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SULLY

About The Production
SULLY

No one warned us. No one said you

are going to lose both engines at a

lower altitude than any jet in history.

"Brace, brace, brace-head down, stay down!"

Moments after takeoff from New York's LaGuardia Airport, a flock of birds strikes US Airways flight 1549, taking out both engines at only 2800 feet and causing an immediate, forced water landing. It is, we will learn, unprecedented. "No one has ever trained for an incident like that," notes Tom Hanks, speaking as the titular Captain Chesley Sullenberger in director/producer Clint Eastwood's "Sully."

Recounting the real events that took place on that cold day in January 2009, the film also explores their very real aftermath. The plane carried 150 passengers and five crew members, yet not a single life was lost-not in the air, not in the water. But as "Sully" reveals, in the days following what quickly came to be known as the Miracle on the Hudson, the pilot with a record of proficiency, years of experience, and calm in the face of potential catastrophe, would be called upon repeatedly to defend his actions to the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

It was that part of the story, the one the world didn't know, that drew Eastwood to the project. "Anybody who keeps their wits about them when things are going wrong, who can negotiate the problems without panicking, is someone of superior character and interesting to watch on film. But for me, the real conflict came after, with the investigative board questioning his decisions even though he'd saved so many lives."

"I'm not an aviator," says Hanks, "but I know you're not supposed to be able to make a landing like that. This was a very pragmatic man who understood the realities of what he'd done and what it meant. He will never say he's a hero, but knowing with confidence that he could make that landing? That was a heroic thing he did. And he paid a price for it."

That cost was exacted both during the day, when he and his co-pilot, Jeff Skiles, were being interrogated by the investigative board, and at night, when Sully was haunted by nightmares about what could have happened-what very well might have happened-had he turned that plane around in search of a less watery airfield. The film, based on Sullenberger and author Jeffrey Zaslow's book Highest Duty, also focuses largely on the untold story, the details that didn't make it into those pages.

Producer Allyn Stewart says of initial conversations with Sullenberger, "The second Sully started to give us the details of what happened to him after the event, I realized this was the real architecture of the movie. We found a great screenwriter, Todd Komarnicki, to adapt the book. He's really good at getting under the skin of a normal guy, and that's the essence of Sully; he'd be the first one to say he's simply a man who did his job very well."

"Sully is a man who prepared his whole life to do this one impossible thing that he didn't know he was preparing for," Komarnicki observes. "But when you meet him, after ten minutes with the guy, you understand; you think, 'Of course he pulled this off and no one else could have.' But the beauty of this movie is that we're finally telling the full story. A true story that no one knows but everyone thinks they know? What a great mystery to unfold on screen."

Producer Frank Marshall says, "After everything the world knew about Sully and the landing, what happened to him after he became instantly famous was fascinating. Todd's approach to the screenplay was to take a story you've heard, like the key elements of that day, and turn it into one you haven't, giving the audience a real feel of what it was like to be there."

Another story few people are aware of-one the director himself may have long ago forgotten, but which connects him in a unique way with the subject matter and its subject-came to light when working on "Sully." As a young man of 21 in the Army, Eastwood was a passenger on a Navy plane, "catching a free flight from Seattle down to Alameda," he relates. "It was stormy and we went down off of Point Reyes, California, in the Pacific, and I found myself in the water, swimming a few miles toward shore, thinking, 'Well, 21's not as long as a person wants to live.'"

Producer, and Eastwood's longtime production manager, Tim Moore states, "What's remarkable is that Clint remembers exactly how the landing was-that the back end went down and they had to get out pretty fast because they thought it was going to sink quickly, and they just started swimming. While I don't think that was a factor in picking this film, I think the commonalities brought back a lot of memories; it's certainly interesting that this project found its way to him."

Though he doesn't equate his experience with that of the passengers and crew on flight 1549, it did provide a certain perspective for one preparing to direct Sully's story. "I suppose having been in a similar situation," Eastwood surmises, "as a pilot I would have chanced a water landing rather than go someplace there's no runway."

"Sully was familiar with that area," the director also notes. "He knew where the helicopter ports and ferryboats were, so he picked the right spot, where everyone could get to them fast. It wouldn't be like being out in the middle of the ocean; he knew somebody would see them."

"It was the least bad option," the man himself, Capt. Sullenberger, states. Having lost thrust in both engines of the A320, he quickly determined that the Hudson River, which runs between New Jersey and Manhattan's West Side, was their best bet. "There was nowhere else in the entire New York Metropolitan area long enough, wide enough, or smooth enough to land an airliner."

