Amidst the insanity of shopping period, Robert De Niro’s recent visit to New Haven went almost completely unnoticed by Yale students. The famous actor was in town Tuesday and Wednesday, shooting scenes for “Righteous Kill,” an indie film that will costar Al Pacino and (wait for it) rapper Curtis Jackson, aka 50 Cent, who plays (wait for it) a drug dealer. Alas, De Niro has already left the Elm City, off to finish production of the film in other parts of Connecticut and New York, and will not be returning to New Haven any time soon. All that’s left of him is the whimsical rumor that he ate at “Cafe Goodfellas” on State Street.
De Niro is only the most recent of a slew of Hollywood stars who have made appearances in Connecticut over the last two years, to the continual bewilderment of many Yalies. In 2006, the state of Connecticut passed legislation that gives a tax break to movie-makers, and since then, movie crews have come in ever-increasing numbers. The ostensible reason for the tax break is economic: Theoretically, big-budget films being made in Connecticut means more money circulating in the Connecticut economy. The actual economic ramifications for local businesses, however, remain unclear.
“The mayor is interested in the economic impact of these film shootings,” said Jessica Mayorga, spokeswoman for Mayor DeStefano. “But the state of Connecticut has not done a report on the matter yet. I don’t even know if they’re currently working on a report.”
It is hard to tell whether or not movie crews patronize local businesses enough to justify the inconveniences they cause for local people. As wonderful as it was to catch a glimpse of Harrison Ford’s back this summer (or was his stunt double’s back?), it was not wonderful to be late to work because Spielberg had decided to shoot a scene in the middle of your commute. Although De Niro’s film was shot in a residential district (Orange Street, near East Rock), it still managed to disrupt business for the Orange Street Deli and Grocery.
“They didn’t buy anything,” said Issa Haddad, the store’s owner. “The film crews blocked my store and didn’t even buy a milk or a soda. Nobody even saw De Niro. It wasn’t good at all.”
Last year, when Uma Thurman came to shoot part of a film at Yale, students crowded around the gates of Old Campus just to look at her. This summer, when Steven Spielberg shut down over half of New Haven for a week to shoot the upcoming “Indiana Jones” sequel, denizens of New Haven lined up for hours to submit face shots of themselves in hopes of being chosen as an extra. De Niro’s visit came and went with barely a murmur to mark it. Perhaps Yalies are getting used to celebrity spotting in their backyard. Or perhaps East Rock is just too far beyond the invisible fence surrounding Yale College for its students to even notice.