“We wanted our final set piece to be both historical and fantastically imaginative at the same time, and we found this contradiction in Windmill Island,” Nick, the Production Designer, told us.
In the early summer of 1776, Windmill Island (also known as Smith’s Island) sat off the shore of colonial Philadelphia in the Delaware River. Located just south of the Drawbridge Wharf, the island stretched a half-mile west from Arch Street and was approximately one block wide. Several decades before the time of our story, two immigrant brothers had constructed an octagonal windmill on the northern end of the island, giving it its name. They also built three docks on the western side, facing away from the city, and dug a channel into the interior of the small land mass. Because there is no evidence that the windmill was ever in operation, it is unclear what the brothers actually built it for. By the 1770s, Windmill Island was abandoned…and there it sat unused until in the 1830s it was deemed a “shipping hazard” by the US government, and dredged under. Hmm…a shipping hazard? Or perhaps, was Windmill Island destroyed to bury once and for all the role it played in a rogue British East India Company plot against the American colonists? This island offered us the perfect mixture of historical fact and mysterious background; Windmill Island will be the Bad Guys’ Hideout in Beyond the Mask.
In early October of 2011, our volunteer team began construction on the windmill set. Sadly, no, it’s not actually on an island in the Delaware. Built on the edge of a pond on our Michigan backlot, our windmill currently stands about twenty feet high, although the final product in the film will stretch almost ninety feet into the sky. Alongside the mill, we have recreated two of the three docks that originally reached into the Delaware, and several of the warehouses and barns. To give this set the weathered, neglected look that it needed,we primarily used recycled lumber. Some of the wood came from ripped-out decks, and some was scrap from Amish sawmills. One construction volunteer brought a U-Hall truck full of pallet planks, which being used for the shingle siding on the windmill.
The Art Department has done a fantastic job, pulling together an incredible location from the varied materials they used. Stepping onto this set pulls you back to the historical 1700’s and yet leaves you with a feeling of its mystery…
The weather is finally warming up here in MI, and we look forward to more progress on the sets as the production moves towards filming later this year.
~Sara & Shannon Burns