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Michigan, Ohio each claim a key role in ‘The Ides of March’
BY JULIE HINDS
DETROIT FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
25 Sept 2011
It’s nearly two months until Michigan faces Ohio State in the great college football rivalry. But another friendly competition is brewing between the states.
This time, it’s for cinematic bragging rights.
“The Ides of March,” a drama starring George Clooney and Ryan Gosling, opens Oct. 7. Already being talked about as a possible awards contender, it focuses on a rising young campaign press secretary (Gosling) who becomes enmeshed in a scandal that could impact his candidate’s run for the Oval Office.
Filming took place for about a month in Ohio (mostly in Cincinnati and Oxford and briefly in nearby northern Kentucky) and slightly longer in Michigan. So the two primary states have many touchdowns, er, locations in the movie.
Producer and co-screenwriter Grant Heslov had a great experience in Michigan. “It was a really good place to shoot,” he says of being here in March and April. But he liked Ohio a lot, too, and diplomatically considers the contest between the states a tie.
Well, this is a movie about politics.
The story line gives the Buckeye State a home field advantage. “Ides” is set in Ohio during a crucial presidential primary, which meant, among other things, that a University of Michigan auditorium had to stand in for Kent State University in one scene.
Our toll-road neighbor to the south also has stronger ties to the director, the producer, the co-screenwriter and the actor cast as Democratic candidate Gov. Mike Morris.
Clooney — who did all four jobs — grew up near Cincinnati, where he’s embraced as a hometown hero. His dapper dad, Nick Clooney, who spent many years as a Cincinnati TV news anchor and newspaper columnist, is also a local favorite.
But to even the score, you only have to look at Michigan’s contributions to “Ides” in terms of locations, cast, crew and hospitality — not to mention financial help.
The movie received a $1.2-million Ohio motion picture tax credit, according to the Ohio Film Office. That compares to the nearly $5 million in Michigan film incentives it was approved for on about $12.5 million in expected spending.
Battle over incentives
When the production arrived in metro Detroit, a political battle was raging — a real one.
While “Ides” was shooting in the Motor City and Ann Arbor in March and early April, the state’s filmmaking community was lobbying against Gov. Rick Snyder’s plan to downsize the incentives program with a $25-million annual cap, an initiative that became law in the budget for fiscal 2012.
Clooney and the other principals didn’t get involved in the issue, focusing their time and effort on keeping “Ides” moving forward smoothly. Local participants say it was one of the best-run productions they encountered during the three-year life span of the incentives.
“There was no drama. It was very pleasant,” says Kathy Mooney of Pound & Mooney Casting in Madison Heights, which worked on the project.
Mooney heard that Clooney was quite pleased with the actors from the area. Danny Mooney (no relation), a young Ann Arbor director who just helmed “AWOL” with Liam Hemsworth of “The Hunger Games,” and Yuriy Sardarov, a U-M theater graduate living in Ann Arbor who’ll appear next in Ben Affleck’s “Argo,” landed parts as Morris campaign workers.
Another actor, Talia Akiva of Ann Arbor, appears briefly as Clooney’s daughter.
Several other local faces can be spotted in the movie, including Detroit musician Bob Mervak, who can be seen singing “We’ll Meet Again” in a sequence done at Cliff Bell’s, a Detroit jazz club.
Mervak, who spent three days on the set, played a rented $70,000-range Steinway for a scene involving Gosling, Philip Seymour Hoffman, who plays Gosling’s boss on the campaign, and Marisa Tomei, who’s a reporter.
He describes Clooney’s directing style as “pretty chill” and says the director wanted everything subdued for the performance. At one point, as they talked music, Clooney modestly dropped a name. “He said, ‘I don’t know if you’re familiar with my aunt, Rosemary Clooney,’ ” Mervak recalls.
Although Ohio gets plenty of screen time for exteriors, Michigan could have the edge in interior scenes. Detroit and Ann Arbor both played big roles in providing locations for the speeches, rallies and office meetings in the political drama.
Besides Cliff Bell’s, the production filmed in downtown Detroit at the Colony Club, the Inside Detroit welcome center on Woodward and the Gem Theatre’s kitchen, among other sites.
There also were days spent shooting in Detroit suburbs and Ann Arbor, where U-M buildings were home to several Morris events.
By all accounts, Clooney and the cast and crew got a friendly but respectful welcome during their Michigan stay. Crowd control wasn’t a huge issue, even at places like U-M’s Michigan League, which remained an open building during filming. Although a shooting schedule for the Michigan stops was leaked on the Web, the sets in Ann Arbor and metro Detroit weren’t inundated with press or bystanders, which helped keep things running efficiently.
This is the third film Clooney has worked on in metro Detroit — he filmed scenes here for 1998′s “Out of Sight” and 2009′s “Up in the Air.” He didn’t talk to local media during filming of “Ides,” but those who met him say he was charming and down-to-earth.
“Clooney is a very thoughtful and warm guy,” says Motor City-based location manager Dave Krieger, who took him and other producers at the end of filming to the Apex Bar in Detroit, a spot where John Lee Hooker used to play.
But at a Toronto International Film Festival press conference in September, Clooney expressed his feelings about shooting in southeast Michigan.
“First of all, Ann Arbor is an amazing city. We got there on St. Patrick’s Day and everyone was drinking green beer and everyone was screwed up, and I was like, ‘This town was made for me,’ ” he said.
The actor then said he loved working in Ann Arbor and the Motor City, waxing thoughtful on how Detroit is striving for a comeback. “When you go to Detroit you see a town that is resilient, that’s just fighting to win again, and there’s an energy to that. Just watching a city really fighting to get back on its feet and watching the inner strength of a city is tremendous.”
Put it all together and we’re willing to call the great Michigan-Ohio rivalry over “Ides” a win-win for both parties. Especially after these gracious comments from our foe: “It just makes financial sense to these companies to utilize different states for their productions,” says Ohio Film Office spokeswoman Katie Sabatino. “We’re all for healthy competition.”
With that kind of attitude, there could be peace in our time — at least as it relates to filmmaking border wars.
“I think Hollywood and L.A. have had enough of the film industry (work) for a while,” Sabatino says. “They need to do more in the Midwest.”
Contact Julie Hinds: 313-222-6427 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Free Press special writer Martin Bandyke contributed.