WFE ~ Big Top*News*

big-top6October 1, 2014 ~ I have some exciting news to share!
Water for Elephants author,
Sara Gruen, has written a new novel and it will be available June 2, 2015! Her publicist, Michael Taeckens, shared the great news with me this morning. The novel’s title is  At the Water’s Edge, below is a synopsis and a peek at the book’s beautiful cover! I cannot wait to read it! Thank you, Michael and Sara for giving me the opportunity to share this info with my blog readers! If you would like to know more about Sara, just click on the link at the sidebar to the right! I’ll add more news as it’s made available!
From Michael’s email:
In this new novel from the author of the #1 New York Times best seller Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen again demonstrates her talent for creating spellbinding period pieces. In At the Water’s Edge, she tells the gripping and poignant story of a privileged young woman’s moral and sexual awakening as she experiences the devastation of World War II in a Scottish Highland village.
Madeline Hyde, a young socialite from Philadelphia, reluctantly follows her husband and their best friend to the tiny village of Drumnadrochit in search of the Loch Ness monster—at the same time that a very real monster, Hitler, wages war against the Allied Forces. Despite German warplanes flying overhead and scarce food rations (and even scarcer stockings), what Maddie discovers—about the larger world and about herself—through the unlikely friendships she develops with the villagers, opens her eyes not only to the dark forces that exist around her but to the beauty and surprising possibilities as well.
Gruen ATWE


September 20, 2012 ~ A few months ago I received an email from my ‘friend’ Mr. John Goodall about how he had put together a “Water for Elephants” presentation for a couple of his local clubs down in Florida. It got me thinking about the fact that I never really ‘wrapped’ this blog. The last time I posted anything was back in April 2012 celebrating the one year anniversary of the film’s theatrical release. When I began writing this blog back in March 2010 I had no idea what I was doing, but it all came together and I still have people visiting the blog thanking me for putting everything “Water for Elephants” in one place. The most popular WFE film blog search stat is people searching for Circus Slang & Lingo, which I find very interesting as you wouldn’t think that too many people would be searching for that topic, but they are…  Hopefully when they find the blog they will also have a look around and perhaps decide to read the book, or see the film. It’s all good and I’m happy that folks still ‘come around and visit’. Quite a few people involved with the film have contributed to the blog and I cannot thank them enough for their generosity and spirit; from the amazing artist, Linda Newman Boughton, that created original paintings that were used for the Circus banners to the lovely, talented background actors that shared their ‘set stories’ and the wonderful ‘friends’ that shared their stories about visiting the Water for Elephants filming locations in Georgia/Tennessee  and California.  You can ‘meet’ them all by clicking on the links located in the sidebar to the right. Writing this film blog was a huge labor of love and I enjoyed it immensely. I have never attempted anything like this before and it was incredibly rewarding. I ‘met’ some wonderful people that I will never forget and my love and appreciation will be ever present. I will continue to maintain this blog as a memoir and ‘virtual scrapbook’ for “Water for Elephants” the film and book. Thank you! Now, on to to ‘wrap party’…

I think the best way to begin this ‘wrap party’ is to thank Sara Gruen for her wonderful novel, “Water for Elephants”. Her captivating story is beloved by millions of people all over the World and inspired the beautiful WFE film adaptation; it’s also the main reason why I began this blog. Sara is a very down-to-Earth, gracious lady. At the New York WFE per-premiere she braved cold, rainy weather to meet ‘fans’ that had lined up for hours in the same conditions with the purpose of securing a position at the premiere. She signed autographs and generally thanked everyone for their support. Here is a excerpt about Ms. Gruen from Mr. Goodall’s presentation ~

