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LIGHTS, CAMERA . . .

A crossing in the desert

January 02, 2008

In Lights, Camera . . ., a below-the-line craftsperson talks about a current film. This week: "No Country for Old Men" production designer Jess Gonchor on building a full-scale replica border crossing.

SURE, we might have found a practical location for the bridge crossing if we'd scouted the country, but few filmmakers have that luxury. Nor would any real border crossing permit a shutdown for the three weeks we needed to work. Our only option was to find a location in New Mexico.

While scouting in Las Vegas, N.M., we came upon a highway overpass, an exit off Interstate 25, and I knew immediately that this ordinary stretch of highway could be transformed to replicate a border crossing spanning the Rio Grande.

Now all I had to do was execute a design to stay true to the architecture and palette of the movie and also satisfy the requirements of the town engineers.

Adding 100,000 pounds of scenery that could withstand the 80 mph winds of the New Mexico desert . . . now that was a challenge. And the townspeople were less than happy when they learned that production would close one of the three ramps into town. Challenges were met in every situation. When the work was done, and a stranger said to me "When did they move the border so far north?," I knew we did good and were ready to shoot.

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