The Rapidian

Chase You Down Until You Love Me

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Ten years ago I had a daily walk from a Hell's Kitchen apartment, to an Upper West Side bartending job.  By the time I hit 80th Street, I swear to God, I always ended up behind a quarreling Basinger and Alec Baldwin.  Their walking arguments were epic.  And yeah I was star struck.  And yeah I lowered the volume on my CD Walkman (represent) so I could eavesdrop.

But I never approached them.  Partly because I suspected the enraged Mr. Baldwin would punch me in the FACE.  And partly because I had learned the "code" - the understanding among New Yorkers that you don't go mental when you see a celebrity.  You give them room, you exhibit some discretion.  It's one of the reasons recognizable people choose to live, work and recreate in New York.  People don't go mental.

Based on our apparent interest in continuing to attract film-industry dollars to Grand Rapids, I think we might want to consider emulating this sort of discretion.  The Alec Baldwin example was sort of ridiculous, so let me be more specific: after working with several major film productions at Wealthy Theatre, I can attest to the frustrations expressed by the producers, and their anxieties about whether Grand Rapids can indeed cope with the understandable expectations of ongoing productions.

Film producers who work here - and the companies that green light and bankroll the productions - are expressing concerns about the frantic leaks regarding times and locations, and the resulting interference with shoots.  In many instances, the public has shown up onsite, at various shoot locations, in high numbers - after reading "scoops" about otherwise confidential details pertaining to the shoot.

Film producers have gotten heat from bosses in Los Angeles and New York.  Bad word of mouth seems inevitable.  It may be worth our time to consider: this pattern could inadvertently jeopardize future consideration of Grand Rapids as a location for major productions.

At the same time it is of course understandable that we get a bit mental, when we see famous people.  We are attracted to light.  Certainly, my first experience with the "code" of discretion... was a tough pill to swallow.  It was the 1990s.  I'd just moved to New York.  I was at a Tribeca pub with a new friend, and I noticed that Harvey Weinstein was seated two tables down from us.

I got up to... I don't know, introduce myself.  Say hello.

My friend grabbed my arm and said, "We don't do that." 

By "we" he meant New Yorkers.  Which made me... "they." 

A most damning reference.  I had no intention of remaining "they." 

In that moment, I sat down and reluctantly relinquished my ambitions of meeting Mr. Weinstein.  I accepted the code.  The Prime Directive.  I cozied up to the fact I'd never be able to initiate contact with the famous people I'd run into - for instance, the Sopranos cast members I would come to serve drinks to on a weekly basis, or Uma Thurman (long sigh) or Keith Richards.  All of these people were to become regular, to me.  Sure, it was contrived, and unnatural, to pretend they were just regular people.  But I had chosen to be "we."

Years later, in 2001, I departed NYC and moved to Grand Rapids.  On so many levels, this was the best decision we ever made.  A decade later, Grand Rapids has managed to become an emergent metro area and arts destination.  Honestly, I've found it more exciting to be part of this phase of emergence, rather than a cog in the wheel in an already-established metro area.  What is happening here is a rare moment in time.  Speaking from the viewpoint of an ad-hoc community of artists, it's like being on the frontier, defining your own destiny, with the opportunity to help shape something big.  It's the artist's version of the American dream: we're in on the ground floor of an expanding paradigm.  In this context, Grand Rapids is truly the land of opportunity.

At this moment, it's perhaps especially important to realize: we can learn a lot from the more established arts and culture destinations.  We have the advantage of seeing what works, and emulating those things.

The "code" might be the first opportunity to emulate something that works: Grand Rapids has a lot to gain on this point of "etiquette."  I'm not advocating for a code of discretion exclusively to enable egomaniacal actors to have epic arguments on city sidewalks.  And I'm certainly not one to claim there's anything inherently good about celebrities, nor would I argue that any able-bodied person deserves special treatment.  But this is about what we want.  We seem to want this new industry and - in the absence of competing options (i.e. manufacturing) - it's probably in our best interest to embrace what attracts and retains it. 

We all have something at stake here. 

At Wealthy Theatre, we've worked discreetly with several major film productions, primarily as a venue for screening dailies (in The Koning Micro-Cinema.)  I can tell you that our community's "zeal" with regard to stargazing... is a liability for us, and it's on their radar.  The time is now if we're going to choose to make the leap to a more evolved, more mature way of dealing with the productions.   We need to become more nonchalant, more relaxed, and less of what Lady Gaga parodied in the song "Paparazzi."

And again, you can hardly blame us for being excited.  When the state announced the film incentives, and the city smartly jumped on this opportunity... nobody gave us a template for "how to act."  But what we can say for sure, based on the legitimate expectations of any industry, is that we have to give them room to move.  If we do not acquire some sense of etiquette, I fear we risk being blacklisted as a prospective destination for future film productions.

