Actors/Actress in the Pictures
Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth Chase
Brandon T. Jackson as Grover Underwood
Douglas Smith as Tyson
Grey Damon as Chris Rodriguez
Jake Abel as Luke Castellan
Leven Rambin as Clarisse La Rue
Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson
Director Thor Freudenthal
Article about filming down in Lousiana
There are all the critters you’d expect to find at a place slowly being reclaimed by the surrounding swamp since drowning in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: armadillos and possums, gators and snakes. There are some newcomers, though, in the form of a cyclops and a satyr. Eventually, a manticore — with the face of a human and the body of a lion — will join the party.
Those last three, though, will largely have to wait for post-production and some computer-generated special effects before taking their final form. That’s because the swamp hasn’t been the only thing to invade the amusement park. So has a movie crew, more than 150 people strong, for Twentieth Century Fox’s Greek-mythology-inspired “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” a big-screen, big-budget sequel to its 2010 film “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief.”
The film is based on the second of five books in the popular young-reader series by Rick Riordan — about a teenage boy who, after learning he is descended from Greek gods, is drawn into the turmoil between them — and the production’s crew and pre-production team spent much of the past several weeks at the old park site. That is to say, “Percy Jackson” and company are the ones responsible for the sudden, almost ghostlike return of lights on the park’s Ferris wheel and Mega-Zeph roller coaster, among other rides — and the reason why countless Interstate 10 motorists have been scratching their heads and wondering what’s been going on at the park.
The production’s recently concluded two-week Six Flags shoot came on the heels of a five-week pre-production period during which crews toiled to whip the littered, derelict park into the needed condition. For starters, a great deal of rewiring was needed to light the lights for the nighttime shoots, as vandals not only covered the park in spray-painted tags but reportedly stripped it of much of its copper wiring.
One thing the pre-production crew didn’t do, however, was clean things up much. In fact, much of the set dressing involved accentuating the desolation of the derelict park — including the introduction of fake fog, creating an eeriness that permeated the set.
“It’s very cinematic,” said actress Alexandra Daddario, who reprises her role of Annabeth Chase, one of the group of friends accompanying Percy on his adventures. “I saw photos of the park even before we knew we were shooting here. There were also some photos of an abandoned mall. It’s so creepy.”
Chatting between takes, Daddario was sitting in a small tent erected to help keep the mosquitoes off the cast while they shot one of the film’s key scenes on the muddy Mega-Zeph inner loop. She was joined by Douglas Smith, who plays Percy pal Tyson, and Brandon T. Jackson, who plays satyr Grover.
According to Jackson — whose blue tights will be replaced by computer-generated goat legs by the time the film hits the screen — only so much can be done to keep the swamp creatures at bay.
“Mosquitoes can still bite through,” he said, scratching at the blue tights, which were outfitted with half-dollar sized tracking dots to facilitate the addition of computer graphics. “Special effects cannot save you from the New Orleans mosquitoes. … (But) I think it’s cool that we’re shooting in New Orleans, especially that it’s an abandoned park, because it adds to the creepiness of the film. It adds to the setting. You see from the I-10, people out there are going, ‘Is it open?’ ”
The mosquitoes are among the lesser swamp creatures to be dealt with by the “Sea of Monsters” crew. A reported 100 alligators were removed from the site as it was being prepared for the crew to take over. Another dozen were removed during the shoot. Snakes are also an occupational hazard, with a moccasin bite sending a crew member to a nearby hospital on the shoot’s second day, according to director Thor Freudenthal (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”).
It has all made for an interesting shoot to say the least — especially given that Riordan’s book makes no mention of an amusement park.
“The park is doubling as the island of Polyphemus, shifting it into modern day,” Freudenthal said by way of explanation. “There were certain encounters in the book where (Percy and his friends) jump from island to island. So we sort of took the essence of the books, which transfers the Greek gods in modern times and modern cultures — that is very much in the spirit of the books.”
For the film’s purposes, this particular island is also home to the derelict Circeland — a park built by the goddess Circe (and invented for the film) only to be destroyed by the cyclops Polyphemus. For those familiar with Riordan’s story or with Greek mythology, the island is also home to certain key plot elements — as well as the film’s climax.
In addition to shooting in the shadow of the Mega-Zeph — which was lined with lights and resurrected just enough to have a car zoom in and out of frame — the production shot at the former Ozarka Splash log flume, rebranded “The Plummet of Death” for the film’s purposes.
Because so few rides still work, the crew also trucked in five of their own rides and clustered them at one end of the old midway at the Pontchartrain Beach section of the park. Among their purposes: to help light up the sky and add to the spooky ambiance during the nighttime shoot.
Given the film’s island-hopping story line, a fair chunk of the film is set aboard a cruise ship called the Princess Andromeda. Those scenes were shot aboard a yacht in Lake Pontchartrain over six nights prior to the Six Flags shoot. (Before that, the crew shot for several weeks in Vancouver.)
The last part of the crew’s New Orleans shoot — involving green-screen work — is being done at Big Easy Studios, the soundstage operating out of the NASA Michoud Assembly Facility. It wraps this week.
As far as memorability goes, however, the Six Flags shoot is at or near the top of the list, and Freudenthal says fans should expect that eerie but alluring tone to carry over into his film.
“The books have a very tongue-in-cheek (tone), in that they don’t take themselves so seriously, so I took inspiration from that,” Freudenthal said. “The mythology, that was established in the first one. We have a chance to have fun with it.”