March 4, 2011
George Clooney had no love to give me.
He was in Oxford this week shooting “The Ides of March,” and for some reason the JournalNews thought I was the man to hang out and wait for George Clooney sightings, to stand by until he came out and look for his shadow and let one of our photographers get a picture of him, but only by using their longest lenses. We weren’t able to get closer than 50 yards to him.
“The Production is closed to the public and the press,” was the standard line from the unit publicist, who was nearly useless. She had three other sentences, but nothing else. She never gave any useful response to any question that couldn’t be answered by, “Miami University is playing itself; it is not standing in for anything else” or “The Production chose Miami University for its Ivy League feel.” I had access to nothing but those few quotes. We couldn’t get any closer than any other member of the community. We watched from the sidewalk like all the other looky-loos.
The university public relations office, with whom I have had a pretty good working relationship with in the past, I thought, wasn’t much help. I think they tried to be as helpful as they thought they could be, but everyone feared the Production. That still baffles me on a number of levels, which I’ll get to.
On Monday, the Production gutted the atrium lobby of the Farmer School of Business, which some of the university staff call the “Raj Mahal” because of the ostentatious, palatial look of the new building, erected as a monument to a big donor at a time of fiscal emergency for all public institutions in the state, when university employees are being laid off. It does seem to be a pretty lush building. The atrium had a grand piano in the lobby before the Production turned it into a press room that would not see any real press, only extras playing press.
But some of the elegance was faked. I leaned against one of the giant pillars outside the east wing and nearly stroked when it moved. It wasn’t made of stone or even concrete, rather something molded, fiberglass or plastic. This one had lost its anchor and was dangling like a giant chime.
I wandered in and talked to some of the students eating their lunch in the staircase and the nooks nearby while the Production set up tables with gray tablecloths in the atrium. The stairway people looked displaced, but they told me they always ate there. They were all excited about the movie, the coeds especially juiced up to see Ryan Gosling, whoever he is. I listened in on a couple of conversations before I started asking questions. There were a couple dozen Production people there, and one security guard.
After I saw what I could see, and dodged the gaze of the security guard while I snapped some pictures (I would have played along if they’d given me just a modicum of access) of thegray tables and the red, white and blue banner saying “Democratic Primary Debate,” I decided to walk by Hall Auditorium, where they were scheduled to be shooting Thursday, to see what if anything was going on there.
As I approached the entrance, a guy with long grea hair a lot like mine came up the other direction with an empty dolly. Just after he walked past, he said, “We see what you’re up to.”
“I’m not trying to hide,” I said, and followed him inside. He went into one of the side rooms and started loading up stacks of chairs onto the dolly. “Are you guys going to be shooting in here” I asked.
“No, I’m just clearing out this room,” he said, and almost as if on cue, his cell phone rang. He gave me the index finger and answered it. I used the opportunity, however, to duck into the theater. A dozen or so guys worked on the stage, creating a set. There stacks of red, white and blue flats, but not much to see clearly. A bigger, younger guy came walking toward me. We said hey and I asked a question something like, “How long have you guys been working in here?” He said they just got in this morning and politely said, “I’m going to have to ask you to leave if you’re not associated with the Production.”
So I left. But I’d been made.
When I got home that night, it occurred to me that Terrance Huff might’ve tried to get in on some “Ides of March” action, so I went to his Facebook page and was going to write on his wall: “Are you getting any love from George Clooney?” only to find that he’d already posted that he’d been called to be an extra on Tuesday.
There was one in.
The Production started shooting Tuesday morning on the lawn of the Farmer School of Business. Again, we could only stand on the sidewalk with the looky-loos and got no guidance even about who was on set. I did notice that Chris Kramer was on set playing a television news reporter. His wife is a Facebook friend so I messaged her to get his cell phone number.
There was another in, and both of them have experience making movies, so they’d know what they were talking about, and they were both very helpful to me, not only in giving me a couple of stories to write in the middle of this mess, but also to help me reconcile the ambiguities of what some of the other extras were telling me. At one point, the photographers had thought they were getting pictures of Philip Seymour Hoffman, but I wasn’t so sure it was him, so I texted Chris asking him if PSHoffman was wearing a black riding hat on the set. He called back to say that Hoffman hadn’t been on set yet but that there was another extra who looked a lot like him who was wearing a black hat.
