Blog Directory CineVerse: When Hollywood rides the Windy City rails

When Hollywood rides the Windy City rails

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

by Erik J. Martin

(Note: This is part 1 of a 2-part article that will conclude next week.)

Ever wonder what’s involved in shooting a film a Chicago CTA train? Former transportation manager of CTA rail service Sidney Edwards can tell you.

For years, Edwards coordinated film and video shoots that took place on CTA cars, rails and platforms--telling a film crew where to go, what to do and when to do it. In fact, whenever Hollywood passed through a CTA turnstile in the seventies, eighties or nineties, Edwards came along for the ride.

Consider Edwards' celluloid CV since 1975, the year he first stepped in to supervise TV and movie shoots for the CTA: "Code of Silence;" "The Hunter;" "The Blues Brothers;" "Risky Business;" "Running Scared;" "Next of Kin;" "Planes, Trains and Automobiles;" "Above the Law;" "Midnight Run;" "Adventures in Babysitting;" "Blankman;" "Richie Rich;" "The Fugitive;" and “While You Were Sleeping.”

Edwards also logged a lot of TV memories--from his first production assignment, "The Million Dollar Ripoff," a TV pilot shot in 1975 starring Freddy Prince, to one of the most harrowing, an episode of the mid-'80s TV series "Lady Blue" in which a stunt person was hanging from the side of a running train.

The film "Next of Kin was really challenging, Edwards told me in a 1995 interview, "because you had a stunt man trying to jump from one train to another going in the opposite direction. The time and speed of the jump had to be calibrated exactly. That was real nerve racking."

Though the track record for injuries was unblemished during his term, Edwards and the CTA made sure a film or video production is covered with railroad protective insurance. (The third "live" rail, fed with 600 volts DC of electricity, is shut off during scenes afoot on the tracks, in case you were wondering.) In addition to providing proof of insurance, a film crew must pay for the chartering of their own train, and the cost of any onsite CTA supervisor's overtime.

Then, they're given a choice of a late night shoot or during Sunday--non-peak times--and a designated length of trackage to run on. A prime choice, Edwards said, are stations between Wellington and the Loop on the Brown line.

"When the action gets tough, I have to be out there on the track myself," Edwards told me, citing an action-packed chase scene in "Running Scared." "It requires a lot of extra time on my part. Sometimes I have to come in on my day off, at midnight or on a Sunday. Producers like to shoot during rush hour, but we don't allow that because they have a tendency to want to take over the entire station."

Next week: Part 2—Following the train of command

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