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Re-creating history, one shot at a time

September 10, 2006|Susan King | Times Staff Writer

CLINT EASTWOOD has a stock company of people he has collaborated with over the years, including editor Joel Cox, cinematographer Tom Stern and twotime Oscar-winning production designer Henry Bumstead ("To Kill a Mockingbird," "The Sting").

Despite battling prostate cancer for the last few years, Bumstead was able to work on Eastwood's latest film, "Flags of Our Fathers," which opens Oct. 20. He even got to see the film before his death at 91 in May.

"Flags of Our Fathers," based on the bestselling book, focuses on six soldiers who raised the American flag at Iwo Jima in February 1945 -- a moment caught for posterity by photographer Joe Rosenthal.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the nation deemed the men in the iconic photo heroes. And the three survivors of the battle -- Ira Hayes, John Bradley and Rene Gagnon -- were flown home for a war bond tour. But the adulation was devastating for two of the men.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday September 13, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
'Flags of Our Fathers': An article in Sunday's Calendar section on the designers of the film "Flags of Our Fathers" said 26,000 American troops died in the battle of Iwo Jima. The number of U.S. casualties totaled about 28,000, including about 6,800 killed.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday September 17, 2006 Home Edition Sunday Calendar Part E Page 2 Calendar Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
'Flags of Our Fathers': An article last Sunday on the designers of the film "Flags of Our Fathers" stated that 26,000 American troops died in the battle of Iwo Jima. That casualty count included those who were wounded. About 7,000 Americans died.

Jack Taylor, an art director who had worked with "Bummy" over the last 14 years, says that when they got the script, "it was obvious to Henry and us in the art department that there were basically two movies going on. "You are dealing with World War II and then the aftermath of the event at Iwo Jima."

Bumstead and his art department re-created "parts and pieces of history" through newspapers and photographs of the events when the three men returned. The art department found a complete description of Roosevelt's Oval Office in a 1934 Time magazine article (though Harry S. Truman was president by the time the three soldiers visited the office, Truman hadn't had time to put his personal stamp on the room).

Warner Bros. had a functional Oval Office thanks to the "The West Wing," and Bumstead and his crew redressed it to reflect 1945.

"In researching photographs from Life and Time magazines and other articles, we noticed some of the niches had wire-mesh doors on them," says Taylor. The art department also contacted the Roosevelt and Truman libraries for information on carpets and dressing and received negatives from the White House Historical Collection to reconstruct the photos and paintings that adorned the walls and desk.

"Those were the kind of things we had to research and re-create," says Taylor.

Several outdoor scenes set in Chicago during the bond tour were shot on the back lot at Universal. "America has changed so much in 61 years," says Taylor. "There is just so much you can do and can't do on location. We opted to consolidate and go for the back lot, which we had much greater control of."

The art department also used the Biltmore Hotel and other places around Los Angeles, including the steps of City Hall, "where we could turn back time as well as have control and give you the period feeling," says Taylor.

There's only one attack transport vessel still in existence from that period -- it's part of the Maritime Fleet on the James River. "It's in very poor condition," says Taylor. "We weren't allowed to use it. But we went there and took a lot of photographs, and we built what would have been the troop portion on stage."

The production wasn't able to re-create the famous amphibian landing on Iwo Jima because the Japanese consider it a sacred island -- some 22,000 Japanese died there; nearly 26,000 Americans perished.

Trying to find an available beach with that same type of black sand was problematic. They finally discovered the perfect site, practically on the other side of the world from Japan -- in Iceland. "We decided on one that had the exact color and texture and terrain around without the volcano of Iwo Jima," says Taylor.


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