Mr. Goodall writes: Sara spent four and a half months doing full-time research and watching documentaries on the Great Depression, because she didn’t  know much about either the Depression, or circuses. During her research she came across the “concept of red lighting” where one could be fired from a circus by being thrown off the side of a moving train. She wanted to work real details into her book like that (red lighting)  as well as the tragedy of ‘Jake Leg’. A Jamaica Ginger extract, nicknamed Jake, which was a patent medicine, provided a convenient way to bypass Prohibition laws since it contained between 70-80% ethanol . An unethical manufacturer included a plasticizer in two batches of Jake that caused an incurable paralysis after consuming only a tiny amount devastating the lives of many thousands of people in 1931.  In WFE Sara mentions  the 1918 Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus train wreck which was the worst circus rail accident ever recorded. Eighty-six people were killed and more than one hundred were injured when an empty troop train crashed into the circus train, which was carrying three hundred people. The wooden cars burned fiercely fueled in part by kerosene lanterns used to light the sleeping cars. In the book the older Jacob Jankowski  refers to the accident in a recollection of his past. The Depression took a terrible toll on the circuses. In 1929 there were thirteen railroad circuses touring the United States, but by the 1933 season only three of them remained in operation. Sara didn’t know if she had a story until she actually started writing because she doesn’t like to write from an outline. She always knows what the crisis of the book is going to be, but doesn’t know how she is going to get there, and she doesn’t know how she’s going to get out of it. A year passed from the time she first saw Kelty’s photograph and the completion of the book. Sara says that the actual writing of a book normally takes her four or five months but because of the historical detail Water for Elephants it took much longer. USA Today ranked Water for Elephants as the #4 best-selling book of 2011.**

The next person I’d like to thank is WFE director, Francis Lawrence (@Hibbits). When I began the WFE film blog I also joined Twitter and that’s when I found that Mr. Lawrence had a Twitter account. I began asking him about WFE filming details and Francis graciously responded to my tweets, which was very surprising and a bit surreal at first. We soon struck up a ‘twitter friendship’ and he began tweeting filming details as he realized that many people where interested in the production. No doubt due in part to Robert Pattinson being cast as Jacob Jankowski, but also because people had read and loved the book too. It was great fun anticipating his tweets and without them I/we wouldn’t have learned so much about the actual filming of  WFE.  When production wrapped I was able to have an incredible hour long phone interview with him which I have yet to finish ‘transcribing’ (I will endeavor to finish this, I promise!). He also sent me a couple of WFE tokens, (a hat and bag embroidered with WFE logo that was made up for the crew and a director’s chair back that was used on set) all of which was totally unexpected and much appreciated! Here is another excerpt from Mr. Goodall’s presentation talking about Francis Lawrence (much of this is ‘quoted’ from my phone interview with FL) ~ 

Mr. Goodall writes: Francis Lawrence was hired by the producers to direct the movie and he selected award-winning screenwriter Richard LaGravenese (The Fisher King, The Bridges of Madison County & The Horse Whisperer) to pen the screenplay. They went to 20th Century Fox and pitched their ideas for the movie. Fox Studios gave the green light and Lawrence did his first batch of research to prepare for filming a “Depression Era Traveling Circus”. Lawrence said,  “ the research sort of goes in stages, it starts with whatever you have in your head, from looking at things and reading about things over the years, and that is usually sort of wrong, but some things may be right, but it’s usually sort of wrong”. Lawrence and his assistant started researching pictures of the Depression, pictures of trains from the 30’s, pictures of the north east (United States) in the 30’s and circus pictures from the 30’s. He put together a book of black and white and color pictures of the circus backyard, the tents, the menagerie, the animals, the acts… all of that kind of stuff and put them into binders for Richard and the producers. LaGravenese began writing and after about three months, Lawrence put together a production team to start a research phase to figure out how they were going to make the movie. They dove into what the circus was like, what the trains looked like and how they were put together and what order the train cars were in. What are the tents made out of, how big were the tents and if the Ringling’s tent could hold 15,000 people then how many should the Water For Elephants’ tent hold and how many rings would it be. They really got into the details. In the interim Francis Lawrence visited Circus World Museum. Lawrence said, “it was really fun and that’s half the fun of making a movie like this, getting to know a world like that, which you have nothing to do with.**

With regard to Francis Lawrence and his WFE production team Mr. Goodall included details outlining how the Circus World Museum in Baraboo, Wisconsin, got involved with the production. Much of this is the same information John shared with me previously which I published on the ‘Spectacular WFE Circus Wagons’ page. However, I will include this excerpt as some of it is new ~

