Friday, June 22, 2007

The Express, Dennis Quaid, and a friendly suggestion

In case you didn't already know, Dennis Quaid is in a movie currently being shot on the Near North Side of Chicago. The name of the movie is "The Express". Judging from the cars used in the shooting, it seems to be a period piece set some time around 1960. I only know this much because I ran into the crew as they were shooting. Mr.Quaid wasn't around at the time, as far as I knew.

Let me set the time and place for you, and you'll see where the friendly suggestion is coming from. It's a bit past five in the afternoon on a bright, warm Wednesday afternoon - yes, about two days ago. Not hot, just warm, warm enough that the girls are dressed lightly and the boys of all ages are enjoying the scenery, as boys are prone to do until the day they drop. I'm walking along North Avenue, on the north side of the street. People are now getting out of work, and as the nice weather is a novelty, they are doing as much walking as they can. The street I happen to be walking down is a major thoroughfare, passing through the most densely populated section of the third largest city in the United States, a neighborhood thick with highrises, having about as many people per square mile as Manhattan. Get the picture, yet? Let me flesh it out a little more, then. Along the north side of the street, which narrows from four lanes to two as it crosses Clark, the street is forested, deep green branches bending low, providing welcome shade in abundance to those who wish they had remembered to bring sunglasses when they headed out in the morning, and obstructed lines of sight for the rest of us, especially when the sidewalk is packed, as it is bound to be on a day like today, not that those of us present mind - with one exception.

As I walk eastward, headed toward the underpass to the lakefront, somewhere near State I start to see trailers, a camera pointed toward Clark Street and those of us coming from the West, an empty stretch of sidewalk in front of it with no visible signs of action - and a very testy looking woman. A pedestrian who had been approaching looks at the camera, points across the street, asking her "should I ...?", nodding to one side to quickly indicate a simple question: "would you like me to cross the street, to get out of the camera shot somebody's setting up or has set up or ... because the one thing that has been absent throughout? The crew didn't think to make any effort to block off the sidewalk. The way we all found out was that we walked along and ... surprise! ... there they were. Glaring at us as if we had no business going toward the Lake on a sunny day, on a public sidewalk.

A swift and courteous question from an apparent local who was trying to be cooperative with a visitor to the city was greeted with an uncivil tone, from somebody who seemed to imagine that she was in the middle of a studio back lot and we were trespassers. I could say something about the wisdom of wearing out one's welcome in a friendly place by treating the local people as if they were intruders, and I suppose that I just did, but let us focus more narrowly on the practicality of this woman's approach and what passed for managerial judgment on her part. At the very heart of a major city, at rush hour on a bright day, she and her team assume that nobody is going to walk down the shady side of the street. What could they possibly be thinking about?

Obviously, if one is shooting a film set in the mid 20th century, one doesn't want to have somebody walking past with an ipod; the illusion will be broken, and those passing understood that. By and large, they wished to be cooperative, but being cooperative does not mean being psychic, it does not mean being able to see through crowds or a dense canopy of leaves. It means being willing to act on the information one has in order to try to avoid causing another unnecessary inconvenience, and when that other decides not to give one the information one needs to act in as timely a manner as the other wishes, whose fault is that? How difficult would it have been, for the crew to merely post a sign at the end of the block stating "film shooting in progress, please use other sidewalk"? Or to use those little sawhorses used by .... oh, practically every other film company to have ever shot on the Near North side, to block off the sidewalk? But, with precious daylight burning on a day which was soon to be followed by gray overcast, as the bills mounted, this team decided that what it really needed to do to get that sidewalk clear was be abrupt with the locals as they wandered in, unwarned, in a column, one by one. Coming home by foot on rush hour.

Good plan. I can't imagine why it didn't work. Smiley courtesy of All the same, next time, they might want to consider just blocking off the sidewalk and maybe even trying to not irritate the friendly locals in whose home they are guests, if only as a change of pace.