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Montgomery Advertiser

Local News - January 18, 2003

'Big Fish' scene draws crowd

By Blu Gilliand
Montgomery Advertiser

TALLASSEE -- Hollywood's spotlight shone brightly in Tallassee on Friday afternoon as the Columbia Pictures production crew for "Big Fish" arrived for shooting.

Actors in 1950s-era firefighter uniforms stood within feet of present-day members of the Tallassee Volunteer Fire Department as production assistants from Columbia Pictures, along with members of the Tallassee Police Department, struggled to keep growing crowds of spectators behind barricades. White vans with tinted windows carted people in and out of the area, prompting speculation from the crowd as to who was riding in them.

Yes, Hollywood came to Tallassee as the cast and crew of "Big Fish" arrived to wrap up their first week of filming in the tri-county area.

James Street, the site of the filming, was overrun with large production trucks, vintage automobiles, lights, cameras and people with walkie-talkies. All of this trouble surely must mean the scene is a big one, right?

Think again.

"We've spent three weeks getting ready for this scene," stunt coordinator Charlie Croughwell said. "It's going to amount to about five seconds."

Croughwell, who worked with "Big Fish" director Tim Burton before on "Planet of the Apes" and "Batman Returns," explained that the scene, which depicts the character of Edward Bloom rescuing a puppy from a burning house, will be part of a montage sequence in which the Bloom character recalls some of his adventures as a young man. Albert Finney portrays the character in modern-day sequences, while flashback scenes such as the one shot Friday night feature Ewan McGregor as a young Bloom.

It was the opportunity to see McGregor in action that brought many of the spectators out in the cold Friday night.

Brenda Pruitt drove to Tallassee from Atlanta, Ga., to watch the filming take place.

"I got here at noon today," Pruitt said. "I drove down for the day to see Ewan McGregor. Plus, I'm real fond of pyrotechnics, so when you burn stuff -- yeah!"

Pam Graham and her son, Caleb, live in Tallassee, and have been following the "Big Fish" production all week.

"We've been to Wetumpka every day they've been filming," Graham said as her son videotaped the activity down the street. "And anytime they're filming there, we're going to go back."

Lenora Stanfield had one of the best views of the night. She lives almost directly across the street from the house being used in the scene.

"I wish they'd just burn it down," Stanfield said. "It looks better now than it has in a while."

Stanfield said she wasn't concerned about the fiery scene taking place so close to her home. The production crew met with her and other residents to let them know all of the safety factors being employed while the work was going on.

Croughwell explained that while parts of the house actually were set on fire, much of the flame that would be seen would originate from natural gas pipes set up inside and around the house. The pipes shot out jets of gas, which were then ignited. The size of the flames easily could be controlled and shut off when needed.

And yes, it will be McGregor you see emerging from the house, carrying a Saint Bernard in his arms.

"Ewan is doing most of his own stunts," Croughwell said. "He's great with the dog, and it likes him."

Ewan McGregor carries Riva, a St. Bernard, during a burning house scene for "Big Fish," filmed Friday in Tallassee.

The "Big Fish" location set on James Street in Tallassee, Jan. 17, 2003.

Trainer Samantha Fog plays with "Riva," a 7-month-old St. Bernard in between shots for "Big Fish" in Tallassee Friday.

A 1952 fire truck and era clad firefighters wait for "Big Fish" filming to begin in the alte afternoon, Friday, on location in Tallassee.

-- Photos by David Bundy, Advertiser