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THE FIGHTER

Shooting In Lowell
When it came to choosing a filming location for The Fighter it had to be Lowell, Massachusetts, the hometown of Micky Ward and Dicky Eklund, which becomes another colorful character in the story. Located along the rapids of the Merrimack River, 30 miles northwest of Boston, Lowell, incorporated in 1826, was the nation's first planned industrial community, a textile manufacturing center that drew a large influx of immigrant labor from Ireland, Canada, Germany, Poland, Portugal, Lithuania and other nations.

After the boom years, however, came a long, disheartening bust that only now is starting to turn around. Still, the city retains its warm, melting pot feeling, full of flatiron buildings, vibrant urban streetscapes, and the blue collar spirit that helped to drive first Dicky, and then Micky, to fame in the ring.

"I think we all felt that we had to film the movie in Lowell,” says David O. Russell. "When you ask people in Massachusetts about Lowell, their eyebrows raise. It's a very intense place, a very particular place. It was the heart of the Industrial Revolution with mills going back to the 18th century. The people there are very proud of their identity. They're tough people, but they're also kind people when you reach down inside into who they are.”

"The architecture is also distinctive,” he continues. "The streets are all knotted and gnarled. There are all these unusual five corner intersections with five streets coming together and these two-story, clapboard flatiron buildings. It's so unique, you couldn't recreate Lowell anywhere else in the world.”

Russell worked in conjunction with an accomplished artistic team including the Danish cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who shot the acclaimed indie vampire hit Let the Right One In, production designer Judy Becker whose films include Brokeback Mountain and The Extra Man and costume designer Mark Bridges whose recent work includes Paul Thomas Anderson's oil epic, There Will Be Blood to capture the city and the energy of the Wards and Eklunds within it.

Van Hoytema enhanced both the dynamism and the intimacy of the story by shooting almost entirely with handheld or Steadicam, using the new Aaton Penelope 2-Perf 35mm cameras, which allows for greater flexibility and longer running loads without reverting to digital.

Meanwhile, Becker worked to use as many authentic locations as possible, including Ramalho's West End Boxing Gym in Lowell, owned by Art Ramalho, who taught both brothers at the beginning of their careers. To say that Art was thrilled to have the brothers and the film crew at his gym would be an understatement. Art, who allows many local children and teens to box for free when they cannot afford to pay for lessons, humbly admitted that his location fee would enable him to pay his heating bills on schedule for the first time ever, and he was thrilled that both he and his son were cast in the production.

Lowell's Tsongas Arena was used to shoot the main fights. "When we shot the fights, it was amazing to see how many people wanted to come in and fill the arena,” says Wahlberg. "People just wanted to see what was going on and be a part of it.”

Keeping things close to home, Judy Becker used a house just three blocks from the brothers' actual family home to recreate their surroundings, decorating it in precisely the same manner as the original, while also using an apartment that had been home to several of Micky's real-life relatives to recreate the apartment he lived in while getting his boxing career back off the ground.

Similarly authentic details were imbued in the costume work of Mark Bridges, who notes: "It's kind of a period picture – it's ‘80's, early ‘90's where there was this garish, colorful clothing and big hair. In a town like Lowell, those fashions tend to hang on longer than they do in the big cities. It's all a very particular universe. And I think it will be very visual.”

All of this intensified the atmosphere during shooting and helped to inspire the performances. "It's always great filming on location,” comments Bale. "It's even better when you're actually shooting in the places where everything really happened. It was amazing to be able to walk through a scene with Dicky and Micky ahead of time and have them talk us through exactly what went down.”

Perhaps the most exciting part of shooting in Lowell was having the community become so tightly entwined with the production, just as they were with the brothers' lives and fates. "We had a lot of people who were part of the real story in one way or another come by and hang out,” says Lieberman. "There is a vibe in Lowell, a pride there among these people who know this story, who love this story and this family, and I think we were able to get that on film.”

For Russell, Lowell was indispensable. "Shooting in Lowell was as much a gift to us as it was exciting to them. I think it was thrilling for them to see their story being made by these actors. At the same time, it was a gift for us to be welcomed and to get to know the real people, because they always inspired us. They're fierce and they're humble, and it was a great experience making a film in this way.”

The shoot was, in many ways, a family experience that mirrored the story, bringing everyone closer together as they fought to tell this dynamic story with humor, warmth and unabashed truth. "That's the thing about family,” concludes Russell. "No matter how much of a roller coaster ride Dicky and Micky end up on going on, no matter how much they squabble with each other, at the end of the day, they stick together and that's why they win when nobody really thought they could.”

For the real Micky Ward, sitting in on a production that recreated his equally remarkable family and boxing career is up there with the highlights of an already remarkable life.

"I loved being part of this,” he summarizes. "I think the film shows that as bad as things get, if you never give up, if you keep plugging away, if you stand by those you love and if you do the right thing, good things will happen. I'm living proof of that.”

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