Red Dawn at Fitzgerald Park

Images on this page were taken November 19, 20, 21, and 28, in 2009, and June 16, in 2017. If you have read the sign (below right), you might be wondering how I took pictures on the 19th if the park was not reopened to the public until the 20th. It would be an excellent question, since this website contains only my photography, with very rare exceptions. Technically, I did not take the photos of the 19th. The Eaton County Parks Naturalist, Jackie Blanc, officially took them. However, they are still primarily our shots. I had inquired about coming to the park to take pictures for our archives, and was told they could not make exceptions. But, the park staff did have the permission of the movie company to get photos for the future use of the park. Jackie had taken some photos with her basic point and shoot camera, but was not satisfied with her results. She has served on the Teaching & Sharing Centers Board of Trustees, so she asked that I be allowed to accompany her with my better equipment, and help her get some images on what would be the last day of filming. The movie company approved her request with the condition that she actually take the pictures. I arrived at the park a little after 10:00 a.m. on the 19th, and waited at the guarded gate for her to come and escort me into the park, where I would share my knowledge, change camera settings for her, help her with the layout of the shots she desired, and make suggestions before handing her the camera. Then I would step behind her to be sure the image was laid out well on the image display, particularly watching horizon and vertical lines with all the trees and equipment around. If everything looked good, she pushed the shutter release. It was kind of like a one day crash course of Photography 101, in the field, with no practicing, and no chance to redo anything later. I think she did great. Much like someone who tells the story, but has another person actually do the writing, I see myself as the co-author of each of those images. That is why they appear here in my wsharing website. 


The opening picture (above left) on this, and the previous "Do Not Miss Miscellaneous" page, is the last picture we took on the 19th. It is of the badge I presumed each of the movie personnel wore to identify their legitimate presence and authority in the park. This one was being worn by the fellow stopping people from using the stairs down to the river where the main set was, and letting people in the upper park staging areas know it was time to be quiet, because filming had begun on the set. I suggested the photo to Jackie precisely because I figured it would be an iconic image for any historical use. An interesting note here is we spoke in a whispered tone to him what we wanted to do, and he very graciously removed his badge and set it down for us to more easily get the shot. But then he got a message in his headset that we needed to stop talking "up there" because their microphones on the set (some distance away from us) were picking us up. I was pretty impressed. 

The images presented here will not be in the order we took them. Because of the time constraint that we had to be out of the primary set area before filming began, we went down and photographed there first. However, those images will be the final November 19th photos used on this page, along with most of the "after" pictures. While not exactly in reverse order, we will start in the parking lot, and move toward the movie set as we explore the last morning of Red Dawn at Fitzgerald Park. 


As you can see, the 19th was not the greatest in picture taking weather. Michigan Novembers can be pretty iffy. Jackie indicated, since this was the last day of shooting, many of the vehicles had already left. She said you could not believe the number of semi-trailers and other vehicles coming into the park originally. She observed, once they were all set up, it was like an entire village had cropped up in the middle of the park. It covered the parking areas, the ball diamonds, and all along the bike trail leading into the park. Anyone familiar with the park layout will understand why she likened it to a village moving in. I do not know what scenes were being filmed on the 19th, but the "star" trailers appeared to still all be there. 


Food was still present on the last day of the shoot. In addition to the caterer's trailer, which appeared to have some items available, the main dining tent had a substantial amount of space, and seemed quite comfortable, especially when looking out at less than hospitable weather. One of the park's pavilions close to the set appeared to have been converted into a warming station of sorts with a stack of bottled water, among other things I would presume. The two white boards leaning against the trailer in the top left shot are that morning's menus. They included a quesadilla, spicy sausage scramble, BLT, French toast, two kinds of burritos, a veggie scramble, breakfast sandwich, specialty eggs, an omelet bar, and a juice bar. 




Trucks and tents with props, supplies, equipment, and costumes were still around on the 19th. The props, covered by a canopy, were located by the dining room tent, closer to the parking area where the trailers were, than to the set down by the creek. Trucks appeared to be spread around in accordance with where their contents would likely be needed. 

In speaking with Jackie by phone, while I was preparing this page, she indicated not all of the shooting was done in the main set area. Some scenes took place on both sides above the creek, which sits quite low at the bottom of the park's ledges. She told me she was fascinated by the filming of one particular scene, which was done in an upper park area. In the movie, she said, they are speeding through the woods, but at the actual filming, the vehicle was moving extremely slowly, with special cameras and techniques used to create the sensation. 


As we move toward the main set area, the large cranes holding the lighting units, are an obvious presence. The very first image pictured below was actually taken on the 20th. The day after the final shoot turned out to be more overcast and difficult to take photos on than the previous day. 



