Kirtland Air Force Base will be front and center in Tina Fey’s film, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,” when it opens in theaters today.
The production filmed at the base in March 2015. It is the first time a production has filmed on a military base since the law changed in December 2014. According to the Military Equitable Reimbursement Act, it allows the U.S. Department of Defense to retain payments for costs incurred during support of non-governmental film productions.
The bill was co-sponsored by Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M. and Sen. David Vitter, R-La.
“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” is based on the book “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan” by Kim Barker.
Finding a location, producers searched for an area that would double as Afghanistan.
The film’s close rapport with the DOD allowed for Fey, Chris Abbott and Nick Braun to take the flight of a lifetime – filming a key scene aboard two UH-1 Huey helicopters at Kirtland Air Force Base.
“You’re thousands of feet in the air, there are no doors, it’s freezing cold and you’re so scared …,” Braun said. “And yet you’re supposed to be acting like you do this all the time and it’s nothing special. Actually, riding in that helicopter was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done!”
The production company and the Air Force also teamed up to create a facsimile of FOB (Forward Operating Base) Norton, where Kim interviews Marines. Actual airmen used this opportunity to practice building a small outpost on a remote hill at Kirtland.
According to Brigadier General Kathleen Cook, USAF, the production was a win-win for both the filmmakers and the troops at the base.
“It was important to us that people get the true perspective of airmen and their sacrifices. At the same time, filming on the base offered the opportunity for further training,” the Cook explained. “Our airman built the FOB in five days, whereas in real life, they would be building a site 10 times that size. It was a chance to train in a very different environment with attention to different detail. When you’re out in the field, you don’t have that luxury.”
Production also transformed various locations in Santa Fe and Albuquerque for the film. Some include the Scottish Rite Temple, circa 1911, that became the foundation of the journalists’ Fun House; the State Penitentiary of New Mexico, parts of which became Kabul International Airport, Charkhi Prison, a Kandahar classroom, a tribal village, as well as a Taliban safe house and the Kabul Zoo; and the Old Judicial Complex, which stood in for Sadiq’s office. A gypsum quarry on the Zia Pueblo Tribal Lands became the Kandahar and Oruzgan Provinces as well as the Kabul-Ghazni Highway, while the Laguna Pueblo doubled as the village of Hasanzo Kalay.
Other locations included Bernalillo County Detention Center which stood in for the US Embassy in Kabul; the newly built Aperture Center at UNM’s Media Center that became the ZNN Network headquarters; and the ABC Chinese Restaurant which was turned into the Jade Flower, a favorite watering hole and brothel frequented by journalists.
According to the Motion Picture Association of America, “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” spent more than $16.6 million in New Mexico, including $924,000 on lodging, over $500,000 on transportation, and more than $520,000 on catering, baked goods, and other food items. The production team also hired 480 local cast and crew and over 1,640 local extras.