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Production Notes (Continued)

From the start, the filmmakers of DEEPWATER HORIZON had a resolute commitment to shooting in Southern Louisiana, amidst the people and colorful, tight-knit communities these events affected so powerfully. Working in such close proximity to the Gulf also allowed the production to bring aboard a slew of current and ex-oil workers in roles ranging from welders helping to build sets to extras for the evacuation scenes. They, in turned, helped to bring to life the unique working culture of an advanced, exploratory industry that brings together tough blue collar workers, brainy engineers and high-pressure corporate honchos.

"It was so important for us to go down there and really get to know this world," says Peter Berg. "Southern Louisiana is a fascinating part of our country where you have this very real dance going on between the big business of oil, which employs a majority of the people, and the spectacular, natural beauty of marshlands full of sportsmen and naturalists. Spending time in Port Fouchon or Venice, Louisiana, you really get a feel for how these two worlds have a complicated marriage."

The production also closely consulted with survivors, families of those who were lost, oil industry experts, as well as Coast Guard advisors. Each one played a role in the film's searing realism. Says producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "We had submersible guys working on the submersible scenes and real drillers working in the drill shack scenes. It gives the movie a deeper level of gravity because they each speak in a particular way and they know when something doesn't feel right."

Before production started, the film's singularly massive design challenge loomed. recreating the sprawling Deepwater Horizon - a floating universe unto itself -- in the close-up details of both sight and sound needed to take audiences into the sophisticated yet precarious oceanic environment where the film's characters fought to survive. The sheer facts of the rig were astonishing. · The platform's deck was about the size and shape of a city block · The entire rig weighed around 33,000 tons · More than 5,000 individual pieces of technological equipment were on board · Six huge 10,000 horsepower engines with satellite communications kept the rig stable

Some directors might have calculated that the sheer complexity called for extensive CGI, not Berg. He felt it was important to build a working set that would bring not only cast and crew but also every person in the movie theatre into the intense environment of the Deepwater Horizon. It was no simple procedure, however, to get that right.

"An oil rig is an extremely complicated and vast piece of engineering," describes Berg. "What we built may be one of the largest film sets ever built, a very large re-creation of the actual rig. We built it in several different stages to show what the rig was, then to capture the actual blowout and then to film the courage of the men and women fighting against adversity after the event. We were able to re-create each phase with authenticity."

Adds screenwriter Matthew Sand. "The Deepwater Horizon is one of the largest human machines ever built. You see pictures of it and it's enormous but then you realize it also extends five miles beneath the surface. It boggles the mind. Pete and the crew had to essentially choreograph a ballet with 400-ton machines - and they did."

For Mark Wahlberg, the set was an education unto itself. "It may be one of the largest sets ever constructed in the history of film," he notes. "I loved getting to work early and just walking around it with Mike Williams. I wanted to know and understand every element of it."

"It was really important that all the equipment was in the right areas and used correctly, so I was glad to be very involved in that process," says Williams.

Berg recruited a skilled team including director of photography Enrique Chediak (MAZE RUNNER, 127 HOURS) and production designer Chris Seagers (X-MEN. FIRST CLASS) to help him bring audiences aboard the rig in the most immersive way. Together they worked to build, light and then photograph the sets in a full sweep of 360-degrees.

Chediak was excited by Berg's approach. emphasizing practical effects to create a more organic visual experience. "What I love most is how practical effects interact with the lighting, the cameras and with the actors. If you do everything with visual effects, it can become bland or fake. Although practical effects take more time, they bring an enormous amount of reality to the screen," says the cinematographer.

That reality merges elemental human bravery and ingenuity with the pandemonium going on around it, something Chediak sought to reflect even as the camera is in non-stop motion. Inspirations for Chediak included Brazilian photojournalist Sebastiao Salgado's stark black-and-white images of oil rig workers and firefighters battling a brutal blaze in Kuwait; and Werner Herzog's 16mm documentary Lessons in Darkness, which treated the Kuwait oil field fires as an alien landscape.

"What drew me to the Salgado pictures, even though they're black and white, is their level of contrast, the level of shininess. To do something similar, we really emphasized the sweat and the mud and the darkness on the rig workers after the blowout," he says.

It took Seagers and his team, including 85 welders, 8 months to build the Deepwater Horizon set - which was created in three separate parts, to 85% scale of the actual rig. The main set weighed in at 2,947,094 lbs. and utilized 3.2 million lbs. of steel. It even included a functioning helipad where an actual helicopter was landed on the set.

