Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Testimony from DrHemlock and Choatelodge

(Note: Click on image to Enlarge)

DrHemlock and Choatelodge are your respective IMDB username, could you introduce yourself?

[Choatelodge] I'm from Hope B.C. In fact I'm sitting here in view of the sloping road Rambo walked down when entering the town. I'm an ambulance paramedic and I was even the paramedic for number of the stunts such as the railroad track, the cliff/tree jump.

[DrHemlock] I do not live in Hope. I was part of the crew brought in from other places. Most were from Vancouver, but some were from Los Angeles, New York and Toronto.

Could u describe how the canyon looked like during the filming?

[DrHemlock] The canyon, of course, doesn't look quite the same after 26 years. The major difference is that there was no footbridge across the river when the movie was filmed. The tunnels were there, left over from (if I remember correctly) a rail line that had run through the canyon decades earlier, but any bridge it might have utilized was long gone. What a great camera platform today's bridge would have made! Instead, changing camera or action locations from one side of the river to the other meant a long, roundabout drive of several miles for all the equipment and personnel.

Not surprisingly, there were various tricks played with the geography of the canyon in order to make filming possible. For instance, the tree into which Rambo jumps wasn't at the base of the cliff that he started to climb down. It was closer to the river, through another short tunnel.

[Hervé] Yes. The Rambo tree spot is located between the 2nd and 3rd tunnel. The cliff is located just before. After the 1st tunnel. The short tunnel you referred can be seen in this video

DrHemlock] An elevated landing pad had to be built on one of the few patches of flat, empty ground so the helicopter could land and the tight airborne shots of the pilot and Galt jawing at each other (with the engine running and the rotors spinning) could be shot with the cliffs visible behind them. There's not a green-screen or CGI shot in the entire movie.

[Hervé] You can watch in this video how Andrew Laszlo and his team simulated the chopper 'motion in flight by building a rotating platform called 'Lasy Susan'.

Choatelodge, Since you were the paramedic on the filming, Do you remember the Tree jump stunt? Watching at the sequence, it seems they have done 2 stunts: one for the upper portion and another one for the lower portion of tree?

[Choatelodge] Yes. Correct. I could have told you exactly where that jump was done Herve, because I watched it!

The upper portion of the tree Rambo 'lands' in was planted near the base of that cliff using a backhoe, and is little more than a foot in diameter where the stem was stuck in the ground. This tree was surrounded by cushioning bags and climbed by a different stunt man who had been made up as Rambo.

He climbed as high as possible and then as cameras rolled he made a show of grabbing at limbs and sliding down the tree, until reaching the safety bags.
There was only one take. The climber had been made up with superficial cuts and wounds before the shot and by the end of it he had supplemented this makeup with several real cuts of his own!

The stunt man (Buddy Joe Hooker - see picture above wih sly) leaped off and did a half turn forward before landing on his back on the airbag that was inflated on top of a layer of empty cardboard boxes. He actually landed on the unmanned side toward the river and there was a momentary panic as he could not be found for several minutes until he emerged unharmed, having nearly slid off onto the rocky slope.

[Hervé] Mr Buddy Joe Hooker is still an active and well respected stunt man, he did recently the stunt driving double for Kurt Russell in GrindHouse movie. Check his impressive career

[Choatelodge] At the tunnels tree jump site, the jump was filmed first, as I have described, and following that another stunt climber in Rambo gear went up (a crane and line had been set up at the cliff top to facilitate work, and stunt persons and workers could be raised and lowered by winch line) and he stood on the very small wedge 'ledge' that had been fixed into a horizontal fissure. What other means he had to secure him to the rock face, I do not know.

It was here that they filmed the sequence where the helicopter hovers in the canyon while Galt fires at Rambo. This of course immediately precedes Rambo's desperate leap to the tree, in the movie.

The amazing thing though, was that all during the time they were actually directing the cameras upward and filming the frantically twisting 'Rambo' being shot at (and they got a great deal of that footage, perhaps 50 rounds worth), the support people on the ground were deflating the airbag that had just been used in the jump scene! Yes, while a stunt man is still up there, they are deflating and taking apart the very landing bag that would come in so handy if he should fall!

