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Hamptons Life

Nov 21, 2008 12:57 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Jeff Daniels filming a feature in Montauk

Nov 21, 2008 12:57 PM

It is common practice for filmmakers to use Toronto to stand in for New York City. During his heyday, the great John Ford used Monument Valley as a substitute for many of his settings in a dozen western states. Prague is routinely used to represent on screen a dozen or so older cities in Europe. And when the makers of “Paper Man” wanted to set their film in Montauk, they used ... Montauk. What will Hollywood think of next?

Actually, “Paper Man” is not a Hollywood production but an independent film with two well-known leads, Jeff Daniels and Lisa Kudrow, and two who are on their way to being there: Emma Stone, who was featured in last year’s hit comedy “Superbad” and was seen earlier this year in “The Rocker” and “The House Bunny,” and Ryan Reynolds, of “Van Wilder” and “Blade: Trinity.”

Shooting had begun in Montauk on Veterans Day, and during the next several days some well-known (to locals) spots were used, including Camp Hero, Puff and Putt, Ronjo Motel, Ditch Plains, John’s Drive-In, White’s Drug Store, and The Dock restaurant. George Watson, owner of the Dock, observed the filming with a wry smile.

“There was a lot of hurry up and wait,” he reported. “Things went slower than I thought they would. One time a prop guy was on a 6-foot ladder behind my bar making some adjustments to the bottles. Then they called for an electrician. The first guy got off the ladder and carried it away. The electrician takes his own 6-foot ladder and puts it behind the bar. Union rules, I guess.”

That is the pace of filmmaking, pointed out Sirad Balducci, a production manager on the movie. “Especially filming on location where you have less control of your surroundings and the weather,” she said. “It’s not unusual to begin the day at 8 a.m. and not quit until 10 p.m. The budget allows for only so much time to shoot. And in this case, the directors really wanted Montauk to be Montauk.”

The lensing of the movie last week was a homecoming of sorts for Ms. Balducci. Her parents both taught at the University of Michigan and when Ms. Balducci was 8 her parents spent a summer in Montauk. They returned every summer and eventually purchased a house in the Hither Hills area.

She continues to visit as often as she can with her own daughter. Her mother, Carolyn, is in charge of special programs at the Montauk Library.

“Montauk has always been a source of extremely creative energy for me and I find a lot of inspiration here,” she said.

Several years ago, Ms. Balducci co-founded Triboro Pictures, which raises money to fund the making of small-budget movies and that allows it to work with filmmakers looking for opportunities outside the Hollywood studio system. Good scripts, she said, attract actors who are looking for material that is not necessarily mainstream and doesn’t have to be made in Los Angeles.

Mr. Daniels, who lives in Michigan with his wife and three children, is another actor with an eye for roles outside the mainstream. Montauk might have felt familiar for Mr. Daniels, who also grew up in Michigan: it was cold and windy throughout the week. And the Montauk Playhouse was nearby.

Mr. Daniels counts among his credits such movies as “Ragtime” (his film debut in 1981), “Terms of Endearment,” “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” “Arachnophobia,” “Good Night and Good Luck,” and “Dumb and Dumber.” These days, the actor, who appeared on the New York stage in a tour de force performance in “Blackbird,” spends much of his working life as the executive 
director of the Purple Rose Theatre Company, which he founded in Michigan in 1991.

As he did in “The Squid and the Whale,” Mr. Daniels plays a writer whose career is on the skids in “Paper Man.” He tries to escape his troubles by moving to Montauk, where he also hopes to reconnect with his muse, an imaginary superhero played by Reynolds, who has been inside his head since childhood. In Montauk, he also connects with a local teenager, the Emma Stone character, and that relationship has him asking a lot of questions about the choices he has made in his life.

Because this is an independent film, the emphasis is on mood and character development. Ms. Kudrow plays the estranged wife of the Daniels character. Most people know her from the long-running TV series “Friends,” and might not remember that she appeared in 
two of the highest-grossing comedies ever, as Billy Crystal’s rattled girlfriend/wife in “Analyze This” and “Analyze That.”

A la the Coen brothers’ films and the just-released “Slumdog Millionaire,” “Paper Man” has two directors, Kieran (brother of Dermot) and Michele Mulroney. The original script by the husband-and-wife team was developed at the Sundance Institute, founded by Robert Redford. Though the Mulroneys have another project in the production pipeline, this is their debut as directors.

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