THE LONE RANGER
The Making of THE LONE RANGER
With the goal to make a movie that would defy conventions and expectations, but satisfy audiences in ways they
could never have expected, producer Jerry Bruckheimer and Academy Award -- winning director Gore Verbinski
began filming Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films' "The Lone Ranger" on February 28, 2012, in Albuquerque, N.M.
The talented cast -- Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom
Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale,
Ruth Wilson and Helena Bonham Carter -- embarked on a
seven-month filmmaking journey that would take them across
the varied terrain and weather of four states in the American
Southwest, making the filming of "The Lone Ranger" a great
adventure in itself.
Capturing the sweeping canvas of "The Lone Ranger" was
director of photography Bojan Bazelli ("The Sorcerer's
Apprentice," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith"), with whom Verbinski had previously worked. Says Verbinski of Bazelli, "Nobody
understands the photochemical process better than Bojan. He understands what happens to your eye when you light a room, he understands what's happening at the back of the lens when it hits the emulsion, and now,
digitally, when it hits the chip. I think he has a better understanding of that than anybody I've ever worked with."
Speaking to the visual approach that he and Bazelli brought to "The Lone Ranger," Verbinski states, "It was
essential to keep it based in reality. We didn't want to make it so pretty that it felt theatrical in any way. The
narrative is epic and operatic by design, but if you adorn that overtly I think you lose any sense of integrity. It
had to feel honest...and a bit raw."
Before the cameras turned for the first time on "The Lone
Ranger," the film's Comanche adviser, Wahathuweeka-William
Voelker and his associate Troy performed a traditional blessing
ceremony on the grounds of Albuquerque Studios. Inside, on
three soundstages, the sequences involving railroad cars, a Wild
West Exhibition tent and the lavish interior of Red's Traveling
Entertainments were set to be filmed.
Thirty-six miles west of Albuquerque sits Rio Puerco, where
the production built the town sets of Colby and Promontory
Summit from the ground up. With the exception of sojourns to Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly in the
Navajo Nation, Rio Puerco would provide the base of operations for the company for the next three months.
On the morning of April 12, the production headed to Monument Valley to begin shooting before sunrise. The
sun rose on cue above the ridge known as John Ford Point for a shot of the Lone Ranger and Tonto on horseback,
right at the edge of the rim. At the stunning section of Monument Valley known as North Window, the company
was honored with a visit by Navajo Nation leaders, who welcomed the first major feature film to shoot in
Monument Valley in more than a decade.
From there, the crew headed off for a winding 65-mile drive
through the Navajo Nation to Canyon de Chelly. Canyon de
Chelly is another deeply historic and spiritual Navajo site, which
comes under the supervision of the National Park Service. For
six days there, Verbinski filmed the crucial Bryant's Gap ambush
sequence deep in the recesses of the locale.
After returning to Rio Puerco for some more filming, the crew
followed a dramatic change of scenery as production moved
270 miles north from Albuquerque to the tiny mountain
town of Creede, Colorado, for three weeks of filming. The historic and picturesque town of Creede was the
last silver-mining boomtown of late 19th-century Colorado. The village has a fascinating rough-and-tumble
history, attracting such unsavory characters during its mining
heyday as Soapy Smith and Robert Ford. "The Lone Ranger"
took advantage of Creede's storied past by building its own
Sleeping Man Mine just north of downtown, amid the ruins
of the real-life Amethyst Mine.
"It's really authentic," notes Jerry Bruckheimer, "just a
beautiful part of Colorado. But to get all our equipment
here wasn't easy, including an entire train. It's never easy in
small towns to move around and find housing for this big of a company. But when you see the picture, you'll see the authenticity, and that's what's wonderful about this
movie. We're in the real locations, not using a lot of CGI. In a lot of films these days, the environments are
artificially created. This is the real deal."
The Colorado River in Moab, Utah, would provide the next location, with Johnny Depp, long familiar with water
work from the "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, getting drenched again (along with the crew). Then back
up to the heights, with shooting at two of Moab's most stunning locations, Fossil Point and Dead Horse Point.
And while Fossil Point is also known as Thelma & Louise
Point, where the two outlaws drove off a cliff in the finale of
the famed Ridley Scott film, the addition of a full-size train,
workers' camp, and 154 costumed extras made it virtually
unrecognizable. Dead Horse Point was the site of the tall,
edge-of-the-cliff spirit platform on which John Reid awakens
after being saved by Tonto. "It was a rickety structure about
18 feet tall," recalls Armie Hammer, "and while I was standing
on top of that thing, the platform would sway about three
feet. Then, looking down, I realized that it would be a 2000-
foot drop to the bottom of the canyon floor. That was a trip."
Following a one-day shoot back in the Navajo Nation at Shiprock, a stunning 1,583-foot-high rock formation, the
company drove to its next base of operations, Santa Fe, New Mexico. Along with shooting the Hell on Wheels
and Reid Farm scenes in nearby Lamy, Verbinski found other ways to utilize the varied and often astounding
topography of the region. The forbidding, moonscape-like rocks of Plaza Blanca were appropriately selected for
the "Valley of Tears" location for scenes with Ruth Wilson, William Fichtner, and the Cavendish Gang. Meanwhile,
the magnificent Valles Caldera National Preserve, a huge 12-mile-wide grass valley in the crater of a volcano, was
utilized as the setting of a Comanche warriors' village. Also utilized were the Gilman Tunnels, an ideal site for
more train road rig work. And the high elevations of Pajarito Mountain provided the dramatic site of a last stand
of courageous Comanche warriors.
In mid-August, the company once again packed up and returned to Albuquerque for one week more of shooting,
before traveling 154 miles northward, beyond Taos, and
8,600 feet up in the mountains of Angel Fire, New Mexico,
for 17 final days of location shooting. This final leg was
almost entirely made up of alpine train road rig work as
well as a spectacular crash engineered by special effects
coordinator John Frazier and his team.
Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer completed their final
shot for the film on Thursday, September 28, 2012, and appropriately enough they were together in the same
frame rather than being shot separately. As Gore Verbinski called "Cut!" they waved their arms in a victory salute
to the director, Jerry Bruckheimer and the rest of the company.
But there was still one more road trip to go for the rest of the company -- 177 miles north to the desert of Lone
Pine, California, where a second Comanche camp had been erected for two final days of filming.
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