Sunday, July 26, 2009

Ann Arbor Goes Hollywood

In the Tom Hanks' movie "Big," there's a scene where he returns to find the fortune teller machine, only to discover that the carnival has moved on. What was once a glittering spectacle is now a desolate field with bits of rubbish drifting about. The sky is gray and full of dreary storm clouds to match the mood.

That is how my neighborhood park feels now that the carnival called "Castle Rock Pictures" has packed up their set and moved on.

Ever since Michigan passed a tax break to lure in film crews, Hollywood has been knocking at our door. In one case, literally when our neighbor brought over a location scout to see if our house might be a good fit for the new Hilary Swank movie. It wasn't, but we had fun describing several houses that might work since we had just finished house-hunting. They were looking for "Victorian charm" meets "crack house," and since Ann Arbor is a hippy town, we've got lots of places that fit that description.

Last summer, we enjoyed watching them construct a fake cafe downtown and then crash a trailer into it. We missed the day of the actual explosion, but the next day we saw the trailer (with the phrase "God's A**hole" spray-painted on the side) and the charred remains of the cafe. As we walked past the scene, I looked over and noticed that one of the storefronts across the street was filled with groceries and a beautiful display of flowers and produce.

"Look! We finally got a market downtown!" I said, pointing excitedly.

Robbie laughed.

"It's a facade for the movie."


Recently, they decided to film part of Rob Reiner's new film, "Flipped", at the park I take the boys to nearly every day. The film involves several scenes where a girl refuses to get out of her beloved sycamore tree, so they chose to use one of two large sycamores in the park. The Observer laid out the plan in detail - they would trim back one of the trees so that it could be digitally removed later on and they promised to use a professional arborist. They also agreed to resurface the basketball court and other minor cosmetic things to make up for the disturbance.

Despite all their careful planning, a protester showed up to stop the cherry picker from getting close to the sycamore tree and they had to stop work for a day. The sheer insanity that someone would protest the trimming of a tree is just part of why I love this town!

Anyway, in the weeks leading up to filming, the park regulars enjoyed watching the strange scaffolding and structures go up. Groups of people who would never talk to each other otherwise huddled to debate what they could be making. Slowly, the number of "regulars" increased until, by the third day of actual shooting, the park was filled with people at any given hour.

One day, a construction worker stopped his truck and leaned out the window.

"Hey - what's going on here?"

I explained as much as I knew, which was only a few basic facts. But even with this little bit of information, a huge smile spread across his face.

"Wow! I wonder what big actors are going to be in town? I guess we're all going to get our 15 minutes of fame, eh?"

I laughed and nodded. "Yeah, sure."

I found it funny that he would think merely being close to a film crew could make him famous - like they were going to stop shooting and say, "Hey - you over there gawking at us. YOU should be in movies!!"

The idea was ridiculous, but I admit there was a certain magic in the air with all that hoopla. Maybe nobody was going to get discovered, but it was fun to watch the lights hoisted up on cherry pickers, actors in 1950's costumes flipping open their cell phones to text someone the moment they got off set, or people carrying around fake trees - trying to find just the right spot.

More than anything, it was fun to have people from all over town gathered together - some with binoculars and camping chairs, others pretending to "casually" walk their dog by for the 100th time. Joggers stopped to jokingly complain about their restricted running area; parents pushed their kids on the swings while discussing the finer points of cinematography; and everyone of every age knew the name "Rob Reiner."

One day before heading over to the park, I overheard a group of 8-12 year old neighborhood boys discussing whether $75 an hour was a decent wage for an extra. I silently wondered if they paid them for the time they spent sitting and waiting in the catering tent. Which was most of the time.

I don't think famous actors ever have the right to complain about how hard their lives are, but I admit that movie-making is mostly a bunch of actors sitting around....waiting....and waiting....then working for 10 minutes...then back to waiting.

I tried to snap a few shots of the whole spectacle, but unfortunately that day my son never let me get close enough to show the full effect. Apparently he thought swinging and going down the slide were FAR more important than the movies.

This past week the filming has "wrapped up," as they say, and the trailers and antique cars and catering tent and police officers are all gone. It's just a field again. Everyone except the regulars have gone back to wherever they came from. And I am forced to push kids in swings for hours without anything interesting to distract me. Sigh. Movie-making is such a cruel, cruel mistress. Here one day and gone the next.

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