Filming of the movie ‘Call Jane’ is taking place this month at several West Hartford sites as well as in Hartford.
By Ronni Newton
Hollywood stars – including Elizabeth Banks, Sigourney Weaver, Kate Mara, Chris Messina, Cory Michael Smith, Aida Turturo, and Grace Edwards – were spotted earlier this week in Hartford as scenes for an upcoming movie were being filmed in Connecticut’s capital city which was serving as as stand-in for Chicago in the late 1960s, but by Wednesday the cast and crew had shifted a few miles west to the “Chicago suburbs,” aka West Hartford.
The drama “Call Jane,” set prior to the landmark Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision, is “a women’s empowerment movie,” Robbie Brenner, the film’s producer, told We-Ha.com.
“It’s sort of a coming of age story of a woman,” Brenner said, adding that it’s been great to have the set full of powerful women in a cast that includes few men.
A news release about the film summarizes the plot: “In the summer of 1968, as the Democratic National Convention is rocked by protests, housewife and mother Joy Griffin (Elizabeth Banks) experiences a life-threatening pregnancy that no doctor will allow her to terminate. Out of options and with little time to lose, Joy discovers a network of women who facilitate safe abortions for women in need — no questions asked. The group’s kindness and courage save her life and ignites a new-found sense of purpose in Joy: to help other women take control of their destinies. The network’s leader, Virginia (Sigourney Weaver), takes Joy under her wing and despite the risks they face in this pre-Roe v Wade era they determine to expand the network to provide safe abortions for all women who need them, regardless of their ability to pay.”
Wednesday’s scenes were being filmed inside Westminster Presbyterian Church, and the large trucks housing equipment, pieces of the set, costumes, and more that filled the parking lot, as well as the cars with out-of-state license plates attracted a bit of attention from passersby.
Everyone working on the movie – about 150 in all – is from out of town, many from New York. They’re staying at hotels and other sites throughout the area.
“We’ve built a set inside the church and we’re using different areas of it,” she said. The church’s gym, where youth basketball games and scout meetings are routinely held, had been turned into a medical office. A photo shoot for promotional advertising will take place in the sanctuary.
The church itself is not a character in the movie, but more of a base camp, Brenner said.
“The movie is a period piece that takes place in the late 1960s and Hartford really resembled Chicago. It really was conducive to the period and the look of the movie,” she said.
Shooting in Hartford began on May 3, and included the Charter Oak Place neighborhood. Locations are peppered between West Hartford and Hartford, Brenner said. Filming should wrap up completely by June 1.
Spring Lane near the intersection with Tunxis Road, and a home on Cherryfield Road, also in the Duffy neighborhood, provided the backdrop for Thursday’s filming.
Crews had visited the neighborhood earlier in the week, and spent several hours Thursday morning preparing to shoot several scenes with Banks.
The white 1966 Plymouth Fury III parked on Spring Lane was an anachronism situated in the vicinity of late-model SUVs parked in nearby driveways, but crews worked to ensure that everything that would appear in the scene was appropriate for the period.
Parked on the opposite side of the street was a Chevy Belair, which was also used in a later scene. A pair of mustangs and a Chevy Impala were also parked nearby.
While a small group of nearby residents gathered to watch the filming, those whose homes ended up in the scenes had birds-eye views as Banks arrived in costume but wearing a black face mask, and climbed into the Fury.
After a quick touch-up of Banks’ make-up the director called for quiet on the set and filming of a brief commenced.
Amy and Mick Melvin, who live on Spring Lane, said two of the assistant locations managers had stopped by earlier in the week to speak with them about shooting the film on the street.
“Everyone’s been so polite and considerate of our space,” Amy Melvin said. “They moved our basketball hoop, but they’re coming back tomorrow to put it back.”
The Melvins have solar panels on their roof – which wouldn’t be visible – but the service meters would be, so crews placed some trees in front. A blue metal outdoor chair looked appropriate for 1968, so it stayed in the scene, but a partner chair, which was yellow, was placed out of view due to its color.
“This is awesome,” Mick Melvin said. “I did not expect this to be such production,” he said, noting that everyone was so friendly and polite.
The home of Banks’ character, Joy, is on Farmington Avenue, as is the house next door.
“We liked the suburban feel of it, the proximity to Hartford,” said Len Murach, the location manager for the film.
“We had a specific geography in mind,” Murach said. “The two houses needed to be next to each other,” he said because the characters speak to each other from the porches.
The residents are out of their homes for about a week “to dress it,” Brenner said. “When you make a movie normally the people that live in the houses have to leave so that you can dress it appropriately, and of course this is a period piece so we have to change out the furniture and in some cases paint.” Sometimes the appliances need to be switched out as well, she said.
“We are so thrilled that a portion of the filming of ‘Call Jane’ is taking place in West Hartford,” Mayor Shari Cantor said. “This is terrific for Hartford and West Hartford to have the actors and production team right here in our communities. It is an important story with terrific actors and we are excited to be included.”
The prep for the film started in March, Brenner said.
Traffic will be rerouted at times on certain West Hartford streets over the next week for the filming to ensure that no modern cars inadvertently find their way into the scenes, Murach said. Detours will marked by West Hartford’s Department of Public Works and controlled by police.
In addition to West Hartford and Hartford, Murach said there will be a day of filming in Bristol, where a bank and hospital are being used.
“Everyone’s been so great here. We are so happy to be filming in Connecticut,” said Murach, who grew up in Southington but has lived in New York for the past few decades.
Brenner, who grew up in New York said she’s been enjoying the area. “West Hartford is stunning. The food’s delicious. Everyone has been lovely,” she said. Barcelona, Flora, and Avert are some of the restaurants they’ve visited.
Publicist Pete Silbermann, a New York native, is also enjoying spending time in the area. “Hartford is beautiful. The beauty of the buildings, the green,” he said. The people he’s met “have been so kind, so generous,” he added.
The financial considerations make Connecticut a great place to make a movies as well, Silbermann said. “Connecticut has a exciting tax advantage,” he said.
The COVID-19 protocols are extremely strict on the set with masks required at all times and face shields and goggles also required for those working directly in the vicinity of cast members for inside shots. In addition to rapid tests, everyone receives a PCR test three times a week. [Editor’s note: Even being fully vaccinated I had to take not one but two different rapid COVID tests before being allowed inside the Westminster Church building.]
“Nobody wants to make a movie like this, it’s a little strange. We forget what it’s like to see people’s faces and smiles,” said Brenner.
Murach said that he worked on a very socially-distanced project in August, where everyone had to wear face shields and remain 6 feet apart. Prior to that, his last shoot was on March 15, 2020.
The Blacklist script is by Hayley Schore and Roshan Sethi, and is being directed by Phyllis Nagy. Brenner, who produced “Dallas Buyers Club” is the producer along with David Wulf, Kevin McKeon and Lee Broda.
More information about the film, including the cast list, can be found on IMBd.com.
The release date has not been set yet, Brenner said, adding that it may be sometime next year.
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