Helmed by director Peter Berg, ‘Lone Survivor’ is a war film based on the book of the same, pertaining to the actual events surrounding Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan. It follows four navy seals, led by Marcus Luttrell (Mark Wahlberg), who are airdropped into the Hindu Kush mountains. Their mission is to eliminate Taliban commander Ahmad Shah, who is responsible for the deaths of 20 US Marines. They soon realize their intelligence reports had been incorrect, as the Taliban commander is guarded by hundreds of militants instead of the ten they had been briefed about.
The seal team’s location in the forested hills is identified by a shepherd, who reports it to the fighters below. Despite changing their position, the team is surrounded by overwhelming numbers and faces impossible odds in the fight for their lives. The treacherous battle transpires in dry terrain, over a landscape resembling the Hindu Kush mountains, adding to the movie’s gripping realism. The atmosphere of ‘Lone Survivor’ draws you in, as if you are crouching down beside the seal team yourself. One wonders how the locations, from the air base, hills, and forest, could resemble the real-world rendition so closely. Where did the filming take place, and what gives it such levels of authenticity?
Where Was Lone Survivor Filmed?
‘Lone Survivor’ was filmed in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Chilili, in the state of New Mexico. The filming began in October of 2010 and was wrapped up in 42 days by November of the same year. The author of the book inspiring the production, a decorated navy seal, Marcus Luttrell, was present throughout its production. His presence ensured the authenticity of scenes, keeping them as truthful to real events as possible.
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Additionally, Peter Berg had done his due research on the operation. He read after-action reports and watched videos made by Taliban fighters as they attacked the seal team’s position. Therefore, he developed a good understanding of the terrain and geographical features they needed to find to film a faithful rendition. Let us delve into the specific locales used for filming the movie.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe, the capital city of New Mexico, is located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo mountains, which were crucial for the film’s backdrop. Eight days were spent filming in the mountains, between 11,000 and 12,000 feet, in order to emulate the Hindu Kush mountain range. The scenes, which have the seals tumbling down a cliff, were shot on the steep slopes of Sangre de Cristo.
It led to the sequences being very realistic and brutal but reportedly caused several injuries to the stunt crew, as a few of its members tumbled uncontrollably for 15 to 20 feet. Spirits ran high, and Berg had to even hold back actors from making the suicidal leap. This was particularly true for Taylor Kitsch and Ben Foster, as Berg is reported to have told them, “You’re not going to throw yourself off a twenty-foot cliff.”
Chilili, New Mexico
Chilili is a dry and densely forested place in Bernalillo County. Filming of the movie’s battle scenes took place in its wooded areas. When we first see the antagonist Ahmad Shah and his insurgents outside their village, it is on the set created in Chilili. The art department recreated sets to stand in for the Afghan village, along with the Pashtun village where Luttrell is rescued. Filming in the woods of Chilili took place for two weeks, and the movie’s incredible 45-minute gunfight sequence was choreographed here.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Being the most populous city in the state of New Mexico, Albuquerque sits in the high desert. It is also home to the Kirtland Air Force Base, which portrayed the Bagram Airfield in ‘Lone Survivor’ for scenes set in the US military base in Afghanistan. As the seals walk to and from the airbase, we see a series of C-130 Hercules, Apache attack helicopters, and CH-47 Chinooks lined up. These shots are courtesy of the United States Air Force and the Kirtland Air Force Base.
To create the interiors of the military base and Bagram Airfield’s patrol base, Camp Ouellette, two 26,000 square-foot stages at I-25 (Cinelease) studios were used. Bluescreen work was also conducted here to depict a CH-47 Chinook in a gimbal. The art department used the available area to build the house of the character Gulab. The studio has also been used for filming the Johnny Depp starrer ‘Transcendence’ and ‘The Space Between Us.’
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