Sully: Behind the Scenes-3

The exteriors for “Sully” were shot primarily on location in New York City—where better to recreate the events of the day than right along the Hudson and its surrounding piers, which had served the real participants so well at the time?

To go from script to screen, Eastwood worked with his customary behind-the-scenes creative partners, director of photography Tom Stern, production designer James J. Murakami, costume designer Deborah Hopper, and editor Blu Murray.  Using IMAX’s customized ARRI ALEXA 65 cameras whenever possible and RED cameras for 2nd unit and aerial work, filming began in the early fall of 2015 at a hangar in Kearny, New Jersey, where the film’s NYPD dive unit officers jumped into a waiting helicopter after receiving the emergency call.

On subsequent days, crowd reaction shots to the imagined plane landing were captured on the Upper West Side’s George Washington Bridge, at the Time Warner Center and in Columbus Circle.  Pier 81, near the Intrepid, was home base for the ferry work, and the production utilized NY Waterway ferries, just like those that responded on the real day.

A sequence of Sully moving through the airport to reach the ill-fated flight was shot in the US Airways terminal at LaGuardia Airport, and a scene where he and Skiles “walk and talk” in the city was filmed along Fifth Avenue, between 55th and 57th streets.  The final day of filming in New York took the production all over the city as Sully tries to “jog off” his demons, starting at the East River and wrapping in Times Square at 2:00 a.m.

“New York City is really a collection of small towns, so as you walk around, you go from one to the next,” Hanks observes.  “It seemed like everyone knew we were making this movie which is, in a lot of ways, a quintessential New York story.  There was definitely an air of goodwill, and because I had the shock of white hair?  Oh, man, did I get a lot of ‘Hey, Sully!’ ‘Way to go!’ and ‘Miracle-on-the-Hudson man!’ shout outs.  Everybody felt a part of it, and that was really gratifying.”

New Yorkers aside, securing the cooperation of certain necessary entities wasn’t always easy.  Tim Moore explains, “NY Waterways was crucial to us because they’d had like nine ferryboats around the plane in 2009.  But with the business they run and the fact that we were there during the busiest part of their year, and the Pope was in New York, and the United Nations was meeting with all the foreign dignitaries of what seemed like every country… Logistically it was somewhat difficult, but thankfully they came in and helped us tremendously.”

The weather was a bit less cooperative during their time in the city; however, on the plus side, “It did give us the look that Clint wanted,” Moore smiles.

Once the production moved on from New York, several scenes were accomplished at various spots in Atlanta, Georgia.  The Healy Building and the JW Marriott – Buckhead doubled for the exterior and interiors for Sully and Skiles’ stay at the Alex Hotel.  The Atlanta Center for Medical Research served as St. Luke’s Hospital.  And Meehan’s Public House substituted for the Landmark Tavern, where Sully stops in for a drink.

The filmmakers also shot scenes in Sully’s hotel room at the Courtyard Atlanta in Norcross; used a private home in Alpharetta as Sully and Lorrie’s house; went to the Peach State Aerodome in Williamson to recreate scenes on a Texas airfield landing strip; and used space at Gwinnett Technical College in Lawrenceville to create several interiors, including the air traffic control room and office and the NTSB hearing room.

From the South production moved to Southern California, specifically the backlots of both Warner  Studios and Universal Studios.

The flight deck of the A320 was created on Warner Stage 19 and the set was supported on a gimbal, but because there aren’t many water tanks available in Hollywood that can hold a 140-foot airplane, the filmmakers were happy to go to neighboring Falls Lake at Universal.  Not only was there room for the Airbus, but they were also able to build a couple of facades for the ferryboats to match the wide shots collected in New York, to which visual effects supervisor Michael Owens would later add the plane.

During the time the plane was sitting in the Hudson it was canted, with the back portion of the cabin half-submerged.  The production utilized a 350-ton gimbal, much larger than the one used for the cockpit alone, to tilt the plane forward and backward and sideways.  The gimbal also allowed them to raise and lower the plane to replicate it slowing sinking as more passengers exited the cabin.

When the first passengers get to the wings they are relatively dry; by the time of the rescue, they are standing in two feet of water.

Since the real event, US Airways was bought by American Airlines.  Stewart says, “It was incredibly helpful to us in assembling all the airplane pieces we needed.  They were happy to be involved because this is an incredible memory for anyone in that industry.  In the history of aviation, this is an extraordinary—and positive—event.”

Just as it was critical that the plane and the actions of January 15, 2009, rang true in the film, it was equally necessary for the actors and extras to look the part.  Costume designer Deborah Hopper, who has worked with Eastwood on over 20 films throughout her career, knows that he strives for authenticity in his productions, and made sure to stay true to the authentic imagery for the costumes seen within the film.  As part of the necessary research involved in such a project, she reviewed extensive news coverage and as many other media sources as she could find in order to get a feel for the clothing worn by the passengers and rescue teams.

“Sully and Skiles’ uniforms are authentic, exactly what US airline pilots wore at the time,” she states.  “And after the landing, neither of them had any dry clothes, so they were provided jogging outfits to change into by the authorities in charge of the investigation, which we replicated in the film.”

For a later point in the story showcasing the investigation that followed in the aftermath of the 15th, Hopper put Hanks in a suit inspired by her research.  “I had seen images of Sully when he was in Washington for the hearings and he was wearing a navy pinstripe suit, so I had one made for Tom,” she remarks.

One particular aspect of the filming involving the immersion of the actors in water proved to be a challenge for Hopper and her team.  “We had to have an abundance of multiple pieces to account for the changing water levels, and to keep everyone as comfortable as possible while maintaining the correct look of their clothes.  For Tom, we had at least six of everything—six uniform shirts, six uniform pants—and wetsuits for him to wear under them when he was working in water.”


I’ve got 40 years in the air, but in the end, I’m gonna be judged on 208 seconds.

With such themes as hope, bravery and resilience woven into the story of “Sully,” Eastwood wanted the music in the film to reflect what the passengers and crew of Flight 1549 had gone through, and also allow moviegoers to remain immersed in the cinematic experience once they leave the theater.

With Christian Jacob and The Tierney Sutton Band composing the film’s score, Eastwood wrote, along with Tierney Sutton and J.B. Eckl, the song “Flying Home (Theme from ‘Sully’),” performed by The Tierney Sutton Band.

The song is an apt accompaniment to an emotional postscript when the real Sully, Lorrie Sullenberger and more than 50 of the survivors gather for a reunion at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Airbus is on display as a symbol of the heroic efforts of everyone that day.

“If you’re a fireman, a cop, a soldier, an aviator, heroism is going to be expected of you at any time,” Tom Hanks contends.  “To me, a hero is someone who thinks and acts beyond himself in order to make things right for other people.  Sully certainly did that, simply by doing his job, by knowing he could make the landing.  He did not have time for fear.  He had mere seconds to process billions of bits of information, both book-learned and from his own experience, and he proved that he was the guy who was prepared for anything.”

The unassuming man at the controls on January 15, 2009, prefers to recognize the efforts of all involved rather than to be singled out, and he’s happy that this film allows for such recognition.  “People came together of their own initiative and did their jobs exceedingly well, and that’s what saved all of our lives,” Capt. Sullenberger says.  “I think that’s why we’ll always remember that day and that flight.  We have much to be grateful for and much to celebrate.”

Director Eastwood states, “Hopefully this picture shows the good result that can come from a bad situation.  That when something’s going wrong, there are people out there like Capt. Sullenberger who will risk a lot—their time, their efforts, even their lives—on behalf of others.  The movie is called ‘Sully,’ but it’s really about the best in all of us.”