Chris Kilgour (third from left) poses with fellow Public Enemies crew members in Columbus in front of the set for a heist scene.
When friends and family learn that Chris Kilgour worked on the Public Enemies set, they are most excited to hear about his interactions with Johnny Depp and other big name celebrities. But what the Madison set builder wants people to know is not how stars talk, walk and act when the cameras aren't rolling, but that there is a whole lot of hard work put in behind the scenes, and it all deserves recognition.
"Contrary to what many may think, it is indeed hard work," Kilgour says. "There are a lot of hours that go into it, and the hours can get very long. Add that to having to work in every imaginable weather challenge, from sub-zero and snow in Wisconsin to extreme heat, threatening storms and heavy rain toward the end of the shoot in Illinois, as well as having to coordinate 'taking over' existing buildings that have to essentially shut down business during the construction and filming."
Chris Kilgour has been a member of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local #251 (Madison Stagehands and Projectionists) for over 20 years. On stage and behind the scenes as a child, he began building sets and props, later expanding his resume to include lighting, sound and special effects.
For six months in 2008, Kilgour worked as a set builder for Public Enemies, the Depression-era crime epic about John Dillinger, starring Johnny Depp and directed by Michael Mann. Initially approached to work as a set builder for the production's opening shoot in Columbus, he stayed on the movie, taking him from the railroad town near Madison to the Little Bohemia Lodge in northern Wisconsin, and subsequently to downtown Chicago and the city's suburbs. Working in the sound studios during construction and behind the scenes on location, Kilgour had to contend with the production's unique set challenges.
"Working on a movie set is very intense and fast-paced," he explains. "This film shoot was particularly challenging in that we had to not only recreate the old building fronts of that era, but we also had to lay down the false cobblestones, street signs, et cetera to be functional enough to drive on, sometimes at high speeds."
While his family stayed back in Wisconsin, excited at the thought of Kilgour's work, he missed them terribly. When asked to recall the best and worst parts of his Public Enemies experience, his family is central to both.
"One of the best parts was having my three boys come visit some of the areas I was working, and walk around wide-eyed at the idea of being on a movie set that they will see some day," he notes. "The worst part, hands down, was being away from my family as much as I was."
Despite his homesickness, Kilgour would jump at the opportunity to work on another blockbuster. Since his work onPublic Enemies, he has honed in on more movie and television work, keeping in contact with many of the people he worked with for months.
"I really enjoy the 'magic' of film and television and the images it can create," he declares.
And for those who care to know, Johnny was every bit the gentleman.
"The one thing that really struck me was how friendly Mr. Depp was with the crew and the locals at every location I worked with him," Kilgour says. "He was always very quick to say hello to everyone and made sure to take time to have pictures taken and sign autographs."