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Set Visit: The Hitcher (1/6)

Nov. 6, 2006by: Ammon Gilbert

Texas is one of many states that I had never been to, and had no desire of ever visiting. But when JoBlo asked me if I wanted to attend a set visit for the Platinum Dunes’ remake of THE HITCHER in Austin, Texas, I figured my first visit to Texas might as well be while visiting a movie set. Yes, by all accounts remaking a classic like THE HITCHER is blasphemous and wrong, but a movie set’s a movie set, and I’m movie geek with no life, so why the hell not?

THE HITCHER, directed by first time film director David Meyers, and starring the super hot Sophia Bush, newcomer Zack Knighton and legendary badass Sean Bean, is the fourth film from Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes label. Yep, these are the same dudes who wowed us with the TCM remake, bored us (well, me anyway) with THE AMITYVILLE HORROR remake, and rocked our bloody socks off with the TCM prequel THE BEGINNING. All that said, if anyone was going to remake THE HITCHER, I’m glad it’s these guys and not some other clown (yeah Simon West, I’m talkin’ to you!), as they’ve proven themselves with a few stellar remakes in the past. But enough of my blabbering, and on with the Set Visit!

The day we visited the set was the day after the Fourth of July; it was hot, humid and the bugs were out of control. Lucky for us, they were shooting nights, and thus saved us from hanging out in the blistering sun. We loaded into a car at dusk in Austin, jumped on the freeway and were immediately in the middle of butt-f*ck nowhere, heading away from civilization as we knew it. About a half hour rolls by, it’s now pitch black outside, and we start seeing signs on the side of the highways that say ‘TH’, with an arrow pointed straight ahead. We pass a few more of those until we come up to the tiny town of Taylor- and we can see, not far from the freeway exit, giant lights illuminating a dinky little hotel. Ah yes, we have arrived.


Like this... but at night. And creepier.

The Set

We pile out of the car, and head to where they’re shooting the first scene- across the street from the LUXURY HOTEL, where the camera crew and cast are all set up for a wide shot. The Luxury Hotel is awesome- it sports a bright neon sign (think Dirk Diggler’s in BOOGIE NIGHTS) above the main office, and has ‘Hourly Rates Available’ up on the marquee. The whole thing reminds me of one of the cheap hotels in JOY RIDE, more than anything else. The parking lot is filled with three big rigs, a cop car and some p.o.s. beater, all lit in that cheap yellow glow that’s associated with trucker rest stops across the country.

The cast and the camera crew are all on one side of the street, with the local police directing the thru traffic, ready to halt whenever director Dave Meyers yells ‘action’. I look over and see actress Sophia Bush preparing for the next scene and I’m taken away- this chick is smokin’ hot! I’ve seen her on TV a few times, but it really doesn’t do her any justice: the chick’s a total fox. Plus, her wardrobe doesn’t hurt either- a short short mini-skirt, a tiny tank top, a pair of kick ass cowboy boots, and a frickin' revolver in her right hand. If that doesn’t sell theater tickets, I don’t know what will. Next to her is her co-star Zack Knighton, a handsome white dude with shaggy hair, sporting an Austin T-shirt and packing a hand gun. They’re both covered in a thin layer of dirt, with minor scrapes, cuts and bruises. With a set up like this, just what are they gonna have in store for us tonight? Let’s find out!


Sophia Bush + mini-skirt + tank top + cowboy boots + revolver = smokin' hot

The Scenes

The first scene they started shooting is of Zack and Sophia running across the street, between two of the parked tanker trucks, and up to the hotel. We’re at a part of the movie where a lot of bad shit has just happened, and they’re fleeing from the cops (and Ryder aka The Hitcher) to the hotel, which they’re hoping to break into a room to get some rest.

They shoot the initial running across the street to the hotel scene a couple of times, one where they’re both running assertively, one where Zack is pulling a reluctant Sophia, and one where they’re both in charge, holding hands. My favorite of these was when they were both running pissed off and in charge, as there’s nothing worse than a girly girl getting pulled down the street (like she doesn’t want to) by her boyfriend- she’s the hero in this, no? Make her one! Plus, she’s packin’ heat, no reason for her to be all skittish and shit.

From there, the crew move the cameras, the cast chairs, the monitors - everything - from across the street to the hotel parking lot, as the next scene is a closer shot of the two running between the two tanker trucks. This time around, while they run, a handheld camera follows them between the trucks, and out to the hotel. The coolest part about this scene (for me, at least), was watching the camera rehearsal. See, there’s a couple people on set who’s sole job is to ‘stand in’ for the actors so the camera guys can set up the shot, the lighting and do a couple of run throughs. They’re never seen on film, but they basically walk through every scene that’s shot before the actors have to do it. It makes sense, as it takes some time set up the shots, etc., but still- who knew?? Now there’s a sweet job! No acting required just fit the height and general body type of the actor and you’re hired!

But I digress. During each scene that’s shot, I’m able to check out the monitor, to see what the camera’s picking up, and to see how it will actually look on film. From what I saw, this flick’s gonna have a nice, clean and stylishly lit look to it, much like the other Platinum Dune films. Being on set and watching the scenes be shot, sometimes it’s hard to imagine what it’ll look like on film- because, let’s face it, film looks better than ‘real life’.

