BY MICHELLE PARKS ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE
BEAVER — A dozen days ago, this tiny town of 95 at least tripled in size as people waited for the filming of Elizabethtown, written and directed by Cameron Crowe, to start. Film crews darted around Eureka Springs and Berryville on Aug. 3, including stops at Dinosaur World and the Great Passion Play grounds. The crew planned to begin filming at Beaver’s historic wooden bridge in the middle of the day, but changed it to midafternoon. They didn’t arrive until much later. To passers-by, the crowd in lawn chairs and on blankets probably seemed a bit odd, as they drank water and sat under trees to keep cool in the August heat. Some gathered at the Beaver Town Inn and Trading Post, a general store just up the road, for refreshments and air conditioning. Many were teen girls, and this was their once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Orlando Bloom in person and possibly get him to sign something. They traveled here from as far as North Little Rock and Tulsa. The filmmakers were tightlipped about the movie when talking to Eureka Springs tourism staff members, only telling them it was a road-trip movie. The Internet Movie Database Web site has a few specifics, like the actors, which include Bloom, Kirsten Dunst, Susan Sarandon, Alec Baldwin and Judy Greer. After failures in his job and love life, Bloom’s character, Drew Baylor, returns home to Kentucky to deal with the aftermath of his father’s death, according to the Web site. “This is more than a comedy drama. This is really going to have some poignancy and real meaning,” says Lynn Berry, director of marketing for Eureka Springs’ City Advertising and Promotion Commission. Elizabethtown is named for the small Kentucky town where much of the action takes place. The movie should be in theaters in fall 2005. Arkansas was in the running for location shots after a producer who’d worked on Chrystal — a movie filmed in Northwest Arkansas and starring Billy Bob Thornton — bragged about the area and its people. So Chris Baugh, a location manager for Elizabethtown, called the Eureka Springs commission in October. Berry obliged Baugh’s sole request: to see the Christ of the Ozarks statue on the Great Passion Play grounds. “That’s all he knew about,” she says. “That’s the icon for Eureka Springs.” When Baugh arrived, Berry drove him to at least a dozen sites in and around Eureka Springs including Dinosaur World and the Beaver bridge, built in 1949. She eventually heard back from Paramount Pictures, and more movie personnel arrived in February. “I knew it was a road trip movie, so I said, ‘You’ve got to see our roads,’” Berry says. She took them on about 40 miles of winding roads around Eureka Springs and Berryville. The move crew liked what they saw, and a dozen more, including director Cameron Crowe, returned in May. Crowe’s Hollywood resume is bright with directing and writing credits for Almost Famous(2000) and Jerry Maguire (1996). The Elizabethtown crew photographed and videotaped the views then. Paramount negotiated private contracts with the various locales. “They are wholly respectful of the community in which they work,” Berry says. “That’s what was so impressive to me.” Preproduction began in late June, as a group prepared maps and figured out which restaurants could hold an onslaught of 75 customers and what vehicles the curvy roads would require. With arrangements in place, all that remained was time.
With people waiting near the Beaver bridge for filming to start, it was already going on in other locales. Cris Dunnam, creative director with the Eureka Springs commission, hung out all day with the smaller of the two film crews, the second unit, which had about 10 members. “It’s much more relaxed and a lot less stressful than the first unit,” he says. The crew shot “portraits of fake dinosaurs” at Dinosaur World, which they really liked. “They’d never seen anything that retro, sort of roadside kitsch,” Dunnam says. At the Christ statue, they shot several different angles, using stand-ins for the main characters, he says. The first unit, which numbered about 65, stayed longer at Dinosaur World, which delayed them in getting to Beaver, and held up the second unit. “It changes every minute,” Dunnam says of the filming schedule. The cost of filming a major movie on location can run around $100,000 an hour, which is the price Berry was told this one cost. That includes things like paying and feeding the crew and renting the transportation and equipment, she said. Berry says the dialect coach recorded