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THE EXPRESS

Designing The Express
One of the most daunting tasks for any film is to re-create the look and feel of a specific historical era. According to production designer Coates: "I tell my crew that doing a period piece is like going to a foreign country. The clothes are different. The food is different and the graphics have a simplicity or difference to them. We're trying to bring all of that to the screen like you are really there and not watching a museum piece.” The designer adds that the passage of time isn't such a friend to his field. "It gets harder and harder to do period movies—especially in the past 10 years, since so many things are being torn down and modulated.”

The production opted to film primarily in Chicago, far from the Northeastern locales where Ernie Davis lived as a child and went to school. The availability of experienced film crew personnel and a large number of period stadiums from which to choose contributed to the selection of Chicago as the primary location. According to Coates, a total of seven different stadiums were used to represent the 12 in The Express.

Producer Davis explains the team's decision: "We needed a base to operate from because we had a lot of different places to go to and different stadiums to shoot. We went to Syracuse and researched it, but Chicago turned out to be a good approximate for the city. It has lots of period streets, homes and neighborhoods. It gave us 1960s Syracuse—its stadiums and architecture.” For authenticity, the company did briefly lens on the campus of Syracuse University at the end of the production's schedule. In addition to the physical locations, the cinematic look of the movie took much collaboration between Fleder and Coates, with valuable input from director of photography Kramer Morgenthau and costume designer Abigail Murray.

Coates' concern with the little period details was impressive. He combed available resources in Elmira, Uniontown and Syracuse before resorting to eBay. "For example, I found a little pint milk carton from the university we placed on the coach's desk along with a little Saltine Warrior bank,” he offers. "These things are very specific and add a regionalism to the movie.”

Of the shooting schedule required for the drama, DP Morgenthau succinctly explains: "There are four visual acts to the film. The first act is when Ernie is very young and living in Uniontown. It was very desaturated, a quasi black-and-white feel to it. Secondly, when he gets to Syracuse, the look changes and there's much more color and vibrancy. It's almost like this world is exotic to him.

"The third visual act,” the cinematographer continues, "is the Cotton Bowl and that's a very harsh, unforgiving look. It was almost a bleach-bypass type of approach to it. Bleach bypass is a technique where you do some manipulation to the image to create extreme contrast. The final look to the picture is a return to the rich colorful look. Then slowly, as things develop in his life, the color is drained out of the picture and it returns to the black-and-white feeling that you start with. It's a visual bookend, if you will.”

Beyond the normal efforts to make a period film accurate was the necessity to find and use period-appropriate football clothing and equipment. To complement the world the production designer and director of photography created with Fleder, costume designer Murray would ensure that approximately 90 percent of the clothes were of 50- to 60-year-old vintage.

Ed Hanley, who worked with Murray and served as football wardrobe supervisor with James Spensley, points out the degree of detail that went into the nylon-cotton uniforms and gear that comprised the rest of the film's clothing. "We had to start from scratch. Primarily, the material for the jerseys is not available and not made today. There was thread available, but not in colors, s

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