An urgent call from a friend on my voice mail set off alarm bells. “Jerry! I just went past your house and there are cops and SWAT team cars all over the place! Give me a call; hope you and your family are all right.”
It was enough to spark an instant of panic—until I remembered our house was being used as a location for the Kevin Kline movie, Welcome to America. We've had quite an interesting two weeks hosting Mr. Kline and the two or three hundred members of his production team who were able to jam into our home. (Another few dozen had to mill around outside.)
But now they've all gone. Our brief careers in moviemaking are complete. All we have left are the memories—and the stories we're currently enhancing in preparation for sharing with our grandkids the expanded version of what really happened the year Grandma and Grandpa turned their house over to Hollywood.
If New Mexico truly does become the Mecca for moviemakers that Gov. Bill Richardson envisions, a lot of other households in our town and state could have similar experiences. Maybe even yours. So to prepare you for what to expect when the moviemakers come knocking at your door, here are a few vignettes from our brush with cinematic fame.
First, we didn't go looking for the movies. They found us. Or, specifically, they found our basement. The location scouts spotted the telltale evidence of our basement (ground-level windows) as they explored the neighborhood. Our competition was light; there aren't many homes in Albuquerque with basements.
When they came knocking we didn't have to consider the offer for long. Neighbors on the next block had their house picked as a locale for the recent JLo movie, and their experience had been so positive that we, too, were eager to go down that road.
Not that we acted too eager. We had to negotiate a fee, of course, and unseemly enthusiasm would have left us in a bad bargaining position. So we hammered out a final offer, allowing ourselves to be cajoled into agreement only after hard-nosed negotiations. Then we let them in the house.
Our basement is a dank and dusty storage space filled with the detritus of a blended family with seven children, all of whom have moved away but none of whom will ever agree to us tossing out their third-grade art projects, their high school athletic mementos or their college spiral notebooks that will certainly be something to cherish one day.
Our basement also hasn't ever attracted much interest from me in cleaning and organizing its contents. In short, it is bedecked with cobwebs, torn fiberglass insulation, full roach motels and failed mouse traps. Inwardly, I groaned at having to clean the place up enough to make it fit for filming.
But it was precisely this, uh, seedy quality that seemed to delight the scouts. Turns out the movie is about smuggling kids into the country from Latin America for nefarious purposes (I was afraid to find out more specifics than that, but let your imagination run wild) and our basement was deemed to be the perfect place to stash the little dears.
First the crews took out all the old insulation and replaced it with shiny aluminum-sheathed rolls of new stuff. Then they sent in a special effects team to spray some kind of gunk on the new stuff to make it look old and a lot like our original old stuff. I suppose it has to do with making it photogenic or something—not my business.
Second, they built a wonderful secret door (we are begging to have them leave it behind) that looks like a cabinet with shelves filled with old paint cans, discarded equipment, broken tools and dusty boxes. The thing is hinged and can be opened, revealing behind it (ta da!) a room with two sets of bunk beds, clothing lockers, a card table, etc.—just the sort of place perfect for holding people against their will.
Finally, they planted potted bushes all over our yard, installed a garden statue of an angel, put in fake snow (we're supposed to be in New Jersey), and parked a dozen semis and panel trucks filled to capacity with high-tech moviemaking equipment. All our furniture went into storage for the week, replaced with stuff that was picked up at Goodwill (we're angling to keep some of that, too, but the prospects aren't good).
And then we moved out, turning our home over to the crew for the week. That got extended to two weeks when the movie's director got ill and shooting was postponed for a few days.
But at last it's done. The stars have moved on to other locales in town. The neighbors are talking about something else. Traffic is moving down the street again. We are adjusting. Soon our furniture will be returned. In time, we'll find our towels and that box of toilet paper we'd just picked up at Price Club that's gone missing. Our dog is back from the kennel, not much more confused than when he left.
I wonder if we should register somewhere in case a future television series or another movie needs a seedy basement with a holding cell. Fame sure is addictive.