When Missouri Met Hollywood

One of the seasons most riveting films is thrilling fans across the country. But the “Gone Girl” story has yet to leave the blockbusters lead town: Missouris own Cape Girardeau.

 

Find our accompanying cover story with “Gone Girl” star Neil Patrick Harris here.

 

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Photo by Merrick Morton, courtesy of Twentieth Century Fox and Regency Enterprises.

The Guardian called David Fincher’s critically acclaimed film “Gone Girl”‰ÛÓstarring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike and Neil Patrick Harris‰ÛÓa “sure thing” from the start. It was right: The dark, witty drama, based on the bestselling novel by Missourian Gillian Flynn, has been gripping audiences since its Oct. 3 release with its unreliable narrative of a couple whose seemingly perfect marriage crumbles when wife Amy Dunne (Pike) disappears and husband Nick (Affleck) has the town turn against him in suspicion.

Although many Hollywood directors don’t necessarily film in the setting where the story takes place, heading to Cape Girardeau‰ÛÓwhere a significant portion of the blockbuster was filmed‰ÛÓwas a no-brainer for Fincher (“Se7ven,” “The Social Network”). A generous Missouri tax credit combined with the picturesque river-town setting made for an easy decision. Unbeknownst to Fincher, it was also what Flynn had in mind all along: Cape was her reference for crafting the fictional town of North Carthage when writing the wildly popular novel that would precede her screen adaptation.

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Many hours of filming were spent at this gazebo at 44 N. Lorimier in downtown Cape Girardeau for Affleck’s emotional candlelight vigil scene.

But a few people knew Mapel’s mission: He had already been in contact with Stacy Dohogne Lane, director of public relations for the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We sat down with Steve and got out the map around our conference table,” she says. “Steve would tell us what he was looking for, and we brainstormed different options for him to investigate.”

By mid-May 2013, the town was officially selected as a shooting location, and renovation crews‰ÛÓsigns of 20th Century Fox’s impending arrival‰ÛÓbegan putting nail to board and brush to wood in mid-August to prep for the start of filming on Sept. 11, 2013. “The city of Cape Girardeau was completely in awe of it,” Newbern says.

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The Bar, owned by Ben Affleck’s character Nick, was a former coffeehouse located on Cape’s Themis Street that was renovated for the purposes of filming.

On Location

Professor Jim Dufek of Southeast Missouri State University’s Department of Mass Media acted as Fincher’s local liaison throughout production. While crews were filming, Dufek invited Fincher to speak to his students about the film and locations. “Fincher talked about how Cape was the perfect location for the film because of the ‰Û÷river-town’ feel…There are several locations from Cape used in the film and he commented on how each fit the character or the event for the story,” Dufek says. “Both Fincher and CeÌÁn Chaffin [producer and Fincher’s wife] were very complimentary of the city locations and the people who helped make the film a success.”

Steve Mapel, the film’s location manager, arrived in town in April 2013 to indentify possible filming locales and managed to stay for a month before anyone figured out what might be going on. “Steve had been staying with us at the Holiday Inn,” says hotel manager and film extra Brendan Newbern. “He was just the greatest person. He didn’t make any production about it.”

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Many hours of filming were spent at this gazebo at 44 N. Lorimier in downtown Cape Girardeau for Affleck’s emotional candlelight vigil scene.

But a few people knew Mapel’s mission: He had already been in contact with Stacy Dohogne Lane, director of public relations for the Cape Girardeau Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We sat down with Steve and got out the map around our conference table,” she says. “Steve would tell us what he was looking for, and we brainstormed different options for him to investigate.”

By mid-May 2013, the town was officially selected as a shooting location, and renovation crews‰ÛÓsigns of 20th Century Fox’s impending arrival‰ÛÓbegan putting nail to board and brush to wood in mid-August to prep for the start of filming on Sept. 11, 2013. “The city of Cape Girardeau was completely in awe of it,” Newbern says.

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The gazebo from the candlelight vigil scene.

The Southeast Missourian devoted a “Gone Girl” section online to track nearly every move the production crew made, from Fincher sightings to first-hand accounts from extras. For six weeks in September and October 2013 (Fincher ended up doubling filming time because there were so many good shooting options), crews from 20th Century Fox captured more than 30 filming locations in Cape and nearby Makanda, IL. Crew based on Independence Street filled half a city block with trailers of props and camera equipment. A local gym opened at 4am so Affleck could exercise (he was even spotted taking pictures with fans pre- and post-workout).

During the first days of filming, the team captured the transformational “evil Amy” scenes where she flees and checks into an old lodge (a portion was filmed at Missouri’s Giant City State Park, but its swimming pool in the film is one of the few locations that only exists in Hollywood). Then, it was into town: The Bar, which character Nick owns with his sister, Margo, was a vacant former Cape Girardeau coffeehouse called Socials Cafe located two blocks from the river at 117 Themis Street. Production renovated the space, painted the exterior and built a bar inside, drifting from the typical Hollywood practice of taking exterior footage and then filming interior shots at a studio back in California (scratches and scuffs‰ÛÓeven the “right amount” of dust on bottles‰ÛÓwere added for authenticity).

