Extras join Christian Bale at the State Capitol to film a scene for <i>Public Enemies</i> in the summer of 2008.
If most of the Hollywood movies filmed on location in Madison are bad, it's not the fault of the dedicated local folks who worked with the producers, directors and stars, meeting often outrageous demands. Mary Idso, former assistant director of the now-closed Wisconsin Film Office, tells hilarious and hair-raising stories about dealing with the big-budget productions that rolled into the area. The best anecdotes come from her experience with the action-packed shoot for I Love Trouble.
I Love Trouble (1994)
Director Charles Shyer and writer Nancy Meyers visited Madison for a day and a half to check out the area and see the state Capitol, which was written in the script. "They really liked what they saw," Idso says. "I took them on a tour of the Capitol, and it so happened that Gov. [Tommy] Thompson was in that day. I introduced them to him, and he talked with them for about 10 minutes. I believe they were very impressed that our governor would sit and talk with them. 'Anything we can help you with, please let us know,' he said. They decided right there that they wanted to come back and shoot parts of the movie in Wisconsin.
"I spent three and a half days with Julia Roberts' security company, looking for a house for her," Idso says. "She stayed in a private home -- it was in her contract. Other cast and crew stayed in a hotel in the Wisconsin Dells. We found a house for Julia just west of Middleton. The people who owned the home were big in theater here in Madison. They moved out for three weeks while she lived there."
"It was huge that Julia Roberts was in Wisconsin," Idso says. "It was right after she married Lyle Lovett, and everybody wanted to get hold of her. There's a huge scene in the movie where she's skinny-dipping in Devil's Lake. Of course it was a closed set, but we had people calling trying to get on location, because they thought Julia was going to be nude in Devil's Lake. We even had somebody call the Film Office and say they had to film a commercial up there, but it had to be that day and no other day. Yeah, right."
"Julia Roberts' security kept everybody away from her," Idso says. "All four of her security people were former Secret Service. Some of them had been on presidential and White House detail, so these guys really knew what they were doing."
"Nick Nolte had his son come up to Wisconsin," Idso says, "and we helped him find a fishing guide. He and his son went fishing."
Roberts didn't talk to Nolte much during the shoot, according to Idso.
Local farmers learned that I Love Trouble's script included a plot point about feeding a growth hormone to cattle. "A big group of farmers came and picketed a location on one of our shooting days, up by Portage," Idso says. "They came with great big signs, and some people even called Touchstone and Disney and said they would boycott the movie. They said, 'You're trying to make the Wisconsin dairy industry look bad.'" They made a huge stink about it.
The animal wrangler for I Love Trouble requested 300 to 500 domesticated, flightless white geese for a farmyard scene. The Film Office had to ship them in from an Indiana farm. The night after filming, a fox or a dog got into the pen and killed a sizable number of the geese. So for the next day's reshoots, the Film Office had to have another batch shipped in from the same Indiana farm.
"The production would call our office practically every day for something goofy," Idso says. "We scouted for four days to find a church with a graveyard for the opening scene. I'll bet we were in every small town from Baraboo down to Monroe, all the way east to Lake Geneva and to Mount Horeb. We went on every single back road in about a 200-mile radius. It was just crazy. And in the movie, that opening scene was on screen for 20 seconds at most."
"They wanted pizza boxes for one scene, but not from a chain," Idso says. "So I called the local office of Pizza Pit and said, 'You're going to think I'm really crazy. We're shooting a movie here -- will you give them some pizza boxes? We don't want any pizza, just empty boxes.' She said, 'You want what?' She started laughing. They had somebody deliver 15 pizza boxes.
"The art director needed an airplane from a local airline," Idso says. "In one scene, Nick Nolte and Julia Roberts are sitting on a plane, and he realizes that she had lied to him. So he runs up the aisle of the plane, flings open the door to the airplane and jumps out. We called Midwest Express and said, 'We need an airplane for a scene to be shot in the Rock County airport in Janesville. It would be great visibility for Midwest.' They made a deal that Midwest would fly the plane down to the airport and bring all the support equipment. As part of the scene, Nick pushes open the door, but he did it so hard, and they shot the scene so many times, that it sprung the door. They had to fix it before they flew it back to Milwaukee."
"The one scene in the Capitol lasted only about a minute and half in the movie," Idso says, "and they shot it 28 times!"
Chain Reaction (1996)
"Chain Reaction shot here for about half the time that I Love Trouble did," Idso says. "It was in the middle of winter. Our Capitol doubled for the U.S. Capitol. The state Supreme Court chambers doubled for a hearing room, and Morgan Freeman shot for a day. There was one really short scene of Keanu Reeves running up the steps."
"In the ice-boat scene on lake Geneva, Keanu Reeves and Rachel Weisz were out so long, and I think the wind chill was 20 below," Idso says. "Both of them just about froze to death. They were really worried, and they had medical people checking to make sure that neither one of them got frostbite. It was a terrible day."
"The scene where you see Keanu running across the roof of the observatory," Idso says, "was shot at Yerkes Observatory near Lake Geneva."
The Deep End of the Ocean (1999)
"We heard they were going to shoot the scenes that took place here in Madison," Idso says. "The author of the book [Jacquelyn Mitchard] is from Madison. But we never heard back from them. I think it was almost entirely shot in Chicago, even the Madison scenes, and that ticks me off."
"They did send a second unit to shoot exteriors in Madison," Idso says. "The big deal was to find them a helicopter so they could do a flyaway shot from the Capitol and over John Nolen Drive. The helicopter had to have a special camera hookup that would turn 360 degrees, and we couldn't get one here. We had to call Chicago and have them send one up.
Public Enemies (2009)
Here are some tidbits drawn from Isthmus' coverage of Public Enemies' 2008 shoot in Madison.
After his local shoots, Johnny Depp made a habit of interacting with the crowds waiting outside He signed autographs and posed for pictures, driving the fans wild.
Director Michael Mann made a strong impression on the local extras. "He's a very thorough director," says David Borud. "Nobody messes with what he wants. He knows what he wants, and you just do what he wants." Drew Kopmeier says, "On the set, he's a real grump. I mean, there were f-bombs going here and there and people getting pissed off and yelling."
Mann told the extras that anyone who smoked should do so every time they were on camera.
During the shoot at the Capitol, extras were assembled in an old industrial lot on East Washington Avenue, and the production's base camp (including Mann's trailer) was in a parking lot between Reynolds Field and Das Kronenberg.
The locals cast in the movie did a lot of waiting around. "It was absolutely boring as hell," says Kopmeier. "They just put us in a waiting room, and I was literally there for 10 hours before they needed us."
The headquarters for the local shoot was at the Sheraton by the Coliseum. That's where wardrobe fittings were done for all the extras. Some of the talent stayed at the Concourse Hotel.
Executive producer Robert De Niro showed up in Wisconsin to check out the shoot.