Mr. Goodall writes: Our executive director, Stephen Freese, heard that Fox 2000 (a subsidiary of 20th Century Fox Studios) had bought the film rights to “Water for Elephants”.  He proactively sent the studio a package letting their executives know that Circus World had all the materials necessary to stage an authentic 1930’s circus. The following summer Art Director, David Crank (along with Production Designer, Jack Fisk and Director, Francis Lawrence) and other members of the production crew came to Baraboo for a couple of weeks to do research.  They scoured through the archives, looking at photos, manuscripts, ledgers, books and spoke to some experts from the Circus World staff. They immersed themselves in the ‘world of the circus in that era’. While on site the team took numerous photos, made precise measurements and studied the construction of the horse stalls in the Ringling Bros horse rail car from the 40′ and 50’s that we have in the collection. Our car was replicated in California down to the last detail. For those who read the book, the horse car was where the dwarf named Walter, also known as Kinko, and his dog Queenie lived. At the time there was some discussion of filming the movie in Wisconsin using the state tax incentives. The rolling hills around Baraboo resembled New York State where the film was to be situated.  Wisconsin made a decision in 2009 to eliminate a state-funded tax credit program for movies shot in the state and FOX Studios opted to shoot the film in California. The production staff still wanted to use some of our circus wagons and chose 15 from the 215 wagons in the museum collection. Thirteen of the wagons dated from the 1880’s to the early 1900’s, and included eight animal cages, a ticket wagon, a band wagon, two wardrobe wagons and a generator wagon. In addition to the wagons we sent along wooden chalks for blocking the wagons on the flatcars and ramps, or “runs” as they are called, for use in the unloading scenes in the movie. Those “runs” and “chalks” were used for 28 years when Circus World staged horse-drawn circus parades down the streets of Milwaukee. Our library provided scores of photographs and archival film footage to allow the production team to provide solid realism of a circus in the 1930’s. Not just big things like the wagons but details like the midway and sideshow, ropes and riggings and the way animals were loaded and unloaded from trains. We provided them with a 1928 black-and-white photograph of a circus midway at night. The production team blew it up and it served as the blueprint for the creation of the movie midway. The ticket wagon in the photograph was the same wagon that was used in the film. It is simply amazing how much information could be gleaned from a single photo. Another photograph that was taken with a ‘Brownie’ Instamatic camera in 1927, was blown up and showed how they stacked the Cracker Jack boxes and the brands of candy bars they had. From that photo a graphic designer created the packaging for Fairy Floss (now known as cotton candy), peanuts and popcorn that was used in the film.

When production began on the film our 15 circus wagons and related equipment were loaded on eight flatbed trucks for the two day trip to California. They were accompanied by Steve Freese and the museum’s wagon superintendent, Harold “Heavy” Burdick, to supervise the moving of the wagons on the set. They made several trips back and forth during the summer.  Our contract with Fox specified that the wagons could only be moved when museum staff was on the set; remember these are irreplaceable antiques and owned by the Wisconsin Historical Society. The wagons returned to Baraboo after the filming ended in 2010 and are on display still painted with the fictional “Benzini Bros. Circus” logo. We brought back a section of the bleacher seats from the big top and some other items from the set which are now on display along with the wagons. 20th Century Fox paid Circus World $347,725 to cover wagon rental, restoration, staffing and other expenses. We do not plan to restore the wagons to their original historical color schemes for a couple of years. We think it will be a draw to our programming in the meantime. Circus World Museum had a gala red carpet premier in Baraboo on May 20, 2011 at The Al Ringling Theater which was built in 1915 by August (Al ) Ringling. Two of the “Benzini Bros. Circus” wagons were in front of the theater along with a brass band and several vintage cars. **

Rounding out this ‘wrap party’ will be the film’s stats and a comprehensive breakdown of all the Water for Elephants filming locations and production details.

WFE Film Stats ~

Filming began on May 20, 2010 in California and it was wrapped on August 4, 2010 in Tennessee. (A few days of re-shoots and pick-up scenes were filmed in California January 14-16, 2011)

 The budget for the film was a modest $38 million. Reese Witherspoon was paid a fee of $2 million and Robert Pattinson $1.5 million.

