PITTSBURGH — The bodies arrived, stacked on a wheeled cart.
Actually, they were elaborate dummies, just heads, torsos, arms and hair. By the time the sun set on this particularly fine summer day, nearly 100 of these mock-ups would be prepped for a night to remember.
“Unsinkable,” an independent film project that follows the story of what happened to survivors of the 1912 Titanic disaster, is shooting closed-set scenes for the next three nights at Settler’s Cabin wave pool Tuesday in the South Hills and at North Park pool Wednesday and Thursday.
As Monday evening approached, David Case pulled up a smartphone photo of a dummy and sighed.
“Not a bucket lister,” said Case, CEO and president of PMI Films, holding out a death mask image of himself, courtesy of Steve Tolin FX.
It would be hours before roughly 75 cast members in heavy period dress entered the water, some in the three white, wooden replicas of actual Titanic lifeboats. Others would just float in.
Roughly eight hours after the regular wave pool swimmers departed, the three boatloads of passengers were adrift in the wilds of Settler’s Cabin. To be sure, they were first class, but not without their hardships to bear.
All that waiting around finally got to Dylan Perza, 9, of Ambridge. Needing a trip to the loo, he was treated to a piggy-back ride by producer D.C. Cohan. Cohan, dressed in a wet suit, would later ferry a second child to relief.
By 4 a.m. many more of the dummy bodies were being tossed into the pool, along with debris from the “ship wreckage”: a white wicker end table, a black steamer trunk, a chair….
Airplanes coming in to land at the nearby airport started up again after an overnight absence. One boy in the boats waved his arms as if to signal rescue, then yelled to the jet, “You don’t care about us!”
Like the SS Californian — which ignored or didn’t receive the real Titanic’s SOS — the plane simply moved on.
“Unsinkable” will be a combination of high and low tech. Crew in wetsuits lined the bottom of the pool with huge swaths of black plastic sheeting, re-creating the inky black of a dead calm ocean.
“With all the technology available today, we are bringing the North Atlantic to the pool,” said Cory Tucek, president and CEO of Turn Key Films, a local distributor.
Director Cody Hartman, 23, has two other films to his credit. He acknowledged that the Titanic story is well known.
“But what separates us from the ‘biggies,’ ” he said, gesturing toward the pool, “is we are trying to tell a story about the changes (brought about by the sinking). We are not making some super love story.”
Robinson Township’s Hartman and his father, Brian, PMI Films head producer, share an affinity for another tale of the sea: “Jaws.”
“So beautiful; for me, it’s special,” he said. He was literally wearing his heart on his sleeve. Well, left forearm, which sports a tattoo of the iconic “Jaws” movie poster.
His other two films are “Insomnia,” a psychological thriller, and “The Great One,” which will resonate with any Pittsburgh kid who was a baseball fan back in the day.
“Unsinkable” has a yet-unannounced budget.
Had it rained Monday night, the show would have gone on. Production was blessed with clear skies, however, and a bright half moon. History buffs will note that when the actual Titanic sank, it was also a clear night, with calm seas.
But theorists claim that the fine weather might have helped doom the “unsinkable” craft: No visible waves might have made it difficult to spot the iceberg before it was too late.
With midnight approaching, the “survivors” were costumed, some in old-time life jackets, hair and makeup in place. Women in big hats, feathered hats, brocaded jackets and satin gowns hung out at picnic benches to await the call.
A few little boys in short pants and newsboy caps played with tiny video game consoles or simply ran around.
Tyler Lazar, 9, of Ross, was going to be a first-class passenger. It was his first film shoot. Despite a four-hour nap Monday, he slept soundly at a picnic table as extras waited more than three hours for the scene to be set.
In the background, cameras were being positioned, huge lights tested. Soon, it would be all about getting into the water, and then, it would be all about timing.
“When you’re shooting things, you talk about losing the light,” Case said Monday evening. “Well, this is the reverse. When we start gaining the light, we’ll have to stop. Probably around 5 o’clock.”
He turned out to be incorrect. By 4:05, extras who would be submerged in the pool were gathered by first assistant director Jim Helfrick’s cheerful cry: “Ready to get wet?” The first take would commence at 5:28 a.m., and the subtle roar of Parkway traffic replaced the overnight chirps and buzzing of insects.
With the eastern sky brightening, there was no time to dawdle. Boats began unloading just before 6, and the crew set to work on striking the set. Swimmers and sunbathers would once again take over the pool.
Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, http://www.post-gazette.com