Interview with Mark Myers - Videographer

Lancaster County, Pennsylvania resident Mark Myers joined the Thomas and the Magic Railroad Production as the film's Videographer for the Pennsylvania Unit. Highlights of Mark's footage can be seen in the behind-the-scenes featurette found on the German DVD version of the movie. Here, Mark provides us with a summary of the Pennsylvania filming.
July 12, 2008 with updates to J. Gratton Nov. 11, 2011

Mark, can you tell of about your work on TATMR back in September, 1999?
Over the course of a week, my job was to shoot the publicity video sent out as part of the video news releases, and later video assist operator, which means that I had pretty much unrestricted access to the Pennsylvania shoots.  I was also, though uncredited, the camera assistant on the B-camera on the 2nd unit photography done after Britt left.

It also didn't hurt that I know both Keith Strandberg the PA unit Production Manager, and Linn Moedinger, the Engineer and President of the Strasburg Railroad.  The major part of the equipment was brought in from Pittsburgh but a lot of the crew was local, except the "majors," and arranged by Keith Strandburg, who had assembled most of the team to produce documentary and martial arts films.  Keith is now a professor of film at Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland. The film industry in the area is not large, so almost all of the local crew knew each other from some place or another. For example, the woman doing audio (in the 3rd picture slide below) is Michele Mecure, who just did the score for the recently released movie "Home."

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Can you tell us what the role of a "Videographer" is for a theatrical feature?
A videographer on a movie set is shooting footage for publicity purposes, even more so than a still photographer. That's the footage provided to entertainment reporters to support interviews with the cast and crew. You're looking for "behind the scenes" shots of the stars, and major crew - in this case Britt was obviously the most well known - in action.  For example, some of the footage I shot was used here in the states on "Entertainment Tonight" as the interviewer was talking with Mara Wilson about her experiences.  They showed her coming down the stairs in the Harrisburg train station, surrounded by crew.  I also saw footage of Britt "in action" at Harrisburg used when she was being interviewed.  Without that, the only pictures to go with interviews would be the actual movie, and normally the producers want to keep as much of that as possible under wraps until it is in the theater.

Can you describe what went on during your day-to-day filming?
Sunday, Sept. 12, 1999:
Day 1 was spent filming scenes at the train station in Harrisburg PA, which is an architectural marvel in its own right. Our opening footage was bad (videography) because the viewfinder on our camera was broken.  We got it fixed about 10am.

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Linn Moedinger told me that they were required to have both a leading and trailing diesel when moving the steam engine (#475) to Harrisburg and Amtrak would not allow him to tell anyone the steam engine was being moved because they were concerned about security.  The engine will run 65-70 mph easily up the main line track.

All of the Shining Time Station shots were done right across from the water tank at Strasburg on the first day of filming with the engine facing east, as were the forest shots (beneath treed canopy).   I distinctly remember that because we had to carry the camera and all the gear about a mile down the tracks to get that shot near sunset.

Scene filmed Sept 12, 1999 at Strasburg Depot
This scene was filmed Sept 12, 1999 with #475 facing east at Strasburg Depot. Note water tower

I can also tell you that for the shots of the train going through the heavily treed area -the Strasburg engineer was very unhappy with the shot.  Apparently a properly running steam engine does not put off much smoke or steam at all, and he complained that anyone who knows would be able to tell the smoke and steam was deliberate.

No.475 under treed canopy
No. 475 steaming through treed canopy

Then the engine had to be moved to the Pennsylvania Railroad Museum next door and spun on the turn table so it was facing west for the other shots.  For normal operation, the railroad simply runs the engine in reverse.

Sept. 13-14, 1999:
The second and third day of shooting was at the Strasburg Railroad where some good footage was taken of Russell Means in the cab of the locomotive.  I don't know if I have footage of it or not, but there was an interesting close up shot of Russell where the camera operator was strapped right to the side of the locomotive boiler (outside) shooting hand held back at the cab window.  The grips literally strapped him in place with ratchet straps.  The engine would have been west bound (headed towards the station).