 The US premiere of the film was held on April 17, 2011 with a star studded, red carpet opening at the Ziegfield Theater in New York City. The film also held premieres in London, Paris, Berlin, Barcelona and Sydney. The film opened in US theaters on April 22, 2011.

 As of September, 2011 the film had grossed a total of $117,094,902.00 (combined domestic & foreign box office)

 The DVD/Blu-ray was released on November 1, 2011 with sales currently at $14,731,026.00

The following is a very detailed and comprehensive WFE filming location breakdown was put together by Sarah Li of She gathered a bit of her information from my film blog, so I’d like to share this with you because it’s incredibly well researched and informative. I’ve added some ‘edits’ from Mr. Goodall’s presentation and some of my own. Sarah definitely did her ‘homework’ with regard to WFE filming locations and even I was surprised at some of the cool details that she discovered! (Thank you, Sarah!) ~

Sarah writes:

The Fillmore & Western Railway Trains in Ventura County, CA~
About two-thirds of the filming of Water for Elephants took place in Ventura County, CA near the towns of Fillmore and Piru. The production spent approximately 50 days shooting along the 30 miles of railroad track between Santa Paula and Piru. The trains used in the film belong to the Fillmore & Western Railway Co., located in historic downtown Fillmore, CA. The production set up base camps in two locations, one west of Fillmore and the other close to Piru.

In Water for Elephants, the Benzini Bros. train travels through the northeastern part of the United States. Since the trains used in the movie were located in Southern California, filmmakers had to use CGI (computer-generated imagery) to transform arid mountains into lush green hills with the appropriate skyline in the background.

How the Fillmore & Western Railway Trains Were Chosen:
Director Francis Lawrence said that the Fillmore/Piru train set was a better choice as a filming location than trains in other regions, including the Northeast where the story is supposed to take place. “We needed a private train line so that we could kind of ‘own’ the tracks,” Lawrence explained, “without having to move off the tracks every hour for other trains. We also needed nice open spaces to set up the circus.” Carpenters added wooden side boards to the steel flat cars to make them look like the old time wooden circus cars.  Yellow lettering was painted on the box car red sides with the “Benzini Bros. Circus Most Spectacular Show on Earth” logo. Another very good reason to use the trains in Fillmore and Piru was cost. Most of the circus animals, stars and trainers live in California. If the filming was out-of-state, the cost of transportation for the entire crew and cast would be much more expensive. Instead, the production “rented out a bunch of farmland and grew grass right along the train line so we could park our train and have our tents out there.”

Robert Pattinson on location with Water for Elephants:
Robert Pattinson loved the magical world of the circus created on the set. “There’s an embankment with the train track … and all the trailers were on one side and there was the circus world on the other,” Pattinson said. “Once you walked over the tracks, there’d be a camera. Pretty much that was the only thing from the 21st century, and literally you could stand on the tracks and look over everything and you’re in the ’30s, but you’re out in the middle of the desert in Fillmore.”

A Veteran in Hollywood:
Fillmore & Western Railway trains are no strangers to Hollywood. The train company’s nickname is “Home of the Movie Trains.” Its 50 freight and passenger trains and 10 locomotives have starred in more than 400 commercials, films, and television shows (Bones, Chuck, ER, Criminal Minds, Mad Men, Medium, Fear Factor, The Event, and Monk – to name just a few). Movies filmed along the railway include Seabiscuit, Race to Witch Mountain, Inception (the dream sequence of a train suicide scene), Atlas Shrugged, and of course Water for Elephants. Kathleen McCreary, director of sales and marketing for the Fillmore & Western Railway, said that the Water for Elephants production contacted the railroad in winter 2009 when they were scouting for film locations. ” They needed vintage train cars and boxcars from the 1930s, and we fit that bill,” said McCreary. To complete the picture, the production also brought in on a flat bed truck a steam locomotive from Carson City, Nevada — the Virginia & Truckee Railroad Co.’s Engine No. 18. “We had that one shipped in, but all the other cars – stock cars, passenger cars, the stateroom car – all that stuff we got from (the Fillmore & Western Railway) and refurbished them the way we needed to”, shared director Lawrence. Soon after that, as if by magic, train wagons with the words “Benzini Bros. Most Spectacular Show on Earth” appeared in downtown Fillmore.

