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Finding Blackwater
By relocating the environment of "Straw Dogs” to the Deep South, Lurie and his crew fully embraced the high temperatures inherent to the locale, and imbued the film with colors and visuals invoking heat and fire. Explains Lurie, "We used fire as a motif in this film because I like that Richard Nixon expression that the strongest steel must first go through the hottest fire, and that sort of explains what happens to David.”

Production designer Tony Fanning recalls Lurie citing Nixon's quote, too, and agreed with its relevance to the story they were telling. "His reason for using that quote was that he felt that Amy and David go through this horrific experience to find out who they're going to be on the other side, both individually and as a couple and he felt that most of the movie was about walking through different forms of fire.”

With that direction, Fanning and his art director John Goldsmith worked to incorporate a ‘hot' palette into all of the sets. Fanning continues, "There's a lot of red, orange and gold accents in the house – the tile roof, the red trim. Blackie's Bar had some red in it. For the football team, Rod chose a Bengal Tiger as the mascot – so we had a bright orange and black combination. We try not to hit you over the head with it, but the color is there.”

Lurie also wanted those punches of color in actual smoke and fire which is reflected in a few ways throughout the film, including a particularly striking hunting scene that wasn't originally scripted as it was shot. "There's a scene where David is out hunting with Charlie and the boys,” says Fanning. "They leave him out in the middle of nowhere and he comes across a buck in a burned out section of the forest. The way it came about was that we came across this area where all the trees had been clear-cut and fallen on the ground. Rod suggested burning it up and making it into a visually big scene, which we did and it became this really beautiful image.”

With the overall look of the film agreed upon, Fanning and his team started to develop the key sets – most importantly, the house that David and Amy are coming back to Blackwater to work on and which is a central location for much of the story. A key element of the original film was the stone house that Peckinpah used, which had a fortress feel that was further enhanced by the remoteness of the location. For this film both Lurie and the studio agreed that they also wanted the house to be stone but in this case in a more classic early American colonial style. "Rod describes it in the script as a structure that was used to house officers during the Civil War. So that was our starting point,” recalled Fanning.

Fanning and his team set about researching colonial forts as well as looking in the area of the South the film was being located in for examples of the type of architecture and look they were seeking. "We knew that we were definitely not doing the same look as the original movie because that had a very monochromatic, cold, harsh look, which is what Peckinpah was going for. We were in the deep south in the summer so were immediately dealing with more color, foliage and more life in general for the whole film, which I think allows you to become interested in the beauty of it and then be traumatized by the harshness of what is to follow.”

In addition to retaining the stone façade there was one other element of the original house that was carried over as well. As with Peckinpah's location, which overlooked the English Channel, this house was also surrounded by water. "We were actually very lucky to find the site as it wasn't our original choice,” recalled Fanning. "Our first site was actually an existing stone structure with a boathouse that was located on a lake. The boathouse had a red tile roof which Rod fell in love with, but the location ended up falling through and Stanley Pearce, our location manager, found the final location which actually turned out better because it's surrounded on three sides by water.”

For Fanning, Goldsmith and Lurie the location was indeed ideal. Located along the Red River on a flat plane with large ponds, the house sits on a slight rise and has a sense of being completely isolated. "As soon as we had the location we started working on figuring out the relationship between the house and barn to the water and to the double outlay of trees that are on the road approaching the house,” recalled Goldsmith. "Once that was laid out the smaller elements became important - the bell, the flagpole, the birdhouse, the garden. They all became opportunities for this feel of the house having fallen into a state of disrepair with the death of Amy's father and a hurricane in the recent past.”

For the barn, Fanning and Goldsmith approached the design as a foil to the stone structure of the house. "Amy tells David that her father built the barn, so we knew it was going to something that had to show, by its scale and materials, that it was done with a small crew,” said Fanning. Continues Goldsmith, "The interesting thing for us about the barn is that it offered a variety of states of destruction and reconstruction, especially the roof which was designed as a very traditional, almost iconic barn form but with damage from the hurricane was being rebuilt. It's not stone with a ceramic roof, it's vertical board siding with a wood shake roof and we worked with a set designer in Los Angeles with the framing and half-flat joints that imply that this would have been considered as it was being built.”

With the site and layout determined Fanning and Goldsmith's crews set about constructing both the house and the barn. The decision was made to build only the exterior shell on location and construct the interior sets on a soundstage. Both sets were built simultaneously with the exterior being put together in large parts and transported to location and assembled. The stone exterior was manufactured by an outside company and then brought in and painted in a hue that mimicked the red clay that surrounds the site. With a tight pre-production schedule – which was frequently disrupted by rain - it still all managed to come together in just under eight weeks.

Once the exterior design was in place the interior then became a reflection of that look. Because of the early American design, which is very small, and the reference to being a Civil War-era fort, Fanning and Goldsmith worked with a very specific visual scheme. "We talked a lot about defensibility – that in the course of the story you sense that really strongly on the inside by those things on the outside,” said Goldsmith. "The iron shutters, the rifle portals, smaller windows that let in less light – it all lends itself to a very unique feel.”

Fanning continues, "We approached the interior décor with a very masculine outlook. My feeling about the movie in general is that it's a very masculine movie and it's about guarding your territory and claiming your turf. Keeping what's yours, and really, in a lot of ways, there's not a place for Amy in this house either. It really was her dad's place and we tried not to put a lot of feminine touches in it so that it didn't look like the mother had full control over the house.”

For additional locations the production team utilized existing structures in and around Shreveport, Louisiana where the film was shot. For Blackie's, the bar where the townspeople gather, Fanning was thrilled to find a location in Shreveport that met all of his needs. "We needed a space that was split into two parts, one that could be the pool table area and one for eating and dining. The building we found, which housed a local bar and grill, was perfect and rea


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