At 115 Vantage is the Drury Lodge, which served as ground zero for the missing-Amy search in the film‰ÛÓand as lodging for cast and crew. Scenes with the North Carthage Police Department were shot externally and internally at the vacant federal building and courthouse on Broadway, while nearby at 44 N. Lorimier is the gazebo where Nick spoke to North Carthage’s townspeople at Amy’s candlelight vigil.

“As I visited with CeÌÁn, we were right behind Fincher as he directed some of the vigil scenes,” says Dufek, whose role as production’s local liaison included assisting on calls for extras and location scouting. “I watched [Fincher] paint a meticulous frame for every scene. [He has] an amazing attention to detail. I also met the costume crew, set dressers and props people. Everyone was very kind, very appreciative and seemed to be open to talk about anything.”

Newbern, who was an extra in the vigil scene, said that the two all-night shoots made her understand how decidedly unglamorous actors’ lives can be‰ÛÓeven Affleck was refused a break by Fincher at one point during filming. Amid those long hours, though, the community still came out in support. “We were doing our filming, and there were people standing over by the church who stood just to watch all night, if you can imagine that,” Newbern recalls.

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Ben Affleck rehearses a scene with director David Fincher near the Mississippi River.

Desi Collings (ALIVE cover man Neil Patrick Harris) is Amy’s hung-up ex-boyfriend to whom she flees after leaving the lodge. In the film, she arrives at Desi’s multimillion-dollar home, fictionally set in St. Louis’ wealthy suburb of Ladue (filming actually took place in a mansion located in Cape). Even Nick and Amy’s home, a mansion located in an upper-middle-class Cape neighborhood, was sourced from residents: Sarah Roettger and her husband moved in from Mississippi three months before filming began. She told reporters that neighbors would picnic while watching the crews shoot‰ÛÓand she and her husband got a new roof and front door before Fox left town.

Props and costumes were also sourced for the film from stores in the historic downtown district, where residents own speciality, thrift and antique shops. Kim Dickens, who played weary Detective Rhonda Boney, had a soft spot for the antiques, according to a Southeast Missourian article. The crew also borrowed all Dufek’s TV and camera equipment from his broadcast studio at Southeast Missouri State University for the film’s “media mob” scenes, where crews of reporters swarm the distraught Nick for answers to his wife’s disappearance.

And lest we forget the slew of individuals who appeared on screen: In addition to the 116 Missourians who were hired for the production, 1,400 regional extras were also cast‰ÛÓ Dufek and Newbern included. Off-duty police officers played the movie’s police force, while others were cast as drivers, reporters from actual area publications and stations, photographers, search party members and participants in angry mobs (there are a few in the movie).

“The community was extremely supportive of the whole process,” Dufek says. “I talked with several of the crew members, and they consistently told me how great the town was, the support from the city, fire, police and extras. Everyone from the community worked hard, no one complained, and of course they all were excited for the stargazing of the cast and Fincher.”

Stay-at-home mom Sandi Williams was hired to make two meals a day for production (including Affleck’s turkey sandwiches), served at her home. She says she was constantly surprised by just how nice everyone was and how much they loved the town. “Ben Affleck was very nice,” she told the Southeast Missourian. “[We had] many conversations about local stuff to do, his role as Batman and his kids. [He was] very kind and even signed all my sons’ Batman stuff.”

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Nick (Ben Affleck) and Amy (Rosamund Pike) have a memorable date.

The Aftermath

It’s hard to let a good film go. With Cape Girardeau recognizable in 50 to 60 percent of the film by Dufek’s estimation, townspeople brought together by the filming are still coming down from a Hollywood high. “The cultural impact is still palpable,” Dufek says. “People are still sharing their stories about meeting Affleck at the gym, or Rosamund visiting with them about something mundane but pleasant. I don’t know of any complaints from anyone about the late-night filming or detours or bright lights. Everyone was a bit star-struck and that made for an easy process. About the only complaints that I know of dealt with being able to see the movie early at a screening that we had with our local theater. People couldn’t wait to see it and wanted a ticket as soon as they could get it.”

Following the special premiere, which included a red carpet walk for locals who were cast in the film, the convention and visitors bureau has created a walk-and-drive tour of filming locations, and community members can purchase a commemorative Christmas ornament featuring a scene from the film. Most significantly, vacant buildings put to use by film crews are enjoying a second life, whether they’ve been transformed or, once left by film crews, are now for sale and have the potential to generate additional revenue for the Cape Girardeau community.

The Bar that began as a fictional locale in the movie will soon open as a real bar‰ÛÓnot owned by characters Nick and Margo, but by Old Town Cape Dining LLC, a company overseen by local neurosurgeon Dr. Sonjay Fonn, who owns about 10 properties downtown.

In addition to this investment, “[If you] add up the people who worked as extras and made money, the crew members who spent their own money on local items, and then add the visitors who came to town to see the filming in process and how much they spent when they came to town‰ÛÓthere is an economic impact that doesn’t show up on the books,” Dufek says. What does show up is more than $7.8 million in audited expenditures during the Cape Girardeau filming. The incentive returned $2.3 million to 20th Century Fox, with approximately $5.5 million staying in the area.

One of Cape Girardeau’s state representatives, Kathryn Swan (R), called the filming of “Gone Girl” an “overwhelmingly positive experience” for the town in a public statement following production. “Property improvements were made, university students benefited, extras experienced once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, and the air was electrified as celebrities were sighted on a regular basis.”

 

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