‘Black Sky’ looms over campus



For the last week, parking lots P37 and P35 on the west side of Oakland University have been ravaged by heavy rain, extreme winds and explosions.  More than 100 people scurried around the two parking lots, communicating heavily by two-way radio and screaming to be heard above the chaos.

OU has not been hit by a storm. The weather last week has been warm and dry. A tempest of another sort descended on campus — one that comes with a Hollywood feature film being shot in Oakland County.

The film, a New Line Cinema production being distributed by Warner Bros., is called “Black Sky.” It will be one of the only major Hollywood motion pictures featuring natural, devastating tornadoes since the late 90s.

The film stars Richard Armitage (‘Thorin Oakenshield’ from the upcoming “Hobbit” trilogy) and Sarah Wayne Callies (‘Lori’ from “The Walking Dead”) as an educator and a meteorologist, as well as Nathan Kress (TV’s “iCarly”) as their son. The film also stars Matt Walsh (“Ted,” “The Upright Citizen’s Brigade”) as a storm chaser and Jeremy Sumpter (“Friday Night Lights,” “Peter Pan”) as his cameraman.

The film was written by Simon Beaufoy (Oscar-winning screenplay writer for “Slumdog Millionaire”) and is directed by Steven Quale (“Final Destination 5”).

In between takes, the film’s producer Todd Garner (“Knight and Day” and the upcoming “Here Comes the Boom”) expressed his appreciation for OU’s campus.

“It’s a great place to shoot and it’s really beautiful here,” Garner said. “The beauty of it plays perfectly for our movie because we wanted our movie to be about kind of what the whole Midwest goes through every year, especially now with global warming and how it’s getting worse and worse.”

According to Garner, the two parking lots and surrounding area fit the needs of the film in terms of space, crew and equipment.

“This location was chosen because we needed a lot of flexibility in terms of being able to do this in a real street … and a parking lot … seeing this, the way the hill is, being able to put the ‘church’ there, it just has a lot of good land,” Garner said.

Coordination for shooting even the shortest scene was a massive undertaking for the shots filmed at OU. A dozen cranes called ‘Condors’ were used for filming. They held cameras, rain machine veins and giant sun-blocking squares, called ‘Diffusions’, 80 feet into the air.

Crew members were at  hand to operate giant fans capable of generating 100 mph gusts of wind, throwing leaves in front of them for greater effect while other crew members continuously sprayed Pioneer Drive with water — often all for one 15-second shot.

During filiming, custom made ‘weather chaser’ vehicles made from stripped-down Dodge trucks and outfitted with high-tech equipment and ‘gull-wing’ doors could be found on the set. According to the film’s publicist, Tammy Sandler, the two vehicles are not props and can be driven on the highway.

Other aspects of the film that deal with more dangerous situations will be done digitally, including the destruction of the ‘used car lot,’ which includes a building set up in P37 featuring a gorilla holding a sign that reads ‘Radomski Auto Sales.’

“Doing something like this, it’s a lot of destruction,” Garner said. “We won’t destroy it (the used car lot building) practically. We’ll destroy it digitally.”

“Black Sky” has been shooting at other locations in Oakland County, including Oakview Middle School. All shooting for the film has been and will be done in Michigan and is scheduled to wrap Sept. 27. There is no official release date for the film, but Sandler expects the realease sometime in 2013.

Contact Local Editor Mark McMillan via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @markamcmillan