Mike Terry, Deseret Morning News
Dancers perform at Provo Towne Centre. MTV is filming a grown-up version of "High School Musical," called "The American Mall."

PROVO — It was just an ordinary day at Provo Towne Centre: 16-year-old Emma Thomas was splitting her attention between the tile walkway in front of her and the text message conversation she was having with a friend.

Then she looked up. The mall did not look right. There were people dancing in front of Famous Footwear. There was a huge stage at the base of the escalators, and there were cameras everywhere.

"Something big is going on here," the Orem teen told her friend, eyes wide, as soon as she could get her cell phone dialed.

To be more specific: MTV was — and still is — filming a made-for-cable movie in the Provo mall. MTV rolled into town late last month to start shooting with a cast and crew of more than 100.

The movie, called "The American Mall," is a romantic comedy that follows in the tradition of Disney's 2006 "High School Musical." In the story, high school graduate Ally, played by Bulgarian-born actress Nina Dobrev, fights to save her family's music store from being shut down by the mall owner's spoiled daughter, who is also trying to steal Ally's garage-band boyfriend. Rob Mayes plays opposite Dobrev.

"We're filming at Provo Towne Centre because the mall is picturesque and the management was cooperative," said producer Bill Borden, who not coincidentally was also behind the filming of the musical's Disney predecessor. "We're filming in Utah because there's so much talent here."

The show was cast in Toronto but features several hundred local dancers.

Tadd Gradduang, 22, a dancer from West Valley City, was pretty excited to be getting some face time on film — even if it meant dressing up like a taco for a scene set in the food court.

"I actually like the costume," he said. "I want to see if they'll sell it to me after. It would make a sweet Halloween costume."

He and his friends practiced break-dancing moves during down time. They've been putting in 12-hour days on set.

"I get tired from dancing, but I don't get tired of being here," said Josh Unice, 18, a hip-hop dancer from Draper. "It's so crazy: I'm in a movie."

The dancing, as well as the movie set, was certainly a point of curiosity for nearby store employees and passing mall shoppers.

"I would never expect to see a movie set in a mall," Crystal Larsen, 19, who drove to the mall from Heber to buy a Valentine's Day gift for her boyfriend. "I mean, I come here all the time and nothing's ever going on."

In hopes of spotting a famous face, Katie Armstrong, 25, took a little time out of her routine mall walk with her 5-month-old son to gawk at the set.

"It wasn't anything like I thought making a movie would be like," she said. "They just kept doing the same scene over and over again. I almost felt bad for the actress because she had to keep screaming again and again."

Several people became confused after trying to find their favorite stores on a fake mall map film crews set up. Set architects rebuilt several storefronts, hung up banners and redecorated. They created the movie's central store, Ally's music shop, entirely from scratch.

The fake store was so detailed — it featured real instruments and music — that a good number of people thought it was real, said Matt Harris, assistant prop master for "The American Mall."

"We kept having to shoo away people who wanted to shop there," he said.

Film crews will wrap up filming in a couple of weeks. The movie is scheduled to premiere this summer.


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