The Ride of a Lifetime:
Even though there was filming going on, the Fillmore & Western Railway Co. was still able to run its regular weekend train rides when the cast and crew took their breaks from filming. Also, once a month, the company hosts a special weekday train ride for the public (mostly senior folks). “So we told the folks,” said McCreary, “we got permission from the movie company and we took the trains east to see the Piru set. The seniors were thrilled.” The company’s regular weekend excursion trains to Santa Paula passed by the Fillmore set every Saturday and Sunday. Those train rides provide riders a once-in-a-lifetime treat, to see the atmospheric sets of Water for Elephants in a way that no one else (without a super zoom lens) could have access to.

Filming in Fillmore and Piru, CA ~
Even though it was a major film location for Water for Elephants, Fillmore itself is a rare small town with wide open landscape in suburban Southern California. It has been accommodating the railroad and orange industries since the beginning of its history (the late 1800’s). Located in Ventura County and the Santa Clara River Valley, Fillmore’s population as of 2010 was around 15,800. The entire city occupies about 2.8 square miles of land and is predominantly driven by the agricultural industry. And yes, it is still rural and doesn’t have a movie theater. It does, however, have a Starbucks!

The Big Top Tents of Water for Elephants:
Even though the production set up camp near downtown Fillmore, there was no filming taking place in the city itself. The production was self-contained and well-equipped, so they didn’t need much else outside of the set. “All I do is live and breathe on the set,” said Lawrence. “I’d pull into base camp, and then went over the little berm into our ‘30s circus, and 12 hours later I would come out and drive home.” The main big-top tent in the movie was set up near Piru, a small town with a population of under 2,000. Piru is located in Eastern Ventura County in the Santa Clara River Valley, near State Route 126, seven miles east of Fillmore. The big-top tent went up two weeks before rehearsals and training to give the white canvas enough time to “age” for a more authentic look.

Mr. Goodall’s edit: Fox Studios hired Aztec Tents of Torrance, CA. to create two 1930’s-era circus tents, a Big Top and a Menagerie tent, “to be constructed with authentic materials and construction methods” and had to  be completed in six weeks. Aztec researched the original production methods, materials and reinforcements for circus tents before developing designs and samples. The fabric needed to be cotton, sewed together with industrial sewing machines. The material had to be flame retardant and weatherproof. A valence, or decorative trim that hangs from the eaves of the tents, was recreated from 80-year-old photographs which the creative team obtained from Circus World Museum. The greatest difference between historical and modern-day tent construction is not just in the look, but also the materials. Today’s tents are made of vinyl; tent poles are now aluminum instead of wood. Ropes are now replaced with webbing and polyester-reinforced vinyl. The tents in the movie were to be bale-ring style, in which the tent top is connected to a large ring, called a bale ring, which surrounds the center poles of the tent. Pulleys are used to hoist the tent top into the air by lifting the bale ring from the ground to the top of the pole. Elephants were often used to help with the heavy pulling. The studio contracted with the Spar Shop at Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Authority in Aberdeen, WA to make 122 Douglass-fir poles ranging from 4 inches in diameter for the side poles and the longer three-quarter poles.  The two center poles for the “big top” were 45 feet long, 12 inches in diameter and weighed 2,200 pounds. The menagerie tent center poles were 40 feet high. The contract specified that the poles have a “distressed” look and it was done by using dull cutting tools. The shop turned out the order in just under 28 days. Aztec supervised a crew of 12 people from the LA Circus to set up the tents. The big-top went up two weeks before rehearsals and training to give the white canvas enough time to “age” for a more authentic look. After the initial set-up, the tent could be taken down and set up again in half a day. (end edit)

Night scenes were mostly filmed in Piru:
The near-Piru set was where many of the beautiful night scenes were shot in Water for Elephants. Even though the movie was filmed in California, Piru’s location resembles the Northeast landscape due to the way the train line is positioned. The WFE production used digital wizardry (CGI) to give the film a northeasterly look, transforming arid mountain ranges into rolling green hills and occasionally adding buildings to the skyline “It travels east-west, which is great, because you’re typically not looking into the mountains, and depending on the time of day, you get this unbelievably beautiful light,” shared Lawrence. “So there are a lot of sequences we did at dawn and at dusk, and sunrise and sunset. [The breeze] brought a lot of life to things, like the tent and the air. It was really nice.”

