Well, I sure got an adventure for ya.
Filming began this week in Athens, NY on the set of War of the Worlds, a new movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Tom Cruise scheduled for release sometime next year. So I’m driving home up Route 9 just outside of Hudson and I see this other-worldly light beaming across the Hudson mist… And I just had to. I turn the car around, follow the lights like a magi and eventually find myself walking past a police barricade down a side street in Athens.
I’m wearing a black overcoat so I guess I look official. The few cops I see don’t stop me. Just don’t look them in the eye. Hope he doesn’t notice the video camera bulging beneath my coat. Act like you know where you’re going and why you’re there. So I stand in the drizzle about 150 feet from the set and watch.
About 100 feet out into the Hudson River, a number boats and flats had been somehow joined and anchored and from this conglomeration rose what looked like a football stadium light pointed to the far shore. A row of lights across the Hudson indicated the bridge that had been whipped together for this scene. The first two pictures are shots of the bridge. (Yes, I know all of the pictures are terrible. I’ll do better next time.) A couple of people with walkie-talkies are nearby. I take out the cellphone and pretend to make an important call. Mumble audibly to curious passersby, “Yeah, take the deal.”
Walk a bit closer to where all the action is and notice I’m walking through a park. A few loitering people, no one says anything. Black ornate lamposts and studio lights set up but off. Found out later from a Times-Union story about it that “in the town park adjacent to the pier, rescue workers and cops manning medical tents and food stations become as terrified as the residents when aliens come down the street, and they, too, run for the boat.” Must have already filmed that scene. No scared cops. You can see the gazebo in the next two photos (light screen and everything!)
I get up a bit more courage and saunter into town. Unfortunately, I didn’t get any footage of that. I didn’t get up that much courage. (Actually, I didn’t want to lose the tape.) The director has been calling out directions to the crowded main street over a bullhorn: “Background action. Action. Rolling. Walking… walking… good… running now!” After I pass some makeup tents and a few dozen cop cars, I walk into a large group of extras (there must have been at least 300 there) who have just finished a scene. They’re piling into a small diner and getting something warm to drink. I stand near a broken Coke machine and a lady asks me if the machine works. She shoves a damp dollar into the slot and nothing. I smile and apologize for the machine.
A group of 30 or so military men approach, full camo with rifles and night-vision goggles. I push my luck and walk past the fake railroad tracks and stand by one of the store fronts decorated for the movie. From here, I have a clear view down the main street (which is lined with tents) to the ferry everyone is pretending to clamor for. (The last photo gives you a side shot of the street, ferry on the right.) I hear they’re going to blow it up and people will be jumping into the river. Not tonight. Later this week. It’s getting very hard to hide the camera. People waving signs that say ‘A’ and ‘B’, extras all gathering around the sign wavers. One guy warms his hands by the radiator of an important person’s truck.
Then my luck runs out. A Sam Jackson look-alike 180 pound heavier walks up to me and asks me if I’m an extra. “No sir.” He kindly reminds me (doesn’t hide his surprise well) that the set is closed to the public. I fibbed and told him I was waiting for someone. He called my bluff and pointed away from Hollywood into the moist and darkly lit night. Eh. I was tired anyway. And he didn’t even see my camera.