THE LAST STAND
Between Vegas and the Border: The Look of the Film
Jee-woon always saw THE LAST STAND as divided into several visually distinct worlds: "You have flashy Las Vegas, the earthy small town of Sommerton, the chaos of the FBI offices, and then Cortez's dynamic super-car," he says. "I wanted to create a different look, with different colors, textures and camera angles, for each one of them."
In searching for the perfect Sommerton -- the town that transforms into the venue for an epic showdown -- production designer Franco Carbone (THE EXPENDABLES) hoped to find a locale that aspired to be the quintessential American village. It had to be the kind of tight-knit community with a main street, a diner, some stores, the Sheriff's office... and a neighboring corn field just past the end of town, where Jee-woon had envisioned the start of the final battle amidst the maze-like rows of jagged corn.
Carbone found the foundation of the look that Jee-woon was after in Belen, Arizona, some 30 miles outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico, and built the film's Sommerton there. "Our challenge was really to make this town feel alive," says Carbone, "a place full of back story and a history. We figured it as one of those gold rush towns that came up at the turn of the last century, which it really was, as a stop on the railway out to the West. There were some great turn of the century buildings on one side of the street, and I mirrored those on the other side."
According to executive/line producer Guy Riedel, "It really was only half a town, with a few existing buildings broken up by vacant lots. We built storefronts, put in a tire store and a church, and pulled the boards of a condemned building -- a former grocery store -- to create Irv's Diner."
For Carbone, the diner had to represent the homey appeal that might draw a guy like Owens to choose to live in a place as seemingly quiet as Sommerton - and then to fight tooth and nail for it. "Irv's Diner gives the town a sense of richness," says Carbone. "It became a shorthand of why we care out these people in Sommerton and why Owens is driven to protect them."
Throughout the filming, Jee-woon worked closely with his director of photography, Ji-Yong Kim, with whom he also worked on A BITTERSWEET LIFE. "He speaks English, he makes directors feel very comfortable and he has a really ingenious sense of camera set-ups and angles," says the director.
While the film's stunts ranged from a spectacular zip-line getaway in Vegas to a human explosion, some of the most heart-pounding work revolved around Cortez's prized Corvette ZR1. Thanks to di Bonaventura's healthy working relationship with GM -- due to prior collaborations on all of the TRANSFORMERS films -- the car manufacturer provided the production with six of the coveted Corvettes. Di Bonaventura notes: "GM had to really believe in the movie and believe that the filmmakers could understand their car like they understand their car. They wanted to see their Corvette go fast and look cool, and so did we."
A large department was created solely to maintain the cars and ensure that they were ready to go when needed. One ZR1 and one ZL1 were kept pristine for the scenes where the metal co-stars were doing what they do best-being driven or sitting parked. Others were rigged specially for their specific stunt use: beefed up suspensions to support extra weight; pipes welded underneath to hook to camera rigs; an engine removed to lighten for placing on a different rig; and gas tanks removed for safe soundstage shooting.
Riedel explains, "Each car had its own purpose. And keeping track of all that was a challenge, because sometimes, the same car was needed by different units, in different parts of the city. It was a big undertaking."
To execute driving blind through a corn field, an alternative driving system known as "pod cars" were constructed on the roofs of the vehicles. A stunt driver maneuvered the car from the top -- where he could see over the corn -- while the actor on-camera looked like he was in charge of the speeding automobile.
The filmmakers were adamant about maintaining a level of reality to all the chase and stunt sequences. Rather than rely on a large amount of CG, Jee-woon and his team attempted to "old school" it as much as possible, utilizing careful stunt work and physical effects, especially since the story is about the triumph of grit, guts and ordinary bravery over sophisticated bad guys.
Working with both cast and cars was highly experienced stunt coordinator and second unit director Darrin Prescott, with Wade Allen functioning as second unit stunt coordinator. Prescott not only had to work with cars at breathtaking speeds, but with a series of battles, foot chases and bone-crushing hand-to-hand combat sequences, many involving Schwarzenegger.
Prescott had worked with Schwarzenegger years prior, and he found him as ready to go to the limits as ever. He comments of his return: "It's like he's never left the business. He stepped right back into it. He was great -- he was Arnold, the same guy that I worked with 15 years ago."
The veteran coordinator was also impressed by Noriega's dedication to learning the ins and outs of the action genre, throwing himself head-long into intense fight and driving training. "Eduardo came to us and said he wanted to train and be in as much of the fighting and driving as he could be -- and that was great for us," says Prescott. "Basically, he was a blank canvas -- it's such a pleasure to work with someone like that."
When the driving risks proved too high, the production employed stunt driver Jeremy Fry to double for Noriega, and it was Fryes who maneuvered the 3,200-pound machine through automotive moves that can literally only happen in the movies.
It seems that such magic was conjured on a regular basis for Jee-woon. Prescott recounts, "The director would ask us, 'Can you 180 a bus in a street that's just three car-lengths wide?' And we'd say, 'Hey, it's Hollywood, we can do anything! It's just whether we can afford it or not.' So effects built casters underneath the bus, so Jeremy could drive the bus down this narrow street, with real businesses on both sides. He'd drive in and hit the button, and the back of the bus would come up, the wheels would come off the ground -- just maybe an inch or so -- and it would ride on these caster wheels like it was on ice, sliding 180 perfectly into this tiny street. Talk about cool."
No matter what the stunt, car maneuver or battle at hand, to everyone involved, the most exciting thing on the set was the presence of Schwarzenegger -- who inspired all. Executive producer Guy Riedel comments, "He was incredibly professional, friendly to everybody, and he always looked like he was having fun, just doing what he was doing. I think audiences will love seeing him return to action. This character is a great fit, and it's great to have him back."
Sums up Schwarzenegger: "What's great about THE LAST STAND is that it is a real underdog story, but it is also a story that happens all around the world. When I was Governor, one of my favorite things to do was to give the Medal of Valor to law enforcement for the extraordinary things they did, going beyond the call of duty. I would read their stories out loud and often, they sounded impossible. People would say 'no human being could do that.' But people do amazing things and that's the situation in THE LAST STAND. You have a little town with one Sheriff and a few deputies and yet when the most dangerous drug lord descends on his town, the chase is on."
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