(Mr. Goodall’s edits) Special Effects:
The stampede involved a two-day shoot, with three cameras doubling up angles and motions, starting with plates of the lions since they were the most dangerous, followed by the cast and other animals. Whenever they shot a single animal, they would cover it from three different angles and re-use a great take of a lion or lioness and manipulate it three different ways to get three different shots.

One of Circus World’s wagons, known as #100 Royal Italian Band Carriage, was repainted in the Benzini Bros. colors. It was to be used in the “Spec”, which is short for ‘spectacle’ – a colorful pageant which is a featured part of the show where all of the circus performers and animals are presented in full regalia along with the circus band. The movie script called for the horse team to bolt and the wagon to be tipped over on its side. The art department built an exact replica of our wagon and indeed, it tipped over in the stampede

Training of the Roustabouts:
A circus roustabout is an unskilled laborer and probably may not have any previous training, they work very long hours. Can you imagine their hard life on a tent show in the 1930’s?  They are up when the first train pulls into town, about 5:00 am after having slept two persons to three high, wooden bunks or if it was too hot, sleeping on the flat cars where there was a breeze. They unloaded the stake drivers and cookhouses and rode to the circus lot .The second train carrying the big top arrived by 6:30.The third section with seats arrived by 7:30 and by then all the stakes had been driven for the major tents and wagons arrived at the lot. By 7:00 pm the cookhouse was taken down and taken to the train followed by menagerie cages and tents for a 9:30 departure. The big top was down by midnight and the last train would leave by 1:30 am. The next day the process would begin again. Yes, my friends, it was not a glamorous life.

Kevin Ketcham one of the 25 core Roustabouts in the movie said this about training he received. “All the ‘rousties’ attended a two-day official Roustabout training with the L. A. Circus before the filming started. At the training, they learned about the Depression Era circus life, how to tie circus style knots, how to raise the Big Tops from the ground up, and “how to swing 25-pound sledge hammers around a stake like a real team”. After the two days of training, the crew didn’t just act like roustabouts, they became them.”

The Circus Wagons:
The placement of the Circus wagons on the train was very important and so was how to get them on and off the train. In the early part of the movie, you see the wagons actually being taken off the train. Steve Freese and Harold Burdick from Circus World were asked to train the stunt people on how to unload the wagons from the flat cars, but in the end they were asked to take the roles of the stunt people. It is a dangerous task and the production felt Circus World people were more experienced. (end edits)

Filming at the Alexandria Hotel – Los Angeles, CA ~
Another filming location for Water for Elephants was The Alexandria Hotel in East Los Angeles where the speakeasy scenes were shot. Built in 1906 by Los Angeles architect John Parkinson, The Alexandria in its heyday from 1911 to 1922 played host to many heads-of-state and Hollywood legends, from U.S. Presidents William Howard Taft, Theodore Roosevelt, and Woodrow Wilson to Valentino, Sarah Bernhardt, Jack Dempsey, and Charlie Chaplin. It was also the venue where Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks and D.W. Griffith gathered in 1919 to form their own movie-making company United Artists. Recently the hotel underwent a major renovation and was converted into an apartment building for private residences. The speakeasy scenes in Water for Elephants were filmed in one of the ballrooms at The Alexandria. Marlena and Jacob’s ‘escape-to-the-alley’ scene following the speakeasy raid was also filmed at the hotel in an alley nearby. The Alexandria itself has been a Hollywood star for years. Many productions have filmed there, including The X-Files, Se7en, and America’s Most Wanted.

Filming at UCLA – Westwood, CA ~
In the book and the movie, Jacob attended Cornell University. In reality, to keep costs within filming budget, UCLA (University of California Los Angeles) stood in for the College of Veterinary Medicine at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Filming took place outside of Kerckhoff Hall, a building built in 1931 and fits in perfectly with Water For Elephants which took place during the 1930’s Depression era. Due its close proximity to Tinsel Town and its beautiful campus ground UCLA is an old pro in Hollywood. Many movies & TV shows have been filmed on the UCLA campus over the years. UCLA’s film school is legendary because of its famous students and/or graduates. The list reads like a “Who’s Who” in Hollywood.

