Not much snow fell in Park City in February, but principal photography for "A Midnight Clear" was scheduled and the script called for "a beautiful forest blanketed by virgin snow." The movie crew needed drifts, and the area in front of the big chateau built on the set was supposed to be uniformly deep.
But it wasn't. So the crew went to work hauling snow up White Pine Canyon. The guys filled wheelbarrows with the snow they scraped up from the parking lot in front of the production office. They dumped the snow into barrels, which they loaded onto trucks, drove up the canyon and unloaded on the sets, smoothing the precious snow just so. What is normally known as "set dressing" became "snow dressing." Every time anyone - an actor, a camera man, the director - walked on the set, all traces of their passing had to be wiped away.Cut to a helicopter landing high above White Pine Canyon. Several heli-skiers descend the snowfields until they spy the mirage-like chateau, whose three sides are surrounded by some of the smoothest snow the skiers had seen all day. In fact, in the immediate vicinity, it was the only snow.
"It looked great," one of the skiers said later. "I looked around, and saw it was the best way to ski out. But when I did, all these people came running at me with tears in their eyes."
Now cut to downtown Ogden, dressed up to look like Mississippi during World War II. It's hot in Mississippi, and other Mississippi scenes required makeup people to apply heavy sweat to the actors. But on the March day the film crew arrived, it snowed in Ogden, sending the actors and extras indoors again and again to wait for the Utah weather to act civilized.
It was enough to drive anyone crazy. But instead, the cast and crew of "A Midnight Clear" spoke of the good feeling the filming had, and several people said they hope that feeling comes through when the movie is finished.
Director Keith Gordon, best known as the young actor who starred in Stephen King's "Christine" and Brian De Palma's "Dressed to Kill," also wrote the screenplay for "A Midnight Clear," adapting William Wharton's novel. The story takes place in the Ardennes Forest during December 1944. It is a suspenseful and sad tale of a young Army intelligence unit's attempt to strike a small peace with tattered remnants of the German army toward the end of World War II.
The cast of up-and-coming talent includes Ethan Hawke ("White Fang," "Dead Poets Society"), Kevin Dillon ("The Doors," "Platoon") and Frank Whaley ("The Doors," "Career Opportunities"). Peter Berg, Gary Sinise and Arye Gross are the other main actors, all young men who could someday become top Hollywood names.
Gordon premiered a film at a past Sundance Film Festival, a great spot for independent filmmakers to show their work and land a distribution contract. But this time Gordon and producers Dale Pollock and Bill Borden already have a distribution deal, so "A Midnight Clear" should be showing in Utah theaters later this year.
As one of the production crew said, it's a small film with big ambitions and a great chance for success.Every year at Oscar time, Hollywood basks under kleig lights during the movie industry's annual paean to itself. The image is of unadulterated glamor, glitter, fame, fortune, stars in tuxedoes and gowns, graciously accepting the accolades of their peers.
Cut to a small, rather nondescript office building next to Interstate 80 between Jeremy Ranch and Park City. Inside the building, which sports a huge "FOR LEASE" banner, Tamrose Pictures is folding its tents.
The Tamrose offices were never glamorous. But for five months they were the nerve center for "A Midnight Clear," the latest contribution to Utah's growing film industry, nurtured by word-of-mouth praise on both coasts for the state's visual diversity and highly professional local talent.
Last year, out-of-state film companies pumped $23 million into Utah's economy. Local productions added another $14 million for the biggest film year yet, said Lawrence Smith, Utah Film Commission director of producer services.
The bread and butter of Utah's film industry remains commercials set in the deserts and mountains. "You really can hardly turn on the television without seeing Utah. It's a great place because we straddle this remarkable geophysical zone," Smith said.
But each year, more feature films like "A Midnight Clear" are coming here, and as with the commercials, the film crews take advantage of Utah's diverse topography.
Last year "DMZ," a Korean War movie, was filmed near Tooele, and Michael Cimino's remake of "Desperate Hours" was shot in Salt Lake City. Downtown Ogden's curious mix of old and new were a natural for the Mississippi street scenes in "A Midnight Clear," and the wintry landscape outside Park City translated well into Europe's World War II battlegrounds.
The local film industry has been steadily increasing over the past five years, which is good news for local talent, said Kate Praggastis, owner of Take One Casting in Salt Lake City.
"I work constantly," Praggastis said. "It's an excellent business to be in."
Praggastis, who for years supported her acting habit with work as a flight attendant, first worked in casting when "Footloose" was filmed in Lehi and Payson eight years ago. Since then, she said, her business as an extras coordinator has grown along with the reputation of Utah's film workers.
"We have an excellent film crew group here - hard-working, knowledgeable people."A movie career can develop faster in Utah than it would in California, local actors and crew agree. But everyone still has to start paying dues from the bottom.
For Terry Guthrie, that means working as an extra.
Guthrie, 36, works for Hercules Aerospace in Ogden. Praggastis cast him as an extra - he plays the orderly in the hospital tent scene in "A Midnight Clear" - and as he waited to be called to the set, he talked about how he came to be a professional extra, or "background artist," the title he prefers.
Guthrie said he always wanted to be an actor, but didn't want to go to California. He went ahead and took private acting lessons anyway, and found an agent. In just two years, he's worked as an extra on six films and five episodes of a six-episode television series, all shot in Utah.
Utah is a great place for an aspiring actor to start, he said. Not that the competition is scarce, but it's just not at the level it would be on the coast. And now that he's been an extra on a number of union shoots, Guthrie is eligible for Screen Actors Guild membership. As a card-carrying SAG member, he would be able to get a speaking role.
Every extra's dream is to be noticed in the background and given a line to say - the rough equivalent of the Hollywood myth of being discovered while sipping a milkshake at the counter of Schwab's drugstore.
OK, so it supposedly happened to Lana Turner, and holding onto the myth probably won't hurt anyone too much. But the reality of being an extra, Praggastis said, is doing it because you love the process. "It's really hard work, it's thankless, and you get paid crap," she said. "But you forget all that when you see yourself in the movie."