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Flight Pattern: The Locations
The film's biggest set piece and the one most daunting to create, was the crash landing site of SouthJet flight #227, a southeast regional flight from Orlando to Atlanta, that is forced to make a landing attempt at a bean field two miles from Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. At the private Green Valley Farms located along a quiet stretch of Highway 278 in the city of Covington, production designer Nelson Coates and his team of art directors and construction personnel constructed a crash site for the doomed flight.

This location is also where, 10 days after the crash, Whip and his lawyer, Hugh Lang, standing upon a scaffolding platform, survey the devastation left by the craft. The location and the dramatic scene Whip encounters is a pivotal moment for him on so many levels.

Coates notes that Atlanta is so developed that there were not many spaces anywhere in close proximity to where the crash is supposed to have taken place - two miles from the main airport. "We had to look further afield," Coates recalls.

The crash site called for an area that had some fields where the plane could touch down and a bluff where the production design crew could erect a 47-foot high turn-of-the-century gothic-style Pentecostal Church, the steeple of which the plane knocks over during its descent. On an empty field below, they placed the broken fuselage and other pieces of aircraft in a smoldering heap nearby. Location manager Eric Hooge first encountered what would become the crash site location after driving in a 35-mile perimeter in the rural outskirts of Atlanta. "That bluff also gave us a way to show the audience from up high what the plane looked like," producer Steve Starkey explains. Starkey notes that the crash site is the single largest set piece of any of the films he's produced.

Earlier in production, an aerial crew shot all the pre-crash plate shots at the location that the editor and visual effects team would utilize to complete the crash landing sequence as the plane makes its final approach.

Another Atlanta-adjacent rural location was the Whitaker Farm, the property that Whip Whitaker inherited from his father, William Whitaker, Sr. - where he ran the Whitaker Crop Dusting Company. The home, the place Whip retreats to after being hounded by the media, was filmed at the private Hall's Flying Ranch, a 250 acre farm in an unincorporated rural area near the small city of Hampton, Georgia, 35 miles south of Atlanta, adjacent to the famed Atlanta Motor Speedway. Whip stays at the farm after leaving the hospital rather than return to his Atlanta house where the media has decamped.

Coates says that Whip Whitaker's backstory heavily influenced the choice of that location. "Early on, Bob thought that as a character choice, that Whip's father should have been in the Tuskegee Airmen - and that would put him in the South, and maybe for years after he was in the Air Force he had a crop dusting business outside of Atlanta. So we needed to find a farmhouse that came with a grassy air strip and a barn or hangar of sorts." The tree-lined farm they found, surrounded by cattle ranches and horse stables, was previously the site of a family business that used to offer private flight training, and featured a barn-like hangar built to hold a small plane, and a 2150 foot grassy landing strip - all that was uncannily parallel to the script. However, since the location didn't have a suitable home to double as the Whitaker family compound, Coates and his design team built the exterior of one the properties. Coates says, "We couldn't find all three requirements in the same place in a certain zone around Atlanta, so we ended up building the farm house; we shaped it so we'd have the porch, have the enveloping 'V' of the house so you feel cozy when you're out on the porch exposed." The porch faced the plane hangar and airstrip, which was done, Coates says, to "always keep the focus on the fact that airplanes had been an important and big portion part of the young Whip's life growing up."

In keeping with Zemeckis' desire for authenticity, hospital scenes were filmed in the former critical care wing of St. Joseph's Hospital, Atlanta's oldest and most distinguished hospital, located in Atlanta's Peachwood-Dunwoody neighborhood. While there were real practical advantages to film in Atlanta - tax credits, locations that fit the story and/or production needs to tell that tale, Zemeckis points out that Atlanta also played itself, as opposed to doubling for any other city.

"The movie feels perfectly set in Atlanta. It's not like we had to go to there and make it look like New York. We set it there because it is one of those American cities that has an airline culture and it just felt like the perfect American city for this movie," Zemeckis says.

It is also a municipality set squarely in the Bible Belt so the crash landing outside a Pentecostal Church appealed to Zemeckis' sense of irony.

Ultimately, "Flight" combines several Zemeckis touchstones - advanced film technology, big, compelling characters on life changing journeys, themes of recovery and discovery - or, as he puts it:

"My thinking is this: There's a wonderful quote by Francois Truffaut which I subscribe to … he said that a movie that works is the perfect blend of truth and spectacle. And whenever I can find a screenplay that has both of those aspects, those are movies that I gravitate to-and I think 'Flight' is that kind of movie. I mean it's a hopeful, redemptive human story that's wrapped in this very dramatic and intense spectacle. And to me that's what movies are all about," Zemeckis says.


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