Huff and I conducted a text-messaging interview until I could figure out where they were holding him. He didn’t know the campus very well and didn’t know where he was, but he gave me a good enough description that I sussed out he was at the Marcum Conference Center, which is just behind the Farmer building, so I went back there and found him.
That afternoon, after they were done shooting the outdoors scenes, they moved inside the school and that was the end of watching any of the filming, and I never laid eyes on George Clooney again.
So the rest of the week I had to figure out what was going on from Huff, Kramer and the student extras I could get to talk to me. The Production told the extras not to talk to the press, so out of the dozen or so I got through to (not counting my professional insiders), I got two willing to tell me the story. A third called me, but I couldn’t use anything he said because he said, “They told me not to give you my name.” I suspect he was bullshitting me entirely, though, because some of his story didn’t jibe with what I already knew and what others, including Huff, were saying.
On Wednesday, I hung out around the Farmer school while the Production went on inside, talked to a few more students, the wife of a faculty member and one of the Teamsters waiting by his truck. At noon, they wrapped and everything shifted across campus to Hall Auditorium where they were going to film a debate scene, so I hung out there a while to see what I could see, which wasn’t much. By Thursday, I had given up going to the set at all but got my stories from tracking down extras and getting cell phone numbers.
The irony in all this is that by not giving me access, the Production felt like they were controlling what I did, but the fact is that they could have controlled me even better by giving me a little access. That is, I’m sure I got some things wrong because I was reporting second hand information because I had to have stories for the next days’ papers. However, if every morning they had given me a half-hour on the set, and say, for instance, “Here’s Millie the wardrobe lady. She’ll tell you all about how we handle costumes when we’re on remote locations,” or “Here’s Joe, the cameraman. He’ll run you through his job and tell you about the camera he’s using,” then I would have had something to tell the readers, they would have been in control of the information, and everyone would have been happy.
But there is so much money and ego involved, the Production doesn’t think things through and consequently comes off bullying and arrogant.
I was told that when George moved through the hallways at the Farmer school, two guys went ahead of him, pushing people out of the way, saying, “Make way for George. Give George some room.”
Chris told me that he’d heard George complaining about all the publicity, especially about the #clooneywatch on Twitter. “He just wants to be left alone to do his job.”
But making movies is only part of the Production. They also have to sell tickets and maintain good public relations. What’s the point of even having a unit publicist if all she’s going to do is say “No” to everything. What would have been the harm of George giving a half-hour -- even a 10-minute -- press conference when he got to Oxford?
Hollywood greed, ego and arrogance swept through Oxford last week, leaving the residents star struck and giddy, and leaving me with a big fat head-ache.
Here are the stories I wrote from the week as they appeared on Journal-News.com:
Clooney on campus for “Ides of March” film
Written Monday for Tuesday’s paper
OXFORD — George Clooney is on Miami University’s campus today to film his new movie “The Ides of March.”
Filming has moved inside the Farmer School of Business, and security is keeping onlookers at a distance. Actor Ryan Gosling was also spotted on the scene.
Early in the day, Clooney was seen inspecting the set out front, where TV news vans were parked. Clooney moved small things here and there, as students were directed to the back entrance of the school for class. Extras were arriving by bus. Later, Clooney came outside and waved at onlookers.
Inside, the school was transformed Monday from an institution of higher learning to a Hollywood set as crews prepared for this week’s filming of “The Ides of March.”
Students lounged in the stairwells outside the building’s two-story atrium, normally an area set up as a lounge, where workers had removed the couches, tables and the grand piano to set up rows of tables covered in gray.
In one corner, beside a stack of boxes bearing Dell logos, a man set up a bank of computers that he said will be a part of the set. A large red, white and blue sign reading “Ohio Democratic Primary Debate” blocked a doorway to one of the lounges to the side. Up on the second level, technicians focused large lights on the scene below.
“I think this is a perfect place to film,” said Natalie Chlan, a freshman business student from Boston, eating her lunch on the steps Monday. “We only know they’re here from hearsay, because no one’s really told us anything about it.”
“We only know because there’s been a lot of George Clooney sightings,” said her companion Shannon Balmac, a freshman from Cincinnati.
Sara Fagin, a sophomore from Columbus, had one of those Clooney sightings.
“We were in the library and someone posted on Facebook that he was here,” she said. “So we went running out there.”