Filming at the ‘Haunted’ Linda Vista Community Hospital – Los Angeles, CA ~
After wrapping up filming at UCLA, the production moved to the abandoned Linda Vista Community Hospital in East Los Angeles to film the morgue scene. Linda Vista Hospital, formerly the Santa Fe Railroad Hospital and Santa Fe Coast Lines Hospital, stood in for the Ithaca, New York hospital of the book. The hospital was originally created to treat railroad employees in 1904. In 1991, the hospital was shut down amidst rumors of medical malpractices and law suits. In January 2006 the hospital was added to the National Registry of Historic Places. As an abandoned building Linda Vista Hospital has been used primarily as a filming location. From these filming experiences the hospital’s haunted reputation exploded with reports of unexplained phenomena from overnight security guards and production crews. Darting shadows, cries in the night and unexplained humming were all experienced by people working on the hospital grounds. Many even claim to have been touched and pushed by unseen forces.

Sound Stage and Back Lot Magic ~
Even though many of the train scenes were filmed on location in Fillmore and Piru, a few of the train’s interior shoots were filmed on a sound stage at Fox Studios. The spectacular Benzini Bros. Circus Parade sequence where Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) rode Rosie into town was also filmed at Fox Studios, on its beautiful, versatile “New York Street” set. The “New York Street” set was designed so that it can adapt to any cityscape (from San Francisco’s Chinatown to urban Los Angeles) and accommodate any filming. In Water For Elephants this set was magically transformed into Weehawken, New Jersey, circa 1931, complete with a barber shop, a candy store, a restaurant, four large posters hung on an alley wall with the words “Benzini Bros. Circus!” in vintage lettering, and a small green grocer selling plump watermelons. (WFEfilm blog edit: Author Sara Gruen and her family had a ‘cameo’ in the scene that was filmed on this Fox back lot. It involved Jacob brushing past Sara, to fetch Rosie the Elephant away from stealing the watermelons.)

Filming in Chickamauga, Georgia ~
During the final four days of filming, the production was in Tennessee and Georgia to film Jacob (Robert Pattinson) at his family home. A lone farm house in the middle of open fields in Chickamauga, Georgia, was used as the Jankowski house. As remote as that location was, there were still hundreds of fans lining up on the road “hoping to catch a moment in movie history” and glimpses of Pattinson filming his scenes at Jacob’s house.

The house in Chickamauga, GA (Jacob’s family home) “The Home That Will Go Down In Georgia History”:
The Jankowski house in real life belongs to the Cross family. It has no electricity and no running water, and no one has lived in the house in the past 12 years (ref: 2011) Carol Cross said in an interview that in the spring of 2010, “a man just approached [her husband] and asked him who owned the house and wanted to know if it would be OK if they considered shooting a movie there.” According to the Cross family, the production crew had spent months covering many miles of roads in Georgia to find the perfect 1930’s location for the movie. They finally spotted her house and the rest is movie-making history. Cross said neither she nor her husband was familiar with Pattinson’s or Witherspoon’s work prior to being contacted by a film scout about using their house in the film. “We are simple people and we live very simply,” she said. “This is an exciting thing for us. It’s gonna be a whirlwind and then it’s gonna be over.” After securing the house for filming, film crews made the trek back and forth to Chickamauga, Georgia, to scout and prepare the location for filming. Located on West Cove Road, the house was renovated by the production’s art department. When cosmetic changes to the house’s interior and exterior were finished, it was magically transformed into an authentic 1930’s home, with antique cars and dated laundry hanging from clothes pins in the yard. Cross’ farm house was ready for its once-in-a-lifetime job.

How Filming Helped Boost Chickamauga’s Economy:
Chickamauga itself was bursting at the seams with excitement of having a motion picture filmed in their own backyard. Hollywood glamor and a chance to rub elbows with Robert Pattinson aside, any time a major movie comes to town it brings along a boost to the local economy.”You don’t get any tax incentives for this, but it puts about $100,000 each day that they film into our economy,” said Walker County Commissioner, Bebe Heiskell. Heiskell also stated that it’s not just about money; it also means exposure for the town. “It calls attention to Walker County and its beauty,” she said. “It might increase our ability to attract tourism.” Carol Cross expressed the sentiment of the entire town best when she said, “… we are going to be part of the history and there is gonna be people talking about this for years to come.”

