How do you create a spectacularly realistic plane-crash site like the one in Hero? First, you buy an airplane: Hero’s producers Laura Ziskin and Joseph M. Caracciolo spent upward of $125,000 to truck in a 727 from an airplane graveyard in the Mojave Desert. The wings were removed and the craft was cut into three sections along the lines the filmmakers envisioned it would break on impact. Production designer Dennis Gassner created the fictional Midwestern Airlines logo; no real airlines were approached for this unique product-placement opportunity.
Next, you find a crash pad: Hero’s script called for the plane to go down on a bridge, and the producers found one no longer in use near Piru, Calif. Water was released from a nearby dam to create a ”river” under the bridge. And to ensure that the climactic explosion would be safe, Gassner built a protective cover for a natural-gas pipeline that ran under the bridge to a nearby town.
Then, you ignite the plane with gasoline. ”We said we could only do it once,” says Ziskin. But because the first shot was not correctly aligned before the camera, ”we did it twice anyway.” And, after it’s blown up, how do you put a plane back together for the second shot? ”That’s the marvel of moviemaking,” Caracciolo says. ”Once you see the ball of fire, you don’t notice that the plane hasn’t been torn apart.”
Finally, how do you know if you’ve done a good job? The makers of Hero had a few clues: Once the 727 was on the bridge, pilots overhead began reporting a downed aircraft. And in December 1991, shortly after the scene had been filmed, a jetliner crashed in Sweden in an eerily similar manner. ”There was a picture on the front page of the L.A.Times and the plane was in the exact same configuration,” says Gassner. ”It was a little strange.”