BLACK HAWK DOWN
Before actors and crew could begin filming, the physical backdrop needed to be created, and Ridley Scott turned for the third time (after
G.I. Jane and Gladiator) to production designer Arthur Max. "At the beginning of the process," Max explains, "Ridley and I do a pinup of imagery on the walls, as much reference material as we can find. We whittle that down to things that resonate with us, trying to find inspiration from certain images. Then we scout together on the ground and try and fit those images into the context of a situation as much as we can."
"For Black Hawk Down," continues Arthur Max, "we worked a great deal with very large-scale models, as well as aerial photographs mapping sections of the city that
we were interested in. We then developed the actual set designs and began to build them four months before shooting was scheduled to begin."
In effect, an entire neighborhood had to be "made over" in a transformation from Morocco to Mogadishu. The specific section of Sale selected as the primary backdrop for filming was a teeming, decidedly downscale, pungent working class district called Sidi Moussa, comprised of two- or three-story, mostly illegally constructed dwellings, and populated to a large degree by rural Moroccans seeking a better life in the big city. What Ridley Scott required for his cinematic vision of Black Hawk Down was an African urban area large enough to be photographed from the ground and air— primarily without the benefit of visual effects—and resemble the grungy Somali capital of Mogadishu as closely
"We combed through Sale for a month, photographing both from the air and ground level," comments Arthur Max, "weaving our way through the street grids, before finding Sidi Moussa. There were so many areas of interest there that we had to decide where not to shoot. In Sidi Moussa, there's a rich array of walled cities from Crusader times, old medinas, half-completed new towns, coastal roads, cemeteries, areas of abandonment, and some very fine architecture, with beautiful markets and mosques. In effect, it was a tremendous back lot set for us, and we wanted to take advantage of everything."
There was major construction of sets in several parts of Sidi Moussa, with crews of at least 150 in each location working simultaneously. Several sets were built from scratch, others were added on to existing buildings and others were basically utilized as found.
Perhaps the greatest alteration occurred on Sidi Moussa's Avenue Nasser, the main "strip" of the district, lined with tenement apartments and an array of humble, ground-level shops. Here, Max and his crew designed Mogadishu's Hawlwadig Road, and constructed in its entirety—on a soccer field—the "Target Building" from which the Rangers and Delta Force soldiers must extricate the Aidid lieutenants. Because the actual Target Building in Mogadishu was a nondescript cinderblock structure revealing little of its location, Max decided to take some creative license.
"We decided to go from scratch," he explains, "because we had so many action sequences to film here-with helicopters, soldiers fast-roping into the streets surrounding the building, people rushing onto rooftops—that it would have been difficult to choreograph so much activity onto an existing structure. So we built a new football stadium for the community further down the road, and then custom designed the Target Building from photographs of Mogadishu in the Italian colonial period in what is an Arabic/Colonial style. It's meant to be an abandoned administrative building, because the government in Somalia had disappeared at the time of the story. And since it needed to be filmed from the air, we tried to blend into the existing grid as best we could."
Several blocks of Avenue Nasser w
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