Shooting the film
"The Lucky One" was filmed entirely on location in Louisiana. The filmmakers chose to change the setting of the story in Sparks' book from his familiar stomping ground of North Carolina to New Orleans, as well as to shoot on location there.
"It was a big decision for us to shoot in New Orleans but I'm really glad we did," Di Novi says. "There's something very magical there, a mystical quality to the people, the bayou, the whole Cajun influence is so unique. It has given the film a different texture and flavor. Scott really took advantage of the lushness and sensuality of the setting."
The first five weeks of shooting took place about thirteen miles from downtown New Orleans in St. Bernard Parish, which stood in for the fictitious town of Hamden, Louisiana. A private thirty-acre property, which had been a sugar plantation in the 1800s, served as the location of the Green family home.
Hicks notes, "The most important location to find was the Green house and kennels. The thing that attracted me to that house was the extraordinary sight lines through it. Looking at behavior through windows or through doorways underlines the connections between people, or sometimes the distances between them."
Production designer Barbara Ling, who has worked with Hicks for a decade, relates, "We were looking for a rural farmhouse that was a little shabby chic, which had at one time been a great piece of architecture but through time had been pared down to a little bit less of its former self."
The original house had survived Hurricane Katrina, but most of the porch had been torn away. Ling and her team restored the porch, also connecting what was once an outside kitchen to the inside of the house.
"When Scott and I met and talked about the feeling of what this place was, we wanted to evoke that many generations of people had come through and left a piece of themselves…and I think we've achieved that," Ling adds. "The owners had saved from Hurricane Katrina an enormous amount of the original farmhouse furniture, huge vanities, beautiful old desks and we ended up using some of that, since it was actually built for the house."
To serve as the kennel, they built a barn from scratch, using pressure treated recycled wood, complete with tin roof, full electrical capability, real windows and a concrete slab with drainage. Although Ling had never constructed a kennel before, hers got a thumbs up from the dog trainers, who wanted to replicate it in California. The dogs liked it too.
A real rose garden was also planted and tended to six weeks leading up to the start of filming and a dilapidated chicken coop was turned into the kennel office, complete with a bulletin board sporting a collage of dog photos, many belonging to the crew.
The production also took advantage of other locations along the North Shore communities of Lake Pontchartrain, including the Iraq war sequences where we first meet Logan. Hicks' vision for the opening scenes of the film stemmed from raw footage he had seen on YouTube taken by soldiers. "It panics you just watching it," Hicks describes. "I wanted to recreate that feeling and also embrace the imperfections of that style of shooting so the audience would, on a raw emotional level, understand what Logan has seen and what haunts him when he returns home."
Ling transformed the existing rubble at St. Bernard Port in Chalmette, Louisiana, into the bombed out section of an Iraqi city. The night raid was shot with handheld cameras equipped with actual night-vision lenses. There was no movie lighting, so it was pitch black in the abandoned building in which they shot.
"The pandemonium was very real," director of photography Alar Kivilo recounts. "The only people who could see anything at all were the camera operators with their night-vision lenses, who were intent on keeping up with the fast action."
Hicks agrees. "The sheer adrenalin felt on the set comes across on the screen."
Ling added two bombed out walls to a rubble heap in a harbor just outside of New Orleans to create the aftermath of the night raid, where Logan first finds the photograph of Beth, a discovery which saves his life.
The photograph is also with Logan when he survives a sudden Humvee explosion, the slow-motion filming of which Hicks based on a conversation with a Marine. The extreme close-up of Logan as his face gets contorted and bent out of shape was achieved by shooting an air cannon at Efron and recording the result at 1000 frames per second with a Weisscam slow motion camera. "That suspension of time while everything goes chaotic was more interesting to me than showing a series of fireball explosions," the director says. "By getting right in there with Zac, the audience is propelled right into Logan's point of view, and becomes more than just an objective observer."
"This kind of thinking is what I love about Scott Hicks," Kivilo attests. "He thinks, feels and intuits like a storyteller. Whether it was a night raid or a conversation in the kitchen, he has a wonderful way of using the camera to tell the story."
Hicks opted to use real Marines in uniform for the Iraq scenes, and Efron wasn't spared any of the demands. The actor describes, "The gear is 100-plus pounds with the helmet. That along with wielding a machine gun was harder to handle than it looks. We spent weeks doing military drills and weapon practice. One day I was shooting a romantic scene in a row boat on a pond with Taylor, the next day I was holding a machine gun and in full camouflage."
By contrast, Taylor Schilling's and Blythe Danner's clothes are lighter in color, though also casual and functional. Pink notes, "After Beth begins to spend more time with Logan, she starts transforming and you can see a more romantic aspect to what she wears."
Other New Orleans area locations included Camp Salmen Nature Park, where a 19th-century French-Creole trading post was used for Logan's fixer-upper; the Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Abita Springs, where the actual Pastor, Dustin Bergene, and choir were featured in a scene; and the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens, once a flourishing sugar plantation on the Mississippi River, became the Clayton Family Estate, the site of an elaborate garden party.
The film's stormy climax was shot in St. Tammany Parish, a North Shore community of Lake Pontchartrain. The St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College was the site of young Ben's tree house set and nearby bridge, suspended over a churning creek.
A dam was built in order to make the water deeper. The special effects team had to rig wires that would keep a number of Jet-skis stationary in the water with their engines gunning to create a raging torrent. During the early December shoot, some of the camera crew had to wear wetsuits as they manned handheld cameras in the rumbling, freezing water. Between takes crew and cast alike would warm up by spraying each other with the hot water hoses that were hidden just below the surface.
One of the film's most significant backdrops is the lighthouse seen in the photograph that leads Logan to Beth. The site is the River Lighthouse, located in Port Eads, Louisiana, at the southern tip of the Mississippi River. The white iron tower was one of the few structures still standing in the area after Hurricane Katrina.
Perhaps the photograph Logan found a half a world away in a place of destruction saved his life for a new beginning. Perhaps it was just coincidence. The filmmakers and cast agree they will leave it to the audience to decide.
"Whether or not it's destiny, it's very tender and very real and I think it's a beautiful love story," Efron states.
Schilling says, "I hope this film inspires someone, somewhere to trust a little more, or to find the courage to take a risk and follow their own heart, wherever that may lead."
Kevin McCormick remarks, "I think the audience will enjoy going on this journey with Logan and Beth because it's very emotionally told. In the end, I think the idea of Fate that Nicholas Sparks hints at in his book adds a twist to the romance."
Di Novi agrees. "Nick embraces the concept of love and has found a way to tell these stories that give people hope--even if you lose someone, or have pain or grief or loss in your life, love can still remain a constant and it can come up and surprise you in the most mysterious ways."
Hicks reflects, "There are some who believe we cross paths by chance, and others who are convinced that destiny brings people together. But either way, if you find love, you're the lucky one."