Now I know that the stunt team probably have all kinds of confidence in their equipment and skills, but I'd have thought that leaving that bag there for just another half hour would have been the smart thing to do...but what do I know?

In any event nothing bad happened. By the time the filming of 'shooting at Rambo' was finished there was no trace of the landing bag, and in a short time the stunt man was lowered to the ground by the cable, and the film crew proceeded to the previously described filming of the tree-sliding scene.

The lower portion of the tree, where Stallone elected to do his own stunt work and sustained a broken rib landing on a big limb, was done at the same time and at a different location than where I was stationed. Stallone was taken to hospital in a limo.

The cedar tree where Rambo dodges bullets after trying to give himself up was the only one down close to the river and it disappeared in a flood during the '90's.

Do they use a fake rock face for the following scene?

[Hervé] I was there at Othello tunnels. This scene was shot between the 2nd and the 3rd tunnel. In fact, close to the entrance of the 3rd tunnel. But I could not find any matching rock face. This was really bugging me

[Choatelodge] You are quite correct! you are obviously standing where a false granite face was placed so that Sylvester Stallone could act like he is scrambling about on a high rock face, for the close-up shots of his features, while he is safely standing nearly on the ground.

[DrHemlock] Yes. The close-up shots of Stallone clinging to the cliff-face while he helicopter bears down on him obviously couldn't be shot on the initial cliff, so they were cheated a more accessible (and safer) place on the other side of the river, necessitating that long company move I mentioned above.

It was a very dangerous scene to shoot. The canyon is narrow at that point, and the helicopter not only had to fly deeply down into it, but also had to move and place itself in a way that would work for the camera with Rambo in front, frame-right, and the helicopter approaching and shooting rame-left.

The canyon was noisy already with the river roaring over the rocks below. Add to that the sound of the helicopter reverberating off the canyon walls, and communication became difficult. The helicopter pilot could see in front and to the sides, of course, but could not see how close his tail rotor might be to the opposite cliff. One swipe of the rotor against the rock face or a tree, and the chopper would have spun down onto the rocks and into the rapids. So, in addition to dealing with the intricacies of movie-making under difficult physical circumstances, including a big-name star who's been injured and is plenty uncomfortable, the AD (who was also a licensed pilot, though not a helicopter pilot) acted during the shot as the air traffic controller for the helicopter,keeping it in the frame as it approached through the canyon, and constantly advising the pilot of the distance between his tail rotor and that unforgiving canyon wall behind him.

It was difficult stuff but it worked because the director, Ted Kotcheff, told the professionals what he wanted to see, then let them plan and execute it while he directed his actor. He did not grab the radio and shout to the pilot, "Lower, lower!" as happened so tragically on someone else's movie two years later. No doubt, it was frustrating for him because safety under those circumstances always requires time and caution, and time was what he didn't have much of. But, as with any smart CEO, he hired people he trusted, then trusted them to do their best for him...which, in my opinion, they did.

Could you tell us about the train track jump and Mr Bennie E. Dobbins's accident?

[Choatelodge ] The train track jump is a whole 'nother story! The first and very spectacular jump did not make the final footage, probably due to it's unintended and implausible height. The cop car jump seen in the movie was done with a different car from the original, and done after Dobbins' accident and without the special ramps. Immediately following setting up the stunt a director was heard to say, "Let's try a run at 70" (Miles per hour!)

You see, special ramps had been set up to increase the already steep approach angle, for Sheriff Teasel's car. The motorcycle and stunt rider in Rambo gear didn't use the ramps but went between them, making a respectable jump just the same.

Then from out of sight of the camera crew and me, the moaning of a four barrel carburator equipped car at full throttle was heard and the car hit the ramps at the agreed upon speed.

And the result was that the huge Ford LTD launched so high that it would have cleared a telephone wire had one been strung across the shot! The car came down well beyond the three railway tracks and on all four wheels simultaneously, instantly stopping the engine while the car, still doing about 40 miles an hour, rolled down the road.

While everyone there stood in amazement at what had just happened, the silent car gradually rolled to a stop, the drivers door opened, and Dobbins fell out onto the road.

It was as though the car had been dropped straight down from a the roof of two story building, and Dobbins' back had been broken by the compression forces. He could easily have been paralyzed.

[Hervé] Here is the Biography of Mr Dennie E. Dobbins. I invite our readers to take a look at his remarkable career. He even was the stunt man on the F.I.S.T movie.

I was told the filming started first at Hope from November to December 1981, and after the movie crew went to some others places around Vancouver, Do you remember which scenes were shot in Vancouver area?

[DrHemlock] Yes. The company began production in Hope, BC, in November, 1981. There were two major sequences to be filmed there: the canyon, and everything that happens in the town itself, including the main floor of the police station which was purpose-built by the film company. (The downstairs area with the cells and the water hose were filmed later, after the company had returned to Vancouver, in an old disused jail.)

Winter was fast approaching, which meant loss of daylight shooting hours, so the company chose to shoot the canyon first since it required total daylight. They didn't shoot the tree-fall before all the other scenes, but that entire sequence in the canyon, from arriving at the top of the cliff to running away up the riverbed, was the first sequence filmed. It took three weeks, and the tree-fall occurred in the middle, more or less. I know because I was there.

Since the sequence in the canyon was the first one shot in the movie, it meant that Stallone played the entire rest of the film, both before and after the escape, in pain. If you've ever broken a rib, you can imagine what that must have been like.

How do I know that he would have been in pain for three months after breaking three ribs? 'Cause broken ribs take longer to stop hurting than just about any other injury, especially when you're constantly running, jumping, stretching, bending, etc. Plus, when wearing that tarp-as-poncho wardrobe during shooting, he couldn't have the ribs taped up to ease the discomfort.

The Vancouver-based company lived in motels scattered all over Hope during that time, so the next logical thing to film was the town itself so we could get it finished, get out of there and stop paying for crew lodging and per diem.

First shooting day exteriors of Rambo being picked up, dropped off and arrested by Teasle, then the exterior escape from the sheriff's station, then the brief daylight interiors of the main floor of the station, then (because by then the days had become short and the nights long), the night exteriors of the town as Rambo returns and executes his destructive romp, then the night interiors of the sheriff's station, ending in the wee hours of December 24th, just in time for everyone to grab a few hours sleep and head home for a brief Christmas week-end. The "I can't find your fuckin' legs! I can't find your legs!"" scene was the last one filmed in Hope. The following Monday, we reported to Vancouver for work.

Filming continued there during the shortest daylight hours of midwinter in the mountains mentioned above and in Golden Ears Provincial Park: , just a bit east of there, where the major state police /National Guard bivouac area sequence was filmed. ("God didn't make Rambo. I made him! ")

Now, the bits with Rambo springing his little "surprises" on the various deputies, the dogs and the wild boar, being tracked by the National Guard soldiers, were filmed much later in the mountains above Port Coquitlam, a suburb to the east of Vancouver.

The exterior mine with both Rambo and Clinton Morgan was not in Golden Ears but rather in the mountains to the west above Port Coquitlam, reached by logging roads (and with the noise of chainsaws driving to distraction the sound mixer and the PAs trying to locate and silence them). The interior mine with the rats was, as stated above, on a stage-set in Vancouver.

There was no opportunity to give Stallone a break because, at one point or another, he was in all those scenes. First we would film him moving through or doing whatever, then the other people doing whatever through the same place.

In addition, the downstairs of the police station where the firehose scene takes place was filmed in an old, disused jail in New Westminster (another Vancouver suburb); the interior mine sequence was filmed on a stage set constructed in an abandoned bus barn in Vancouver.

[Choatelodge] A lot of the scenes following the cliff jump were shot in Golden Ears Park near Maple Ridge, about 100 kilometers west of Hope.

