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About The Production
Davis' commitment to bringing Sachar's book to life extended to the set once production began. "Because the book is so beloved, the atmosphere on the set became infused with a joyous loyalty to the story and to its honest portrayal in the film,” says the director. "In spite of some very difficult conditions on the dry lakebed – extreme heat and wind especially – the cast and crew cared for and inspired each other. Everybody felt that something special was going on.” 

The group spent close to four weeks filming on the Cuddeback Dry Lake and Red Rock Canyon in the desert just west of Death Valley before returning to the San Fernando Valley just north of Los Angeles. Other locations included the towering rock formations of Vasquez Rocks, Lake Casitas and a soundstage that housed the interior sets for the sneaker-laden Yelnats apartment and the courtroom scenes. 

Of all the locales, Cuddeback proved to be the biggest challenge for the filmmakers, cast, and crew who faced daily 110-degree-plus temperatures, high winds and fierce dust funnels, aptly nicknamed "dust devils” during their stay there. LaBeouf remarks on some of the difficulties, "You can't explain those dust tornadoes. It's sand and gravel just spitting at you. The audience is going to think its CGI. No, my friends, that stuff is real! At times we couldn't even drive through the desert because of white-outs of sand.” 

During the course of filming on the dry lakebed, the grueling conditions were compounded by the daily training maneuvers of fighter jets, stationed at three nearby military bases, buzzing overhead as part of the U.S. Army's preparations for Afghanistan. 

Weaver was a bit more circumspect about the shooting in the desert. "In spite of the difficulties of filming in the desert – the wind, dirt and heat – I love the reality of it,” she says. "I think these scenes are turbulent and it's good when the weather reflects that. It's actually very beautiful here… it has a profound silence.” 

In an effort to acclimate the boys to some of the physical necessities of their roles, stunt coordinator Alex Daniels developed a two-week boot camp that consisted of daily hikes, calisthenics with their shovels, and contests to test their agility. LaBeouf admits he and the boys scoffed at the idea of boot camp, but it proved essential in the end. LaBeouf explains, "When we first heard about boot camp I thought, ‘It can't be that hard to dig a hole.' But if it hadn't been for that boot camp I wouldn't have made it through what we had to go through. He really worked us.” 

As Daniels handled getting the human cast in shape, animal trainer Larry Madrid of Animals Unlimited oversaw all aspects of beastly care and performances, including the transformation of the Bearded Dragons into the Yellow- Spotted Lizards. As the deadly Texas Yellow-Spotted Lizards were the product of Sachar's fertile imagination, it was up to Madrid and his staff to create their distinctive spots with a relatively easy and harmless spray painting process which took about an hour. The reptiles, who are less active when housed in a cool environment, were kept cool during the painting sessions. 

Members of the art department, led by production designer Maher Ahmad, who has crafted the looks for such films as "U.S. Marshals” and "Chain Reaction,” preceded the arrival of the film crew preparing the seven-mile long lake bed for filming by designing an elaborate layout of hundreds of holes. It was a process that initially began with detailed environmental impact studies and an archeological survey of the area followed by mapping out the enormous dry lakebed with a global positioning system. What followed were four weeks of labor intensive digging by both hand and a bucket rig, a specially modified digging machine. Each hole was then numbered for the many, intricate camera shots the filmmakers had in min


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