On location in Whittier

A small-budget Hollywood movie crew shoots film, ‘Nobody,’ at MCAD

WHITTIER — Apparently, even whole neighborhoods get their 15 minutes of fame.

Whittier is expecting its star turn with the yet-to-be-determined release of “Nobody,” a feature film shot in May mainly on the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) campus, as well as in Washburn Fair Oaks Park and an Eat Street alleyway. Scenes were shot in other parts of the city, including The Wedge and Northeast, and in Stillwater.

“I hope they give Whittier neighborhood a credit line,” said a half-joking Marian Biehn, executive director of the Whittier Alliance neighborhood organization.

Shot on a miniscule budget by Hollywood standards — around $1 million — the filming of “Nobody” still brought dozens of cast and crew members to Whittier each day for nearly three weeks. And yet it seemed to fly under the radar in Whittier, where filming went largely unnoticed, Biehn said, despite a couple of mentions in a local gossip column and magazine.

“The people that did become aware of it were just kind of fascinated,” she said.

Wondering if your house will make it onto the big screen? You’ll have to wait a while to find out.

Producer Christine Walker said the release of “Nobody” was at least 18 months down the road, after postproduction work and a year or more of festival screenings.

Writer and director Rob Perez said he chose Minneapolis as the location for his story of a 25-year old sculptor searching for inspiration because he “needed a place where people take their arts seriously.”

New York City and Los Angeles would certainly qualify, but Perez deemed those cities too “edgy” for a script he described as sweet and funny.

Perez also wrote the 2002 romantic comedy “40 Days and 40 Nights,” starring South High School graduate Josh Hartnett. It was Hartnett, apparently, who sold him on the idea of shooting in Minneapolis.

Walker, herself a Southwest resident, said Hartnett convinced Perez of the cinematic quality of Minneapolis landmarks like First Avenue and Bryant-Lake Bowl, both of which were filmed for establishing shots in the movie. MCAD, with its white-walled, minimalist galleries and cluttered studios, was like a set already dressed for filming, she added.

“This college is almost like shooting at a studio,” she said.

That made it easier to stick to a tight budget. Set designers even scrounged up some decoration when students moved off campus at the end of the school year, right around the time filming started.

“[The students] throw away a lot of stuff, so they just stood by the Dumpsters and grabbed a bunch of the students’ work, and we’re using it in our film,” Walker said. “That saves us hundreds and thousands of dollars on sets.”

Although it likely will be recognizable as MCAD, the college plays the role of a “mythical arts school” in “Nobody,” said Pam Nordaune, the school’s vice president of external relations. But getting exposure for the school wasn’t necessarily the point, anyway.

“Our real position in all of this is we want to be able to support visual artists and the Minnesota film industry,” Nordaune said. “Anytime Hollywood comes here and we can open our doors and make that happen, that’s a really important part of our media arts program.”

In exchange, the filmmakers hired several MCAD students for internship positions on the movie. Walker and Perez also will return in some future semester to teach master classes in moviemaking, Nordaune said.

Lars Mason, director of academic services at MCAD, said most of the filming at the school took place in a very tight three-week window between the end of spring semester and the first day of MCAD’s summer programs in June.

Mason served as the liaison between the school and the filmmakers, and so got an up-close look at what he called the “make believe” version of the school. Real students were replaced with actors and extras who looked something like MCAD students, but not exactly the same, he said.

“It looked like an imaginary art school to me,” Mason said. “It didn’t look like MCAD. They were into a much more bohemian look than MCAD ever has.”

Brad Pearson, a senior in MCAD’s filmmaking program who scored an internship with the grip and electric crew, said he wasn’t sure the movie got the look and attitude of today’s art student exactly right. Pearson added, though, “I don’t really take myself that seriously, and I understand it’s just a movie.”

He acknowledged that MCAD students will likely view “Nobody” with a more critical eye than most other audience members, having lived the art school experience.

“I think no matter what [students] say about it afterwards, they’ll be excited to see it,” he said.

Pearson more than most: The student filmmaker has already shot one short film about art students set at his school and is planning to film a sequel this summer.

“I guess we’ll see who has the more informed perspective,” he joked.

Maybe when MCAD rolls out the red carpet for “Nobody” they’ll have to make it a double-feature.