There are basically two paths down to the main set area in the park. One goes mostly parallel to the creek and gradually descends to its level. The other is the stairway which comes down on the river side close to the bridge which crosses Sandstone Creek. Since the path was more heavily traveled by movie people and their vehicles, Jackie and I used the stairs. Immediately I noticed even the stairs were camouflaged (below right) so they did not show up in the background of the scenes being filmed. Once we were at the creek level, I also saw they had created a makeshift stairway (below left) for quicker access to the site. We did not get over by the spot where the path starts to rise up into the main park area, so there is no shot of it here. However, it did make it into the movie, so I made a point of taking a photograph of it in 2017, which will show up later. Upon reaching the bottom of the stairs, the other unusual thing which caught my attention was a pair of rails creating a track which ran across the bridge, and also turned to run along the creek path. It was meant to lend authenticity to the site being an abandoned mine. The track would have been for the mining cars. It did explain a perplexing sign I saw earlier in the week when I had tried to routinely enter the park. There is a railroad track which crosses the park entrance drive very close to the street you turn in from. That day I saw a sign which read, "This is a real railroad track." My reaction upon seeing it was, "everybody knows this, duh." After seeing the fake track on the movie set, I realized the sign was for the Hollywood people, who needed to know the entrance tracks were not a part of their set, and they could encounter a real train. I still got a chuckle out of it even after becoming aware of the reason for the sign. I wish I had taken a picture of it that day, since I forgot to look to see if it was still there as I was exiting after helping Jackie take these photos. 


At the main level of the set, there was already a little activity starting to take place, so we took a few shots then crossed the bridge to get a broad view of the set. While on that side of the creek, looking across at the abandoned mine, I said to Jackie, "wow, they spared no expense building the mine to look like our ledges. Look at the size of those boulders they hauled in." Jackie started laughing. Then she informed me all those "heavy" rocks were actually Styrofoam. She said the art department for the film company had been out there months earlier with color swatches to check the colors of the ledges, so they could match the natural surroundings perfectly. They did well. In the below right image, the Styrofoam set is on the left, and the natural ledges are in the middle and on the right. Then we crossed back over to the set side of the creek for the remaining images I have shared here from November 19, 2009. 


The stairs were not the only thing camouflaged. In a scene in the movie, one of the young heroes and one of the heroines are talking at night while sitting on the bridge pictured above. The enemy has discovered their location, and starts bombing the area. In actuality, there are houses across the river from this spot. The bombing initiates there, and lights up the sky. That entire side of the river had to be camouflaged. Jackie had asked if I wanted to be there the night they were filming the bombing scenes to try some shots, but I had another commitment. Even indoors, from over a mile away, my wife and our friends could see the sky lighting up and hear the explosions. 

As mentioned, on the 20th, the day after the final shoot when Fitzgerald Park opened back up to the public, it turned out to be more overcast and difficult to take photos on than the previous day. Of course, most everything was gone by then. The Paskal Lighting people were still loading things up, and a clean-up crew was busy trying to finish the job. The Styrofoam mine was still in place, as were most of the rails. But, like much of life, in the air there was a sense of coming down from the high of the previous activity. 


November 21, 2009 was a Saturday. My daughter, who teaches during the week, is quite a movie buff. So, I called her to check if she wanted to go to the park and see if the mine set was still there? As it turned out, it was indeed yet there, as is attested by what I refer to as a "tourist shot" of her standing by the mine entrance. She also got to play the part of Wonder Woman, lifting up a giant boulder with her bare hands. Things were clearly winding down by the weekend, however. 


A week later, November 28, when I returned to the park, everything movie was gone. Only torn up ground, tire tracks, and odd feeling empty spaces, attested to the possibility that something took place here.  


Seven and a half years later, nature has reclaimed her own. On June 16, 2017 I specifically chose to do my cardiac exercise on the other side of the park to take these photographs. For weeks, I had been running into people on the nature trails who would ask me where to see the ledges. As a part of my explanation, I would include a narrative of the Red Dawn movie remake being filmed partly along the ledges by Sandstone Creek in the park. After several of those encounters, I decided it was time to do a page on my website that I could refer people to for more information. As you can see, the stairway has its own natural camouflage now. No mine cart tracks adorn the paths. And, where once stood a Styrofoam entrance to a mine, artistically crafted to match the surrounding natural ledges, only a park bench intrudes on the natural growth of trees and underbrush. The path leading up to the main park level, where in the movie the younger brother is returning to meet the disapproval of his action by his older brother, is three rows down on the left. Bottom left, a couple is crossing the bridge where the movie couple was sitting when the bombing started. I explain to people the iron hand rails needed to be removed for the movie, and then they were re-welded back into place after the filming was finished. I tell them to look closely at the bottom of each of the vertical posts, and they can see the one lasting piece of evidence of Red Dawn at Fitzgerald Park. 



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