From producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Gore Verbinski, the filmmaking team behind the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, comes Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer Films’ The Lone Ranger, a thrilling adventure infused with action and humor, in which the famed masked hero is brought to life through new eyes. Native American warrior Tonto (Depp) recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid (Hammer), a man of the law, into a legend of justice—taking the audience on a runaway train of epic surprises and humorous friction as the two unlikely heroes must learn to work together and fight against greed and corruption.
The Lone Ranger releases in 2013, exactly 80 years after the character first made its way onto the airwaves courtesy of WXYZ radio in Detroit, Michigan, on January 30, 1933. And coincidentally, Detroit is the city in which producer Jerry Bruckheimer was born and raised!
Two background players attired in period costume for the Wild West Exhibition sequence were Ann Simon and her 10-year-old daughter Jenna Jewell Simon, respectively the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of James Jewell, who directed the very first broadcast of ‘The Lone Ranger’ radio series on January 30, 1933, and many thereafter.
The creation of The Lone Ranger’s mask required much trial and error from Joel Harlow’s makeup department, with ten different designs and seven fittings with actor Armie Hammer. The final version was vacuum-formed over Hammer’s face, and was made of very soft goatskin leather.
The film’s visual consultant Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery was so hands-on that he hand-carved the Native American petroglyphs that adorn the wooden frame around Old Tonto’s diorama in the Wild West Exhibition tent, and personally painted symbols on the walls of a 200-foot-long train tunnel that he designed, which was built in Creede, Colorado.
To bring his and Gore Verbinski’s physical world of The Lone Ranger to life, visual consultant Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery’s art department staff was composed of six art directors, eleven set designers, two illustrators, a scenic artist, multiple storyboard artists, two graphic designers, two model makers, a research coordinator, an art department production assistant and 274 members of the construction team.
Twelve full-size structures comprised the ‘town’ of Colby, Texas, built in Rio Puerco, New Mexico, including a train station, livery stable, saloon, rooming house, bank, sheriff’s office and various shops.
Built adjacent to Colby was another town meant to be in a different state, Promontory Summit, Utah, more solidly built than the decidedly ramshackle Colby with brick and wood. The town was a crucial element in the re-creation of the famed Golden Spike ceremony that took place on May 10, 1869, when the Union Pacific and Central Pacific trains met head-to-head after completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The colorful and wonderfully bizarre ‘Hell on Wheels’ set was prefabricated in the art department warehouse in Albuquerque for five weeks and then, over the course of another six weeks, assembled for filming in the rolling hills of Lamy, New Mexico. The end result was a fantastical cornucopia populated by a splendid and weird combination of snake charmers, human oddities, fire eaters, tea merchants, intestinal complaint medics, dentists, religious fanatics and railroad workers, set against a backdrop of lavish tents, stages and ramshackle booths anchored by the imposing exterior of Red’s Traveling Entertainments.
Academy Award®–winning set decorator Cheryl Carasik got advice on the dressing of Red Harrington’s chambers from Helena Bonham Carter herself, who portrays the saloon owner. Among Carter’s requests for the set were a pair of period handcuffs, riding crops, period-correct 1860s books on medicine and some risqué books that showed little more than exposed shoulders.
The Sleeping Man Mine set, constructed in mountainous Creede, Colorado, at an elevation of more than 9,000 feet above sea level, was designed to blend in with the historic town’s actual 19th century silver mine buildings. New structures included a 200-foot-long train tunnel with a 40-foot-tall faux rock front, a mile of railroad track, elevated tracks and trestles for ore carts, plus mining shacks that, although newly built, looked aged enough to fall apart at any moment.
Creede, Colorado, one of the film’s most important locations, has quite a Wild West history of its own. It was in Creede that Robert Ford, the ‘dirty little coward’ who shot Jesse James, was himself gunned down in 1892.
The terrifyingly perched ‘Spirit Platform,’ on which John Reid (Armie Hammer) awakens, really was terrifyingly perched at the very edge of Moab, Utah’s Dead Horse Point, with a nearly 2000 foot drop to the valley floor and Colorado River below. The rickety platform itself was an additional 18 feet high, and yes, that really is Armie Hammer and not a stunt performer on top of it!
Although he carries no firearms, Tonto equips himself with two knives, one of which is ironically fashioned from a railroad spike.
