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Deepwater Horizon movie filmed on oil rig set

Deepwater Horizon cameraTrue-life disaster movie Deepwater Horizon built an oil rig film set in Louisiana to tell the story of the offshore drilling station in the Gulf of Mexico that exploded in the spring of 2010.

“Southern Louisiana is a fascinating part of our country where you have this very real dance going on between the big business of oil, which employs a majority of the people, and the spectacular, natural beauty of marshlands full of sportsmen and naturalists,” says director Peter Berg, who worked with lead actor and producer Mark Wahlberg.

“Spending time in Port Fouchon or Venice, Louisiana, you really get a feel for how these two worlds have a complicated marriage.”

A group of 85 welders was part of the team that spent eight months constructing the specialist set. The build was an 85% scale version of the real rig and was set in a large tank, with the main deck more than 50 feet above the water. 

“The biggest thing for me was to get the main locations right: the bridge and the drill floor,” says Chris Seagers, the film’s production designer.

“We had limited amounts of research, since the Deepwater Horizon is gone. For instance, with the bridge, we only had four photographs and none showed all of the bridge, so we had to call the manufacturer of the equipment and they kindly gave us a layout of how the bridge was formed.” 

Nearly 1,500 tonnes of steel was used for the final build, which included a functioning helipad.

Deepwater Horizon Wahlberg on set

“An oil rig is an extremely complicated and vast piece of engineering,” says Berg. “What we built may be one of the largest film sets ever built – a very large recreation of the actual rig.”

The real Deepwater Horizon rig was based 250 miles off the coast of Houston in the Gulf of Mexico.

Ocean-set scenes for the film were shot in a series of specially-built water tanks, the biggest of which held more than two million gallons and took three days to fill.

Louisiana is one of the top production hubs in the US, partly because of its generous 30% transferable filming incentive. 

Deepwater Horizon bridgeLast year state authorities controversially capped the support programme at $180m a year for the first time in the state's history and introduced a per-production limit of $30m.

Some in the local production industry have claimed this has curbed Louisiana’s national appeal as the state competes with New York, Georgia and California. 

Over the summer a film workers union said a misunderstanding among the Hollywood studios had led to the mistaken belief that the incentive had been cancelled altogether.

The Deepwater Horizon production team spent around $120m filming on location in Louisiana and claimed an incentive payment of just under $40m before the annual cap was introduced to the support programme, according to a Deadline report. 

Other recent high-profile shoots in Louisiana have included Matthew McConaughey’s Civil War film Free State of Jones and a new Wolverine sequel with Hugh Jackman.

For more on filming in Louisiana see our production guide.

Images: David Lee/Lionsgate