a desk clerk and waitress to capture the flavor of local speech. “They actually taped my voice,” Berry says. Whitney Huffmaster of Monett, Mo., relaxes in a lawn chair about 2 p.m., wearing a bikini top and shorts. The 16-year-old said she heard about the filming from her aunt and uncle, who had been camping at Table Rock Lake. Whitney brought her best friend, Shannan Eimer, 15, to see Bloom — “because he was really cute in the Pirates of the Caribbean.” The girls, along with Whitney’s aunt and uncle, grandparents and cousins, arrived around 10 in the morning. They also brought her aunt’s dog, Lili, a white miniature American Eskimo, because Huffmaster read in Peoplemagazine that Bloom is a dog lover. And, she read, he’s usually willing to sign autographs. Adelaide German, 17 and from Eureka Springs, showed up early because she thought they needed extras, but there was no one here. “Other than that, Orlando’s pretty hot, so I decided I wanted to see him,” she says. “Smalltown Eureka Springs having somebody that big coming in here, that’s pretty awesome.” Tonya Sherman, 15, says, “I’m just here with her.” For the bridge scene, German thinks Bloom’s character is dumping his dead father’s ashes off the bridge. She also heard that Tom Cruise is a producer for the film and thought she might have a chance to see him, too. “That’d be even cooler if he was here, but we’ll take what we can get,” German says. Her friend, Isaac Pirkle, 16, says his mother ran into a film crew member at the Laundromat, and found out about the filming. Around 3:30 p.m., the people along the water move their chairs and coolers into the shade again as the hot sun continues to shift. A ski boat speeds up to the bridge, and another truck crosses it. A FedEx truck drives by twice. A Holiday Island Fire Department boat waits in the shade, warding off water traffic. A Carroll County sheriff’s office car controls motor traffic. Music starts up from a nearby home, playing country tunes and Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville.” A group of local residents gather on a concrete patio. “Have they already started filming?” a woman shouts from her red Jeep. “No,” someone tells her. “Cool,” she says, smiling as she drives up the road to park. Around 4 p.m., someone shouts, “They’re here,” as a white van and white Ryder truck drive by. The Ryder truck backs down the lower of two roads parallel to the water. The people sitting under those trees snap shots of the crews opening trucks. Up at the store, Lucy Stowe, 15, talks about how she is glad her dad brought her here from their Eureka Springs home to catch a glimpse of Bloom.
“It’s hot, but exciting,” she says. “It’s hot, or he’s hot?” her dad, Doug, asks her. “Both,” she replies. Berry talks to people mingling on the store’s front porch. “Welcome to Hollywood,” she says. “Or, Beaverwood.” About 20 minutes later, big trucks and vans roll down the road. Berry makes her way down to the water’s edge to move the crowd there back closer to the store. Otherwise, she tells them, they’ll be in the shot. Soon, more small Ryder trucks, a state trooper car, two vans, a few SUVs and cars drive past the store. Berry asks residents to turn down the music, and warn people to stay out of the streets. Fans gather behind a stop sign, many of them wearing shorts, T-shirts and flip-flops. When Bloom emerges from a car, he isn’t wearing swashbuckling garb, and his hair isn’t flowing blond onto a pack of arrows strapped to his back. He has lost all resemblance to his recent Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings characters. He looks like a regular guy, playing a regular guy in a movie set in the real world. Today, his hair is tousled and brown, and his costume is black pants, shoes and a green T-shirt with “Ale81, ” a logo for a Kentucky-made soft drink, in white on the front. The crew won’t let him sign autographs as long as they see newspaper cameras. By 5:30 p.m., he has signed several before heading off to work on the scene. “I touched his hand,” one girl says. Lucy Stowe, who skipped ballet class for the chance at an autograph, has Bloom sign two scraps of paper — one for a fellow dancer. Savannah Brick, also of Eureka Springs, is one of several people to get a dollar bill signed. Those become known as “Bloom dollars” by the end of the night. “He said, ‘It’s all about the money,’” Brick says Bloom commented about the bills. Ten-year-old Brick’s favorite Bloom movie is the third The Lord of the Rings installment, The Return of the King. “I think he looks good in blond,” she says of his Legolas role.
