Filming of The Deer Hunter

Weirton Daily Times
July 5, 1977

"Deer Hunter" Filming Under Way

by Joe Sterling

The Weirton phase of the making of "The Deer Hunter," a film starring Robert DeNiro, began this holiday weekend and will continue throughout part of the week.

The filming of interior and exterior scenes for the movie, a multi-million dollar production conceived written and directed by Michael Cimino, is under way in the vicinity of Main Street, above Avenue A, in the northern end of the city.

Interior scenes are being shot in the makeshift, L-shaped house trailer in a lot on the west side of Main Street and exterior scenes are being filmed outside of the trailer and on Main Street, adjacent to the trailer. Later in the week, scenes will be filmed at the southwest corner of Main Street and Avenue A, in front of a tire warehouse, the facade of which has been converted into a tavern storefront.

The film concerns the story of a group of six men in 1968 in Clairton, Pa., a typical steel mill town. The men, five of whom are millworkers and one of whom is a bartender, drink, carouse, and pursue the sport of deer hunting together. Their lives are tough, but they display pride in their existences.

Three of the men enlist in the army and are sent to Vietnam to fight in the war there. The story then centers on the fate of these three in Vietnam, where experiences are encountered which were unfathomable in the relatively idyllic existence in Clairton, Pa.

Ironically, hardly any of the mill town or deer hunting scenes will be filmed in Clairton, Pa. Scenes depicting milltown life have been and will be shot in areas throughout Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Scenes have already been shot in Mingo Junction, others will be shot in Follansbee, McKeesport, Pa., Struthers, Ohio, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.

A film spokesman said production sites were chosen throughout the region for design, logistical and artistic purposes. He said the Weirton site was chosen for its logistical benefits i.e. access to adequate production space as well as for an aesthetic backdrop.

The cast and crew started work on the site Saturday, where interior scenes in the trailer were shot. During the day, bystanders, who were few, and crew members, stood outdoors as each scene was shot. Only an occasional glimpse of the two actors on the set that day, Robert DeNiro and Chris Walken, was available.

Saturday, though, gave one a chance to observe the set. Trucks carrying lighting, electrical, sanitary and filming as well as dressing room equipment straddled the trailer. Crew members carried, lifted - and pulled resources from the trucks into the trailer. A catering vehicle was set up and people in it prepared a large lunch.

One noticed an obvious chain of command on the set with the director barking orders through a walkie talkie to his assistants who would, in turn, instruct crew members to do any number of things - put a light in a particular place, bring a prop into the trailer, get ready to move a tripod, keep the photographers away from the trailer, etc.

On the outside of the trailer, strewn props gave one a sense of the firm's environment. Portable televisions, oars, deerskins, a Hank Williams album and a vintage white cadillac from the 50's along with the steel mill looming in the background gave one a sense of the working-class environment the firm will depict.

On the edges of the trailer, a wintry, bleak effect was created. Brown leaves were thrown on the street. Trees with dead leaves were installed in the lot adjacent to the trailer on Main Street.

When they were not working, crew members sipped coffee, talked with each other and displayed extreme patience as each scene was shot for what seemed an interminable amount of time.

"They do 14-15 hours of work a day," Mike Wyatt, an extra from Weirton said. "And they do a scene over and over again just to make sure it's right."

Claude Binyon, the film production manager, said the scenes shot Saturday concerned a wedding in the story.

On Monday, when shooting resumed after a one-day break, exterior scenes were filmed.

The morning featured a solitary scene including DeNiro, Walken, George Dzundza and Chuck Aspegren. And bystanders got to witness the pace, organization and substance of a film production.

In the afternoon, scenes were shot including Walken, Dzundza, Aspegren and John Cazale.

Heavy showers Monday morning did not deter the production. In fact, the intermittent cloudiness contributed to the dreary effects Director Michael Cimino intended to create.

Deer hunting scenes will be shot in the Mount Baker vicinity in the state of Washington. The Vietnam war scenes will be filmed in Thailand.

Other performers in the film include John Savage, Meryl Streep and Shirley Stoler.

Production resumes today late in the morning and will continue into the evening.

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