Prepare for Takeoff
"Flight" commenced principal photography on October 12, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia
and filmed for 48 days.
As the film delves into several specialized areas of expertise - commercial
aviation, and substance abuse among them - it required very specific technical
advisers to help the cast and the filmmakers create scenes that would be
convincing to not only general audiences, but to insiders intimately familiar
with those worlds.
"A movie of this scale, with so much detail required a tremendous number of
technical advisers," Starkey explains. "We had a pilot who consulted on the real
mechanics of flying a plane and the timing on when certain events would happen.
We have an NTSB investigation, so we had an NTSB technical adviser to make sure
we're accurately depicting the way they would investigate a crash. If we have
other security personnel, or the FBI, all those different kinds of people are
brought on to make sure we depicted everything accurately."
One of the principal flight consultants for the film was Larry Goodrich, an
Atlanta-based former Air Force and commercial airline pilot who steered Denzel
Washington and Brian Geraghty through flight simulator training and was on set
during flight sequences to monitor the action. With Goodrich at their side,
Washington and Geraghty completed flight simulator training in a six-axis
full-motion flight simulator at an airline flight training center at
Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. There, they trained on the cockpit
flight instrument panel to understand how to control the height, speed, altitude
and other mechanism of the plane so operating it would become second nature
while they acted. For additional practice, they also went through the programmed
flight pattern of SouthJet 227's doomed flight, closely mirroring the exact
sequence depicted in the film. "The filmmakers wanted the actors to have an idea
of what the role of a pilot truly is, how he handles himself in emergency
situations, his responsibilities, and his interaction with the rest of the
crew," Goodrich explains. "With Denzel being the captain of the aircraft, he was
very interested in learning about a pilot's main responsibilities and some of
the background of work before we even get into the flight deck with the systems
and instrumentations." The process began with the actors getting comfortable in
their seats and familiarizing themselves with the flight instrument panel. "We
broke it down into little sections, and allowed them to look at flight
instrument, engine instruments, the flaps, slats, speed brakes, the yoke, and
then how the auto pilot works," Goodrich says. "And once we went through all
that, we showed them how one of the most disciplined parts of being a pilot is
running everything through a checklist."
The simulator certainly helped Washington understand the mechanics of flying a
plane and, well, it was fun.
"The simulator was great, it's what the pilots practice in and was incredibly
helpful. I know I have great job - I got to drive trains in one movie and fly
planes in the next," Washington says.
At the same time, actresses Tamara Tunie and Nadine Velazquez, who play SouthJet
flight attendants, completed several courses at a state-of-the-art flight
attendant training academy to learn basic flight attendant procedures and crash
Production designer Nelson Coates and his art department team were responsible
for creating the film's overall visual concept. Coates, who worked with
Washington on his directorial debut, "Antwone Fisher," recalls being ecstatic
and riveted when he first read the script - on an airplane. "Probably not the
best place to read a script about a plane crash and resulting investigation," he
Coates realized that as challenging and difficult as the plane crash would be,
"â€¦the more difficult aspect of this project was to create and flesh out the back
history of who Whip Whitaker really is and setting those elements of his life
solidly in an environment and reality that would make it believable and give it
an overriding, timeless familiarity." Coates notes the Whip and Nicole's
surrounding aesthetic was literally crumbling, like their lives.
"Other than the airline and the airport, there's not a lot of glossy and shiny
in the film," he observes. "There's lots of 'peeling' going on so walls have
things that are falling apart just in the same way our character are falling
apart on certain levels." He says he wanted to stress the journey that Whip and
Nicole are on together. He adds, "Whether it was the photographs in their rooms,
or the colors on their walls, or just a little bit of set dressing, everything
in their personal environments had to be carefully chosen. We only had a short
time to explain their past history."
Coates says that crafting the film's overall design on a believable base is the
chief mandate from Robert Zemeckis. "When you're dealing with a plane crash and
investigation, you're dealing with a manufacturer of airlines, you're dealing
with airliner branding, and we wanted to make sure that those elements felt real
and believable and had a plausibility factor," he states.
He notes that while the plane crash is the plot vehicle that sets the main part
of the story in motion, "Ultimately," he says, "this movie is not so much a
movie about a plane crash, but more about the redemption of a man who is broken
and has lost his way. We showcase the transformation as he's trying to come to
grips with what his decisions had wrought on other people. So we wanted to make
sure that the visuals didn't get in the way of that redemption."
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