Seagers says he knew what Berg wanted. "Pete's the kind of guy that he knows what he wants and it's essentially keep it real, keep it true."

"That became his mantra," says Seagers, "The nature of the way an oil rig runs is that there are many different companies involved. One company runs the oil rig, another company runs the navigation system, another company runs the mud area, another company would do all the underwater marine work, another one would do all the pipe work. There are a lot of different individual specialties and we had to combine them all."

Seagers continues. "The, biggest thing for me was to get the main locations right. the bridge and the drill floor. We had limited amounts of research since the Deepwater Horizon is gone. For instance, with the bridge, we only had four photographs and none showed all of the bridge, so we had to call the manufacturer of the equipment and they kindly gave us a layout of how the bridge was formed." No detail was overlooked. "All of the instrumentation is real," Seagers notes. "When you're looking at screens, they all come from real rigs."

Everyone was thrilled with how Seagers and his crew devoted themselves to the rig. Peter Berg says that realism was key to achieving the overarching aspirations of the film. "It's one of the biggest sets ever created and we are appreciative and grateful we had the chance to build it. Everyone on the production will tell you it was a lot of work to get up on that rig; it was hot and it was challenging," says Berg. "It also was an inspiration - because when you got up on it, you felt like you better work that much harder because people did so much to create this set in order for us to do the job of re-creating this world completely."

Says Lorenzo di Bonaventura. "One of the reasons we hired Chris is that he has a history of working on a lot of Tony Scott movies, who always built things, so he has that very practical experience. A lot of people wondered whether this was going to be a CGI movie and we came into it with the attitude of no, this is going to be mostly a practical movie."

Chediak, too, was fired up by Seagers' rig set. "It was tremendously exciting and gave us a lot of possibilities," he says. "You could shoot it up and down and from all angles."

As a survivor of the Deepwater Horizon, Mike Williams was astounded by what Seagers achieved, simulating the destroyed rig to the point that it sometimes seemed to turn back the hands of time. He worked closely with the design team to share his insider's knowledge of the rig's deepest nooks and crannies. "I was involved in the location scouts and with the set building to help assure all the correct pieces of equipment were in the right places," Williams explains.

Says Seagers. "Mike is very procedural. He would says. this what we did, this is what we need to do, and this is how we'll achieve it. His collaboration was a huge plus for us."

It wasn't easy for Williams, who was gripped with haunting memories, but he felt it was worth it. "It has been hard, it's been overwhelming at times," he admits, "but it's also been enlightening to see how a movie can take a story such as this, and re-create it in a way that is so compelling and to accurately show the daily life of a rig worker was important."

Technical consultant Chris Denton, a former oil worker with over 25 years in the business, also came aboard early on to help train the cast. "The director and producers were very concerned about getting every last technical detail correct," Denton says. "We had a lot of meetings to talk about how we could really do right by the legacies of the men and women who worked on the Deepwater Horizon. My marching orders were. make the rig look real - but also teach the actors to work with the equipment in authentic ways."

A big boon for the production came in working with ex-oil workers who brought further knowhow and personal insight into the life and atmosphere on a rig. Denton recalls that one ex-oil worker couldn't believe the set was built from the ground up. He thought they had recycled a real rig -- a moment that let Denton know they were truly on the right track.

Other sets included the actual Crowne Plaza Hotel where survivors were reunited with their families are featured in the film along with Port Fouchon where the crew for the Deepwater Horizon initially departed via helicopter to join the rig for their shifts.

The production also built several immense water tanks for the oceanic action. These were essential for the sequences in which a raging oil fire burns paradoxically on top of the choppy water. For those scenes, liquid propane was poured into the tanks to safely recreate the mind-boggling sight. The production's main tank was so huge - holding 2,094,400 gallons - it took three days to fill. Rounding out the main sets, the team used a similar supply ship to the actual Damon B. Bankston to shoot the moving scenes of survivors huddling together in grief and gratitude after the disaster.


The most daunting sequence of DEEPWATER HORIZON loomed over the production from day one. replicating the unthinkable moment of the blowout, which included explosions, fireballs, mud blowing at 10,00 psi of pressure and an oil and gas plume shooting 600 feet in the air.

Says special effects supervisor Burt Dalton. "Getting the blowout sequence correct was an incredible process. We consulted with experts who were there on the day, but it took us a long time to find just the right equipment and the right pressures to create that moment in a way that would feel right."

