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Shooting
"One of the first things I realized,” the director recalls, "is that the camera had to be moving with the horse—it had to be in the middle of the race. I had to get close enough to the real horses so we could feel what it's like.” Ross was determined to capture the intense physicality of the sport. This, like many of the challenges the production team faced, was met with a combination of innovation and extraordinary planning. 

Ross needed a cinematographer who was willing to take risks, to try new things, someone who was willing to go on what was guaranteed to be a wild ride. And through an unusual recommendation, he found one. 

As Ross recalls, "My son Jack, who was six at the time, came to me and said, ‘Dad, you have got to see this movie, this is the man who should photograph your movie.' And I said, ‘Well, Jack, okay, I'll go see the movie.' He was convinced I would love it and he was absolutely right. I was knocked out.” 

The movie was The Rookie and the cinematographer was John Schwartzman. 

Ross recalls, "I got there late so I didn't see the credit. I watched the film without knowing who shot it. I appreciated the lyricism in the way he shot a lot of the film. There was so much beautiful storytelling, lit so beautifully and in a gutsy way. My son said ‘Dad, you know the best shot in this movie?' and I expected him to say, ‘The homerun.' But he said, ‘When Jimmy Morris is throwing that ball against the fence and all you can see is the fence in focus and Jimmy Morris is all fuzzy behind it.' And he was right, it was an amazing shot.” 

"The irony,” says Schwartzman (whose credits read like a box office report of high-earning action films like Pearl Harbor, Armageddon and The Rock), "is you think you get more work off a big film with a huge budget that is very widely promoted, but in fact, it was The Rookie that landed me in Gary's office.” 

Unlike a day at the track, the outcome of the races being re-enacted for the cameras was a foregone conclusion. The production needed the horses to not only run around the track aside a camera car, but to also run in order. 

"Every race that we run is a race that is in the history books,” reminds jockey/actor Gary Stevens. "The details of each one of those races is written down and it's very important that we have the scenes choreographed as close as we can to the original.” 

"Thoroughbreds are unique animals,” executive producer Allison Thomas explains, "and they are notoriously high-strung and unpredictable. In addition to millions of dollars of equipment, we had to ensure the safety of the jockeys, the actors and the crew. For that, we relied on Rusty and Chris and their knowledge of these horses.” 

Every morning at 11am for two months prior to shooting, Ross held a race meeting; in addition to John Schwartzman, the meeting included McCarron, Hendrickson, Julie Lynn (production manager for the horse unit, coordinating any activity involving horses and/or jockeys), stunt coordinator Dan Bradley, script supervisor Julie Pitkanen and first assistant director Adam Somner. 

"We would talk through every single race and every single set up,” recalls Ross. There was an outline of the track on a huge board in the conference room of Ross' production company on which the filmmaker would describe the action, chart out the camera movement and explain where each of the horses were in relation to each other every step of the race. 

"They would see what their horse resources had to be,” says Ross, "how the horses had to match up, what the turnaround times would be, and then take all this information to first A.D. Adam Somner.” 

"Some horses are very, very quick and have early speed,” offers McCarron, who organized the specifics and his observations of each of the horses onto an Excel spreadsheet, grading eve

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