They Are Filming a Movie down the Road…

By Will Baker


It has been an interesting summer in North Central Vermont. Two films are being made here, one starring Jim Carey and another starring Harrison Ford and Michelle Pfeiffer. Vermont has hosted this kind of thing before, so the locals are not completely out of their reckoning. And since the state plays hosts to many tourists on an annual basis, and the odd movie production or two, we know how to roll out the welcome mat. However the recent activities have some local folks scratching their heads, and have caused me to think about our tendency to idealize things.

For instance, I have an acquaintance that is a general contractor, who was hired by the movie producers to renovate the front porch of a business located in the town of Richmond, so that it appeared more Vermont-like. I was in stitches as he related the story to me. Before they were done it seems that they repainted and remodeled the store to give the impression that the building was in need of painting and repairs. Of course this attracted quite a bit of local attention. Imagine a cluster of crusty old Vermonters gathered around the work site with bemused expressions, offering suggestions that were not entirely helpful, and probably not meant to be. After the "new" paint job was completed several "props" which were gleaned from local antique stores were hung on the outside of the building. I have to admit that after living here for thirteen years I’ve never seen anything quite like it. Of course I’m sure that the antique dealers who sold the props are not complaining, nor is the work crew that was hired to do the painting. As an aside, two days after the "shoot" the same work crew re-painted and repaired the building back to its original condition, and I think that the shop owner was given the "props." She is a sensible person; therefore I suspect that she will sell them at a premium price to tourist looking for a real find.

The village of Middlebury is bisected by the Otter Creek. There is a beautiful old bridge and falls visible from behind the old marble works, which is tucked away in back of the village green. A sturdy footbridge over the creek makes it possible to walk from the marble works, which was converted years ago to a quaint cluster of shops, to the village center. Standing on the footbridge one can look at the falls and the rear of the historic structures which back up to the creek. It is a really nice view. This was the site of another "shoot." The whole area was cordoned off. Locals were perched in trees and on rooftops to get a better look. In fact the authorities had to ask some folks to move so that they wouldn’t appear as unwanted extras in the movie. Anyway, a structure was constructed on the footbridge, and nobody that I spoke with who was there can tell me exactly what it was supposed to be. A picture of it appeared in the local paper, but since the thing was supposed to be a Vermont contrivance, nobody felt that they could ask what it was. I will have to see the movie just so that I can figure out what the contraption was that they built on the bridge.

The call for extras for the Harrison Ford movie was exciting. I believe that the daughter of a woman that I work with was selected to be in the movie. I am sure that the movie extras will have a ball enjoying the experience and being paid in the process. The Harrison Ford folks are filming part of their movie over by the lake, not far from the Jim Carey people. The State of Vermont maintains an incredible network of parks, and one of these was selected as the site of this "shoot." There is a very sturdy old stone bathhouse smack in the middle of where the crew wants to film. Therefore another local crew has been hired to disassemble the structure, stone by stone, and then reassemble it after the "shoot." Vermont has very stringent historic preservation laws, and it seems that these bathrooms are historic structures. I am sure that the deconstruction and re-assembly of this outhouse will provide at least as much local entertainment as the filming itself.

Aside from the inherent humor, there is a point to all of this. But I should preface these comments by recognizing the fact that when, from time to time folks make movies here they are doing no harm. In fact they are doing quite a bit of good. The State and local economies benefit from the infusion of cash that the actual production process generates. Be it local labor contracts or the goods and services that are required to support the logistics of the operations. Vermont has a thriving tourist industry due to a well-deserved reputation for scenic beauty. The exposure given to the state as a result of these productions will do no harm in that regard. In addition, the local folks enjoy the diversion that the filming of these movies brings. One old fellow that I know said, "it’s like having a circus come to town." That being said, it seems to me that the folks making these movies may be responding to an idealized notion of what Vermont is. Now these films are not documentaries, and I believe that the folks filming these movies should be granted artistic license in the creation of their art. I also know that an artist’s job is to sometimes idealize this or that. But after looking at how they re-made that store in Richmond into something I have not seen in thirteen years of living here, but what will probably resonate with most of the films viewers as the genuine article, I have to believe that my point is a valid one.

It seems to me that we all create idealized notions: the perfect husband, the perfect house or the perfect career. It is possible that this helps us to put perspective in our lives. For instance, if we know what the ideal is, we have something to judge our lives against. One time, several years back, I was going through a very busy period in my professional life. I was working long hours without respite. I had a two-week vacation coming up. I remember looking forward to that vacation with an intensity that now makes me smile. That vacation was going to make a new man out of me. I listed all of the things that I wanted to accomplish, sailing, long walks, quiet evenings without stress etc. The vacation came and went and after it was all over I was really let down. Afterwards I talked about it with friends and learned that this is a common experience. I created the ideal vacation in my mind, and the reality of my situation just couldn’t live up to it. I’m sure you have had similar experiences that you can recall.

But what does this all mean? Perhaps creating and striving for the ideal is a way of achieving excellence. Surely we shouldn’t all settle for mediocrity. I believe that the ideal, as it relates to the perfect life and all that is associated with it may be a social construct. However, since it is a one size fits all perfect notion, it may very well be impossible to achieve. But that doesn’t mean that we should give up entirely. I can remember a line from an old Clint Eastwood movie: "a man has to know his limitations." I think that this is very true. For it seems to me that until we discover what our limitations are, what we are capable of and not capable of, we can’t be at peace with the world, let alone the idealized version of it.

Of course there is nothing wrong with the ideal being represented in art, to the contrary. One need look no further than Michelangelo’s David, or the Mona Lisa to see the truth in this. But there is a difference between real life and art. And in some cases the reality of a situation can be even better than its idealized counterpart. Take for example this beautiful state. The idealized Vermont does not contain the eclectic mix of folks that actually live here. For instance, you would probably have a hard time locating Larry and his brother Daryl and his other brother Daryl, as depicted by the creators of the Bob Newhart show, nor the recreated storefront that the Jim Carey folks filmed in Richmond. But you would find artists and farmers and writers and professional folks all living together and sharing ideas, some of which would be in conflict with each other, constructively in conflict I would like to think. So, when you watch old re-runs of the Bob Newhart show, or perhaps go to see the new Jim Carey or Harrison Ford movies, enjoy the versions of Vermont created by their directors. And if you happen to figure out what that thing is on the Otter Creek footbridge in Middlebury, please drop me a line. I would really like to know.


(Essay Collection)