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Montgomery Advertiser

Local News-Sept. 14, 2002

Movie's director spotted

By Rick Harmon
Montgomery Advertiser

Although Hollywood director Tim Burton isn't scheduled to begin shooting the Ewan MacGregor/Albert Finney movie "Big Fish" in the Montgomery area until January, he has already been sighted in Cloverdale -- by almost everyone.

"He's come in here a couple of times," said Genny Cyr, an employee at Sinclair's Restaurant. "He was here Monday, and then a couple of days before that."

The famous director of the films "Edward Scissorhands," "Batman," "Ed Wood," "Sleepy Hollow," "Mars Attacks" and "Planet of the Apes" has been sighted frequently in the Cloverdale district, especially at the El Rey Burrito Lounge.

Ella Martin, owner of the antiques shop that bears her name, was one of the few people who said she hadn't seen the 43-year-old director.

At least, that's what she said initially.

"What does he look like?" she asked, before quickly adding, "Was he tall, thin, wearing dark glasses and a hat?"

After confirmation that this was the running description of the director, she said, "He's been in here three or four times. Last time he was here, he called me Ella."

Burton is apparently here with a small advance team of artists, location scouts and set designers who are using the old Cloverdale Junior High School as a base of operations. A member of the production crew at Cloverdale declined comment on how long Burton might be in the city.

The movie, based on former Alabamian Daniel Wallace's novel "Big Fish," will be a rarity for the state -- a top-budget studio film shot entirely in the state. While Brian Kurlander, executive director of the Alabama Film Office, said exact locations have not been determined, the film will primarily be shot in Montgomery, Wetumpka and the surrounding areas.

He expects the Columbia Pictures movie to have around a $25-million impact when it is shot in the area. Kurlander credits a Gov. Don Siegelman-supported tax incentive package that the Legislature passed last year with luring the film here.

Thomas and Cheryl Upchurch, the owners and operators of Cloverdale bookstore Capitol Book & News, say they haven't seen Burton yet.

But they are pretty sure that they have seen the film crew and very sure that they've already seen a small sign of the promised economic impact the film will bring.

"About three weeks ago, we had a bunch of people come in who just didn't look like they were from Montgomery," Thomas Upchurch said laughing. "They asked where our travel section was and then bought every book we had on Alabama. They also bought the last three copies we had of 'Big Fish.'"

The bookstore bought more than 300 additional copies of the novel, about the relationship between a father and son, hoping that Montgomery reading groups would read and discuss it. They have sold the 300 and are down to about three books again.

Burton took over the production after Steven Spielberg, who had planned to direct it, instead chose to direct "Catch Me If You Can."

While almost everyone in Cloverdale is keeping an eye peeled for the famous director, few have approached him when they've seen him.

Several said that they knew the director had a job to do and didn't want to bother him.

"I know when he was here, we made sure nobody messed with him," Cyr said about the director's visits to Sinclair's.