ITS ALL "HAPPENING" AT A LOCAL FARM
by VICTOR GRETO
UNIONVILLE, Pa. -- "Base camp" at the set of the next M. Night Shyamalan movie, "The Happening," may be as inglorious as it gets.
Rows of white vans, RVs, trailers and portable toilets line the perimeter of a dirt and grass parking lot just off Pa. 82 in this tiny town, surrounded by rolling hills, hayfields and chirping crickets.
It's all for the film's 200 crew members and 50 extras, including star Mark Wahlberg -- just a small part of what $57 million, the purported budget for the movie, will buy you.
They're here, of course, not for the parking lot, but for the hundreds of contiguous acres that comprise Cuyler and Katie Walker's hay farm just up the road.
"It's beautiful here, iconic," said location manager and Kennett Square, Pa., resident Andrew Ullman. "There are a lot of visual choices. The storyline puts us in the middle of nowhere. You could get lost on their property."
That storyline, kept under wraps by the crew, involves a Philadelphia family on the run from an environmental disaster. Web sites have speculated about script details, including a "natural" epidemic of brutal mass suicide, provoked by airborne neurotoxins released by the planet's vegetation.
Evidently, the family abandons the city and finds its way to the Pennsylvania countryside.
Shyamalan, who made it big in 1999 with "The Sixth Sense," hasn't had a hit movie for several years. His last two movies, "Lady in the Water" and "The Village" sank with barely a trace.
Shyamalan's original script for "The Happening," which will be released in June 2008, had been rejected by several studios. After a rewrite, Twentieth Century Fox agreed to produce it.
As with his other movies, which have starred Bruce Willis, Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, Shyamalan was able to sign a couple of big names.
Mark Wahlberg, star of "Boogie Nights," "The Italian Job," "Invincible" and "The Departed," plays a science teacher named Elliot Moore. His wife is played by Zooey Deschanel, who has had roles in "Almost Famous," "Elf" and "The Good Girl."
The movie also stars John Leguizamo and Betty Buckley.
Other Pennsylvania sites where the crew filmed include the 30th Street Station and Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, Phoenixville and Lower Merion, Pa.
"This area is critical to the story," Ullman said of the Brandywine Valley. "It's the turning point in the movie."
He provided no details.
Location scouts were at the Walker farm last April, said Katie Walker, who was hanging out in her house while the crew filmed on a "closed set" less than an acre away.
She had showed them around, she said, "because I thought it would be cool to have a movie in the area."
Shyamalan's crew had scouted the area for the 2002 movie "Signs," but for that movie, they were looking for cornfields.
The Walkers, who own about 1,000 acres, grow hay.
The filmmakers are paying the Walkers an undisclosed location fee for four days. They will be filming at the farm until Thursday. The movie, which has been filming since August, will end its shoot next month.
The crew had warned her of people wanting to come and watch, but none have tried, she said.
She has not seen any of Shyamalan's previous films.
Yesterday, behind the Walkers' house and up a wide expanse of long grass crawling with crickets, the crew was filming a scene.
"Rolling, quiet please!" someone shouted, and a train of actors, including Wahlberg and Deschanel, marched just beyond the ridge of a hill and nearly out of view.
At the end of the brief scene, the actors and crews walked back in the steaming heat, some twirling parasols, ready to eat a catered lunch before another humid afternoon of work.
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