Indiana Jones production hits campus

He transformed New Haven into the city of Bedford, the local Starbucks into an oyster bar called McCurry’s Tavern, Old Campus into the runway for an action-packed motorcycle chase, the Omni Hotel into the headquarters of the oldest Hollywood film production company, and Yale into Marshall College, circa 1957.

It’s all in a week’s work for Indiana Jones, raider of the Lost Ark and professor of archeology who apparently has a hard time remembering his lines as he lectures in WLH.

One face of Starbucks on the corner of York and Chapel Streets was transformed into McCurry's tavern this week, part of the Indiana Jones filming that occurred across campus and neighboring areas.
Lea Yu
One face of Starbucks on the corner of York and Chapel Streets was transformed into McCurry's tavern this week, part of the Indiana Jones filming that occurred across campus and neighboring areas.

Since filming for the fourth installment of Indiana Jones began last Thursday, the University and its urban periphery have undergone what can only be described as a metamorphosis. Ford Thunderbirds, rather than SUVs, cruised the streets. Bozo the Clown mirrors replaced parking meters. A new statue sat in the center of Old Campus without a head — that flew away after being hit by a racing motorcycle. The Branford Courtyard walkways became relics of history, replaced by gravel and Hollywood lights.

Men and women talking into headsets drove freely through blocked-off streets in their “Gator” cars and crew trucks, as if the University were suddenly a Los Angeles movie lot. Trailers littered the area, serving snacks or providing respite from the New Haven heat. According to the film’s location manager, Mike Fantasia, Paramount Pictures employed more than 125 crewmembers from Connecticut, as well as over 200 food vendors from Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

“We are kind of like an army,” Frank Marshall, the film’s producer, said. “We have to have our own power, our own restrooms, our own catering.”

At the same time, the production crew has become much more a part of New Haven than a separate entity — sometimes to the chagrin of local residents and taxi drivers trying to weave through the clogged streets, but often to the excitement of passers-by who stop to take in the magic of shooting a Steven Spielberg-Harrison Ford blockbuster.

Penny loafers and fedoras

Filming in New Haven, which reportedly cost the studio upwards of $10 million altogether, is now wrapping up after a week of long days starting as early as 5 a.m. and continuing into the late summer dusk.

The scene often turned bizarre soon after the crews took over. At 5:15 a.m. on Monday, for example, neon Volkswagens and ’57 Chevy’s could be seen lining College and Elm Streets. Around 6 a.m., men in mid-century top hats and the casual suits of yesteryear began walking in droves across the New Haven Green toward their cars, wearing expressions that betrayed nothing out of the ordinary.

But there was. After all, it is not every day when George Lucas — creator and executive producer of Indiana Jones, and owner of the Star Wars Empire — casually strolls down Church Street, as he did at half past 7 a.m. on Monday. And it is not every day when Old Campus can be seen filled with scores of dapper young men sporting penny loafers and slick hair — including one notable extra, Ward 1 Alderman Nick Shalek — and women with skirts, white gloves and buns.

Not everyday, but nonetheless extraordinary to see the clock turned back half a century on the Elm City.

Such was the authenticity that the movie’s creators had in mind when, seven weeks prior, working crews arrived in New Haven and slowly began the transformation. Traffic lights and parking lines that did not exist in the fifties disappeared, and more park benches seemed to line the Chapel Street sidewalk. Shoeshine stations and small red gumball machines emerged, much to the amusement of children and adults who crowded the Chapel Street district for five days, surveying its anachronisms.

But 1957 glamour comes at its own price, said one extra who asked to remain anonymous because extras are bound by confidentiality agreements.

“It was fun to wear a costume, but in the 90 degree heat on Thursday, it was really ridiculous,” she said. “I was wearing tights, a girdle, a crinoline, a slip and a wool skirt, and on top of that I was wearing a blouse and a wool cardigan. It was a lot of clothes to be wearing under artificial light with no AC.”

Branford College, in which the film will reportedly begin, also underwent an uncomfortable makeover. When a News reporter entered the Branford courtyard, it was, in a word, uprooted. Dirt replaced grass, and gravel replaced the sidewalk. There were efforts made to prevent students from seeing inside the courtyard: guards stood 24-7 outside the entrances to Saybrook and Branford Colleges, and cones stopped passers-by from nearing the Memorial Gate.

Beyond the transformation of the New Haven Green into a pseudo-make up studio and cafeteria, or the sight of a legendary director calling shots from his perch on a truck cruising down College Street, the precision with which continuity has been sought for the production is perhaps its most striking element.

New — and nicer-looking — bulletin boards have replaced existing ones, filled with fliers undeniably exclusive to the decade of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Signs calling a session for the school dance committee are posted in Branford and on Elm Street. A Marshall College Garden Club meeting, onlookers are told, has been cancelled for that week.

Enson’s, a Chapel Street men’s clothing shop, displayed models dressed in top hats, dark brown suits and argyle sweater vests for two weeks until the filming completed. Although the increased foot traffic did not bring more business to the store, Enson’s owner Jim Civitello said, changing the storefront windows was nonetheless an enjoyable experience.

