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Montgomery Advertiser

Local News-Jan. 10, 2003

'Big Fish' filming to close streets

By Nick Lackeos
Montgomery Advertiser

Several actors and actresses will be in town, and a number of downtown streets will be closed for brief periods during four days next week as crews start to film the movie "Big Fish."

Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup and Marion Cotillard will be downtown to film scenes for the film, which concerns a son (Crudup) who returns to a small Southern town to get to know his dying father (played by both Finney and by McGregor in flashbacks), said film publicist Eileen Peterson. Spectators will be able to watch from areas behind barricades, she said.

"The first of the filming to be done in Wetumpka for the movie will be all day on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday," Peterson said.

Wetumpka Councilman Jerry Willis said traffic will be stopped for periods of up to 15 minutes while the downtown is used as the background for scenes in which Finney is "up at the old Collier House," a turn-of-the-century frame house with a long L-shaped front-porch veranda.

All closings will occur between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m., said Police Chief William Pertree. Motorists might consider alternate routes rather than risk being delayed at traffic stops at the 1930s-vintage Bibb Graves Bridge, which spans the Coosa River on East Bridge Street downtown. Traffic also will be stopped at East Bridge, Company, Court and Hill streets, he said.

The film, which the Alabama Film Office estimates will have a $25 million economic impact on central Alabama, will be shot in many locations -- including Wetumpka, Montgomery, Tallassee, Millbrook, Prattville and Lowndes County -- through late April, Peterson said.

All downtown businesses, shops and offices will be open despite the traffic stops and movie-related activity, Pertree said.

Columbia Pictures spokeswoman Robin Citrin said about 200 people involved with the movie will be in town. Pertree said he urges anyone coming to downtown on those four days to park a block or so away and walk to the area where filming and traffic stops will occur.

During the past few months, movie crews have been constructing period storefronts on some downtown buildings to create the 1950s look for some of the scenes, Willis said. In the movie construction, a second story and a swimming pool were recently added to the Collier House, he said.

Local historian Joe Allen Turner recalls playing in the woods behind the Collier House when he was a youngster in the 1930s and 1940s.

"We'd take big sheets of cardboard from the Wetumpka Printing Company and sit on that cardboard and slide down that steep hill in the pine woods behind the Collier House," Turner said. "I was always fascinated with that house, because there is a spring that trickles down the rocks in those woods and runs under that house."

In addition to the street closings next week, Pertree said Bibb Graves Bridge is scheduled to be closed for filming from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 7, 8, 21 and 22. Pertree said detour signs will be in place on those days and traffic will be diverted to the Coosa River Parkway (Alabama 14).

Randy Logan, head of the city's street department, said motorists need to drive with extra caution on that route because U.S. 231 already experiences bumper-to-bumper congestion daily during the morning and evening rush-hour flow of Elmore County commuters who travel to work in Montgomery.

A member of the "Big Fish" production crew prepares part of downtown Wetumpka for the filming of the movie. Filming starts Monday.

Charles Gray and Bill Scott build part of the set for the Columbia Pictures movie "Big Fish" on Thursday.

-- Photos by Lloyd Gallman, Advertiser