Once the ‘running through the tankers’ scene is filmed, everything’s picked up again (chairs, monitors, camera’s, food table, etc…) and moved to the other side of the parking lot, to shoot the same scene from the other direction. Sophia and Zack are now running from between the two tanker trucks, towards the camera, and to the hotel, where they’re looking for an unlocked window or door so they can easily break in and sleep for the night.


Sophia Bush...running...in place...

This time, the camera’s on a small train-like track, and not handheld or on a stand still tripod. Same as before, they’re running towards the hotel, but they run through it a couple to times, this time they’re holding hands and Sophia’s a bit timid about what they’re there to do. After he likes what they sees, the director says ‘cut’ and one of the crew yells ‘LUNCH- One Hour!’, and I look at my watch- its 12 o’clock… in the a.m. Hey, at least they’re consistent!

Lunch

Not many folks can say they had lunch at midnight, so that was kind of cool. Let me just say this, Kraft Food Services gets a lot of crap about they’re food on movie sets, and if that’s all you eat for like 3 months, I can see it getting old, but tonight- man, the food was good! They give you like options after options after options of what to order, there’s a salad buffet and its pretty much all you can possibly eat. I can say this though; if I ate like that every day I’d probably be about 300 pounds heavier than I am now, massaging my enlarged ankles every night and sweating a tub of butter every day, even when it’s like 40 degrees out. But I don’t eat like that everyday, so I (and you) don’t have to worry about that.

After chowing down, we set out on a mission to find a pot to piss in and wondered into a parking lot of a meat packing company- the same meat packing company as seen in the TCM remake! It looks as creepy in real life as it did in the movie, and a place I sure as hell wouldn’t want to wonder into alone in the middle of the night. Good thing I had my fellow journalist cronies to keep me company.

The Scenes – Part 2

After lunch everyone returns to the set (all fat and happy) and begin shooting right from where they left off. The camera’s taken off the tracks and is back at the hand held style once again, as the couple finally finds a loose window of one of the hotel rooms. Zack jimmies it open, but has a bit of trouble crawling through the window- not that it’s all that difficult, but as they shot the interior scenes inside the hotel room already on a soundstage, they’re finding that how he crawled through the window the first time was a lot different than how he could crawl through the window now. Main difference? The size of the window was just a bit smaller here than on set. Hmmm.

You’d figure they’d measure all that out before they built the set, but that’s neither here nor there. To see how he did it the first time, they bring up the dallies for the interior scene on the monitor. The scene showed Zack crawling through the window. Once inside, Zack unlocks the door and lets Sophia in, as she’s waiting patiently outside. After checking out the scene and discussing it a few times, they just figure they'll edit it together so the audience won't even be able to tell the difference. Good call!

Next scene, it’s a few hours after they've initially broken in and Zack is nowhere to be found, so Sophia walks out of the motel room screaming his name. They shoot her coming out of the room, screaming his name a few times, and walking towards the two big rigs.

During this time Zack’s stunt man is testing the holster jacket that Zack’s supposed to wear for the scene and passes out, falls down and hits his head (!). Weird shit. The fire department and the ambulance come and haul him off to the hospital. You’d think that’d phase the production schedule a little, but it doesn’t- it’s kind strange, no one really seemed to care all that much- most were just baffled, as the stunt guy was just laying down with this harness on when he passed out. Maybe he had a long night partying or something, who knows.

At this point it’s about 5 in the morning, and we’re just waiting to see the gruesome death scene we've been waiting all night to see. We’re then told that Sean Bean, who was supposed to be on set that day, was called off until tomorrow. So no seeing Bean as Ryder the Hitcher for us (damn it!), and because of scheduling delays, we found out they were going to hold off on shooting the gruesome death scene until the next day (double damn!). At this point, me and the other journalist are all zombies because we’re not used to this crazy night schedule, and we opt to just go home (while the entire cast and crew are rocking like it’s 5 in the afternoon). We sleepily and deliriously get into the car and make our way back to the hotel- where we pass out. Lucky for us, Sean Bean was cool enough to arrange an interview with us the next day at 3:00pm (we’ll have that for you soon), so not all was lost.

All in all, I had a blast on the set of THE HITCHER. Though there was no real dialog on the day of the visit, I can say that everyone involved is super enthusiastic about this movie, and based on that alone, I'd say we're in for a real treat. Both Zack Knighton and Sophia Bush looked great 'on the run', and all the shots I saw filmed were done with a touch of style and class- so if nothing else, it's going to have an awesome 'look' to it. Also, the crew of Austin were super cool and accommodating, as well as director Dave Meyers, producer Brad Fuller, co-stars Sophia, Zack and the great Sean Bean. I’d like to thank them, as well as unit publicist / our babysitter John Pisani for their time and the experience of being on set, watching the magic happen. It was a long, long night, but in the end, it was totally worth it.

So what do we have coming up? The interviews, of course! Dave, Brad, Sophia, Zack and Sean all took time out of their busy schedules to talk with us about THE HITCHER, and what it’s like working on a movie like this. So stick around, as things are just starting to heat up here in Texas for THE HITCHER!

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