Looking back on his experience from just seven-and-a-half years ago, able to now put things into perspective, he says, "Part of the emotional context of this story is that it happened in a time in our history when there was worldwide concern on several fronts: it was post-9/11, we had troops in the Middle East, there was the '08 financial meltdown...people were worried. That this happened in Manhattan and that we survived it, well, I think it gave people hope, even ones who were not directly connected with the flight."

Not only did the filmmakers choose to embrace the actual surroundings in which the event happened by shooting as much as possible in New York City, they also sought to involve a good number of its citizens who were there that day in the film. This not only meant reaching out to them for research purposes, by talking about what they remember, but also recruiting many who were part of the rescue to reenact their efforts for the cameras. Both air and water rescuers and several Red Cross staff and volunteers returned to the "scene" to recreate their own heroics of the day, reinforcing what Sullenberger himself has observed on many occasions: that the positive outcome was not due just to the swift and steady actions of one, but also the fortitude of many.

SULLY

What if I did get this wrong? What if I

endangered the lives of all those passengers?

The Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger the world has come to know in recent history began flying at the age of 14, "as soon as he was tall enough to see outside the cockpit of the plane," quips Tom Hanks. The young pilot then attended the United States Air Force Academy and flew fighter jets in the service for five years, attaining the rank of captain, before taking the controls of a commercial airliner. "The life of a professional aviator," the actor continues. "If he tallied it up, I think he'd have something like 20,000 hours as the guy in charge of the plane. That's a lot of take-offs and landings, a lot of looking at gauges to see if anything is wrong, and a few hairy moments here and there in the course of a career."

But nothing like what he faced in those 208 seconds that would come to represent the culmination of his life's experiences. Pilots work hard to prepare for any circumstances they could face in the air, and suddenly Sully was faced with the challenge of his career. "A flock of geese got sucked into the engines and boom! he was essentially flying a powerless glider with 155 souls on board-his included. It's a good thing he had those 20,000 hours of experience behind him," Hanks offers.

The role of Sully was one the always-in-demand Hanks couldn't turn down, despite having to postpone a well-earned break. "Sometimes you read something that is so stirring and at the same time so simple, such a perfect blend of behavior and procedure," he reflects. "Now, I'm as competitive as the next actor, so I knew I wanted at least a shot at it, even though I'd been working pretty steadily for about six years. Sure I was beat but, not unlike a solid jolt of adrenaline, this role, Sully, Mr. Clint Eastwood...they all came along. I felt like I couldn't pass up a chance at playing in this great double-header at the end of this long baseball season."

Although the two had never worked together before, Eastwood says, "Tom was one of the first people we thought about for the part. But at the time he was just finishing a picture and we didn't think we could get him. But he read the script and liked it and made himself available. And he was terrific, a consummate pro, and it was kind of effortless working with him."

Stewart relates, "Sully has that 'everyman' quality that I think reminded Clint of Jimmy Stewart, and once that was in our minds we thought, 'Well, there's no one like that but Tom Hanks.'"

The filmmakers also appreciated what Hanks brought to the shoot when the cameras weren't rolling. Offers Eastwood, "He has a great sense of humor, so that makes it fun. He'd be standing around waiting, sometimes in the rain, and still making the crew laugh."

Despite his easygoing demeanor on set, Hanks admits that when playing a real person "you're always intimidated. You say to yourself, 'I'll never sound like him, I'll never look like him. Hopefully I can embody some aspect, capture some part of his personality, his characteristics, his gravitas, his charm,' whomever the person may be. And then you go to work."

The subject of Hanks' portrayal had no qualms about the actor stepping into his shoes. "Besides the fact that they were making a movie, directed by such a gifted storyteller as Clint Eastwood, to then have Tom Hanks playing me...it's a dream team," says Sullenberger. "I know Tom is someone who can transform himself, but the first time I saw a long-range shot of him in costume, with his hair colored? Wow. It was amazing."

In fact, prior to production Sullenberger's wife, Lorrie, was most excited to see the two men together. "When I saw Tom for the first time, it was so strange. Then later I would find myself looking at my husband, thinking, 'His hair looks just like Tom's...wait...Tom's looks just like Sully's!'" she laughs.