Red Harrington’s (Helena Bonham Carter) ivory leg was designed by visual consultant Mark ‘Crash’ McCreery and illustrator Jim Carson, with the artwork done by Texas scrimshaw artist Linda Capstone. Three different versions of the leg needed to be fabricated, one of which was outfitted by John Frazier’s special effects department with a moveable gun barrel, fire, smoke and pneumatic controls.
Costume Designer Penny Rose made certain that all the wardrobe was of fabrics authentic to the time and place: wool, cotton and silk. There are no zippers, buttons have only two holes per the period and every single female background player wears a corset.
To properly age the wardrobe, Penny Rose and her team used a variety of innovative techniques, including putting them along with pebbles in a cement mixer, using cheese graters to wear them down and, occasionally, taking blowtorches to materials as well!
Before shooting actually began, all main cast members of the film had to attend ‘Cowboy Boot Camp’ at a ranch in Albuquerque, New Mexico, learning to ride, shoot, rope, saddle a horse, drive wagons — whatever the action required.
Among the technical adviser specialists assigned to work with the cast were expert gunslinger Keith Meriweather, who demonstrated the finer points of gun handling, including quick draws and twirling; and Steve Brown, one of the world’s eight acknowledged yo-yo masters, who needed to teach Tom Wilkinson the distinctive way in which his character, Latham Cole, twirls, catches and releases a pocket watch.
Shooting in all four seasons, the company of The Lone Ranger experienced nearly every weather condition imaginable, from huge amounts of wind and blowing dust to snow, rain, freezing rain, lightning strikes, hail and burning heat. The cast and crew worked in temperatures ranging from 29 degrees Fahrenheit to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.
Before filming began, the film’s Comanche adviser, Wahathuweeka-William Voelker and his associate Troy ‘The Last Captive’ performed a traditional blessing ceremony on the grounds of Albuquerque Studios, which included a magnificent Golden Eagle named ‘Nue Pi’ (‘Tornado’) they raised at Sia, their ethno-ornithological facility in Cyril, Oklahoma.
The winds were so strong at Rio Puerco, New Mexico, the site chosen for the ‘towns’ of Colby and Promontory Summit, that a crewmember dubbed it ‘The Devil’s Sandbox.’ Gusts of wind blew anywhere from twenty-five to seventy miles per hour, forcing the crew to wear scarves, bandanas and goggles for protection. By the end of the day, nonetheless, all were covered with dust from head to toe.
Gore Verbinski and Jerry Bruckheimer deliberately chose the iconic landscapes of Monument Valley in the Navajo Nation as a backdrop for much of The Lone Ranger’s action because of its heralded place in the history of the American western, made particularly famous in the films of John Ford.
Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Jerry Bruckheimer, Gore Verbinski and the rest of the film’s company were warmly greeted by Navajo Nation President Ben Shelly, Vice President Rex Lee Jim and a large delegation from the largest tribe in the United States.
Filming in Canyon de Chelly, another natural landmark in the Navajo Nation, required the crew to utilize local safari vehicles, which are converted sixty-year-old, four-wheel-drive trucks from the Korean War, humorously dubbed ‘Shake ‘n’ Bakes’ by the local people.
In both Monument Valley and Canyon de Chelly, several key cast members and filmmakers — including Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, James Badge Dale and Gore Verbinski — lived out of their trailers at base camp, enjoying nightly campfires and music. They were sometimes fed traditional stews and fry bread by a local Navajo family on whose land they were staying.
Another sacred Navajo Nation locale used by the filmmakers was the famed Shiprock, a 1,583-foot-high rock formation known to the local people as Tse’Bit’Ai (‘rock with wings’).
After wrap on the final day of filming in tiny Creede, Colorado, Johnny Depp held an autograph-signing session with local people for nearly four hours, and despite the fact that the town has a population of only 290, nearly a thousand souls magically appeared for the occasion.
Another lofty location in Moab, Utah, was Fossil Point, where the production somehow created a full-size train, workers’ camp and 154 costumed extras. Fossil Point is also known as ‘Thelma & Louise Point,’ where the two cinematic outlaws drove off a cliff at the finale of the famed Ridley Scott film.
