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Hollywood East: Day One

"All right, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my closeup." -- Norma Desmond, 'Sunset Boulevard.'

My town -- the borough of Royersford, Pennsylvania, population about 4,300, land less than one square mile -- has the look of a town of the 1970s. Now, thanks to Hollywood magic, it really is.

This week, "Lord of the Rings" trilogy director Peter Jackson and his crew have swept into Royersford to shoot part of the movie of Alice Sebold's bestselling novel "The Lovely Bones." The movie stars, among others, Susan Sarandon (Oscar winner for "Dead Man Walking"), Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci and Michael Imperioli. Today was dedicated to dressing up Main Street for Christmas, circa 1973, with Royersford playing the part of the fictional "Fairfax Borough." Our borough hall sign now says "Fairfax Borough Hall," our weekly newspaper's office now houses the "Fairfax County Register," and a "Fairfax Police" cruiser waits for its shift in a row of cars (Mustang, Chevelle, etc.) dating back to my early school years.

The strolling local sees the crew's equipment that the moviegoer will not see: Trucks, ladders, large lights, thick black cables snaking along the edge of the street, a discarded box labeled "gaffer's tape," a bin labeled "reorder from The Prop House," numbered mysterious silver boxes labeled "Paramount Pictures."

The window-shopping resident will also see ample evidence of Peter Jackson's passion for authentic detail, no matter how tiny. Here are a few of the '70s-style window ads:

"NO Flame, Fumes, Fading...with an ELECTRIC DRYER."

"IGA Yellow Cling Peaches No. 2 1/2 Can 29 cents."

"All-Star Cling Peach Whip: Easy and Thrifty!"

"Cut Green Beans 9 Cans $1.00."

"Cashews 50 cents/half pound."

(Hey, if the dryer is as cheap as the cashews, sign me up!)

In the fictional Fairfax, business is booming! It was interesting to note we have a new Chinese restaurant (called Chin's Kitchen, complete with gold dragons and a gong in the window), until peeking inside and seeing only red curtains inside the door. Other new places to shop: Holder's Hobbies & Toys (actually State Farm), the Bus Depot Cafe and PT's Gas & Go Service at Main and 3rd (featuring a chalkboard of buses going to Macon, Mobile, Atlanta and Savannah, non-functional gas pumps, and my personal favorite, a phone booth with a rotary phone that features a sign telling you how to get directory assistance for Manhattan and the Bronx -- the idea of the phone booth being to hide the non-period Verizon phone behind it!).

Reality and movieland begin to blur. At Allen's -- now a "luncheonette" and "soda fountain," according to the new signs outside -- some of the actual indoor thrift-shop items for sale resemble the window displays; it's a good thing, then, that a curled-up sign taped to the window informs you, "Our display windows are props for the movie." A woman unpacking props told me that she had bought from them a Christmas tree and manger scene that are now in the window! The displays also featured many beloved playtime relics from baby-boomers' childhoods, including a large Etch-A-Sketch and some Marvel comic books. By evening, the bubblewrapped gumball machine labeled "Lovely" had been unwrapped and stood in front of the store.

Yuletide decorations also festoon Main Street: Christmas candles and stars hang over the road, green tinsel and large red ornaments wind their way up the light poles. I came home from Thanksgiving vacation thinking that the borough had been busy decorating, only to read an online newspaper giving the credit to employees from DreamWorks!

Here's where I admit to hoping for a tiny on-set blooper: Next to the sign for the nonexistent Wynn's Game Room (" 'Ladies' Play Free!") is the equally nonexistent Wynn's Tavern, sporting the old-fashioned window sign "You must be over 21 to be served." Next to that is an Aquafina bottle. I can just see myself on premiere night, poking my hubby in the ribs and whispering, "Look! Look! They didn't move the bottle!" (But if Peter Jackson is reading this, I'm the one who gave you the heads-up to move it.)

By now, I am (and you are, maybe) excited to see this movie. Unfortunately, it's not scheduled to come out till March of 2009. However, I do highly recommend you read the book (I bought it yesterday and I'm on page 74); it is excellent. It does deal with disturbing subject matter (the murder of a 14-year-old girl) -- probably the point of the prop Smokey the Bear sign next to the newspaper office saying, "Remember: There are babes in the woods" -- but read it anyway if the topic hasn't scared you off.

Sometime tomorrow (Wednesday), the shoot will begin. No, I don't know what time it starts. No, I don't know if Susan Sarandon will be there. But I sure will be there when I can -- camera and notebook in hand! This is fun!