The scene, which deluged the cast with surging seawater, fire and mud in Biblical proportions, also create a gargantuan mess that had to be dealt with to keep moving quickly. "Once we figured out how to create the blowout, then we also had to figure out how to clean it up. We were disposing of 25,000 gallons of mud a day," muses Dalton.

The mud created for the film was bentonite clay, one of the ingredients in real driller's mud, and Dalton brought in authentic mud mixing machines to generate the sludge. Though could not safely recreate the enormous pressures that blew apart the Deepwater Horizon, he and Berg collaborated on numerous visual techniques to give audiences the sensations of being there. "We were able to keep it looking real, while also using a low enough pressure to be safe on the set," Dalton explains. "You have the feeling of extreme pressure without the incredible volume that overwhelming the Deepwater Horizon that night."

The challenges of creating and then implementing these intricate set pieces brought cast and crew closer - but also were a constant reminder of just how much greater the difficulties were for those who were there.

Notes Dalton. "We brought the fires as close as we safely could, and made them as big as we could, and as smoky as we could - but it could never be as big as what actually happened." That thought was sobering. Dalton goes on. "The crew really got a sense of what I felt like to be in that fire, to feel the heat, to get hit with debris. Of course, the cast was never in danger, but we gave them something to imagine and that was important to Pete as a storyteller. It had to be as real as we could possibly create it."

That reality hits especially hard at the film's climax as Mike and Andrea contemplate taking the jump of their lives hundreds of feet into the deep, fire-choked ocean. For Mark Wahlberg, it was not only a technical crux, but also a deep emotional crux, of the story. "At that moment, Mike is fully in survival mode, as he and Andrea find themselves the last people on the rig. There's fire raging everywhere, even in the water, that life rafts are gone, and he sees there's only one hope. He didn't want to make that jump, but with the amount of love he felt for his wife and his daughter there was nothing going to prevent him from getting off that rig and taking the chance to see them again."

Wahlberg hopes that unforgettably tense and triumphant moment reminds people of what the costs were that night, for those who made it home and those who didn't. He concludes. "Like most people at the time this happened, I was only aware of the fact that the Deepwater Horizon was a huge manmade environmental disaster, and I truly didn't even know 11 people lost their lives. It wasn't until I read the New York Times piece and then this script that I realized wow, there is so much people are not aware of about this story and it is so important that it be told."


The intense realism of DEEPWATER HORIZON required very specialized hair and makeup work, tailored to the kinds of mud, muck and wounds that are unique to a blowout, but also to the film's based-on-real-life characters. The makeup team, led by Oscar winner and two-time nominee Howard Berger (THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA, HITCHCOCK, LONE SURVIVOR, THE HATEFUL EIGHT), used research, creative approaches and a deep reverence for the men on board to forge a post-blowout reality that is at once transporting and respectful.

"When I first met with Peter Berg, we talked about the very distinctive mix he wanted. to be as real as we possibly could but also sensitive to the people involved, so that meant being very careful in how we went about achieving the naturalism we wanted," Berger explains of the one-of-a-kind task facing the hair and makeup departments. "We were very cognizant of not going over certain lines. We wanted to create something that was true but without becoming a horror film, keeping in mind the family members of those who did not make it back home."

Since few resources exist on what happens to human bodies and faces in the midst of an oil rig disaster, Berger relied heavily on the men who were there. "It was very helpful to have people like Mike Williams with us who could tell us how it really looked and what happened to them," says Berger. One of the biggest challenges was Kurt Russell's makeup - after Mr. Jimmy is nearly blinded during the blowout. "Kurt has never been seen really in big, prosthetic makeup," notes Berger.

The team used silicone and 3D transfer material to approximate what fast-moving fiberglass, wood and metal do to human skin. "We did a bunch of work first with Photoshop, consulting with Pete and Mike and Kurt, and came up with a look that matched the true damage Mr. Jimmy suffered. Still, Mike Williams told us it still was not as severe as the reality," Berger recalls. "One thing we got from talking with Kurt is how much he wanted to really feel the part, big-time. He wanted the prosthetics we used for his swollen eyes to actually make it so he couldn't see."

Then there was the matter of covering the actors in soot, mud and sweat. For the drilling mud that covers the cast, Berger utilized materials echoing what Burt Dalton used on the set, mixing methacyl slime, coffee grounds, powdered dirt and clay filler to make sure it would all adhere to the skin through the action. For the oil, he made a sticky blend of Karo syrup and black food coloring. Meanwhile, to emphasize sweat breaking through the mud and oil, Berger headed to a local store, filling his shopping cart with baby oil.

For the actors, these concoctions were not pleasant, but they did take them deeper into what their characters were going through. "It was a constant goo fest for the actors," Berger says. "But they were all very open to it and used it to go further. Makeup works best when you have actors who will then take what you have done and run with it to bring it to life - and that's what happened on this film with Mark, Kurt and everyone else."

Berger particularly enjoyed joining with Berg after the two worked together on LONE SURVIVOR (and went on to work together on PATRIOTS DAY). "The interesting thing about Pete is that he makes these very intense action movies about heroic people but he is also one of the most sensitive directors I've met. He wanted to make a great entertainment but he was always concerned about respecting the survivors and the surviving families. It was a very emotional thing for all of us to meet them and we always kept them in mi


The immersion of the audience into the world of the Deepwater Horizon is deepened further by the film's original score and songs. For the score, Peter Berg turned to a previous collaborator. Steve Jablonsky, who is known for towering blockblusters such as the TRANSFORMERS series, THE LAST WITCH HUNTER and Berg's BATTLESHIP but here was asked to do something completely different. Jablonsky recalls that in his very first conversations with Berg, the director was most intent about what did not want. "He did not want a big, soaring orchestral score," says Jablonsky. "He really felt this film was not your typical Hollywood action film and he didn't want your typical action score at all. And I totally got that. Because this is not a film about fictional superheroes - this is a story of real men and women, some of whom gave their lives trying to save the Deepwater Horizon."

From there, Jablonsky set out on a sonic adventure of his own. "When you take the usual instruments off the plate, that opens you up to a whole new array of sounds," he observes. His final score would be largely electronic, utilizing a range of synthesizers, guitar effects, as well as other sounds, including sampling of children's toys. As the score builds, a few organic string instruments are woven in, taking the story to its emotional acme where a piano takes over. Jablonsky's main inspiration was the footage itself. "For me the music should always be one of a piece with the visuals and the sound effects and the dialogue - so I use all of that to shape the cues," he explains. "The electronic instruments help to create the sense of tension and foreboding that build throughout the film."

Much of the music has a stark, haunting simplicity. "I wanted the main theme to be simple and somewhat confined because these characters are stuck on this rig that becomes such a threat to them. The idea is to reflect their isolation from the rest of the world," Jablonsky says. The theme that accompanies Mike Williams and his wife as they drive to his departure for the rig starts out in a major key shifts to a minor key and only returns to a major key when the family is united, lending a subtle arc. Meanwhile, the underwater threat itself is represented by an aggressive synthesizer, which accompanies the scenes of what is happening below the rig, where the crew atop cannot see.

While the film can be seen as a study in mounting suspense, Jablonsky and Berg use the music economically, carefully balancing it with the film's intense sound effects. As the final cut came together, Jablonsky notes they stripped some of the music out altogether. "One of the biggest challenges on this film was figuring out where to use the music. I was always convinced that less was more on this film because you had these real sounds of the rig, the ocean, the wind. In some places, the scene worked better without music, so we dropped probably 15 minutes of music in the end. The sound effects team blew my mind with the complexity of what they achieved, so I was very happy to let them take over in certain areas, and then the music comes in at other points to a greater impact."

One of those moments is the film's final sequence. Remembers Jablonsky. "Pete handed me something so moving -- from the reading of the names of the lost men to the Williams driving off in the van - and that was where the music really became emotional."

The final musical touch on the film is an original new song by Texas-based ace guitarist and singer-songwriter Gary Clark Jr. Displaying Clark's rootsier side, "Take Me Down" is a melodic and moving departure from his usual blistering blues, rock & soul compositions. The song was produced by Clark and Mark Corben exclusively for DEEPWATER HORIZON. The track, inspired by the events, features Clark on all vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica as well as electric slide guitar - along with authentic New Orleans rhythm echoing the rich culture of the film's setting.

Collaboration between all was the key on DEEPWATER HORIZON, notes Jablonsky. "We were all faced with the same challenge on this film. how find that line where something works dramatically and emotionally and then back off. You could easily pummel the audience with the music and effects in this story, but Pete wanted completely the opposite. We all had to work together to achieve that. My favorite film scores are the ones that heighten your experience of the movie. And with DEEPWATER HORIZON what matters most is not any one element - whether it's the music or the effects or the performances. What matters is how it all works together to create this experience of deep tension and emotion."


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