When I served a Heineken to Keith Richards in the late 1990s, at an East Village bar, I hadn't ever listened to the Stones classic, "Star Star," but I should have.  Resisting the temptation to chat with Mr. Richards was a challenge.  You naturally want to thank an artist like that, for their body of work - and of course to ask about the full blood transfusion in Canada.  But... it comes back to the code.  Because I adhered to it, he drank another Heineken after that.  Smoked a cigarette.  He felt comfortable, and I got a phenomenal tip.  Win-win.

Based on my conversations with the producers who've done shoots or screened dailies at Wealthy Theatre, the issue (as they perceive it) comes in two parts: media and public.  In that order.  They have been surprised by (their words) the extraordinary amount of persistence exhibited by our local media personalities, and the subsequent interference during shoots. 

It's worth pointing out: it's difficult these days to say "who is media," because social networking has changed the landscape in ways we're only beginning to come to terms with.  The rules that journalists always adhered to… have been loosened, or even abandoned.  We're perhaps now rediscovering how valuable those rules were. 

So when one refers to "media," and "distribution," this now includes individuals outlets that have no conventions.  Ironically, by writing and publishing this article, I am part of the same dilated category that I profess puzzles me.  I mean, look, I'm ending sentences with prepositions as if it kept my teeth white.  There are no rules anymore.

So maybe that's a part of the problem.  Film productions in Grand Rapids are the ongoing focus of unsourced rumors dispensed like fact, issued without regard for consequence.  And the public becomes the unwitting "second wave" of leaked information, responding by appearing in high numbers at the leaked locations, and potentially hazarding our prospects with an otherwise promising new industry.

It's important to consider the extra-local side of this: many hired crew are Grand Rapids film and video professionals whose livelihood partly depends on these production opportunities.  And of course, we all benefit, as a community, from the fees paid to the city.  We also benefit from the taxable income, and the ancillary revenues that flow through restaurants, hotels, stores and other retail/service industries that serve the productions as a whole. 

I think we all might agree there is are benefits (to this emerging industry.)  And if we are to capitalize on it, perhaps we might consider a conversation about discretion.  Perhaps the next thing we might emulate, in modeling best practices of more established metro areas, is a sense of composure - the "code" that enables the lucrative and beneficial film industry to work efficiently and productively.  An agreed "etiquette" that might contribute to the same effect here, in the city we love so well. 

For anyone working in any industry, it's the least you'd expect.

Disclosure: Erin Wilson is the Director of Wealthy Theatre, and President of ArtPeers. He lives on Dunham SE in Grand Rapids.

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Beautifully crafted, Erin!

On a related note, Matt Poole and I were discussing the other side of the coin when it comes to being star struck: When people are effusive about how much they don't know the breadth of a celebrity's work or how much they don't care (guilty).

What really strikes me is your point about people interjecting expressly to thank stars for their body of work. It kind of brought up for me why we do so when it comes to stars. I mean, who goes out of their way/makes someone uncomfortable to thank that person for a job (well) done? It's expected.

Well put, Erin! 

I've certainly had some moments of inward (and probably a little outward) "omg! omg!" but I think more than anything I always want to avoid acting out that scene in Annie Hall with the cast of the Godfather (, which I really think is one of the closest parrallels to the (social) media behavior you are writing about. 

So well said. From one person who is very familiar with the code to another... I couldn't have said it better.

Very nice! I always feel bad when I hear people talking in the city about getting a group together to go down to some local film location they heard about.


Interesting read and he makes some very valid points. However, (there is always a but) if you do not want to be recognized on the street then you are in the wrong business. Fan recognition is part of the biz. Having said that let me put in my two cents about why I feel the "leaks" about set locations etc are happening.

Extras casting companies hire a lot of non professionals ie housewives crossing off their bucket lists and others that are prone to being star struck and want all their friends to know that they had a brush with greatness. That is fine and good we have all been guilty of it including the author of the article ( little name dropping going on there dude ). I have met some wonderful people on set and I have let strangers stay in my house to cut down on their expenses. One night stay in a hotel and you are working for free actually it is costing you money. It is my personal opinion that if they tried to hire actors for background work this would be a less likely occurrence. I am talking about full time "working" actors. This accomplishes several things. First of all you have people on set that have been on set before and know the etiquette. They are less likely to be talking and making noise on the set in between takes. They wont look into the camera (or spike the camera) during a take costing time and money re shooting. These folks have been around celebrities and know not to bother them while they are working. Their cell phone is in the car and they dont bring a camera on set. They show up early for their call time and do not cancel because Susie has soccer practice. They dont have to leave early to make sure Earl's dinner is on the table when he gets home.

I know this is difficult when you need 1000 extras for a shot but if you start with full time actors and move down the line to part time experienced people, unemployed (they need the work and are less likely to do something to get removed from the set) and so on down the list.

One final point. Grand Rapids AINT New York City but then New York doesnt have a 42 % rebate.

Very insightful, Erin...thanks for saying what needs to be said.

...and I'm curious how great that Keith Richards tip was :) 

I had no idea this was an issue in GR. Interfering with people's work, whether you are an actor or anything else is thoughtless. We need some of that West Michigan nice!

I dont go to an a trucking company and say " Hey that looks like fun can I drive a truck today?"