A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
Creating Albert's Town
Since A Million Ways to Die in the West is set in the
Old West in the 1880s, the filmmakers decided to travel
to Santa Fe, New Mexico, to tell the tale. Stuber offers
that there were more than a few challenges: "When you
think of filming a Western, you have to realize that few
of those towns exist anymore. Thankfully, there are
about four in New Mexico and a few in Arizona, so
they were applicable to what we wanted. We needed
Albert's farm, the town itself, Louise's house and the
barn dance, and it was great luck that 80 to 90 percent
of our locations were available as practical ones."
MacFarlane continues that the team wanted the
comedy to look and feel like a film that could stand
with an old John Ford Western. He says: "We went
everywhere from Jemez Pueblo, which is gorgeous, to
Monument Valley, which is legendary. Our director of
photography, Michael Barrett, is an extremely talented
photographer. He's an expert in lighting and knows
what I mean when I said, 'I want you to feel like you're
shooting a drama.' He lit and angled it beautifully."
The town of Old Stump was created at the Bonanza
Creek Ranch, just south of Santa Fe. The ranch is spread
out over thousands of acres and features more than five
ponds, one movie town and two home sets. More than
130 movies, as well as various videos, commercials and
catalog shoots, have been filmed there. The filmmakers
transformed the movie set into Old Stump: a town that
is, well naturally, built around a stump.
During the scout, production designer Stephen
Lineweaver looked at many of these towns and knew
that there would be only one that MacFarlane was going
to like. When the director arrived, he said, "Yep, this is it."
Although the area in which the filmmakers wanted
to create Old Stump was small and quite dilapidated,
they saw a diamond in the rough.
Lineweaver and his team came in, built
3D models of the existing town and
started to plot a faĆ§ade of buildings and
streets to artificially double its size. In
every direction, they placed buildings,
windmills, water towers and a church.
The team then went in and gutted the
interiors of each building. In fact, Old
Stump took nearly three and a half
months to build.
Lineweaver describes the process:
"When I came here with Seth, the
challenge was that we fell in love with
the town, but it was about half the size
that we wanted it to be. So, the first
task was to pick what we had, illustrate how we would
expand the town and create additions. It opened up a
little too clearly to all the four exits, so we created a lot
more visual information and architecture to double the
size. It was also a bit run-down, which is what we liked
about it, so we had to put it back together."
To inform every detail in Old Stump, the filmmakers
tirelessly researched the Old West so the look would be
as authentic as possible. Lineweaver says: "We wanted
everything done the way it was back in the day. We
have been sticklers for detail and authenticity. Seth and
I collaborated on this, and our edict was to make the
scenery real and make the jokes funny."
"We wanted the scope and the look to be
completely in the world of an 1880s Western, but also
wanted it to feel rich and colorful. Not Technicolor,
but it should feel like a Western of its day, not down
and dirty and dark," Clark adds. That was down to
every small building, including Foy's workplace.
One of the set pieces is the moustachery, where Foy
plies his wares to the successful men of Old Stump.
"Our research found that having a moustache was
a show of wealth. A big moustache or muttonchops
showed that you were a man of means."
A county fair was created in the middle of Old Stump,
complete with shooting games, photographers, barkers
selling potions and elixirs and a freak show. Oh, and death.
Lineweaver laughs: "Yes, we do have deaths at the fair.
This is A Million Ways to Die in the West. But, the fair is
something that we had a lot of fun with. It's a fair set in
the Old West, so we were trying to make it as cheerful as
possible." He pauses, "But people will die here."
Clark adds that much work had to be done to
create the county fair, the stage for one of the biggest
sequences in the script. The producer says: "It is
actually more than 10 pages with multiple story beats,
stunts and action. So, there we were shooting exteriors
with a couple hundred extras, and we had to manage the
weather every day. Added to the schedule was the fact
that stunts and effects needed separate passes of camera
angles. In addition, we had many animals, including a
bull that had to run through the middle of the fair."
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