Black Dog: Behind the Scenes

Camera operator Tom Weston and actor Patrick Swayze in the cab of the  hero truck of Black Dog. A stunt man drove the truck from a rig on the roof of the cab.

Here’s a post from behind the scenes of the production of the film Black Dog, starring Patrick Swayze and featuring rock legend Meatloaf as a villain. A lot happened on this movie, from an actor bowing out to an accidental explosion near the end that injured several crewmembers.

Black Dog (1998) tells the story of a trucker who encounters a spectral black dog in the road. In an attempt to avoid the ghost dog he has an accident that takes the life of an innocent bystander. As a result, he loses his license and goes to jail. After rehabilitation he can’t find work and accepts an illegal long haul job from Atlanta to Maryland. If he doesn’t finish the job his wife and child will pay the price.

Along the way he discovers the load he believed he was carrying (toilets) is something far more sinister (illegal guns). Caught between the southern mafia and the FBI, he was in for the ride of his life (and so were we).

Some of the camera crew from Black Dog 2nd Unit setting up a position on the side of a mountain (1st AC Joe Thomas on the ladder). On the right is Mike Fedac who transitioned into camera from grip world.

Black Dog is the only film in existence featuring Patrick Swayze, Randy Travis and Meat Loaf on screen at the same time.

Did you know that Patrick Swayze was hired to replace Kevin Sorbo? Kevin actually went through prep and early shooting with us.

Stunt driver Tommy Huff (in plaid shirt) and me on right (in green hat and glasses) standing in front of one of our stunt trucks.

Fewer still know the behind-the-scenes story of Raffaella De Laurentiis‘ hellbent, headlong mission to reclaim her family’s credibility amongst the Hollywood elite, rumored to be her prime motivation for producing this B-movie crash-em-up.

Here are some things that happened during production:

A Weird Car Crash

During the first month of production a vehicle evaded our police roadblock, slamming into the 1st Unit process truck. The process truck tows a trailer designed to tow a car down the road while the actors pretend to drive.

Folks were flung from the back of the truck like rag dolls, with several sustaining injuries. This accident contributed to 1st Unit shutting down for at least one month.

A polaroid continuity photo showing the placement of the CB radio cable in front of a stunt actor. This was taken during a day when we shot poor man's process of these drivers reactions.

Kevin Sorbo Departs the Film

Just a few weeks into filming our lead actor Kevin Sorbo pulled out of the project due to health concerns. We were told he was suffering from an aneurysm in his shoulder. Of course none of our crew had heard of such a thing. We laughed and decided that his departure was based less on health and more on evading a bad script.

2nd Unit DP Buzz Feitshans and 2nd Unit Director Gary Hymes in the high speed process car. On the back ledge are camera operators shooting the trucks from mere inches above the roadway.
2nd Unit DP Buzz Feitshans and 2nd Unit Director Gary Hymes in the high speed process car. On the back ledge are camera operators shooting the trucks from mere inches above the roadway.
A view of the controls of the high speed camera car.
A view of the controls from the high speed camera car.

Real Police Car Chase and Crash

One of our traffic lock-ups led to a car chase up in Morgan County. Someone apparently mistook the traffic lock-up for a roadblock license check and decided to give the law the slip. We listened to the police radio with one of the local law officers until the chase ended in a crash.

The Monte Carlo Stunt Car Crash

Two of our stuntmen found themselves upside down in the ditch during one high speed sequence. Happily, no one was injured.

Ghostly Apparition of a Black Dog

One chilly November morning I drove myself and Set PA Michelle Long from the crew hotel to set. The road was slick and a mist hung in the trees. The wipers fought to keep the outside of the windshield clear while the defroster battled the condensation on the inside.

Michelle and I posing in front of one of the big rigs.
Michelle and I posing in front of one of the big rigs.

In the faint blue light of morning a form detached itself from the brambles and tumbled strangely toward the road. We were closing on it quickly, but it felt like it was happening in slow motion. Every movement the thing made seemed unnatural, almost as if it were unfolding as it moved.

Suddenly, the thing assumed the shape of a great hound. It was absolutely black and grotesquely misshapen by the fat rain drops pelting the windshield. For a fleeting moment the spectre from our film had become real and we were witnessing the Black Dog itself.

It scrabbled up from the woods and out onto the road. In the distance beyond I saw the headlights of cars heading in our direction.

I tried to think of how I would avoid this terrifying hellhound in the middle of the road. As it continued to grow larger and move faster, it became increasingly obvious that this unholy spectre wasn’t a dog.

It was a deer.

In an instant, the deer crossed the road and disappeared into the dark underbrush on the other side. As we passed where it had stood only seconds before, the world seemed brighter and safer. Monsters were just figments of the imagination.

This foam stand-in for the Black Dog traveled the entirety of our 2nd unit shoot in Georgia in our prop trailer.
This foam stand-in for the Black Dog traveled the entirety of our 2nd unit shoot in Georgia in our prop trailer.

Second Unit Crew Changeover

Production replaced a number of people over the Thanksgiving holiday break. I can’t remember the order in which it happened, but it eventually involved the AD crew and the stunt team. Needless to say that you won’t find many of the names of stunt players who worked the Georgia sequences listed among the credits for Black Dog on the Internet Movie Database. You will, however, see plenty of pictures of these guys in the Black Dog photoset I’ve made over on Flickr.com.

If I recall correctly, the motivation for the mass firing was based on the perception that things on 2nd Unit had been going far slower than necessary. You can observe how slowly our unit was performing by watching how the mountain foliage shifts from brilliant fall colors to dead grey during a chase sequence through the mountains.

Ron Skinner SPFX securing one of the rigs.
Ron Skinner SPFX securing one of the rigs.

The Accident

Production moved to Wilmington, North Carolina, once the Georgia action sequences were complete. That’s where three of our crew mates were injured in a freak accident, after an explosion detonated underneath a big rig just before a safety meeting.

One man, a great guy from the UK, was hurt far worse than the other two crewmen.

I was not part of the crew that went to Wilmington so I learned of it via a telephone call.

Despite the challenges, Director Kevin Hooks did a great job with Black Dog. In the years to follow he brought his big screen experience to the small screen in productions like “24” and “Lost”.

Saint Josephine of the Mountain
Saint Josephine of the Mountain

3 thoughts on “Black Dog: Behind the Scenes”

  1. ron didnt die him and his wife are living in spain and he is still in the film industry, i am tonys daughter

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