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MAN ON A LEDGE

From The Ground Up
When it came to puzzling out the scenes in which Cassidy is leaning against a building's outside wall for dear life in Man on a Ledge, the filmmakers knew that nothing would be more effective than a genuine precipice in New York City. di Bonaventura describes that decision-making process: "I think some movies probably wouldn't have gone up 225 feet and done it. We decided that it was the cool thing to do, both visually for a sense of reality and to be true to the concept." But with a limited time frame and a New York City winter approaching, finding the right location became imperative and proved to be more difficult than one would expect.

With hundreds of buildings in New York City, finding a ledge, let alone the right ledge, involved a lot of thought. "In the beginning there was a lot of debate over how high the ledge should be," recalls production designer Alec Hammond. "Some people wanted it lower so he (Cassidy) could actually have more direct interaction with crowds. Some people said, no, it has to be a lot higher or else the danger isn't enough." It was agreed that the ledge should be between the 18th and 22nd floor, high enough to create unease and low enough so that the people, and city below were more than specks. Assistant Locations Manager Kieran Patten stresses that after that decision was made, then design concerns came into play. "Apart from height being the main concern for criteria, we were looking for a building that had a classic New York feel, something in remnant of 1920s, 1930s construction that told the story of New York in its Golden Era.," Patten explains.

It soon became clear that The Roosevelt Hotel, also known as the "Grand Dame of Madison Avenue" -- built in 1924 and located at Madison Avenue and 45th Street in midtown Manhattan -- was the ideal setting. The ledge still presented multiple challenges, so a skybox (a hotel room set), had to be constructed and placed upon the top of the famed hotel's roof. "We needed to have a place where we could control, at least to a certain extent, all aspects of filming, the safety of the actor and crew, and have flexibility for the camera and the ability to look around and capture multiple angles and views," says Hammond. "Art director David Swayze, came up with a brilliant idea to track the set at an angle up to the corner, creating a ledge all the way around. It was constructed on a rail system, therefore able to shift forward and back to accommodate the multiple set-ups."

Safety of cast and crew was an enormous priority. Key grip Jim Mcmillian describes many a sleepless night thinking about what could go wrong, particularly when production is taking place on a ledge only 14 inches wide. He explains, "We actually had a 35-foot Louma Two crane from Panavision, which we put five feet beyond the end of the building, ten feet in the air. And then two floors above us, we had the 85-foot crane, which weighs seven thousand pounds, swinging four lanes out onto Madison Avenue. Because not having any room on a 14 inch ledge, being able to shoot [Sam Worthington's] face and interact with him required us to get cameras out, you know, 200 feet off the ground in the middle of nowhere."

Mcmillian continues, "There was a lot of equations, a lot of thought, a lot of numbers that went into figuring out how to make this work safely." He adds however, "Safety definitely brought the crew together because everyone knew they were watching out for somebody else's life. Every move you made, everything you move, you would carefully contemplate because if it fell you could seriously injure or even kill somebody below." A lifeline system was also incorporated, Mcmillian explains, that allowed everyone and the equipment to be on the ledge safely, and allowed for recovery if somebody fell off the set and had to be pulled up again. Prior to entering the set, all cast and crew were made to empty pockets and dispose of all perishables, as anything as innocuous as a penny could wreak havoc below.

Says Ready, "Alec Hammond and the production team found this completely insane way to design that sky box on the ledge that could mock for the 21st story of the Roosevelt. And no, I had no idea you could do it. And I'm still astounded that we did it."

Three ledge sets were ultimately built to complete filming. Hammond explains, "We have a stunt wall set, a version of the set that's in the parking lot at the stage in Long Island, the interior stage portion of the set where the ceiling's only 26 feet high. and the sky box portion (at the actual Roosevelt Hotel). Three versions of basically the same thing."

"In order to make the sky box set be able to operate safely," continues Mcmillian, "and not only get Sam in and out, but also be able to put cameras out there, we actually built the two stories of the ledge, that we were able to slide in and out on railroad tracks, that weighed about 10,000 pounds. We'd slide it back in the positions off the ledge, get everybody set up, cameras that we could actually physically roll the set to the edge of the ledge and make our own faƧade. We actually built this set in pieces, and then rolled it out to the edge."

The amount of weight production brought to the Roosevelt rooftop was enormous. "I'm gonna say that the weight of the set alone was probably 10,000 pounds" continues Mcmillian. "Its counterbalance was easily another 10,000 pounds. Plus we brought the Technocrane up, which was 4,000 pounds, adding counter weights to that was another 6,000 pounds. I'd say we probably brought about 35,000 - 40,000 pounds of weight up there."

As expected, the research and planning phases proved vital.

"We had a structural engineer that got involved, as far as letting the sets out and the walls and the weights," says Mcmillian. "But the real problem was the building department with the city of New York. We didn't get the approval to put the set on the rooftop until Tuesday and we were supposed to start shooting the set on Friday. So that was really a mad race. Once we lowered everything onto the roof to get it all together and get it safe, we also had to incorporate the lifeline system for [Sam Worthington] and the equipment and crew."

The additional challenge was getting it all onto the Roosevelt Hotel's rooftop. Says Mcmillian, "We had a 300-foot, 300-ton construction crane that lifted the set. A lot of the walls were pre-built in a stage. But another obstacle is that in the city of New York from November 2nd to January 2nd, no construction cranes can fly because of the holidays. So everything that we put on the roof had to be accurately measured so that we could get it off the roof in pieces. So we had to take apart the Louma Two Crane and ride on top of the freight elevator to get it out of the hotel."

Visual effects supervisor Richard Kidd notes that all three versions of the ledge set had to perfectly match scenically and architecturally to each other. Kidd explains, "We'll be melding those together with the CG extension, because what we don't have, represents what we'll do in CG. It's the top of the building that doesn't actually exist upon location, or inside the stage. We'll meld them all together and make it look seamless and fantastic."

Besides the Roosevelt Hotel, other locations include the notorious Sing Sing Correctional Facility located 30 miles north of Ne

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