There is a mistaken idea about what a Hollywood movie crew does on a set, and during shooting of “Wine Country” last Friday the surprise was that it was watching us. Really watching. And the crew seemed to like what they were seeing.
This up-and-coming Netflix comedy is being directed by Amy Poehler starring Poehler, Tina Fey, Maya Rudolph, and Rachel Dratch, and was shot Friday and Saturday on Lincoln Avenue in Calistoga.
On Thursday, May 3, crews were making new signs for stores, which were made to look like they’ve been there for years, changing storefront displays, and setting things up for the next day’s shoot.
At noon Friday, there were all sorts of trucks parked along the railroad depot and a rental boom crane was positioned above the art gallery. Crews were unloading and organizing their equipment carts, all as preparation to moving them to the various locations where the actual shooting was to take place.
From the outside, the scene looked a bit confused. Down the street at the Calistoga Bikeshop, there were slews of power cables being laid out across the sidewalk, complete with protective black covers so that pedestrians would not trip. There were signs at all the crosswalks telling pedestrians that shops would be open for business during the filming, and it was obvious that the crew was attempting to accommodate the traffic.
“We’re just starting our day,” said Caleb Duffy, the location manager of the shoot. He was casual, cheerful, but also focused as two crew members were positioning the rolling bookcases outside of the Copperfield’s Bookstore. He said they would be shooting at various places up and down Lincoln – here at the bookstore, across the street in front of the Calistoga Thai Kitchen, and later up the street across from Calmart.
“But please,” he said, “No photographs without clearing it first with our publicist.” He said he’d text me when the publicist was on set, then his focus quickly shifted back to the precise positioning of the bookcases.
Returning at 5 p.m., Lincoln Avenue was now cordoned off at Cedar Street by police, but the sidewalk signs were still up. At this time, the action was all down on the northwest side of Lincoln, with a portable cyclorama (light-reflective screen) set up at the alleyway between the Bella Bakery and Blackbird.
There were carts filled with electrical equipment on the street, cameras, men with handheld microphone booms held high, and a large tractor trailer truck screening off most of the way up the sidewalk. A security guard politely led me to a young man in a purple T-shirt whom, I was told, was the publicist. His name was Will Casey, and we began a long conversation in whispers because they were shooting two actors walking down the sidewalk in front of the Calistoga Thai Kitchen.
“I’m actually happy to show you around,” Casey whispered. “A TV reporter from Santa Rosa was here earlier and spent only about five minutes. You know, you sort of think they’d come with a couple of crew people, but he did the whole report himself in about five minutes, then sat in his car and uploaded it all himself. There’s been nothing since then, and I was starting to get bored.”
I asked him how many people were currently on this set and he said between 100 and 150. Asked about other film locations he’d worked on and he gave me a long list that included most recently Budapest, and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. “Down south was the worst,” he said.
“But Calistoga is actually an authentic town,” he said in a whisper. His voice seemed surprised by this fact, as though he hadn’t expected this experience. “I mean, people on the street actually say ‘Hi’ to one another. They ‘know’ each other.”
He then talked about what we were seeing -– or hearing because we weren’t permitted to get too close. “When the director says they’re moving on,” he whispered. “Then we can get some shots.”
The shooting of this particular scene seemed to be repeated several times -– a couple of actors walking down the sidewalk to the restaurant. But we really couldn’t see who the actors were because the crowd of crew members with their carts and their equipment where jammed up five or six deep all along the sidewalk. And where their individual attentions were focused was interesting.
There’s a popular idea that members of a crew on a movie set all stand around behind the cameras and the director watching the actors while the director sits in a folding chair barking out commands and a script holder cues up the actors.
Instead, during this shooting, the filming director was somewhere deep inside the slew of equipment carts and the tentacles of cables, watching a video screen and calling out casual requests from within the crush of bodies.
Meanwhile, it seemed, no one -– not one that I could see of the crew –- was actually looking at the actors. Their eyes, too, were intently focused upon their devices, preoccupied with other things. Some, indeed, had monitors and headphones, but most eyeing readings on panels. At the same time, “extras” were physically turned away from the scene, sitting quietly, scanning their phones or reviewing their scripts or sitting in meditation under a portable canopy. It seemed as though every one of them was actually “somewhere else.”
It was not much different than a typical scene in a Starbucks anywhere else in the world: people using their smartphones to be in yet another world. Except, every now and then, they’d look up before returning to their work, gaze around, and then return to their screens.
Finally, the voice of the director called out, “We’re moving on now to the long scene.” Suddenly there was a jumble of commotion as equipment carts jockeyed across to other places on Lincoln Avenue while a large boom crane with a camera attached moved up to Washington Street.
I thanked the publicist, and said I had to pick up a carryout order up at the Mexican restaurant called Puerto Vallarta. I asked him if I could walk the rest of the way up Lincoln. He nodded and said it was OK. “Is it any good,” he asked. “The restaurant?” Of course, I said yes.
On the way up, I saw two beautiful women, oddly sitting at a table outside Café Sarafornia. It was odd because it was now about 5:30 in the afternoon and Café Sarafornia is usually only open until noon. I introduced myself and asked them how they were liking the filming that was going on.
“Oh, we do this all the time,” said Lisa Finnie. “We have been in a lot of movies.” Her companion, Lydia Goff, said she was from Brentwood, and Finnie said “San Francisco. I live in Daly City, but say that I’m from San Francisco. That’s what’s on my resume’ and that’s really my city.”
They told me the crew here in Calistoga was really nice, and everyone in town seemed really friendly. But then the “extra” crew manager walked up and told them to stay where they were sitting: the filming of the “long shot” was about to commence.
By that time, I had my two orders of enchiladas in their large paper bag and was walking back down Lincoln I noticed something sort of unusual. The street seemed extremely quiet. There were people stopped dead in their tracks crossing Lincoln and pedestrians on the sidewalk frozen in place, like in a snapshot in a postcard picture. I looked about, wondering. The sun was cresting over the hills, while behind me the light on the Palisades was a golden color that highlighted the shadows of Calistoga. I was confused, locked in my own thoughts, wondering.
Then, over a loudspeaker down at Washington Street a voice called out “And action!”
Suddenly, everyone began moving, crossing the road, coming up the street, acting, well, “authentic.”
The Netflix movie is called “Wine Country” and is scheduled to appear sometime in 2019. It is Poehler’s debut directing, and besides Poehler, the cast includes Fey, Rudolph, Dratch, Ana Gasteyer, Paula Pell and Emily Spivey among others.