We were initially hired in July 2010 to provide safety for 5 guys who wanted to fly into Blue John Canyon for the possibility of making a movie about Aron Ralston’s harrowing experience – 127 Hours. That eventually turned into 6 months of work providing location scouting for the numerous other outdoor locations; safety for all the art department folks responsible for mapping and replicating the canyon in a Salt Lake City studio; developing and implementing many of the stunts featured in the film; and then providing safety for the 80+ people camped for 12 days just a few yards from the actual Blue John Canyon in a remote corner of Southern Utah.
While it was a most gratifying experience, it had many challenges that tested our patience for the world of Hollywood. Additionally, we faced a few dangers that could not have been anticipated and were, thankfully, managed with finesse and a little luck.
Originally, our role was to oversee the safety of all the different department heads that flew to Moab who needed to see the singular “location” and assess their needs for the potential film. The art department needed the most visits to match wall colors to paint chips, apply a rubber compound to the walls then peel off the texture to then create molds to recreate the walls authentically somewhere else.
Eventually a LiDAR (a laser range finder camera-thingy) was hiked into Blue John Canyon. The laser scans around the area where Aron was pinned, digitizes it in one or two dimensions gathering distance measurements at specified angle intervals and creates a 3D image of the whole area. The image is then plugged into a mechanism that shaped foam blocks to recreate all the boulders, walls and features inside the canyon. All the pieces of the puzzle were put together in a warehouse in Salt Lake, painted and lit to match the 80’x80’ section of canyon where Aron was trapped. A fair bit of the dialogue and close-ups were filmed at there.
As anyone who has worked on a feature film will tell you, there are many crazy/scary/hilarious moments that occur on set. One funny moment came when shooting the scene where Aron gets to the bottom of the big rappel and sticks his face into the pool to drink after having not had water for 4 days. Originally the pool below the rappel was full of old rainwater that had washed in.
That water was pumped out, a plastic liner was laid in the now empty depression and was filled up with drinking water. Sand from the surrounding area was thrown into the pool to make it look real. Once the crew was ready to begin shooting the scene I heard this conversation:
1st Assistant Director: Is the desert pool ready to go?
Desert Pool Guy: Yes, it is
1st Assistant Director: And it has the sterile water in it, right?
Desert Pool Guy: Well, um, uuhhhhhhh, yeah I guess…
1st Assistant Director: What do you mean ‘you guess’??
Desert Pool Guy: Well it has clean water, but we put sand in it
1st Assistant Director: Sterile sand? Is it safe for James to drink?!
Desert Pool Guy: No just the regular sand
1st Assistant Director: …are you sh***ing me?! He HAS to drink it!! Would you drink it?!!
Desert Pool Guy: uuummm……..uuuuuhhhhhhhh………….
So that is how these things go in the world of Hollywood! And he did drink it, I think…
We also aided in the conceptualization of the ”Jumping into the Blue Pool Scene” since Danny had this idea to get the kids wet for a scene. We had scouted all kinds of desert potholes but Danny wasn’t psyched by what we had shown him. Ultimately, he showed me a bunch of magazine photos with one being a cave cenote which is somewhat common in southern Mexico that looked strangely similar to the Homestead Crater in Midway, Utah, which is the location Danny eventually chose.
We get a lot of questions about that pool and most people think it is indeed at the bottom of a slot canyon slide. The canyon the stunt doubles “slid through” is hundreds of miles away from the Homestead Crater pool they ended up in. Such is the magic of film editing.