Director Stuart Baird, who marked his debut behind the camera on Warner
Bros.' action hit, "Executive Decision," shot "U.S. Marshals"
in several locales in and around Chicago, the city where "The Fugitive"
filmed in 1993, as well as in the swamps of Tennessee and in New York City.
"What made this film much more difficult than 'The Fugitive' was the enormous number of locations," notes production designer Maher Ahmad, who had served as an art director on the 1993 Oscar-winner. "There were so many locations to scout, so many places to prepare, many for just one-day schedules, which made for an enormously complicated picture logistically."
Some of the sites chosen for the production included the famous Cook County Courthouse on the city's southwest side; the old U.S. Post Office, now shuttered, which became the interior of a Chicago police precinct house; the Bohemian National Cemetery on Chicago's northwest side, where one of the film's climactic chases ensues; the abandoned St. Ann's Hospital on the city's westside, where Sheridan is arrested at the film's outset; and 444 N. Michigan Avenue, where the marshals' headquarters were based.
Chicago's real U.S. Marshals' bureau is located on South Dearborn Street, but production designer Ahmad built the marshals' offices in the exact same building and floor (27th) used in "The Fugitive," which once again afforded the filmmakers breathtaking views of Lake Michigan on one side and Chicago's regal skyline on the other.
The film company also landed at O'Hare Airport, where Baird launched
his prisoner transport plane, a sequence which reaches its climax when the
plane crashes into a swamp. The spectacle demanded the talents of Ahmad
and his crew, along with mechanical-effects supervisor MIKE MEINARDUS, visual-effects
designer PETER DONEN and stunt coordinator GARY DAVIS.
Production designer Ahmad relates, "The greatest challenge was just fitting this elaborate jigsaw puzzle together. We leased a plane from a Las Vegas casino owner. "We also bought two actual 727-200 fuselages and built another, smaller, set. Finally, there was the miniature plane that Peter Donen shot."
Once the company located its aircraft pieces, the creative team "looked at videotapes and stills of actual plane crashes, to see exactly how a real airplane would break apart," Ahmad details. "We had to apply some kind of logic to the way the plane was going to break apart and fit that into our storyline."
Peter Donen began filming the model plane crash outside of Los Angeles. Working with a 75-man crew, Donen laid 1200 feet of concrete with a cable running down the middle of a center track. "We powered our 1000-pound model up to 60 miles per hour, using seven cameras to capture the action as it slammed into the miniature replica of our Bay City, Illinois location," he says.
At the same time, director Baird was piecing the elaborate sequence together on location. A fuselage was set into the Ohio River on a metal rig with hollow tubes under it, which pumped either air or water into the tubes to raise and lower the plane. "We had to see the plane sinking as Gerard is trying to get the prisoners out," Baird says.
Once location filming concluded in Southern Illinois, the filmmakers moved indoors to a warehouse on Chicago's Southwest Side, where Ahmad and Meinardus configured the elaborate mechanics needed to duplicate the crash landing and sinking of the jet from the perspective of the plane's interior.
Baird and cinematographer Bartkowiak used special camera mounts inside the plane to capture the frenzy as the fuselage tumbles upside down. Snipes, looking with trepidation over the "post-Aliens contraption," as he dubbed it, braved the water inside the plane exclaiming, "It's an insurance risk. I'm a city boy; I grew up in New York. I can't swim!"
Snipes also encountered another wet set on location in western Tennessee, where the company spent a week at the eerily beautiful bayous of Reelfoot Lake to film the story's first confrontation between Gerard and his fugitive following the plane crash.
Reelfoot Lake, nestled in the northwest corner of Tennessee near the Kentucky border, was also the location for two other memorable Hollywood productions, "Raintree County," starring Elizabeth Taylor and Montgomery Clift, and the 1967 Oscar-winner, "In the Heat of the Night," starring Sidney Poitier and Best Actor Rod Steiger. A fishing and hunting mecca, Reelfoot Lake covers over 25,000 acres, with more than 60% being water and wetlands, and is the world's largest fish hatchery.
"Chasing fugitives is not for sissies," jokes co-star Pantoliano. The actor knew he was in for a muggy, buggy ride during his brief sojourn south when he "received a case of bug repellent from the studio with my contract."
Pantoliano, who hails from Hoboken, N.J., was back on more familiar terrain upon the company's arrival in New York City. While only 10 days were scheduled for the Big Apple in early October, the final third of the story takes place in Manhattan and Queens, N.Y. Various sites in Chicago doubled for many East Coast locations.
The filmmakers did, however, utilize such familiar New York City landmarks as the Queensborough Bridge and the Federal Courthouse in lower Manhattan, and also took up residence on the streets of East Harlem for two weekend days to mount one of the production's most eye-catching stunts.
With Gerard cornering Sheridan on the roof of a nursing home, the fugitive's only escape becomes a jump from the 12-story roof to the elevated train platform below, then onto the train itself as it pulls out of the station.
Stunt veteran CLAY FONTENOT, doubling for Wesley Snipes (who watched intently from an adjacent rooftop), swung from a cable rigged to a window washer's apparatus on the roof. With Fontenot dropping almost 70 feet, eight cameras recorded the heart-stopping action's first -- and only -- take after six hours of intense preparation.
"When Clay swung off the roof, there was no net or airbag beneath him. He was connected to a descender with an extra friction rope to prevent any unforeseen fall that would cause an injury," Baird reveals.
With Fontenot nailing the challenging stunt in just one day, the filmmakers finished the movie when director Baird steered the final shots at a heliport near the 59th Street Bridge before puffing on congratulatory cigars.
Tommy Lee Jones, Joe Pantoliano, Daniel Roebuck, Tom Wood and LaTanya
Richardson portray members of an elite federal law enforcement agency, an
entity of the U.S. Department of Justice that was created more than 200
years ago by the first Congress, in the Judiciary Act of 1789.
Over the past two centuries, as the government's judicial system has changed, so have the responsibilities of the U.S. Marshals Service, the nation's oldest and most versatile law enforcement agency. Today, the corps protects the federal courts (guaranteeing security during judicial proceedings), apprehends fugitives (those who escape from custody, jump bond or bail, or fail to comply with orders of the federal court) and supervises the Witness Protection Program (securing the transition to a new life under a new identity).
The service also oversees the Prisoner Custody/Transport system, the confinement and safe transport of prisoners to-and-from detention facilities. Its nationwide air transport network, dubbed "con-air," has been redefined as the new Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS). Additionally, U.S. Marshals seize and manage property under court order as part of the Assets Seizure and Forfeiture department, taking custody of cash and property seized by the FBI, DEA, IRS and the Immigration/Naturalization Service.
Additional missions have included the protection of athletes at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, the integration of schools and other institutions during the Civil Rights movements of the 1960s and the formation, in 1971, of the Special Operations Group (SOG), a force of highly trained and disciplined tacticians who handle terrorist and hostage situations and other volatile, emergency incidents.
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