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( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 28th, 2007 10:20 pm (UTC)
the lovely bones
I went down to the set today. First, I encountered a rather nasty spectra guard aka. fake police. I couldn't believe how rude he was. He said "it's not a public street" and no pedestrians were allowed. I wasn't aware it wasn't a public street anymore. So, I said I was going to the furniture store. Finally, after his phone calls, demanding I "don't move", I was "allowed" to go down a public street to a store open to the public. THANK YOU SPECTRA GUARD!! Anyway, I really did have to order a sofa so at least I had a reason to be there! It is the perfect place to watch. Big windows that overlook the entire area being shot! We got to see Mark Wahlberg and some others. The store staff wasn't super nice. They acted like we should ignore the outside. But, let's be honest, they were watching too! We stayed there for a while...until we really couldn't justify being there anymore. So, we went up 4th street. At the corner of 4th and Church, at the Church, we saw people taking wardrobe stuff into it. So, after alot of waiting around, talking to others, we found out that the church is doubling as a dressing area for cast. I find the entire process intriguing, more than wanting to see any stars..but that was a nice perk! Alot of the regular businesses were closed..including AnnMaries! I couldn't believe they closed! Craft Services is behind Lebow Furniture. A great place to see the director and more! Make friends with some residents on that street and you really could be there all day! It was a fun day, with the exception of the Spectra Guard who in my opinion, should at least treat the Royersford residents with a moderate amount of respect, considering the accomodations this town has made for them. Furthermore, it is disappointing that they are trying to make Rofo look dumpy in the movie...not exactly a postcard of paradise. Too bad for that. But, if you're off work tomorrow, have a fun day and explore the set. My only advice.....stay away from spectra guards! They let the coat go to their heads!!!!
Nov. 29th, 2007 11:10 pm (UTC)
Re: the lovely bones
I second the Guards Are Jerks motion. I had stopped on Main Street yesterday morning to put newspapers in an honor box (my job, obviously). This was around 6:15 AM. I'd brought my camera with me, and as soon as I got it out and took one pic, a guard told me there was no parking here, move along unless I wanted to get hauled off. Real pleasant sort. I mentioned that he was in my town, and that there were 3 hours before any work would be starting, and proceeded to take a couple more pics of fake store fronts before driving off. There were several guards around, almost 3 hours before the day's shooting was to begin. I'd been hoping to get Peter Jackson's autograph on a map of Middle Earth, but after my brush with the guards, I gave up on the idea, figuring he'd be impossible to approach. The experience left a bad taste in my mouth. With the hassle their presence is causing, you'd think they could be more gracious guests. Oh, and today my honor box had mysteriously disappeared. Hopefully it will reappear tomorrow before they clear out.

Btw, Rofo looks dumpy without any help. Lived here 33 years and it's remained virtually unchanged, Which is why Jackson likes it.
Nov. 30th, 2007 03:17 am (UTC)
Re: the lovely bones
Saw the bus scenes this afternoon being filmed. Lots of extras so it was kinda chaotic.

Got into the closed set tonight! Lots of waiting around, but talked to some people from the set which was fun. Got 2 feet from Mark Wahlberg. He gave out a couple autographs. His hair is longer for this movie, afterall it is the 70's. He was so nice and more than accomodating to the ten or so of us waiting for him. Sorry---No Pics allowed. Tried to take one, got yelled at by the ROFO PD. Seemed kinda silly. But, we were there for 2 hours or so. Mark Wahlberg literally came onto the set, was there for 20 minutes or so, and left. Spectra guards were in full force, but I made nice...and got to stay on set. Was really surprised ROFO PD was so ubrupt, especially when we're the town residents! That was disappointing. What has fame done to this town???

FYI- A set insider said that ROFO was picked because it looks like a town you wouldn't want to stay in! That says alot for our town. What a terrible reason to have a movie filmed in your town!

Tonight--until 2 am filming. One scene set to be filmed is when Mark Wahlberg gets in a fight and gets hit by a car. I wanted to stay longer, but I was frozen, and although I had ringside access, there wasn't enough excitement to stay. I had seen the dreamboat....my journey had ended.
Nov. 30th, 2007 07:12 am (UTC)
The Frozen Bones
Thanks for your tales from the set! I just got back tonight after they wrapped (at 1:45 a.m.!) and am pretty much an icicle, so I'll post more later after I turn the heat up to 95 and cover myself with five quilts... For now, I'll just say that despite the umm...overenthusiastic efforts of certain security guards, the chance to see Peter Jackson and Mark Wahlberg in Royersford was fantastic, and it will be a memory I will long enjoy!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )