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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.
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 façade. We actually built this set in pieces, and then rolled it out to the edge.”
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.” Director Asger Leth describes the importance for him to have locations that lead you in. The notorious prison, as well as the location where the car and train collide, were vital to the story. “[The collision scene] location was amazing,” says Leth.
“With the background you see the Empire State Building. It’s far away from the city, but as [Cassidy] gets away you see Manhattan in the distance, just the slightest hint and it leads you into the story.”
New York City becomes just as important as a character as it does a location with which to set the film. “It’s such a sprawling mixture of not just architecture but within the architecture the mix of people that you’ll then find inhabiting the buildings, then going down to street levels when they go out and watch this whole event unfold and so on,” says Leth. For him, New York is an ideal place for such stories like Man on a Ledge. “It’s New York! Everything happens in New York, you know? I love that.”
Worthington concurs. “It’s an interesting idea for a film. People would ask me, ‘What’s going on up there?’ And I think that’s exactly what they should be feeling.They shouldn’t know what’s going on up there, and formulate their own ideas about what’s going on with this man. So, that’s exactly what the crowd is, another character.”
It’s all in the service of making something on which an audience can be swept away. “You hope to give the audience a great movie,” says Worthington. “That’s how I simply look at movies, is that people pay to go and see them, and they want to be transported into whatever time frame or environment, and feel that they’re there and feel that what’s at stake is compelling enough to sit in that seat and stay tuned.”
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