When Unstoppable rolls into movie theaters on Friday, you may find some of the Pennsylvania scenes weirdly familiar.
They're in Ohio.
The Buckeye State plays its eastern neighbor in several scenes in the movie, including an early sequence shot in the Wheeling & Lake Erie Railway yard in Brewster and a series of scenes in Bellaire, whose raised and curved track provides one of the big dramatic moments in the film. Scenes were also shot in Martins Ferry, Mingo Junction and Steubenville.
Unstoppable is inspired by a 2001 incident in which an unmanned CSX freight train rolled 66 miles through northwestern Ohio before railroad employees slowed the train enough for another worker to jump on board and stop it.
In the movie, Denzel Washington and Star Trek's Chris Pine play railway workers trying to stop an unmanned runaway with potentially dangerous cargo before it runs off the track.
Janice Polley, location manager for the movie, talked recently about how Ohio came to be part of the film, a
process that included negotiation, location scouting, the determination of director Tony Scott, and a boost from Ohio's Motion Picture Tax Credit. It's a process the native of Canada is very familiar with, having done location work for about 25 years and worked often with directors like Scott (Top Gun, Taking of Pelham 123) and Michael Mann (Thief, Heat, Collateral).
The 2009 Unstoppable work had some logistical challenges during pre-production, Polley said. Most of the movie involves moving trains, which not only meant finding the trains themselves but also tracks where trains were not being used or could be re-routed. In addition, Polley said, ''Tony wanted to have extremely long train runs, sometimes up to three and four miles, with two and three helicopters [shooting footage] at times. . . . That was very tricky.''
The Brewster yard became a possibility after Scott visited it to meet participants in the real-life runaway incident.
''He really liked the look of it,'' said Polley, who has worked often with Scott. A station in Philadelphia had also been considered but Polley said Scott thought that had ''too much of an urban look.'' He wanted something closer to what Brewster provided.
''But that was a bit of a struggle because the studio or the producers want to keep it in Pennsylvania as much as possible because of the tax incentives,'' Polley said. ''We tried looking for different things. But that was the opening of the movie and Tony was very specific about what he wanted. He wanted something rural-looking. . . . We looked around and looked around, and nothing really satisfied him, and he pushed, and we ended up shooting at that particular location [in Brewster].''
As for the financial incentive, the Ohio Film Commission lent a hand and the movie ended up getting a tax credit of up to $3.8 million to shoot in Ohio.
Bellaire, meanwhile, was not in the original script. Scott and his crew spotted it during a helicopter ride to scout railways since the movie often uses overhead shots of the trains. He thought Bellaire would make an effective moment in the film, and the script was rewritten.
''He's very open to getting images and he does it a lot reworking script pages to accommodate some fantastic-looking location,'' Polley said.
The movie even paid for a track upgrade between Martins Ferry and Bellaire ''because Tony wanted the train to go at a certain speed'' and the existing track could not handle that, Polley said.
But once production began in those communities, Polley said, ''the challenges really were quite minimal. Martins Ferry, Bellaire and Brewster were very accommodating and bent over backwards for anything we wanted to do. . . .
''The challenges were more just the actual filming of it because so much of it was done with a helicopter. When you use a helicopter, because of FAA rules, anything below 500 feet [in the air] you can't have anyone underneath. You have to actually move them out of the area cars, people. We had to go around to the residents and businesses, asking them if they could be out of their home and not near the helicopter.''
But while noting the difficulties of the film, Polley said, ''They're all challenging. It's funny, you work on these films and you think they're the most difficult film and as soon as they're over, you have a very short memory and forget how difficult they were. And then you're on to the next one.''
The big location challenge that stands out for her came on Heat.
''We had probably 80 locations in about a 110-day schedule,'' she said. ''Which meant that every single day it was a different location. . . . And possibly Face/Off. Action movies seem a little more difficult than walk-and-talk films.''
Heat, for instance, has an epic gun battle in downtown Los Angeles, shot over six weekends. ''The thing I remember the most is on Sunday night, the big huge scooping machines that would come up and just pick up mounds of fired shells from all the casings from the two days,'' Polley said.
Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and in the HeldenFiles Online blog at http://heldenfels.ohio.com and on Facebook and on Twitter. He also does a weekly video chat for Ohio.com. He can be reached at 330-996-3582 or email@example.com.