We all know the economy is bad and has been for a few years now. People are losing jobs, companies are shutting down and families are struggling to make ends meet. While there's plight everywhere in the United States – imagine how tough it was for the people of Braddock, Pennsylvania, who suffered a catastrophic economic loss when their steel mill closed years ago, forcing an entire town to leave and find work elsewhere. The town is recovering, and one thing that's helping to boost its economy is Hollywood moving in for a few weeks to shoot the new Christian Bale movie.
Braddock, PA. is the setting and story for the upcoming Scott Cooper ("Crazy Heart") film "Out of the Furnace" with Christian Bale, Woody Harrelson, Willem Dafoe, Casey Affleck and Sam Shepard. Myself a few other journalists visited the almost empty town for day 22 of the 35 day shoot where Cooper was filming scenes for his new movie. Unfortunately, I don't have a lot of story details because none were provided and the cast made sure not to reveal too much about their characters. What I do know is Bale and Affleck are brothers. Bale works at the steel mill at the furnace, which is the most dangerous job in a place filled with dangerous jobs at the mill. One slight mental error and you could kill yourself. Bale actually trained and learned how to work a Carrie furnace for the movie. Willem Dafoe plays a loan shark/bar owner and Sam Shepard plays Bale and Affleck's uncle.
What we did see was pretty entertaining despite not having a lot of context to the story. The production crew rented out Braddock's local bar called "Heidi's" for a month so they could shoot their bar scenes. The bar was left as is, with some set dressing such as Christmas lights to spruce things up a bit. The bar is shaped like a long hallway. The kitchen is at one end near the entrance, the bar is to your right and on your left is a jukebox and pool table. Straight ahead is a small flight of stairs that take you to the office in back where Willem Dafoe and Casey Affleck were shooting a scene together.
In this scene, Dafoe, who is the owner of the bar, was sitting in a chair behind his desk eating. Casey was frantically pacing back and forth asking him to set up a fight for him because he needed the money and was desperate. He wanted to fight someone up in the mountains, but DaFoe resisted, saying they'll leave you there to die if you mess up. Affleck didn't care and continued to nag him to set up a fight. Dafoe gives in, opens up his desk drawer, pulls out a binder and starts calling a number. There were numerous takes of this scene, with Affleck doing quite a bit of improv so Cooper could cut together the best lines and takes for the scene.
The next scene we watched was shot under the bridge right next to the bar. All of the cameras were down one end of the road, while cars and trucks were lined up along the street. You could hear the sounds of trains and cars going by in the background, sounds that Cooper wanted to keep in to make sure the film kept its authentic atmosphere. Quite a few times shooting was interrupted because some of the trains and motorcycles passing were quite loud.
Sam was standing next to the driver's side door of a pickup truck. Bale exited the bar, walked across the street to Sam and they had a brief conversation. Sam then walked around the front of the truck to the passenger side and got in. Bale hopped into the driver's seat, started the truck and they drove off. This scene was shot about three or four times. We weren't provided headsets so I have no idea what they were discussing, but Bale had a look of concern on his face. One can assume it has something to do with his brother.
We then visited the steel mill that had provided jobs for hundreds of Braddock residents since the early 1900's. It was mostly men who worked there. Women filled in during World War II when a lot of people were sent overseas to serve. The mill was a fascinating piece of history and walking around in it (which was pretty dangerous actually) you really got a sense of the history and imagined how full it was at one time with workers. Our tour guide mentioned that the economy was so robust in Braddock that one the weekend the streets were packed and stores littered the town. Cars were double, sometimes triple parked because families wanted to go out and relax and spend money before starting work again the following Monday. Now the town appears abandoned, with a few residents visible walking the streets. The Edgar Thomson steel mill is still active and has been since 1872, but doesn't hold the same amount of employees as it once did, and when the other mill closed down, the town's economy never recovered.
We then drove around Braddock to see the neighborhoods and the house used for Bale's character's residency. The brown house sat on a corner high on top of a hill, overlooking the billowing plumes of smoke from the still running Edgar Thompson mill. We weren't allowed inside but the views from the home's interior of the mill should look really cool when seen in context with the rest of the movie.
When we visited the set, there was release date for "Out of the Furnace" and no synopsis. Scott Cooper wanted to keep plot details tightly wrapped and actually freaked out a bit when Sam Shepard accidentally leaked a story detail to us, asking us not to write about it or anything else we may have heard regarding the story. Special thanks to Relativity Media for the unique opportunity to visit a town with such great history and to watch Scott Cooper and Christian Bale in action. Look for "Out of the Furnace" releasing on December 6 at your local AMC Theatre.
**The set visit was conducted by and this article was written by George Roush**
"Out of the Furnace" will hit AMC Theatres on December 6
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