By 6 p.m., the crew sets up cameras by the bridge, hidden from some angles by large white screens. Bloom’s stand-in takes his place on the wooden bridge. Then Crowe works with Bloom on the scene. A black Labrador mix, named Sidi, is on a leash on the set during filming. Berry says Bloom picked the young dog up as a stray on the streets of Morocco. Several crew members are on the bridge around 6:45 p.m., one of them dabbing Bloom’s face with a towel. Fans gather around a gold Durango, watching through an opening beneath the tree limbs. Most are still waiting for autographs. Brianne Lewis, 12, of Berryville sits cross-legged on the road with a poster she made declaring the Berryville color guard’s love for Bloom. She plays flute in the Berryville band and is a member of the band’s color guard. “We’re big fans,” Lewis says. “He’s hot.” Brianne and her friend Tyanna Doss had been waiting for more than an hour to get his autograph. Brianne brought a school T-shirt and Tyanna, 13, brought the glossy page of a teen magazine showing Bloom in a suit and unbuttoned shirt. “He looks so cute in that picture,” Tyanna says. Brianne had tried to call Tyanna to invite her to come down, but her phone was busy. When she banged on Tyanna’s front door, Tyanna was still in the shower. “I got out of the shower and put on some clothes. I still have shampoo in my hair,” she says, her wet locks held in place by a black sun visor. On her own belly, Tyanna wrote in black marker, “I love O.B.,” with a colored-in heart for “love.” Around 7:15 p.m., wisps of fog roll across the water’s surface. By 7:35, the crew lines up the fans and moves them back away from the filming area. About 50 people have waited patiently, looking sweaty and tired. At 7:40, a man yells, “Be quiet. Rolling dialogue.” A few folks in a nearby yard keep talking, and the cicadas’ drone persists. Then, five minutes later, another man shouts, “Keep quiet. Rolling.”About 7:50, came another yell: “Cut. Thank you, guys. Going again.” In a nearby yard, police talk with some residents, who are irritated the filming is taking so long. “Cut. Going again,” the man says. “Rolling. Quiet please.” Soon after 8 p.m., the sun has set, and the shot is done. Bloom signs autographs again — purses, magazines, DVD cases, T-shirts, caps and slips of paper. Ashley Pritchard shrieks with delight after her Bloom encounter, running to show friends his signature. “I was, like, shaking,” the 14-year-old says, giggling and flashing a wide, braces-filled smile. “For one thing, he’s really cute,” says Ashley, of Berryville. “I just really like his acting.” When Bloom is finally pulled away from giving autographs, he gives one last girl a hug and signs an older woman’s T-shirt on her shoulder. Bloom climbs into the passenger seat of the gold Durango and rides away. “Thank you. Thank you,” the girls yell. “Bye. Come again. Anytime.”
THE DAY AFTER
The next day, Berry recalls how she stood by the sound man and watched the monitors when they recorded sound. The crew kept telling some noisy people in the background to quiet down, but that wasn’t the main trouble. “That’s not even registering. Can you turn the cicadas down?” she says the sound man asked aloud. Because the crew members were delayed and were then waiting for nature to calm, they also saw the fog start to form above the water. The sunset made the yellow bridge glow. “They were very impressed with the way the fog rolled down the river,” Berry says. “They were just blown away. They thought that light and that fog was unbelievable.” Though a notice had been printed in local newspapers, there were no signs on the U.S. 62 entrances to Arkansas 187 to warn drivers that the bridge in the middle was closed. Berry says the Carroll County sheriff’s office turned around about 70 drivers who got all the way down to the bridge, and only two drivers complained to the department. “When you move into a town of 95, you pretty much lock it up,” Berry says. “We were so sorry to inconvenience people in that way and we were so thankful that it was just for a few hours.”Johnny Head, who manages the Beaver Town store with Trent Palzer, says the day of filming was their busiest day since opening two months ago. The 370 customers logged on their register receipts far exceeded the typical 60 customers on weekdays. “It was good for a Tuesday,” Head says. It didn’t bother them having the road blocked, with residents, fans and the film crew flowing in and out all day. They stayed open an extra two and a half hours — until 9:30 p.m. — to accommodate the film crew as they packed up the equipment. “They were still here when we closed up,” Head says. The film crew and Bloom were booked into the Crescent Hotel, but they stayed at the Eureka Inn, Berry says. Some of them went to downtown bars after filming that night. They got up early the next day for breakfast at the Gazebo Restaurant, before moving on to the next stop. Bloom stayed the longest, signing autographs until he left at 8 a.m., Berry says. The filming of the bridge scene didn’t last long, just a few hours. And it might only take up seconds or minutes in the finished movie. For the fans who were there, though, it was enough. For a moment in August, Bloom, Crowe and this movie made Beaver history.