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Ever wonder what it's like to be part of filming a roller coaster TV show?

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Published: March 7, 2013 at 10:11 AM

It was a gorgeous day at Hersheypark on the first Monday of October, 2012, a perfect day for riding and filming the park’s newest coaster. As a member of American Coaster Enthusiasts [ACE], I had been invited to participate in the filming of Skyrush for Travel Channel’s Insane Coaster Wars series and was thrilled to be offered this opportunity – even though it meant riding a coaster with widely publicized comfort issues over and over.

We were told to report to Hersheypark at 8:15am and use the employees’ entrance. We had also been given wardrobe advice – i.e., no T-shirts featuring other parks or coasters, with bright solid colors preferred because they photograph better. The crew from Indigo Films was already on the scene and handled things expeditiously from start to finish. The first order of business was getting the paperwork out of the way; we all had to sign waivers permitting the use of our pictures by the broadcast media. I was surprised and pleased by the diversity of our group. I had been afraid that I would be out of place because I’m in my sixties (having taken up roller coasters as a hobby at the ripe old age of 59) but this was not the case. There were young people, middle-aged people and senior citizens. Once the paperwork was dispatched, those of us who had ridden Skyrush previously (I had, about two weeks after it opened) got the opportunity to vote on the ride with a laptop that had been provided for this purpose; those who hadn’t ridden would vote later. Our camera crew was very interactive and invited anyone who wanted to talk about this coaster to step up to the mike and camera before the filming began. They were interested in hearing what expectations the newbies had of Skyrush as well as talking with veterans of the ride.

Sign in

It did not take long for the crew to be set up for filming although some adjustments were made. They initially had mounted a camera in the second row of the coaster but later removed it. They also had one of those octopus-type helicopters hovering over the scene for an aerial view. I soon realized that Indigo Films had handpicked several people in advance who were not associated with the ACE group. These were three exceptionally good-looking and undoubtedly videogenic young people – two women and a man – who were designated to sit in the front row once they began filming. (They had gone through a couple of trial runs before they turned the cameras on.) Because Skyrush seats four across, with two inside seats and two outer wing seats, that left one empty seat so I grabbed it and sat with the pretty people. The crew wanted us to remain in the same seats for three consecutive rides and then switch. Because they were not planning to film every single ride, they alerted us as to when a ride would be filmed so that we could follow protocol. We were instructed not to ride with hands in the air when the ride was being filmed. Also, although it was a bit chilly, we were asked to remove our jackets because they wanted it to look like the middle of summer.

Filming

Then the fun began in earnest. Once restrained (the lap bars, unlike those on most coasters, are pulled down from overhead and are incredibly tight – more about that later), we were off and running. As anyone who’s ridden Millennium Force or Intimidator 305 knows, cable lifts are fast, and the lift on Skyrush is the fastest I’ve ever encountered. To be fair, I should point out that the train is not at ground level when dispatched, but even so, I was struck by the speed of acceleration. I calculated that it took about 10 seconds to reach the top of the 212-foot lift hill. Then the 200-ft. drop! It was breathtaking. In comparison to some of my favorite coasters – Millennium Force, I305, Nitro, Apollo’s Chariot, on which the initial drop is pretty much straight down - Skyrush has a little something extra in that the track curves to the right near the bottom of the drop. The rest of the ride was pretty amazing. I found the ejector airtime to be almost off the charts and can say without hesitation that this coaster is the most intense one I have ever ridden. It’s not the tallest or fastest but the most intense because the angles on the curves are totally insane. In short, it’s quite an experience.

After everyone had had an opportunity to ride several times, the film crew asked for repeat interviews so once again I stepped up to the boom mike and got in my two cents’ worth. Everyone who gave his or her impression of the ride spoke with great enthusiasm but no-one mentioned the restraints. We had been warned beforehand that this topic was taboo.

The drop

As to the restraints, these proved to be a problem for some of those in our group. I knew that the park had added extra padding to one of the trains – presumably the one that was being used for this film shoot – but it wasn’t sufficient to eliminate discomfort. I was OK for my three rides in the right front wing seat but encountered some difficulty when I switched seats. Some were worse than others. On each directional change, the lap bars tighten to the extent of exerting extreme pressure on the thighs. And the most painful part of the ride – this was the consensus of our group – is the small hill just before the train returns to the loading station. I survived eleven rides on Skyrush during this film shoot and could have ridden it a few more times had I not had to take a short break from the physical abuse, but some of the other participants had to quit altogether after half a dozen because the whacking they took was so agonizing as to be intolerable. The ride itself is short – just over a minute – and it could be argued that because of the thigh-crushing restraints, it is mercifully short. Skyrush, currently undergoing maintenance and repair, is a remarkable coaster which could easily be in the top 10 if it were more user friendly. Hersheypark needed a good hypercoaster and they now have one, but its future may be bleak unless the problem can be resolved. I can see this exceptional, beautiful coaster falling by the wayside due to low ridership.

Return to station

Being at Hersheypark with a camera crew, a group of coaster enthusiasts and ERT (the park wasn’t even open to the public that day) was a fun and rewarding experience. I may well end up on the cutting room floor before the program featuring Skyrush airs, but so be it. We had a good crew and a good time. Kudos to the Indigo Films crew at Hersheypark for both their professionalism and consideration. I hope I run into the same gang at another film shoot. Last but certainly not least, I wish to thank the staff at Hersheypark for their hospitality and patience. They made us feel welcome and provided refreshments, including yummy hot chocolate. The ride ops did an outstanding job of enabling this event to go off without a hitch. I have now been to Hersheypark three times and on each occasion was impressed by how well it’s run and by the helpfulness of the employees.

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Readers' Opinions

From KJ Simpson on March 7, 2013 at 10:32 AM
Great recap! I've always wondered how these shows were shot. I've also often suspected that some of the people in the high-profile seats were planted by the crew. Suspicion confirmed! What a fun opportunity for you. I'll be looking for you when the show airs, and hopefully you won't end up on the cutting room floor.
From 38.98.240.108 on March 7, 2013 at 1:47 PM
Sounds like you had a lot of fun. I will have to tell my son about this coaster. He's 14 and is in love with riding coasters.
From Bobbie Butterfield on March 8, 2013 at 6:04 AM
To K J Simpson - Thanks for the positive feedback! As to how these episodes of Insane Coaster Wars are filmed, I should add that not all film shoots for Travel Channel are as much fun as this one was. I had originally intended to say as much in my piece but decided that doing so would detract from it. Anyway, exactly one week after the Skyrush event, I participated in a film shoot of Nitro - and that one turned out to be a complete waste of time and energy. We were instructed to report to Six Flags Great Adventure at 6:30am and because it took the film crew 3 hours to set up, we were standing there freezing in the meantime, waiting for something to happen. When the crew was finally ready to roll, it soon became apparent that the ACE people would have no opportunity to offer any feedback on Nitro. This particular crew was not interactive with us and interviewed only the four people they had handpicked in advance. And when the crew asked one of them "How did you like the hammerhead turn?" I wanted to laugh or puke. I don't think this young man would know the difference between a hammerhead turn and a barrel roll. The ACE people might just as well not have been there at all; we were only along for the ride. To add insult to injury, we got a measly 4 rides on Nitro. So how things go really depends upon the film crew. We happened to get a great crew for Skyrush and I would hope that this is the rule and the crew for Nitro is the exception.
From Ed Newman on March 8, 2013 at 4:56 PM
Great Report !! Well written and enjoyable to read. I've been a casual fan of that show whenever I get to see it. Glad to hear they are filming new episodes. Have not been to HersheyPark since 2003, but need to make a return visit soon.

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