In Moab, the town’s sole sushi restaurant honored the film by creating such specials as ‘Tonto-maki’ and ‘Kemowasabee Roll’ and a drink called ‘Kemo-sake Mojito.’
Another lofty location that tested the cast and crew for their tolerance of high altitudes was the 8,600 foot high Angel Fire, New Mexico, usually known as a popular ski resort. It was here that the company completed its last location filming outside of California.
On the final day of Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer’s filming in late September 2012, a large cake was wheeled out with a picture decorating its top — not of the two stars, but rather their popular New Mexico-based stand-ins, Wes Trudell and James Blackburn — to the actors’ great amusement.
At wrap, it was calculated that The Lone Ranger had four-and-a-half months of prep, three preshoot days, one hundred and fifty shooting days, thirty-one weeks of filming in five states, twelve major company moves, three thousand camera setups, a thousand-plus shooting hours and a million-plus man hours.
For a scene in which a derailed locomotive comes dangerously close to crushing Tonto and John Reid to powder, special effects supervisor John Frazier and his coordinator Jim Schwalm and their crew mounted a 25,400-pound locomotive on a 4,000-pound turntable which, pulled by cables, twisted and turned its way down a 10,000-pound track.
For a scene in which The Lone Ranger gallops through a railroad passenger car on Silver, firing his pearl-handled six-shooter at full speed while passengers duck for cover, stunt coordinator Tommy Harper recruited such stunt legends as Terry Leonard, Hal Burton, Mic Rodgers, Randy Hice, Mike Runyard, Donna Evans and Lisa Hoyle, many of them second or third generation in their field and descendants of stunt performers who would have worked in the Golden Age of Hollywood when the Western was at its zenith.
Rather than hire existing trains, the demands of the script meant that the production needed to build two 250-ton trains, and the five miles of track on which they rolled. An Albuquerque-based railroad and excavating service company called Gandy Dancer hauled in 3,8789,425 pounds of the 33-foot rail, bars, tie plates, and ties on 82 flatbed truckloads from Blythe, California. A whopping 60,429 pounds of bolts, washers, and turnouts were sent on two flatbed trucks from Kansas City, and 402,000 pounds of ties and spikes from Stockton, California.
For a sequence depicting the building of the Transcontinental Railroad, train coordinator Jim Clark and experts from railroad company Gandy Dancer had to educate the one hundred background players portraying railroad workers in the numerous tasks necessary to build a railroad: carrying rails and ties, driving spikes, tightening joints, shoveling ballast, refilling water tenders, driving mule teams and surveying.
The two trains built for the film (converted into three by switching rail cars) were period-authentic down to the last detail, save for the fact that they worked on modern hydraulic power rather than steam, and were all built like shipping containers so that they could be lifted off the train chassis and onto specially created flatbed trucks for “road rig” filming on various highways and byways in New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and California.
The filming required that several actors — among them Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner and Ruth Wilson — stand on top of trains moving at speeds up to 40 miles per hour.
The Lone Ranger’s ‘Spirit Horse,’ the famed Silver, is incredibly enough ‘played’ by a ten-year-old Thoroughbred-quarter horse mix named Silver, with which head horse trainer Bobby Lovgren of War Horse fame was already familiar.
The film’s Comanche technical advisers, Wahathuweeka-William Voelker and Troy ‘The Last Captive’ worked closely with various departments for historic and cultural accuracy. This included creating, for the first time, accurate Comanche Numu kahni (teepees) with a four-pole foundation.
The film contains some 1,300 visual effects shots under the supervision of visual effects supervisors Tim Alexander, who also collaborated with Gore Verbinski on the director’s Academy Award®–winning Rango, and Gary Brozenich.
Two principal The Lone Ranger cast members are the sons of legendary Broadway musical theater stars. The parents of James Badge Dale, who portrays Dan Reid, are two-time Tony Award® nominee, actor/dancer/director/choreographer Grover Dale, who among so many credits was one of the original Jets on stage in ‘West Side Story,’ and Anita Morris, who starred in the original cast of ‘Nine’ and received a Tony Award® nomination for her efforts. And JD Cullum, who plays Latham Cole’s associate, Wendell, is the scion of the great John Cullum, who has starred on the Great White Way in so many musicals, amongst them the original production of ’1776′ and winning Tony Awards® for both ‘On the Twentieth Century’ and ‘Shenandoah.’