Filming in Chattanooga, Tennessee ~
After Chickamauga, Water for Elephants spent two weeks filming in Chattanooga, TN creating a huge $1 million impact on Chattanooga’s economy. “When a film comes to town they leverage a lot of economic impact. The bigger the film the better! And there’s a multiplier affect of about two and a half dollars leveraged in the community for every dollar they spend in production.” said Missy Crutchfield, who works at the City of Chattanooga Arts Education and Culture Department. How does having a movie filmed in town help its economy? With Water for Elephants filming in Chattanooga the production hired local carpenters, painters, and greens-men to develop film sets and prepare them for filming.

 The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum:
“We’ve got the historic train here, which has really been a draw for many years to get movies to come here. So that’s a great asset that we can build on to draw more productions here,” said Dave Porfiri (Film Chattanooga). “Chattanooga is a wonderful place to shoot because, look around you, the scenery is amazing. And we have great crews here.” Speaking of historic trains, the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum (TVRM) provided a vintage train and a 3-mile railroad track for the film set. “The Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum is what makes Chattanooga unique for filming,” said TVRM Marketing Coordinator Steve Freer, who has been campaigning tirelessly for almost two years to bring Water for Elephants to Chattanooga. “The Tennessee Film, Entertainment and Music Commission would like to congratulate the Chattanooga SE Tennessee Film Commission and the Tennessee Valley Railroad Museum on the filming of 20th Century Fox’s Water for Elephants,” said Bob Raines (of the Tennessee Film and Entertainment and Music Commission.) “This is a high-profile movie that highlights Tennessee’s spectacular locations and crew and it promotes Chattanooga tourism. The Chattanooga SE Tennessee Film Commission is working in partnership with the State to further the entertainment industry by helping develop a long-term infrastructure that will lead to job creation.”

Director Francis Lawrence Loves Filming in Chattanooga:
The feeling is mutual as Director Francis Lawrence shared in an interview with the local news station WRCB (NBC), “Chattanooga’s been an A. A Plus. It’s been fun. We’ve had beautiful weather, beautiful scenery, great people, great crews, great hotel, fantastic food… So it’s been a lot of fun.” Water for Elephants was his first shoot in Chattanooga and Lawrence liked the enthusiasm of the people here. “I think we all felt that it’s nice to come to a place that’s very welcoming and excited about it, (the film) in LA and New York where a lot of films are made people are jaded to it,” said Lawrence. “Some people don’t want you shooting next to their houses and they get upset. So it’s nice to see the enthusiasm.” Lawrence said he’d love to have a chance to film in Chattanooga again. “I love the landscapes,” he said. “If I had more time I’d try to go up the River Gorge; didn’t get a chance to see Rock City or Ruby Falls, which I’d love to see and just kind of tool around the countryside a little bit.”

Chattanooga’s Little Residents Joined the Cast:
One last interesting tidbit before we wrap up the Chattanooga location. By chance, two local boys were hired to be in the movie. Both of Sonya Gonzales’ sons, 7-year-old Mason and 5-year-old Liam were chosen to be in Water for Elephants. “They play two of Robert Pattinson’s kids in the movie,” said Sonya. The most amazing part was that the casting agents didn’t even know the boys were related. Director Lawrence told Sonya that her sons’ scene was an important part of the movie’s ending. (Click here to read her story posted on the WFE film blog) [end Sarah’s edits]

I sincerely hope that you will continue to visit the blog and re-live the Water for Elephants filming experience. There are hundreds of images to peruse and ponder in the five Image Galleries. I will continue to add more as they become available…  So, as they say in the film biz – “That’s a wrap!”


Published on September 20, 2010 at 12:59 pm  Comments (2)  

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hi,
    I love WFE and this site is wonderful. Did you ever consider publishing a book with all this information?

  2. Looking forward to seeing the movie, as I loved the book, and have a family history connected with the Circus!

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