Day 2 starts at the Cherry Hill Farm, moving onto where you can see the switch and the double track in some of this footage - that's the picnic grove on the map and clearly seen from the air. The smaller engine in the photo below - #31 -  you see passing with the 8 car tourist train is an old yard switcher, and not capable of more than 30 mph or so, unlike #475 which can easily go 75 mph. Here they shot a lot of "traveling" shots of the engine moving through the countryside, as well as interiors of the train cars.

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Keith Strandburg's assistant George Winchell told me that shot #3 was from a large "A" framed ladder almost smack in the middle of the farmer’s field. The ground there is fairly flat, so the camera would have to be on something to get that vantage point over the corn.  He specifically remembers that because he had a devil of a time getting it in place through the corn, and stable enough to shoot from on the soft ground.

Scene filmed from Stepladder in corn field
Scene from movie filmed from stepladder set up in Cherry Hill Farm's "Maize Maze"

The farm runs a "corn maze" there where they cut pathways into the corn, and charge for you to go in and get lost.  One of the features is an "observation bridge" which rises several feet over the corn.  The web site of the farm is here - http://www.cherrycrestfarm.com/cornmaze.asp

The afternoon shoot was of the passenger car interior (Lily). We loaded up on the south side of the Strasburg's train shop. That's also where the stationary shots were done. The coaches for the interior scenes were pulled by a diesel - itself antique, 1950 vintage. There was a generator put on the platform to run the lights, as there is no electric power in the antique coaches. I believe they used Kino Flo fluorescent lighting, which is lower wattage and cooler to operate than tungsten lighting, but they did have to string wire to the entire car. That would be important since the lights were clamped to the vintage woodwork.

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The last scene filmed that day was taken at the Strasburg Depot very close to sunset. The scene is where Lily (Mara) disembarks the coach onto the Shining Time Station platform. The scene filmed here was blended in with the Isle of Man footage of the full sized Shining Time Station. Only a side facade of the Station was built for the movie at the Strasburg Depot. Lastly, some extra footage was taken (but never used) of the sunset and clouds with contrails which Britt and Mara remarked resembled railroad tracks in the sky.

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All of the European staff was released after the 2nd day, because of travel requirements, except for the producer, DP and AD. Russell Means was the last actor to leave, and left with the rest of the main crew.  Only the DP, Producer and AD stayed behind to do pick up shots the last day with an all local crew.

On the 3rd day, the local crew shot all the footage with PT Boomer's motorcycle since it didn't involve any of the principals, as well as things like close-ups of wheels, and train cars passing.  I was moved from publicity footage to video assist, then to camera assistant because of the smaller crew, which is why I don't have any behind the scenes footage. The shots to be picked up were all of the Rainbow Sun - and PT Boomer.

PT Boomer’s scene of cutting in front of the locomotive intrigues fans, do you recall any details about filming that scene?
We shot the scene mentioned on your Fansite that was cut shortly after Billy waves to the two children, then where Boomer cuts in front of the train.  We had a stunt man in a black duster style coat riding a black Harley-Davidson. The crossing you show on the website is a public road where the children were filmed.  The shot of PT crossing the track was actually done on a private dirt road several hundred yards down the track.  Unfortunately I didn't get anything of the actual stunt because I was working with the film camera at that point.

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From memory, I believe the cycle ran from the barn area at Cherry Hill Farm, north past the camera towards the train, crossing in front of the engine, and then heading west along the tracks.  I am almost positive that they did not use the dirt road that runs parallel to the tracks, east from the crossing.  They did mounted the second camera in a pick up truck that also ran west along that road, for a few shots.

There's a statement that the shot had to be tightened up a bit, but I recall the stunt man cutting the crossing tight enough that the engineer from Strasburg was a bit concerned.  Steam trains don't start and stop on a dime, and they also don't vary their path either. Any sputter or hesitation on the part of the bike or the stunt man would have been disastrous.

The scene was shot with two cameras, and angles were shot from the point of view of the engine cab, and also from the back of a pick up truck running beside the track to approximate Boomer's viewpoint so there was definitely a quite a bit of work put into it, a real shame for it to end up on the editing room floor.

What was it like working with the Production Crew?
I can't say enough good things about Assistant Director (AD) Dave Coombs.  The cinematography days I witnessed would not have happened without him, and although he was in control and under a lot of pressure, he was pleasant and easy to work for.  As I recall it, Paul Ryan, the Director of Photography (DP), and Producer Phil Fehrle were also very nice, as was Britt Allcroft.

