Depp’s Ranger rides again

Johnny Depp was at Santa Anita Park in Arcadia again briefly this month, along with Armie Hammer, to shoot a few scenes for Disney’s $250 million-plus summer 2013 blockbuster “The Lone Ranger.” It marked a return for Depp, who also filmed scenes in the grandstands at Santa Anita a few years ago for Michael Mann’s “Public Enemies.”
Production on “The Lone Ranger” has ended — a week later than scheduled and just a day before the opening horse racing day of Santa Anita’s Autumn Meet — but it will be a couple weeks before all equipment is completely removed from the area.
<Story continues below the following 2 1/2-minute video montage of production work on “The Lone Ranger”at Santa Anita Park from August – September…>

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Although Depp’s time was brief with the second unit shooting visual effects shots in the parking lot of Santa Anita Park on one of the early days of production Wednesday, Sept. 19 (principal photography was in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, and Utah) and reportedly again last Thursday, Sept. 27, his appearance during a period when few other high-profile movies were being shot anywhere drew quite a few paparrazi to the area, according to Arcadia Police Sergeant Jason Davis.

Davis was told by some of the freelance photographers that a shot of Depp as Tonto on a horse, or a photo of co-star Armie Hammer on his white horse called Silver could fetch as much as $12,000 from tabloid publications or TV shows like TMZ. A standard shot of either actor would bring $5,000.
Police, which were paid by Disney to provide security during the production, and help minimize the amount of publicity about the production, requested several groups of paparrazi over the last couple of weeks to leave areas such as the Arcadia Chamber of Commerce lawn, which is City property, as well as parking lots adjacent to the production at Westfield Santa Anita mall and at the medical building across the street from Methodist Hospital.
Two professional photographers were spotted this week across the street from the track on the Chamber lawn near Holly Avenue wearing black and hiding behind hedges and trees with their long telephoto lenses aimed at a person dressed like Tonto on a horse.

Publicity courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures.

While monitoring scanners of radios of production crew across the street, the two photographers waited anxiously for the person to turn around in hopes that it was Depp and not a stunt double. It turned out to be a stuntman wearing the outrageous Captain Jack Sparrow-like Tonto make-up including a black bird perched on his hat (see photo at right), as was the case during most of the several weeks of stunt work production during a 10-week stay at the track that began in early August. The camera hounds left disappointed but returned a short while later only to be spotted by police and asked to leave again.

For more than a month, a parade of trucks hauled in full-scale 1880s-era Old West-style train engines, coal cars, and passenger cars to the parking lot plainly visible to the more than 40,000 vehicles driving by each day.

A handful of giant cranes took positions and a huge 48-foot tall x 200-foot wide right-angle wall was erected with a visual effects “green screen” (actually blue) on the side facing the track to be used for shots in which computerized backgrounds of different locations will be added digitally during post-production.

Carpenters spent days building two over-sized train passenger cars and ramps on either end for a scene in which The Lone Ranger will ride his horse Silver down the aisle of the train car. Days later a horse trailer arrived and two white horse emerged. They were led around the parking lot by hand before riders mounted them and slowly walked them up the ramps, through the train cars, and back down the other ramp, repeating the process at a slightly faster pace, and then again at a trot before putting them back in the trailer and leaving.

Weeks ago a stunt company set up a rig for Tonto to hang and swing over a train passenger car holding a man between his legs and dropping him at a specific spot. Rehearsals could be seen from Huntington Drive and the parking lot of Westfield Santa Anita mall in which the Tonto stunt double had a dummy between his legs and dropped him on a mattress (except for the times the dummy was dropped on the asphalt by mistake). Later a passenger train car appeared with a rectangular section missing from the roof, presumably where the stunt might take place.

A couple weeks ago shooting began as a couple hundred crew suddenly showed up one morning. The cranes and tractor-trailers began jockeying all the train cars around the lot and in front of the giant screen for various shots and then back behind the screen to a designated spot.
A stretch of track was built on a trestle about 20-feet high with a passenger car set on the tracks and moved periodically to various points on the track, including hanging precariously over the edge as if it was simulating tracks on a bridge that had been blown away.
Several smaller green/blue screens were set up in nearby areas and adjusted aerially by the cranes as it appeared that production was taking place in multiple spots simultaneously. Late one afternoon a series of explosives were set off in a small area of the south west side of the parking lot near the mall and next to Huntington Drive, with smoke seen billowing up after each explosion. One insider said the crew was firing the explosives to capture the right sound and to use for visual effects.

Most of the production crew left the track parking lot the weekend of Sept. 22 to film scenes in a giant water tank for a few days in another location in Los Angeles, where a diver tragically died on Friday, Sept. 21, reportedly of a heart attack, while working underwater to prep the tank for shooting.

The crews came back this week for some final pick-up shots. On one of the final days of shooting that ended Thursday, that stunt with Tonto dropping a man from his legs was performed for the cameras. Extras dressed in period clothing filled the passenger car. Sure enough, Tonto swung down a wire with a man between his legs — this time a human, not a dummy — and passed through the cutout of the train roof, dropping the man into the train car.
The cast and crew, which reportedly included Depp and Hammer, immediately loudly cheered the successful completion of the shot, which also appeared to signal a wrap on production here in Arcadia as the extras left the train car.

Sergeant Davis reported that Disney officials and the production crew “loved” their time in Arcadia, from the privacy and control of the set to enjoying the eateries around town. They reported no security issues  and none of the paparrazi tried to get onto the production property. Similarly, Sgt. Davis said the Disney production rep was “absolutely wonderful” to work with. Both parties would like a return engagent if and when the same kind of production work would be required — perhaps a sequel?

The movie, the first big-screen adaptation in more than 30 years of the popular radio serial of the 1930s and TV series of the 1950s, is from the same team behind the enormously popular “Pirates of the Carribean” movies, producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director Gore Verbinski, and, of course, Depp. It is currently scheduled for release on July 3, 2013.

— By Scott Hettrick


  1. Meredith Brucker says

    Great article, Scott. It answered all my questions about what has been going on at S.A. We are lucky to have a journalist of your talent reporting on Arcadia news.

  2. Luz Redel says

    Thanks Scott,
    I have been researching news about Arcadia News and found everything I was looking for right here, Do you know why the scheduled release was later in the UK? Just to answer my last question…lol