A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST
Battling the Elements in Santa Fe
Westerns are mostly written as exterior films,
and that fact presented its own set of
challenges. On one particular day of
shooting, after the cast and crew had
waited four weeks for the weather to
clear up and for leaves to appear on
trees, they were ready to roll. At eight
o'clock in the morning, everything was
brilliant. By 11 o'clock, there were
40-mph winds howling through the
set. Then, the actors were visited by a
swarm of bees and, finally, the cloud
Clark explains the chaos: "Last
year happened to be one of the most
weather-active years they have had in a
long time. We went directly from windy
season into monsoon season. We had set up a sequence
with Charlize to shoot at night, and it was going to
be her last scene of the movie. We arrived on set, we
lit the scene and we got about six takes in before it
started raining continuously until three o'clock in
the morning. We finally threw in the towel when the
worst storm of the year came in from nowhere. After
a second attempt at setting up the scene-that led to
another evacuation because of flooding-we were
able to regroup for one last try, and that's when we
nailed it. As they say, the third time was a charm."
Despite the beautiful scenery depicted, the set of
A Million Ways to Die in the West was also hit with
daily dust storms-much like in the Old West. Cast
and filmmakers alike felt that this was one of the most
weather-active locations in which they've filmed.
Theron says: "I have made several movies in
Santa Fe, and I understand why people come here. It's
incredibly beautiful to shoot. Out of all the movies, this
is definitely a tricky season. We had days where there
are these incredible dust storms and there is no way you
can possibly shoot. But, at the end of the day, it really
lends itself to the story, so I can't imagine us making
this movie anywhere else."
Albert hides among his wards.
The weather became a challenge for Lineweaver
and his team, as it hampered the building of the sets.
The production designer explains: "When we were
building the county fair set, we would put tents up
and then they would blow down. We were hampered,
hampered, hampered by the weather."
Although most of the film was shot on the Old
Stump set at Bonanza Creek, the production did
venture out to shoot scenes in Jemez Springs, New
Mexico; at the Cumbres & Toltec Railroad at the New
Mexico-Colorado border; in Shiprock, New Mexico;
and in Monument Valley. Clark discusses shooting in
Monument Valley: "We wanted to have the epic scope
of the classic John Ford Westerns. Monument Valley
is such an icon of the West, and we hoped to create a
world that feels like it has the scope of those classics-
even though we were making a comedy. We didn't have
to be flimsy about our choices."
Filmmakers were bold in their decisions of where
to shoot, but it was worth it. Clark continues: "It's
the kind of place where every single angle you look
at is great. Our second day, a windstorm swept up
Monument Valley and, despite the conditions, 50 mile-per-
hour winds, the fact that we had to take down all the
cranes and people had to huddle under a tent, there was
something incredible about being
on Ford Point where John Ford shot
some of his most famous films."
In another set piece, in the
scene where Albert and his horse
take refuge in a railroad car after
running from Clinch and his gang,
Lineweaver and the filmmakers
sought out an actual steam engine.
So where do you find a steam engine
in New Mexico? The Cumbres &
Toltec Railroad. When the team
first visited, the site was engulfed in
60-mph winds blowing snow. So they
returned in June. Although it was
still outrageously windy then, they had to power through.
The railroad engineers showed Lineweaver an 1880s
model steam engine, but it was torn apart. Then they
showed the design team the cars. Everything needed
to be rebuilt. Lineweaver shares: "They said they
could have everything for us in four months, and they
delivered. I literally shoveled coal in the steam engine
to keep it running on the shoot day. It was remarkable."
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