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Would you know why “The Fisher Farm” was acknowledged and thanked in the movie’s credits?
Fisher is a pretty common Pennsylvania Dutch/Amish name. I think the farm they are talking about is the Henry Fisher Farm, which is east of Cherry Hill off of the Black Horse Rd. crossing on the south side of the tracks.  I only know that because of it being preserved from development, and we did a film for the Lancaster Farmland Trust, which promotes selling development rights to farms to preserve them.

Henry Fisher Farm
Henry Fisher Farm (background) thanked in the movie's credits (pic courtesy Mark Myers to SiF)

I'm familiar with the farm, but I don't know why they would be thanked.  I don't remember the production doing anything there. The only thing I can think of is that we might have crossed the farm to get the footage on the curve - but I was pretty sure we hiked in from Leaman Ave. right near the main line. It’s also possible the out of town crew either stayed or ate there. That's a very common thing for area Amish to do.

Does Lancaster County attract a lot of theatrical and television production filming and business?
There are a lot of smaller, lower budget films through Lancaster County Pennsylvania, but few large ones. Of course the movies that everyone knows about are "Witness" starring Harrison Ford, and "Silence at Bethany" (TV movie).  "Girl Interrupted" did some work here as did "Beloved" starring Oprah Winfrey.  The story of a fix in the Pennsylvania lottery, "Lucky Numbers" starring John Travolta and Lisa Kudrow did some minor work here but most of it was shot in near by Harrisburg.  "Another Harvest Moon" starring Ernest Borgnine was partially shot here and is currently making the festival rounds in search of a distributor.  "Diamond Men" starring Donnie Walhberg and directed by Dan Cohen was also shot here, as was Dan's lesser known follow up "Corporate Affairs."
 
The producer/director of the movie "Home" lives in Lancaster and filmed some scenes here, and Michele Mercure, the composer for that movie, who worked in the sound department of TATMR, also lives here. My understanding is that the Strasburg railroad has provided cars and props for many feature films, from "Hello Dolly" to "Wild, Wild, West."  Obviously with the railroad and the Amish, we get a lot of travel related television programs through the area.

A selection theatrical movies filmed in Lancater County
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What attracted you to becoming a professional videographer/cameraman? Was it an early interest?
I purchased my first video camera and started making my own "documentaries" at age 13. I don't normally do a lot of work in feature films, mainly because with a steady job and family, I can't travel for months at a time required. When they come through the area, however, I try to get on the crews.  Normally, I do mostly corporate productions and television commercials.  It's very interesting, because although my job is similar each time, it's always a new topic, so I'm always learning about new things.  Since we are so close to New York, Philadelphia and Washington DC, the film community here is quite large and quite talented. I was just a small part of the TATMR local crew, which probably numbered 20-30 people. For a feature, that is a small crew, but for the locals, it is huge.

Can you tell us about other productions that you’ve worked on?
Mostly I have been just a small part of crews on some of the moves mentioned above.  I did cut (edit) the trailer for a movie called "The Whole Truth" which was Dan Cohen's first film.  I have done some work on some other films such as the IMAX film "Mysteries of the Great Lakes" where I helped shoot some underwater sequences but it's all small enough jobs that none of it is credited.

Lastly, would you have any special memories or anecdotes to share of the filming?
I remember that with TATMR, we all wore work boots with steel toes, because we were working around loose rocks and railroad tracks, and were told our shoes had to come up over our ankles. Amtrak - the railroad company - safety people came by and had a fit. Steel-Toed Boots are a big "No No" around electrified tracks, and even though we were working with steam and diesel engines, the tracks in Harrisburg were still energized. We cleaned the local Walmart out of boots.
 
I also remember that when we did the shot of the steam engine coming through the trees, we had to carry the equipment some distance down the tracks. I was driving a beat up old station wagon at the time that I didn't much care what happened to it, so we loaded the camera and a bunch of gear in it and drove it right down the tracks.


We'd like to thank Mark for providing us with his insight about the Pennsylvania filming, and wish him all our best with his endeavours :) Many of the locations Mark refers to above can be seen on our TATMR Filming Locations page.