Mel Gibson Filming in South Deerfield

Mount Sugarloaf closed as filming begins: Closed set for Mel Gibson thriller


Published: Friday, October 10, 2008

Mel Gibson
Mel Gibson

SOUTH DEERFIELD — Hollywood arrived full-force in Deerfield on Thursday as ‘Edge of Darkness’ cast and crew began filming for the movie at Mount Sugarloaf State Reservation. The lights, camera and action finally made their way to town after months of set-building and filming across the state, most recently in Amherst and, earlier this week, Northampton.

Over the next two days, the overlook tower and view of the Pioneer Valley below will become immortalized on film as the interior of ‘Northmoor,’ described as a missile silo and research facility by the film’s producers.

A fleet of tractor-trailers carrying film equipment filled the parking lot at the base of the mountain before dawn. Across the street, a catering crew set up shop to prepare lunch: rack of lamb. Just down the road at the South Deerfield Industrial Park East complex, trailers housed the film’s star, Mel Gibson, who was on location for the scene, along with co-star Danny Huston.

Police and park rangers blocked the park access road to would-be hikers and sightseers while a steady stream of production company vehicles shuttled people and supplies to the summit.

Mount Sugarloaf is the perfect location for the scene, said Blaise Noto, the movie’s publicist. And when the morning fog lifted, revealing the view from the set, the sunny weather was ideal for filming.

The mountain’s distinctive rock face, summit view and fall foliage, as well as its proximity to other set locations, helped make it the object of Hollywood movie-producers. ‘It was such a distinctive landscape, that lent itself so well to the script,’ said executive producer E. Bennett Walsh.

Walsh said that landscape backdrops like the Sugarloaf panorama can be added during post-production, ‘but we wanted (the scene) to feel more real. We knew we had to stick with it,’ he said.

William Monahan, the Academy Award-winning screenwriter who wrote the ‘Edge of Darkness’ script, is a Massachusetts native and part-time Northampton resident. He took Walsh to Mount Sugarloaf and said, ”I think this is where it should be.’ The places he wrote for,’ said Walsh, ‘are places he knew.’

‘Northmoor’ will be depicted on screen with shots of the Amherst College-owned former Strategic Air Command bunker in Amherst, used to portray the facility’s entrance. The Mount Sugarloaf set will serve as the interior. In the film, the veteran Boston Police Department homicide detective Thomas Craven, played by Gibson, comes to ‘Northmoor’ in search of clues to piece together the murder of his daughter.

‘Monahan wrote a story that made (the Pioneer Valley) and Boston characters in the film,’ Walsh said. Using Mount Sugarloaf allows the filmmakers to keep the movie visually true to the script, he said.

For the on-screen impact of the set, Walsh says that the crew has made pains to lessen their impact on the state reservation. ‘We tried to minimize the amount of time spent on the hill,’ by pre-fabricating as much of the set as possible in the Boston area,’ he said. Wendy Fox, a spokesperson for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, said that the filmmakers were not required to pay the department for the use of Sugarloaf. They will pay for any necessary repairs or ‘on-site mitigation,’ though. She added that movie production companies usually leave DCR parks, starring in motion pictures with increasing frequency, better than when they arrived.

The bill for overtime hours worked by DCR employees, who have guarded the site for weeks, and Deerfield police officers guarding the set during filming, will also be footed by the producers.

Fox said the reservation will be reopened by noon on Saturday, a few hours into the park’s busiest weekend of the year. Dismantling of the set will continue on Tuesday, after the holiday weekend.

Police said the first several hours during filming were without incident except for the ousting of one illicit gawker, who apparently slipped into the closed set with an exclusive filming itinerary in hand. Park employees and police also turned away many nature lovers hoping to hike the trail, unaware of the mountain’s transformation into a star-studded military bunker.

Noto and Walsh agree that filming ‘Edge of Darkness’ in the Pioneer Valley has been a positive experience for them, and, they hope, for the region. The Northmoor/Sugarloaf view, among other shots, will showcase the valley’s qualities, said Walsh. ‘And hopefully it will attract more people to the area.’

Certainly more filmmakers have been attracted to the Bay State than usual over the past two years. Film tax credits were upgraded statewide in 2007, making the state more attractive to films with big and small budgets. The state earned $545 million from films in the last two and a half years.

Seven major motion pictures were filmed during the first half of the year alone, Walsh said.

Each time a film is made in the Bay State, Walsh added, it becomes even more attractive. ‘People gather more and more experience,’ he said of film crew members. The body of seasoned trade workers facilitates film production. Walsh says there is a trend of former Massachusetts residents who are returning to the state after making California their home because of the industry changes.

More than a few actors have gotten their first Hollywood roles, too. In all, 700 extras were used in the Pioneer Valley shoots.

Mount Sugarloaf can be seen in it’s post-production big-screen incarnation in about a year, Walsh said. He expects it to hit theaters in the latter half of 2009.

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