“It was kind of fun, since we were here in 1957 when the movie was supposed to take to place,” he said. “We gave the film crew pictures of what Enson’s looked like in 1957 and they recreated it.”

But at times the old and the new clash in humorous, if coincidental, ways. On the passenger seat of a Thunderbird perched outside Claire’s Bakery — which now sports a sign declaring, “Since 1903!” — sat an advertisement for New Haven’s Salty Dog Saloon. Another prop, a garbage can on High Street marked “City of Bedford,” overflowed with cups from Coldstone Creamery.

”I remember this place!” one man exclaimed as he leaned in to peer at the 1957-era toys displayed in ‘F.W. Woolworth.’ His voice grew quieter. He then gazed south on Chapel Street, pointed and reminisced.

“But it was more down that way,” he said.

A chase through Commons Library

On street corners and among groups of Yale summer program students, talk this week has often turned to Indiana Jones over classes, to Harrison Ford over Harold Bloom. People are perhaps most interested in how the campus will feature in the upcoming film, which — if the past Indiana Jones films are any indication — promises to be an international blockbuster.

A full day of filming revealed that Indiana Jones will likely open with a chase scene involving a motorcycle. The chase appears to begin following an anti-Communist protest on Old Campus, and makes its way around Elm, College and High streets.

As part of the chase set, Commons — which has been kept off-limits to passers-by — was turned secretively into an enormous library, complete with bookshelves and lamps and a new floor so that vehicles can pass through without damaging the room. Painters created two large murals on either wall to further solidify the ambiance.

But before he arrives in Commons, Indy takes his motorcycle through the doors of Sterling Memorial Library, which will serve as the Marshall College library facade. The stunt required the crew to construct an 80-foot-long tunnel to protect Sterling’s materials from motorcycle fumes, Fantasia said.

William L. Harkness Hall also underwent alterations for an archaeology class taught by “Professor Jones.” Filming crew cleared a small seminar room and had extras sitting in upright desks, one extra said, and the hallways were fashioned to depict an archaeology department. She and the other “students” couldn’t resist feeling awed when Ford and Spielberg strolled into the room, she said, but the excitement slowly ebbed as the extras fell into a rhythm of being filmed, leaving the room, waiting while the crew adjusted equipment, walking in again, and repeating the process 10 times over.

The lesson itself also bored her.

“Harrison Ford doesn’t have a very commanding presence,” she said. “It was just generic stuff about archaeology that he was struggling to remember. He doesn’t remember his lines very well.”

Meanwhile, outside, Spielberg traveled back and forth down College Street on Monday, shooting the same scene — or a similar one — more than 15 times. It involved a green bus clearly out of the 1960′s, a small beetle car and the motorcycle.

A good day on an “iconic” set

Yale was Steven Spielberg’s first choice for filming, executive producer Kathleen Kennedy said, and the University suits the movie well given that much of its architecture looks so timeless.

“Steven actually said he thought Yale was the most iconic-looking Ivy League school in the United States,” Kennedy recalled.

In addition to Yale’s architectural appeal are Connecticut’s film tax breaks, which significantly reduced the costs of filmmaking, Kennedy said. Before arriving in New Haven on June 28, the crew had been in New Mexico, a state that became the second-most popular for movie producing after it announced its filmmaking tax rebates in 2002. Such benefits go both ways, Fantasia said.

“Economists say that money will go around three or four times, some say seven or eight times before it leaves the community,” he said. “So it’s quite a political economy.”

In spite of the commotion, a city and school continued on with their daily routines — or at least tried. Yale and New Haven police joined crewmembers in directing crowds pushing for a glimpse of Hollywood faces. Some commuters inadvertently became movie spectators as police blocked off intersections while the film was rolling — drawing ire from students and residents trying to get to class or work on time.

“It’s frustrating to be giving tours around Yale when you’re not allowed to enter certain buildings and streets,” Chidimma Osigwe ’09 said. “The filming was exciting at first, but the charm has worn off.”

Many students reported rude confrontations with police and crewmembers, while one student said he almost missed his airplane to Germany because he had difficulty hailing a taxi. A Metro Taxi driver, who asked to remain anonymous, also expressed concern over the sudden concentration of police enforcement in the immediate Yale-Chapel Street area. The rerouted streets detracted from the level of automobile safety and led to a perpetual weeklong headache for drivers, he said.

Spielberg and Ford declined to comment on the filming, citing the focus required during production. Lucas, reached by the News on his walk from the New Haven Green to the Omni Hotel, was responsive, albeit succinct, to inquiries about how his experience has been so far at Yale and in New Haven.

“Great!” he said — his thick silver hair reflecting the glare of the sunlight, his gaze rendered uncertain by his dark sunglasses. Then, Lucas turned toward the hotel again, interlocking hands with his smiling girlfriend and lightly remarking, “Good day.”

Comments