Film production mines Tour-Ed's realistic setting


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A town sheriff moves through a dark mine that's illuminated by electric lanterns that hang on the craggy walls. He holds a flashlight in his left hand, a gun in his right, as he strides carefully but purposefully forward until -- BAM! -- he's smacked in the side by someone who has been hiding. The sheriff topples to the ground, landing in a pile of mine equipment.

It's just another day on the set of "My Bloody Valentine 3-D," the latest movie production to call Western Pennsylvania its temporary home.

A remake of a 1981 film of the same name, "Valentine" stars Jensen Ackles (TV's "Supernatural") as Tom Hanninger, an inexperienced coal miner who caused an accident in a mine that killed five men and put Harry Warden in a coma. When Harry woke up a year later on Valentine's Day, he went on a rampage and killed 22 people with a pickax before being killed himself.

It's 10 years after Harry's demise when Tom returns to the town of Harmony -- no state mentioned -- still trying to make amends and reconnect with his best friend, Axel (Kerr Smith, TV's "Dawson's Creek"), and his former girlfriend, Sarah (Jaime King, "Sin City"), who's now Axel's wife. Then the killings begin anew.

Last Thursday the cast and crew filmed a sequence of climactic scenes in Tarentum's Tour-Ed coal mine, now part of a museum, which is closed through Monday to accommodate the movie crew. Editor-turned-director Patrick Lussier ("White Noise 2: The Light") directs "Valentine," which is produced by Jack Murray.

"One of the major components [for being here] is the [tax] incentives offered by the state, and the other is the Tour-Ed Mine. It's the perfect place to shoot this movie," Murray said. "Going below ground at a working mine is not a pragmatic solution, and we're not a movie that aspired to build a mine set."

The film crew will spend about 13 days filming at Tour-Ed, which hasn't been in production since the 1960s.

"Bloody Valentine," which is expected to be rated R when it's released on Jan. 23, has been filming at sites all along the Route 28 corridor. Kittanning doubles as the main street of fictional Harmony; sites in and around Tarentum also have been used. Production is expected to continue locally through next week.

The original "Valentine" movie was not filmed in 3-D, and the remake wasn't always intended to be 3-D.

"The studio was always interested in this film, and there was some discussion back and forth about 2-D vs. 3-D," said Murray, a freelance producer guiding "Valentine" for Lionsgate, the same production company that made TV's "The Kill Point" here last year. "Lionsgate is a company that's aggressively looking for new opportunities, and when you really evaluate this project, they couldn't have picked a better film to be their flagship venture into 3-D.

"One of the issues with 3-D is three-dimensional space, and the mine's tunnels and caverns have 3-D space to them," he said. "There are lots of 3-D cues in the pilings and vertical posts and rock walls that make this environment really rich, and the fact that it's a movie with a bad guy with an attitude who's creeping around inside the mine makes it all the more perfect."

Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer said it's believed that this is the first major 3-D film to be produced in the area. Of course, 3-D adds another level of complexity to the project, but with the advent of digital technology -- "Valentine" is shot on digital media, not film -- it's possible to see the 3-D effect on a high-definition video monitor on set.

Max Penner -- co-founder of Paradise FX, which is responsible for the 3-D in "Valentine" -- was on set Thursday using a wireless remote to control the settings on the two cameras needed for filming in 3-D. The two cameras are part of a single camera rig, with one parallel to the floor and the other perpendicular, its lens aimed toward the ground, capturing the action through the use of mirrors.

Just as a crew member is charged with maintaining focus during the filming of a scene in a 2-D movie, in a 3-D film someone else worries about focus while Penner adjusts the image to make sure the 3-D is in proper alignment as a scene is shot.

As he worked Thursday, Penner wore polarized 3-D glasses (the clear kind, not the type with one red and one blue lens) and watched on a monitor as actor Kerr Smith moved toward the camera.

"If I don't have it right, it hurts your eyes because your eyes are being made to do things that your eyes aren't supposed to do," Penner said.

He's bullish on the future of 3-D movies, which he said are enjoying a renaissance thanks to digital technology that makes shooting in 3-D more economical. "Journey to the Center of the Earth" will be released in 3-D on July 11 and Paradise FX worked on another upcoming live-action 3-D flick, "The Dark Country," a mystery-thriller starring Thomas Jane ("The Mist").

"Everybody thinks of a 3-D movie as things coming at you, but one of the things we're attempting to do here is block and shoot a two-dimensional movie in 3-D," Penner said, noting that "Valentine" won't be overly reliant on 3-D gimmicks of objects flying toward theater audiences -- he calls these "outies" -- but that it will have some of these elements.

"For 3-D to survive now, we have to be able to choreograph the space within a regular storytelling scene that would normally be done in 2-D. ... This movie will have some 3-D moments, but it was not set up to be solely a 3-D film."


Contact TV editor Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv .


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