The Dale Street Journal: The Filming of Captain America: The First Avenger in Manchester
The following is an account of the filming in Manchester, UK, of the upcoming 2011 Marvel movie Captain America: The First Avenger, which includes exclusive photos from the set. The film is directed by Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Jurassic Park 3) with a $140 million budget and has Chris Evans (Fantastic Four, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World) in the title role. Now readers, I will keep it informative and humorous, with the anecdotes coming think and fast, and remember — when the production needed somewhere cheap that could masquerade as 1940s New York that they could blow seven shades of shit out of… they came to Manchester, England. The Forbidden Planet store only 5 minutes walk from the set seemingly had nothing advertising the fact… strange.
I was oblivious. I was informed by a work colleague that on the one day I had off from work was the one day I missed the article in the Manchester Evening Newspaper [Thursday September 9th, 2010, page 24] in the Northern Quarter of Manchester on Dale Street — the bohemian beatnik center of the city, iconoclastic famous and championed by the infamous ‘sons’ from the band ‘Oasis’, that filming is to begin… something I can guarantee you DOES NOT happen that regularly in the the North West of England — granted the last two movies filmed here was the Alfie remake with Jude Law and Robert Downey Jr’s Sherlock Holmes, both of which flew past without so much of a mention, not that Jude Law is worth a mention…
Ironically this film went under its working title of ‘Frostbite’, the office situated in a commandeered office block.:
So, excitedly, I went down the road that was to be used, usefully on route from the train station I get to work, which in turn is two minutes walk away. Building began on the 17th September 2010 putting in place the shop facades, while I could still walk through:
It’s great to see one of the store fronts called ‘Excelsior Cigar Shop’, even though it may speed flash by in the car scenes, if Stan Lee was to cameo [which is inevitable], this would be his shop, that and a chemist that advertises laxatives as well as the store front signage for ‘camp outfits’, harking back to a much more innocent time, now something that musters a smirk and chortle…
‘The Insider Information’
And so, as myself and a friend smooth talked the security guards while the road was still open, to get out of them as much information as possible, the anecdotes soon flowed; firstly was one about one of the shop owners complaining that her shop was to go from whitewashed brickwork to PAINTED brickwork. Why complain… you’ll get money for the trouble! Next my good friend Joe Baiamonte [wanting all due credit] got the guards talking about the fact that Liam Gallagher’s former head of security is now a Managing Director and is on Â£2-3million a year, and is covering the security for this film. There’s one for you music buffs.
The next thing was about how we couldn’t be used as ‘extras’ in the film, because of the height limit of 6â€1′. Anything over that and we’d overshadow the main stars… which would mean Tom Cruise would’ve been useless! Apparently none of the main actors were going to be at this set just stunt actors and extras — but that was to change — more on that later.
Next, the security told us about the cars [automobiles] situated in an underground carpark, under heavy guard… but not armed guard, this is after all, England…
‘The Underground Cars’
And so with one unhappy looking guard, I managed to grab a few shots of the hidden cars in the underground carpark, in a back street canal side. There seems to be one single Yellow Cab involved, which there will be more about later. For now enjoy the the secret storage and others:
‘The Unpredictable British Weather’
Filming began Monday 20th September: A phrase from a good Czech friend of mine comes to mind; â€œYou British have got two topics to start a discussion â€“ the weather and workâ€ which is apt when on one of the first few filming days, rolling thunder and flash lightning happened, which would’ve undoubtedly halted the production — and caused havoc for the lighting guys and continuity — blue skies one day, pewter gray clouds the next, which could have potentially nixed…
What I later realized was that the gutted out cars I photographed next to the Panavision truck were to be used in the explosions, the general public ‘suffering’ through the production whose apartments are on this street had this statement posted through their door:
â€œThe scenes we are filming are compromised of an action sequence that will involve a car chase, special effects and a simulated car explosion. There will also be around 60 period American Cars on the street. Due to this we are going to try and keep the road as clear of members of the public as much as possible, obviously we will do our best not to disrupt your daily comings and goings and hope that alternative routes will be adequate, we will try and walk people through the set if necessary but there may be waits of up to 10-15 minutes if the cameras are about to roll.â€
Interestingly, the photo above of the window, if you look closely is the ‘Brooklyn Antiques’ window, set with explosive squibs ready to go off. Simulated gunfire could be heard, but it’s not the real thing, is it? And with the following photos, [taken from a website credited at the end] taken from a great above vantage point you can see the damage… 1940s style, note the fake dead body strewn in the ash:
‘The Circling Extras and further filming’
In my many visits to the set, it was fun to see the filming of preliminary scenes and filler, especially when one woman extra on a bike kept riding towards us at the barrier, U-turn, and circle the set yet again, another one of those annoying traits film fans tend to have when scrutinizing films for repetition…
And then the news: Chris Evans has made an appearance, sporting somewhat of a dirty blond almost ginger-brown hairdo not entirely like the character Steve Rogers, but with some obvious artistic license. You’ll also noticed that Evans is seemingly shoeless — thankfully it is prosthetic fake feet, which even if he is a supersoldier seems odd, but not unusual for Manchester as he probably had his shoes stolen.
