From shooting jets hovering between 12,000 foot mountains in the Cascades to capturing a dynamic sailing sequence in San Francisco, the production team behind Top Gun: Maverick traveled to remote areas of the West Coast working hand-in-hand with the Navy to bring the lofty vision of the screenplay to life. The makers behind the film, which joined the billion-dollar club over the weekend, met on Wednesday to discuss the logistics of filming the blockbuster.
Hollywood insiders discussed the film at a brunch honoring the industry’s top physical production professionals at a multi-day networking event June 27-30 hosted by the Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI), a group made up of more than 300 commissioners on six continents. The brunch, a collaboration between the AFCI and The Hollywood Reportersaw an attendance of dozens of production executives from major studios, who chatted over quiches, fruit platters and pastries.
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Lee Rosenthal, president of physical production for Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon, as well as Top Gun: Maverick executive producer Tommy Harper, stage manager Mike Fantasia and aerial coordinator Kevin LaRosa. The conversation, moderated by THR Editorial Director Nekesa Mumbi Moody, covered location scouting to partner with the Navy to shoot the film.
“We had to come up with a plan quickly to get our feet in the door in California,” Harper said. “But the one thing we all talked about when talking to the Navy was that we needed to figure out where the jets were. You don’t want to settle somewhere and then travel to the jets. You want to be where the jets are and handle the shooting and plan accordingly. We were grateful to be able to shoot the whole movie in California and a bit in Nevada and Washington.
Once he figured out where the jets were, Fantasia detailed scouting distinct geographic areas for each flight sequence made available for production by the Navy.
“You don’t just fly F-18s at 650,000 miles per hour anywhere,” he said. “So we looked at the military operations areas and saw how some fit the script well and some didn’t. We merged the storyline and the locations, and we ended up flying a lot… in the Death Valley area. It was for part of the sequence. And then we flew out of Fallon for some more footage. Then we went north to Whidbey Island to fly in the Cascades, which is probably aerial, the hardest place because you’re flying in deep, deep valleys – 12,000 foot mountains around you . If there is a problem, it will take some time before they find you because you are in the middle of nowhere.
Fantasia added that the Navy was instrumental during the scouting process to see how the shooting of the jets would translate to the big screen. He recalled, “We would say ‘Damn, it’s great to have [a view of the] landscape, but it would be great to see the jet there. The navy said, “Get up there tomorrow and we’ll fly over.” » »
Rosenthal observed that director Joseph Kosinksi “actually made two films – an aerial story and a ground story”. Regarding the logistics of dividing filming into two categories, Harper said, “We kind of designed a production schedule. Alright, we’re going to shoot the story on the ground like all the other movies are shot with a full crew. And then we had our aerial crew… We reduced the number of people – maybe 70, which isn’t that many – who were moving around when we were shooting aerials. We reduced as efficiently as possible to film the aerial story separately from the ground.
Panelists recalled an instance where they had to change the production schedule and relocate when an aircraft carrier could not leave the port in which it was docked.
“We had to pivot,” Harper said. “We had to find something for two days. We have not closed. We had to crane decommissioned planes onto the carrier overnight so we could film the next day and get hundreds of extras onto the carrier. We kept the crew on the dock sleeping on the carrier so we never closed. We were still maneuvering.
Harper noted that shutting down production was never an option. He added: “There is no insurance for this stuff. You know you are going to spend money to withdraw the jets from the deposit. You know you’re spending money on a crane operator. I don’t know how much money that is. I know it’s a lot cheaper than closing.
But insiders said the transporter’s malfunction wasn’t even the biggest obstacle to filming the movie. That honor, they said, went to Jennifer Connelly’s character’s sailing scene. According to them, the problem was that there was no wind in a port in San Pedro where he was originally to be shot. They ended up deciding to move the stage to shoot in San Francisco.
Asked why the film resonated with viewers, LaRosa said the production spared no expense and never settled for mediocrity.
“Here is the Superior gun rule that I love: there is always an airplane behind the lens,” he said. “There is always a plane in question. There is always a pilot piloting it.
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