The roadblock where Rambo jumps the army truck over the cop cars, the base camp where Trautman is introduced to the story, Clinton Morgan and the National Guardsmen, and the mine with the rats.

The gas station, sheriff's office, and the gun shop were constructed for their roles, to be destroyed during the filming.
The gas station was built on the site of a former actual such business, no trace of which remains. It is now the abutment of an overpass on a major highway!

The sheriff's office was actually kept intact after the shooting (no pun intended!) and it was moved to the property of a senior's assisted living facility to be used as a recreation center, and it remains there today.

Who is Amy in the opening sheriff's office scene ? Our reader can watch the sequence here

[Choatelodge] In the opening sheriff's office scene, when Teasel comes jauntily down the stairs and says "Howdy Amy", Amy is in fact Amy Alexander, the fairly well off wife of a successful local logging company owner.

Amy's house, a palatial Georgian style residence a few miles out of town, is said to be where Sylvester Stallone stayed while in Hope for the shooting.

I doubt the cameo and brief reference in the movie are all she got in exchange for vacating her home for her famous boarder's use, but there it is. :D

You have also a amusing story concerning the outpost gun shop and Mr. Ozga?

[Choatelodge]The gun shop was built right on a town street directly across from the 'sheriff's office'.

The building immediately to the left of the gun shop was owned by an 80+ year old Polish shoemaker, Paul Ozga. The story of Mr. Ozga's discussions with the film company was told to me second hand, but knowing the man, I believe it happened this way.

Mr. Ozga had operated his shoe repair shop since shortly after the Second World War. He had added a retail addition to the shop in perhaps 1960, and lived in the house immediately behind. Huge old industrial shoe repair machines loomed in the dark interior of the repair room and in the display room one found to one's amazement, brand new shoes for sale, of a type thirty years out of style.

A rather short and very stocky and sturdily built man, Ozga spoke with a rich Eastern European accent and all of the proclamations which issued from his mouth were spoken with grave seriousness, as though it were Moses declaring the Commandments. Ozga also, for reasons known only to him, prefaced everything he said with "Onnay".

The word was also sprinkled in with the body of what was being said, accompanied by the pointing of a huge finger."Onnay you want onnay me fix your shoes, onnay you leave them one week!"

By the time of the shooting of First Blood, old Paul Ozga had pretty much closed his shop, he being at least eighty years old. Now his dormant business was almost directly across the street from the sheriff's office, and the location was seen by the film makers as ideal for the proposed gun shop. Ozga was approached by the film makers and presented with some options, and with apologies for having to invent the actual words and syntax, I believe the conversation went something like this:

First Blood Productions- "Mr. Ozga, we want to use your building for a scene in our movie. We want to make it over to look like a gun shop, then the hero will raid the gun shop and blow it up. We will compensate you for the building at the going real estate rate, and pay for its removal or repair if that is what you wish."

Paul Ozga- "Onnay you never mind" "Onnay you never blow my store."

FBP- "I don't think you follow us, Mr Ozga. We propose to essentially buy your building, our use of which involves it's destruction. You will be paid for it..."

Paul Ozga- "Onnay you buy onnay my business, onnay you never blow it up!"

FBP- "Ok, how about this, Mr. Ozga: We use your buildings for the gun store, we blow up the existing buildings and then after the filming we will pay for a brand new building to be constructed on your property to replace your present one."

Paul Ozga- "Onnay you not understand. I am onnay business-man. I keep an onnay shoe store."

In the end, the film company got permission from the municipality to block the street beside the old shoemaker's shop for the duration of the filming, and to build their gun store right on the street.

Paul Ozga's shoe shop remained intact.

Though the old Polish shoemaker and his machinery are long since departed, his building remains there today.

[Hervé] On behalf of the Rambo fans community, I would like to thank you both for sharing these valuable memories with us.

1 comment:

CubanBach said...

Are you sure that was Buddy Joe Hooker? Buddy is a blond-haired man. Different nose and face completely! Buddy was the original Chester on Leave it to Beaver. And a much older man that depicted here. UNLESS there are stuntmen named the same? mmmm..