She expected to see a big crowd of people, she said, but there was only Clooney and a couple of other men.
“There was no one around except for us and I felt really embarrassed,” Fagin said. “I didn’t say anything, but now I wish I had.”
Fagin and Carly Campbell, also a sophomore from Columbus, said that they didn’t sign up to be one of the 708 extras enlisted for a Thursday filming session set for Hall Auditorium. For them, Green Beer Day trumps spending 12 hours on set.
Kristen Krempp, however, got confirmation that she will be one of the unpaid extras, but she hasn’t heard when or where to report yet.
“I didn’t have much going on for Green Beer Day,” she said, “so it seemed like something else to do that would be kind of exciting.
“Who wouldn’t want to hang out with George Clooney all day?”
Miami University to play itself in Clooney project
Although university officials and the production company are playing their cards close to the vest, a few details over Miami University’s role in “The Ides of March” began to emerge Monday as crews readied the Farmer School of Business and Hall Auditorium for a week of production.
A large sign at the Farmer School of Business read “Ohio Democratic Primary Debate,” and tables were set up that could stand in as a press room or a boiler room for pollsters. Meanwhile, a surreptitious look inside Hall Auditorium revealed a stage being set up in a similar red, white and blue motif, and a call went out last week for 708 extras, which is close to the seating capacity for Hall Auditorium’s orchestra level.
So can we surmise that Miami University will be the site of a debate?
Oxford will apparently have to wait until the movie is released to find out.
All unit publicist Tracy Schaefer can say is, “Miami University plays Miami University in the film. It doesn’t stand in for anyone else.”
She did say that “The Ides of March” production will take place entirely in Oxford this week as crews focus on creating two sets and preparing for a few outdoor shots.
“The production liked the brick buildings and their architecture, which is reminiscent of a classic New England, Ivy league school,” Schaefer said. “The auditorium is featured as well as rooms in the business school.”
“We’ve heard for years that this is what a college is supposed to look like,” said Miami University spokeswoman Claire Wagner. “The people who created Miami University did a really good job of giving the campus a traditional appearance.”
Because the university is playing itself, the marketing department set out to make sure movie-goers knew that by creating a series of posters to hang in conspicuous areas.
“Anytime we can get the Miami name out there, we will,” said Tracy Hughes, director of marketing and creative services.
So Hughes and her staff created a series of posters advertising things like rugby and glee club try-outs that would have the Miami name featured prominently.
“They don’t normally make a point of putting ‘Miami University’ on their posters, because everyone knows where they are,” she said.
They also took a bunch of giant red ‘M’ stickers from the bookstore and posted them on garbage cans.
“Something like this movie is real point of pride for Miami alumni, students and staff,” she said.
Diana Durr, director of the Oxford Visitors and Convention Bureau, said that it’s too soon to tell what kind of economic impact this week will have on the community, but it could be in the $250,000 to $300,000 range.
“The hotels are telling me that the production company booked blocks of rooms for the week,” Durr said. “But I’m told that George Clooney and the stars will be staying in Cincinnati, though some of the other actors will be in town.”
She said that the bureau uses an established reporting process that considers the dining, parking and gasoline that members of the crew will spend money on during their visit.
“We’re looking forward to a very big week and will be excited to see it on the big screen,” Wagner said.
Local man to be in Clooney flick Actor and filmmaker Terrance Huff will be a featured extra in ‘The Ides of March.’
Written Tuesday for Wednesday’s paper
OXFORD — Hamilton actor and filmmaker Terrance Huff got a surprise call Monday evening from a Cincinnati talent agency asking him if he’d be available as a featured extra in “The Ides of March,” the George Clooney movie being filmed in Oxford this week.
Huff was told that he would be playing a news camera operator and should provide his own wardrobe.
“I was told to dress for the part and bring extra wardrobe just in case,” he said. “I fortunately got it right,” although he joked that he was dressed “like a burglar.”
Huff, who is a partner in Jack Fischer Studios in Hamilton, is experienced in background and extra work from a five-year residency in Los Angeles.
“Think of any television show from 2002 to 2004 and I was probably in it,” he said. He was a regular extra on “The Gilmore Girls” and “Good Morning, Miami” and had a speaking role in the 2003 TV movie “Columbo Likes the Nightlife,” in which he did a scene with star Peter Falk.
