Stars turn out for latest shoot in hills
By Mike Adamick
February 24, 2004
Though the outside of Piedmont High School looked about the
same last week -- save for a host of trailers and trucks lining
the street -- inside, a whole new world thrived. Banners hung
on the stage of the school's theater, announcing the start of
the "Greater Sacramento Delta Regional Spelling Bee."
Similar posters adorned the walls. And in the wooden audience
seats, big time actors Richard Gere and Juliette Binoche casually
waited for their close ups.Gere's latest movie -- "Bee
Season" -- rolled into Piedmont for a two-day shoot at
the high school, stirring excitement in the school and the surrounding
streets. Some people waited for hours Friday for Gere to emerge
from his trailer, only to scream, "We love you, Richard"
as he briefly crossed the street and waved.
While the movie production starred as the talk of the town last
week, "Bee Season" has created a quite a buzz throughout
the East Bay -- with shoots taking place in Oakland, Alameda,
Berkeley and now Piedmont. The movie has held shoots near Lake
Merritt, as well as in the hills by the Greek Orthodox Cathedral
of the Ascension.
And with the buzz comes a lot of business, Oakland film boosters
The boosters are working to lure more movies to town, with tax
incentives, business proposals and attractive locations that
have long been featured in Hollywood blockbusters.
"Oakland has quite a broad range of diversity in kinds
of locations -- we have so many architectural styles,"
said Ami Zins, film coordinator for the Oakland Film Office.
In 1995, film companies injected an average $42,000 a day into
the local economy, a figure that has surely jumped in recent
years, Zins said. That money goes to pay for local film crews,
food at local restaurants, stays in local hotels and purchases
of equipment from local shops, Zins said. But there's another
impact often felt after the cameras stop rolling and the stars
leave town. In the Clint Eastwood movie "True Crime"
-- shot in Oakland in the late 1990s -- a new building was donated
to the department of parks and recreation, Zins said.
When the hit trilogy "The Matrix" finished shooting
its final two episodes in Alameda, a massive movie set was torn
down and the wood was shipped to Mexico to be used for low-income
There's also the visual impact a movie can leave with audiences
throughout the world -- an impact that can lure tourists and
"The Bay Area is so identifiable -- with the Bay, the San
Francisco skyline and the Golden Gate Bridge," said "Bee
Season" publicist Michael Umble. Movies
can romanticize those images and draw more people to an area,
he said. "Bee Season" may well do for the East Bay
what classics like "Vertigo," "Bullitt"
and a host of other classics and modern movies have done for
Though Myla Goldberg's "Bee Season" takes place in
Philadelphia, the location for the movie was switched to the
East Bay partly to keep the production closer to Los Angeles
and partly because the movie's two directors are from Berkeley,
Umble said. The co-directors are Scott McGehee and David Siegel.
The book tells the tale of a father -- Gere -- who devotes attention
to his spelling-bee winning daughter, while the rest of the
family deteriorates around him. Piedmont's role in the movie
is as a stand-in for the state capital. The daughter in the
movie heads to a regional spelling bee in Sacramento, hence
the Piedmont school's theater was adorned with Sacramento posters
Hundreds of extras were bused in for the two-day shoot, Umble
said. Though the school was out on ski-week break, another school
within a school was created so young actors could keep up with
their studies -- in accordance with child labor laws, Umble
said. The streets around the school were packed with wardrobe
trucks, catering vans and trailers for the actors -- which wouldn't
have been possible if the school had been open. Umble said the
movie is expected to take 45 days to shoot, with most shooting
There is no firm timeline for when the Fox Searchlight Films
production is set to hit theaters, he said.
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