No, these puppies are built to kick the shit out of terminators, so you know they’re made out of more than just fiberglass.
But by far my favorite drawing is of the Moto-terminator which was actually built by Ducati. Unfortunately the rider-less Moto-terminator isn't on set but there is a life size poster board of it that almost brings a tear to my eye.
Another piece of artwork on the wall is the character Marcus (played by Sam Worthington) in various stages of deterioration. The thing about Marcus is that he’s the first terminator to have a human heart and with that comes human emotions. So, he feels as a human and looks like a human until he gets napalmed or chips a nail or something, then you get to see how his body reacts physically to the damage. In one sketch, he's completely fine. Two more sketches over, and he's completely blown to shit.
Next, we're taken to a much larger room filled with storyboards beautifully painted by Production Designer Martin Laing. Seriously, I’d kill someone for just one of thesestoryboards…well, if not for the whole prospect of going to jail, I would do it. But since I like my freedom, and much more importantly my gay virginity, I’ll pony up a cool five bucks for one. The artwork, in all honesty, is truly remarkable and definitely gives you the image of what the film will look like as a whole: bleak, dirty, gritty. Our unit publicist Lee Ann (a very charming and funny lady) basically gives us the whole rundown of about three-fourths of the movie as we make our way through each storyboard.
In this room we also get to see some scale models of action scenes and a life size poster board of a T600. At almost 8 foot tall, the T600 is definitely an imposing figure (understatement of the decade?)
After making my hobby of oil painting look like paint by numbers, we head out to the sound stages. Our first stop is “The Outpost”, which lies underneath the silos, and as we're told, were modeled after silos built for nuclear safety in Hungary. The time span is 10 years after the apocalypse, making everything look dirty, dingy, very industrial. We also got to see John Connor’s quarters which looks like a military barracks. Books about military strategy and what not are scattered across the room. Another thing that's mentioned about the costume and set design is that the humans, after the apocalypse, have become scavengers when it comes to clothes, materials, etc. Whatever they come across that they think could be useful, they use. So, we get used to seeing random things lying around like old radios, burned books, bits of clothing, sex toys, etc.
As we make our way from one sound stage to the other, we pass a half dozen or so T100s. It's impressive to see the T100s up close. They look like those big bomb removal robots that law enforcements use, only bigger and more kick ass. I grip the frame and it's solid. No skimpy piece of furniture here. We also get to see “Serena’s Domain” where she conducts her experiments and the “Skynet Testing Center”, all of which are just being constructed, so not much to report on there.
On our way to wardrobe we pass a jail cell and an execution chamber complete with a viewing room. The jail cell is Marcus’ cell and opens the movie and propels the story itself. The cell is taken from an actual penitentiary and the execution chamber specially built for the flick. In wardrobe, it's explained how meticulously damaged the costumes have to be in order to get the right effect. We get to see Marcus' leather coat that's tattered or torn with holes strategically placed here and there. The whole wardrobe area looks like a Ministry concert circa '91.
After wardrobe, we stroll the facilities a little more and then hop into a van to visit a couple of other key places, none of which are a bar with ice cold margaritas. The first stop is about a 10 to 15 minute drive away from the studio lot. Workers are pouring water into a huge hole basically dug in the middle of the desert, about 30 yards long and 10 yards wide that has trees and branches at the bottom of it. We're told it's the setting of a key scene between Sam Worthington's Marcus and Moon Bloodgood's Blair.
Next, we hop back in the van and jump back on the highway. We drive for an uneventful 10 or so minutes where you have a bunch of sand to the right and a bunch of sand to the left. That is until we slow to a crawl, look out the window and see a completely firebombed 7-11 and gas station. Debris and broken glass everywhere, it wouldn't be out of place somewhere in the Middle East. Cars are completely charred with their windows busted out. Scrap metal here, 50 gallon drums there. I would love to see the explosion that caused this chaos.
Arriving back at the studios, we're taken inside the sound stage, which looks more like a factory. Walking inside, it's hot, humid. Puddles of water cover the floor. McG comes over and greets us. He's enthusiastic, energetic. He takes us deeper into the factory, talking about the story, telling us about the scene they're setting up for. All around is an assembly line of terminators. Various heads on one line, torsos on another. He encourages us to go around back and watch on the monitors. There's easily 20 crew members here. I wonder which is the Best Boy. Or Key Grip.
John Connor walks by.
As they set up for the shot, some of us gather around the monitors. The others find an open spot to view the action "live". In this scene, John Connor has had a bit of a scrap with a T800.
Everything's set up. McG calls action. Looking on the monitors, we see John Connor, on the ground, butt scooting away from the camera. We see a T800 hand come into frame, clawing. Connor pulls out what looks like a .45 and fires. He leans back, exhausted.
They set up again for what feels like a half hour, and they do another pass of the scene from another angle. After the take, McG brings over Helena Bonham Carter. I'm in love with how adorable in person she is. McG explains it's her first day on set. She's not filming this day but she's got to make a trip to wardrobe so they can figure out what Serena looks like.
McG says, "For your first day, here's some journalists to ask you questions."
She says, "Oh," and turns away. Nicely done McG.
We head on over to the catering tent. We grab some grub and afterwards interview Sam Worthington and Moon Bloodgood. Sam is in costume. He looks beat to shit in a leather jacket and wounds on his face. Sam is a straight talking Aussie with, what looks like, no qualms about starring in his first huge, big budget blockbuster flick. Moon Bloodgood is jaw dropping hot, exuding confidence like Billy Mitchell in King of Kong. Only not as sexy.
After lunch we're brought to a small trailer where the Stan Winston guys ply their trade. Inside are the animatronics for various heads and limbs of the terminators. One of the guys makes a terminator hand move and I about lose my shit. Other than the assembly line of terminators, this is the coolest part.
We're invited over to McG's air conditioned trailer for an eight minute viewing of "selects". What he shows us truly captures a post-apocalyptic world where big fucking robots try to kill you. It's dark, it's gritty, but mostly I walked away with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. It just seems like there's no way the Resistance can win. Jim Morrison was right, no here gets out alive.
We head back inside the sound stage/factory for more interviews. Young Anton Yelchin is introduced to us. He'll be playing Kyle Reese in the flick. He's totally cool and laid back, eager to answer any questions we have for him and seems really into the Terminator mythology. He mentions how he watched TERMINATOR 2 when he was 5 years old and I cry a little bit inside thinking about how old I was in the early 90s.
We're told that McG only has a few minutes to talk with us. It won't be a sit down interview kind of thing because of his tight schedule, so we basically do a walk and talk with him. And when I say we have a talk with him, I mean he talks at us about the internet and how he's sick of getting shit about his career. He talks about his love for this story and how he wants to do right by the mythology of what James Cameron created.
And judging by the selects he showed us, most of which you've already seen in the trailer, I don't really doubt him.
|Extra Tidbit:||Special thanks to Orna Pickens at Warner Bros. for treating us to a great set visit.|