But on Tuesday, he sat around the extra holding area in the Marcum Conference Center behind Miami University’s Farmer School of Business where the filming was taking place, and waited for his call, which never came.
“Film production is all about ‘hurry up and wait,’ ” he said. He said that he spent the time on Facebook, reading the news and chatting with the other actors and crew.
“I’ve been building bridges and talking to people about how awesome Hamilton is for filmmaking,” he said. “I am always selling Hamilton. I love the city.”
Clooney's movie crew moves to Hall Auditorium at Miami Miami students take break from exams to watch Clooney the actor perform as director.
Written Tuesday for Wednesday’s paper
OXFORD — Campus Avenue between High and Spring streets is closed as crews of “The Ides of March” movie set up for filming inside Hall Auditorium.
A small crowd has gathered outside the auditorium, lining the yellow tape that is stretched from the building’s entrance to the street and around the trucks parked on Campus Avenue.
Outdoor shooting on campus has wrapped.
Filming continued this morning at the Farmer School of Business for George Clooney’s movie. A large group of extras, dressed in business attire, was at the set.
Clooney and crew arrived in Oxford Tuesday to kick off a week of working on campus.
The sun was barely up as crews began setting up for shots in front of the building. Miami University students took a break from mid-term exams to get as close as security would allow to Clooney, who is also directing the film, and co-star Ryan Gosling. Some stood inside the Farmer building, taking cell phone photos through the windows at the action outside.
News camera trucks from Cincinnati lined the driveway and a chartered bus done up in a “Morris for President” motif parked along the access road by Cook Field. Around the corner, production trailers lined the road leading to the Marcum Conference Center, where the day’s extras waited for their call.
Wearing ear muffs and a dark pea coat, Clooney seemed to be in director mode as he moved among the dozens of crew members. Gosling came out of the Farmer building on several occasions to shoot a scene, at one point emerging from the crowd pumping his fist in the air, spurring a round of cheers from the college women.
The filming in front of the school continued until about 11 a.m. when the crew moved inside to the closed set. The crowd of about a hundred onlookers dwindled to a few still hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars.
“The Ides of March” is based on the play “Farragut North” by Beau Willimon, based loosely on Willimon’s experiences working on the 2004 Democratic primary campaign of Howard Dean.
Clooney, who also adapted the screenplay, will also star in the movie as candidate Gov. Mike Morris.
The production also features Marisa Tomei, Evan Rachel Wood, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Paul Giamatti and Jeffrey Wright.
More than 700 extras needed today for Clooney's film
Written Wednesday for Thursday’s paper
OXFORD — As hundreds of Miami University students bar hop Uptown, more than 700 people are expected to participate in the “Ides of March” filming at Hall Auditorium.
Miami University students were encouraged to be free extras for the film today, with explicit instructions that they cannot be drunk.
Filming for George Clooney’s movie has been taking place inside Hall and at the Farmer School of Business this week.
The business school was noticeably quieter Wednesday as filming wrapped up and packed up to prepare for a full day of shooting today at Hall Auditorium.
The only remains of the previous day’s spectacle were a row of black SUVs parked near the main door and a few men in ball caps who directed people to the side entrances.
The courtyard west of the atrium, which had been set up to be the film’s press room and where the filming was taking place, was being used to move equipment in and out of the building, and the courtyard on the east served as a catering area for cast and crew.
Before the noon wrap, only a few onlookers stood around the grounds in front of the Farmer building, and security was tight inside. Signs directed students to use the third floor to get from the west wing to the east. A black curtain and uniformed police officer blocked access between the food court and the atrium area.
There was still a sense of excitement in the air as students inside the building tried to get a glimpse of the stars, especially Ryan Gosling.
Not everyone, however, was thrilled with the disruption, especially during mid-terms, the week before spring break.
“It’s cool and it’ll be fun when the movie comes out, but they should have waited until next week,” said Maddie Kete, a sophomore from Bay Village, Ohio, who was trying to take a make-up economics exam in room above the crowd that had gathered in the Farmer building lawn on Tuesday.
“They were screaming the entire time I was trying to take the test,” Kete said.
After the wrap, crews quickly removed the film equipment, loaded them into trucks and moved across campus to Hall Auditorium.
Crowds had already gathered there to watch the move-in from behind the yellow tape that created access from Campus Avenue the auditorium’s front entrance. Campus Avenue has been blocked from High Street to Collins Street, and Maple Street blocked from Campus to Poplar avenues as wardrobe and production trailers moved in.
