How do you make Toronto look like St. Louis? And why would you want to?
Bob Gale, University City native and writer of the Back to the Future trilogy, was forced to answer the first question for his film Interstate 60, which is set here but was filmed in the Great Northern Beyond. Movie executives had already answered the second question for the director: Canuck labor is cheaper.
"I would have liked to shoot it here, but the pay scales are about 30 percent cheaper in Canada than they are in the U.S.," Gale says, also noting the favorable exchange rate and ample tax incentives.
Interstate 60 -- released on video this past Tuesday along with two other films with St. Louis ties, Defiance and The Safety of Objects -- is the tale of James Marsden (Cyclops in X2) and his quarterlife identity crisis. Marsden's character, Neal Oliver, is advised by O.W. Grant (as in 'One Wish' Grant, a mythical figure descended from a leprechaun and played by Gary Oldman) to take a road trip down the mythical Interstate 60, where billboards featuring a hot blonde played by Amy Smart (Outside Providence, Road Trip) beckon him onward. Back to the Future's Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd also star.
Despite the blockbuster cast, I-60 was far from a blockbuster at the box office, specifically because tickets weren't sold at box offices. The film went straight to video, which Gale says is the result of the implosion of its production company, Fireworks. "The company wasn't run well and ended up selling off its parts. It was more of a fire sale, actually."
Toronto was be-lievable as St. Louis thanks to its red-brick architecture and its deciduous trees, says Gale, who threw references to Delmar Boulevard into the script and even had a Casino Queen billboard built. But the most important localizing aspect was the actors' threads. "I figured that any self-respecting young man in St. Louis would have Cardinals and Rams and Blues stuff," says the 52-year-old screenwriter. So he endeavored to obtain rights to use local team logos. Major League Baseball and the National Football League declined, citing a scene in the movie where a character lights up a joint. The NHL didn't have any problem with it, though, which you can interpret however you want.
Gale's hoping his film will have better luck at Blockbuster. Defiance can't even find its way in there. Award-winning director and St. Ann resident Doveed Linder made his movie for $100,000 and managed to place it in the St. Louis Filmmaker's Showcase in 2001. The 27-year-old Linder's action/western flick, filmed primarily in St. Charles County, features appearances by former Blues players Tony Twist, Todd Ewen and Rob Ramage. One would think that local interest would be high, and copies of the film have been spotted at local Hollywood Video outlets. But not at Blockbuster.
Blockbuster spokesman Blake Lugash says a complicated piece of software, combined with corporate "expertise," determine which films make it to the shelves.
"Based on our info, we can see what stores have demand for what type of movie. We can tell which stores rent and sell more independent films, more action films, etc.," says Lugash. "So we stock accordingly."
He offers no apologies. "We can't carry every title. There's an unbelievable amount of product out there."
Perhaps if the stores carried a thousand fewer copies of Hollywood Homicide, there'd be room to squeeze in a few more local films? "We carry the movies that our customers rent," Lugash says, employing the sort of circular logic that must be taught in corporate-spokesman school.
Blockbuster patrons will have no problem finding Jessica Campbell's movie The Safety of Objects, which co-stars Glenn Close and involves the interaction of four families pulled to-gether by a tragedy. The twenty-year-old Webster Groves High alum is best known for her role as lesbian anarchist Tammy Metzler in 1999's Election. Nowadays Campbell studies anthropology at Berkeley, where, she says, she's "actually a very rule-abiding, calm person. I don't have a lot of angst." Her peace of mind is partially due to taking time off from making films. "Things are kind of ugly in Hollywood right now. Competition is tough," says Campbell. "Because of the economy, the independent market is kind of hurting. People are jumping over one another for parts."
Campbell may be too softhearted for Hollywood backstabbing. Perhaps it's a result of her gentle upbringing -- she says she bonded with Election director and Omaha native Alexander Payne over their Midwestern sensibilities: "I think he liked me because I wasn't from LA."
She did end up moving there after making Election, however, caught up in the whirlwind of hype for the movie, which got her nominated for an Independent Spirit Award. She escaped sooty SoCal for Berkeley only recently. These days she seems comfortable as a Hollywood outsider. In Objects she co-stars with Joshua Jackson from Dawson's Creek but says she wasn't swept away with his chubby-cheeked charm. "He's not really my type," Campbell says.
Does that mean she's a Van Der Beek geek? "No. I don't really like any of those guys. I don't watch that show."