Crew keeps trains running on time

While Tony Scott’s “Unstoppable” was being filmed in four Eastern states, William B. Kaplan, the production sound mixer, spent much of the time in a crapper.

For those who have ever wondered where train engineers go to the bathroom, it turns out there’s a toilet conveniently placed in the nose of many locomotives. To shoot “Unstoppable,” the filmmakers removed the commode from one such locomotive to make room for Kaplan, who set up shop in the space with his monitors and mixing equipment. “That’s where I lived for much of the movie,” he said. “When I turned around, Denzel Washington’s toes were in my back.”

Scott takes film production very seriously, running it like a military campaign. On “Unstoppable,” many days started before sun-up in a train yard, with the helmer standing on an apple box in front of the crew, barking the day’s marching orders. Then a PA would hand out detailed storyboards that Scott had sketched personally at 3 a.m.

“Tony is demanding and his films are difficult,” said Kaplan, a veteran of such projects as “Avatar,” “Alice in Wonderland” and “Top Gun.” “Sometimes Tony was in the front of the train, sometimes on the roof of a racing pickup truck with cameras bolted to it, sometimes in a helicopter.”

Kaplan recalls that on “Top Gun,” Scott insisted on being on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the middle of NATO maneuvers. “I had to convince the Navy to turn off their radar because it was zapping my recorders,” Kaplan recalled.

To enhance the sense of realism, Scott prefers to record the actors on location instead of looping in their dialogue later in a studio. On “Unstoppable,” Kaplan and his team radio-miked the actors and also silenced the inherently noisy trains using such measures as grinding down their wheels. “If you’ve done your homework, by the time the actors start talking, it’s quiet. We got every single line flawlessly. Even on the dailies we could hear them talk clear as a bell.”

Kaplan said the techniques he uses on a Scott movie more closely resemble those he’s used on motion-capture films — of which he’s done many, from “Polar Express” to “Avatar” — than those deployed on most conventional motion pictures. “On ‘Unstoppable’ we didn’t use any cables, no boom — it was all radio mics,” he said. “Like the mocap films I’ve done, the whole magic is in high-tech communications.”

The aim is always to capture the dialogue as it’s spoken. “Tony loves the real deal,” Kaplan said. “He’ll never use any kind of electronic replacement if he can help it.”

Scott also eschews phony visuals. He dumped a greenscreen shot showing an on-air TV newsperson reporting on the movie’s runaway train because it didn’t look authentic enough, said Chris Lebenzon, one of the two editors on “Unstoppable.” He replaced it with some previously rejected footage that was real but flawed — and covered up the flaws by distressing the picture and pretending the TV set was malfunctioning.

“When Tony has any choice, he’ll go with the real shot,” Lebenzon said.

Bookings & Signings

Paradigm has promoted Brian Goldberg to agent and signed producer Loucas George (“The OC”). Agency has booked producers David Roessell on TNT pilot “Perception,” Craig McNeil on ABC Family movie “Always and Forever” and Rob Cowan on Tom Vaughan’s “So Undercover”; UPM Lester Berman on ABC Family pilot “The Lying Game”; lensers Crescenzo Notarile on “The Lying Game,” Nathaniel Jay Goodman and Christopher Faloona on Starz’s “Torchwood,” David Klein on HBO’s “True Blood,” Anthony Hardwick Fox pilot “Outnumbered,” Sarah Cawley on CW pilot “Danni Lowinski” and Sam McCurdy on Marcus Dunstan’s “The Collector.”

Paradigm also booked editors Henk Van Eeghen on “The Lying Game” and Kevin Ross on Lifetime pilot “Against the Wall”; production designers Greg Melton on “Torchwood,” Paul Peters on USA pilot “Necessary Roughness,” Patti Podesta on Showtime pilot “Homeland” and Bruton Jones on Mike Gunther’s “The Setup”; costume designer Wendy Chuck on “So Undercover”; and editors Mark Stevens on “The Setup,” Niven Howie on James McTeigue’s “The Raven” and Heather Persons on Tina Chism’s “We the Peeples.” Last week’s paper erroneously stated the title of former Paradigm assistant Louiza Vick.

The Murtha Agency has booked co-producer Tom Prince on “So Undercover”; Robert Brinkmann on Fox’s “The Good Guys,” Glen MacPherson on Paul W.S. Anderson’s “The Three Musketeers 3D,” Zak Mulligan on Jenny Deller’s “Future Weather,” Brian Pearson on Steven Quale’s “Final Destination 5,” Bill Roe on ABC’s “Castle,” John Schwartzman on Marc Webb’s “Spider-Man: Reboot,” Dante Spinotti on Brett Ratner’s “Trump Heist,” John Toll on Peter Hedges’ “The Odd Life of Timothy Green,” Amy Vincent on Craig Brewster’s “Footloose,” Oliver Wood on Daniel Espinoza’s “Safe House” and Robert Yeoman on Paul Feig’s “Bridesmaids.”

Murtha has also booked 2nd unit director/d.p. Alexander Witt on “Safe House,” Justin Lin’s “Fast and Furious 5″ and Matthew Vaughn’s “X-Men: First class”; Steadicam/camera operator Ralph Watson on ABC Family movie “Lemonade Mouth”; production designers Sarah Frank on Nancy Savoca’s “Union Square,” Mark Friedberg on Gary Marshall’s “New Year’s Eve” and Bob Shaw on Curtis Hanson’s “Too Big to Fail”; costume designer Jenny Eagan on Baltasar Kormakur’s “Contraband”; and editors Richard Francis-Bruce on Dean Wright’s “Cristiada,” Allyson Johnson on Alex Steyermark’s “Loser Takes All,” Elizabeth Kling on AMC’s “The Killing,” Michael Miller on Brandon Dickerson’s “Sironia,” Ronald Sanders on David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” and Mark Sanger on Alfonso Cuaron’s “Gravity.”

peter.caranicas@variety.com

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