According to unit publicist Tracy Schaeffer, filming continued inside Hall Auditorium Wednesday afternoon. More than 700 extras will be involved in a scheduled 12-hour shoot today.
Oxford filming for “The Ides of March” is expected to continue through Friday when the production moves to locations in and around Detroit.
Busy day for film extras,
but local actor sits idle Hamilton’s Chris
Kramer on call for today’s shoot at MU’s Hall Auditorium.
Written Thursday for Friday’s paper
OXFORD — The day of mass extras on the set of “The Ides of March” turned out to be a day off for Hamilton actor Chris Kramer.
Kramer, an actor whose professional work includes commercials, industrial films and print modeling, also has been a frequent performer in local community theater, most recently with the Mad Anthony Theatre Company in “Kicking a Dead Horse” and “The Drawer Boy.”
Kramer landed several days’ work for “The Ides of March,” including sessions at Lunken Airport, downtown Cincinnati and at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Oxford as a television news reporter. He also is on call for today’s shoot at Hall Auditorium.
“It’s really no big deal,” he said. “I’m a featured background extra, and I don’t know if I’ll be seen or not. I might be seen in some of the shots, or I might just be a blur or end up on the cutting room floor.
“Hopefully, I’ll be seen anyway and another director will say, ‘I need that nose!’ ”
He said it’s been fun working with George Clooney, although he hasn’t had much up-close time with him. The only direction he’s had from him is, “Act natural.”
“George never quits smiling,” Kramer noted.
In one scene, he got to “stick a microphone in Ryan Gosling’s face.”
When he was faking stand-ups in front of the Farmer School of Business, Kramer said he started out actually ad-libbed his “report” to make it look realistic, but an assistant director told him to just mime it because the microphone 50 feet away was picking him up.
Kramer also has done work in independent films and once played Virginia Madsen’s obstetrician in the 2003 film “Artworks,” which he said plays occasionally on the Lifetime cable television network, where he delivered her character’s still-born baby.
His next theater performance will be in the upcoming La Comedia Dinner Theatre production of “Hairspray” in which he will play Tracy Turnblad’s father. It opens April 28.
Film extras spend the day starstruck Hall Auditorium at Miami University is film location for movie featuring George Clooney
Written Thursday for Friday’s paper
OXFORD — The prevailing feeling, particularly among the female extras participating in the filming of “The Ides of March,” is “Who wouldn’t want to spend a day hanging out with George Clooney?”
For many Oxford residents and Miami University students, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to appear in a major motion picture — or at least participate in the filming of one.
More than 700 extras were on hand Thursday as production crews filmed a debate scene in Hall Auditorium where Clooney, playing Democratic presidential candidate Mike Morris, squared off against his primary rival, played by Michael Mantell.
Extras got their instructions the night before the shoot. They were told to bring three to five changes of clothing ranging in style from jeans and khakis to business attire and to show up at Millet Hall parking lot, where they went through a wardrobe check and got on buses to take them to Hall Auditorium, where the filming was taking place.
At Hall Auditorium, the extras lined up and filed into the seats, filling the orchestra level and most of the balcony.
“He brought his sense of humor with him,” said Katie Hurley, a Miami sophomore from Columbus, “and he talked to us a lot.”
Hurley said he walked onto the stage saying “random stuff” such as, “Hi, I’m George. I’m a tourist and I like the color magenta.”
Travis Lepera, a senior sociology major, said Clooney made a few references to Green Beer Day — which also occurred Thursday — at one point acting like he was drunk.
“He said that Miami students were responsible for getting his crew drunk,” Lepera said. “He was very down-to-earth and made it a fun experience for everyone.”
The audience was divided according to their birthday as to who they were to support in the debate. January through May were assigned to Clooney, the rest to the opposition.
“We were supposed to nod our head or lean over and talk silently to our neighbor when our candidate made a good point,” Hurley said.
Hurley said they did several takes, at first shooting the audience from the front of the stage and gradually working their way to the back of the auditorium.
The extras who could not commit to shooting on Friday — including Hurley — were released from the set around noon, but other extras expected to be working until late in the evening.
Filming is expected to continue today and then the production moves to the Detroit area, according to unit publicist Tracy Schaefer.