Comic Con: A train ride from L.A. to San Diego aboard ‘City of Ember’ express

July 24, 2008 | 2:33 a.m.

Making the annual drive down to Comic-Con is never the most pleasant excursion on the open road come summertime. But this year, a handful of journalists were invited aboard a train to travel to the ‘Con in classic style.


The trip was organized by 20th C. Fox in honor of "City of Ember," a film directed by "Monster House’s" Gil Kenan (in the white button-down, boarding above) and written by "Edward Scissorhands" screenwriter Caroline Thompson.

The studio rented a couple of vintage train cars, hitched them onto an Amtrak train, and decked the old- time rail cars out with "Ember" props for writers to inspect on the journey to San Diego. The "Ember train" came complete with a barber who had a chair and supplies set up at the end of the rail car.  Most already-skeptical members of the press were a bit apprehensive due to the old rail cars’ occasional jerks and constant rocking.

As publicity events go, this was one of the most unique. The director, screenwriter, production designer Martin Laing (now on "Terminator Salvation") and Oscar-winning producer Gary Goetzman of Playtone were on board offering insights into the film, with Kenan screening bits of the film to smaller assembled crowds in an eight-seat screening room setup.


The "Ember" trailer teased some great-looking, action-filled scenes, many of which were shot in Belfast.  Kenan said he went abroad to shoot "Ember" so he could construct the massive sets.

"I knew that I wanted to build the real deal … the ones that don’t get built anymore," Kenan said.

The director — whom Thompson called "kind," "smart" and "astonishingly young to have all those great traits" — also has a wife who’s an architect.  And that didn’t hurt. "I relied heavily on her expertise in terms of city planning," Kenan offered.

Goetzman said it may have been difficult to cast "special dude" Bill Murray, who plays the city’s mayor, but that it wasn’t a hard sell.

"He gravitated towards the idea of playing the mayor," Goetzman said. "He’s a totally unctuous character."

And in discussing what journos ultimately ending up coining "the publicity train" while challenging the film’s marketing direction, Goetzman took the humorous jabs in stride. 

"All of these things have a life of their own. Their own DNA …  we don’t really know why they do what they do."

One thing all the "Ember" passengers know for sure is that Fox and the whole "City of Ember" team hopes the movie can not only walk but has very long legs when the film opens October 10.

— Jevon Phillips

Photos courtesy of ‘City of Ember’

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One Response to Comic Con: A train ride from L.A. to San Diego aboard ‘City of Ember’ express

  1. Wonderful train ride (I was there!). The trip was arranged through with follow through by LA Rail has a fleet of vintage cars based in LA (at Union Station) that are Amtrak certified and operate on a charter basis to places all over the Amtrak system like San Diego, Santa Barbara, Santa Fe, NM. or Portland, OR. For the Fox Walden "City of Ember" train, we used the Tioga Pass, a 1950s former Canadian National "presidents car" and the Overland Trail, a 1940s former Southern Pacific club lounge car (with barbershop!).
    Conductor Bill

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