In addition to pulling off an accurate physical representation of the man, Hanks would also be tasked with recreating the most challenging moments in Sully's life, not just outwardly, but internally. The actor would need to convey the pilot's rapid-fire thought processes that led to his ability to control the seemingly uncontrollable situation with which he was faced, despite never having trained for this exact event apart from theoretical classroom discussions.

Joining Hanks on the flight deck, Aaron Eckhart took on the role of co-pilot Jeff Skiles. Eckhart says he was very affected by the screenplay for "Sully." "It was structured beautifully, because from the time they took off to the time they hit the birds was three and a half minutes. How do you make a whole movie about that? But it was very emotional and managed to build tension throughout the story, showing the audience what went on for these two men who were, to the outside world, hailed as heroes. I think it's a heroic story, with good lessons to be learned."

To prepare for the scenes that depict those critical moments in the air, Sullenberger had explained to them his own process at the time. His first three thoughts-all within mere seconds-had covered disbelief, denial, and realization. He told them that those thoughts led to three clear actions: force himself to be calm, set clear priorities, and manage the workload, not trying to do too much, but doing what they could to solve the problems, one by one, in the small amount of time they had. Hanks and Eckhart would have to internalize the intellectual elements of that progression and then show exactly how, having accepted what they were dealing with, Sully and Skiles were able to land the plane.

What most people might be unaware of, just as these two actors were prior to the project, is that Sully and Skiles, who worked together like a well-oiled machine, had met for the first time just a few days before the flight-a common occurrence considering the thousands of pilots traversing the globe at any given time. Fortunately their training allows them to communicate effortlessly and assist each other when there isn't time to talk everything out.

Prior to filming, Eckhart contacted Skiles as well. Recalling their conversation, Skiles says, "We spoke for a couple of hours and he asked me a lot of questions about being a pilot, not just why I wanted to be one but also why I continue to do so after that day."

"Jeff told me that first and foremost, they were always in control of the flight; they felt they could make a good landing, a controlled landing, in the Hudson," Eckhart says. "He also talked about the effect going through that trauma had on them afterward: stress, lack of sleep, loss of appetite, nervousness, that sort of thing. It lasted two or three months and they got counseling. And he's still flying today; he's a captain himself now."

Like Hanks, Eckhart was also able to strongly resemble his counterpart in both appearance and manner. Marshall felt the production was very lucky in that "there were two really interesting guys in the cockpit when this happened. Sully is a more reserved, quieter guy, and Jeff Skiles is pretty funny. And Aaron brought a sort of lightheartedness to what we see in the film is a very heavy situation. It's nice to see the dynamic between the two real men played out by Tom and Aaron so well."

"Tom's an extraordinary actor," Eckhart adds. "He's so in command, it's effortless. I'd like to think working with him had an effect on me; I'd like to learn some of his tricks."

Both men spent time in flight simulators prior to filming in order to look the part when the cameras rolled. "We practiced with both Captain Sullenberger and Mr. Eastwood there," Eckhart notes, offering that the actors eventually got the hang of it well enough for their scenes. "Pilots look so relaxed; it's like home in there for them, so we felt a responsibility to do it right. We got a good feel for it."

"We invited Sully's participation whenever he was available," Eastwood states. "He kindly arranged for the simulators and pilots to show Tom and Aaron exactly how it would work. They got the cram course, but they went to town."

While tackling a persona so well known in the media was part of Hanks' challenge, his real concern, he says, "was to embody Sully's level of experience and expertise in the cockpit." No amount of reassurance from Sullenberger could compare to what Hanks felt when he took the simulator's controls. "He kept saying, 'You'll see what it's like to fly when you get in the simulator,' and I'll tell you, it was the most lifelike experience. It feels exactly as though you are in a plane, it requires no imagination because the physics of it-the tilting, the motion-it's amazing."

Both actors discovered during their training that Skiles had actually handled the take-off that day, because co-pilots have to make a scheduled number of take-offs in order to qualify as captains. As in the film, Sullenberger took over after the bird strike, having more hours under his belt.

Eastwood not only observed the simulations, he also filmed them so the actors could watch and learn from their practice runs. Hanks says, "Luckily, we had the flight plan, we knew what we were supposed to do and pushed the buttons when we were supposed to, which we worked on a lot. It was a fun way to spend a day, but you also got this experiential aspect of being in a real no-nonsense atmosphere, as well as how truly short a period of time this all happened in and how many decisions and feelings that had to have gone into it for Sully and Skiles. In the end, Aaron and I were both eager to make sure we looked like we knew what we were doing in order to do right by them."

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