As the filming continued, on one of the side streets I was fortunate to catch a glimpse of the stacked TV screens playing the dailies and playback of the progress. What I saw seemed to be the prior shots of a car chase on Brooklyn Bridge, involving that Yellow Cab, which would lead to the scenes on Dale Street, and then, from a YouTube video I’ve seen, onto the Liverpool Docks, I know is the next stage of production.
‘The Fake Wall and Green Screen’
Now Geeks, both you and me know that all films tend be filmed out of sync like a bad Tarantino, and so, when one end of the road is completely blocked off by two trucks, with a massive wooden panel attached to it, it makes you wonder. Given the signs everywhere in the vicinity stating that all parking is paid for ‘for Frostbite filming for two weeks,’ and blocked said road, because it’s Manchester, I’m sure it was easy on the budget.
But this wall was painted with a fake shop fronts, to suggest the road turns off to the right [in what would be in the car chases] the height of which was clearly not high enough to hide the newer mini skyscapers in the cityscape background of Manchester. Then all of a sudden, the entire wall is covered in greenscreen foam… either to CGI fake New York into it or to give post-production something to work with to hide that skyscaper…
Stood watching at the sidelines, I witnessed part of, or at least the end of a car chase scene, involving a burgundy car that is unlike every other car, as was evident in the underground carpark when they were all black. I especially love the converted camera truck, with an ill-covered trunk with crew freezing just for the moneyshot.
‘The Dismantle and Gunsmith’
I noticed on Tuesday 28th September, another day off from work, that the blocked ends of the roads were accessible. Filming had stopped for a day! Great! Another chance to sneak in some photos of the set whilst, unfortunately, no film stars were present. I noticed the Brooklyn Antiques storefront had gone… removed completely. I questioned security and was informed that they were changing the set over for further filming, perhaps to show a ‘different’ area of New York. However, both you and me would probably notice the very little difference when watching the film [granted I will know, remember and expect this in the release].
And so, we now we have a Gunsmith and a Hebrew Bookstore. I would like to point out in the photo that while in other areas they successfully hid CCTV camera with ‘For Sale’ signs, I can foresee further ball ache trying to hide the modern air-conditioning units down the side of the bookstore… a boring fact for you again, but something I would rewind the DVD back for and annoy the missus with.
It also seems appropriate to include some photos of the set design, the subtle imagery that may go unnoticed it the background, but the allusion is pertinent especially with the ‘Be a Marine’ poster, not unlike the original Uncle Sam propaganda:
‘The last few days’
While I had chance I tried to get some final shots before the filming moved on and cleared out, hoping that I would be in the right place at the right time to capture some film stars at lunch, or even Hugo Weaving in makeup…
But no, what I get is a text from my boss in work Tuesday night feeding some of the film crew, and when I rang him [excited] to find out more, he said, he only knew they were from the jacket of one of the crew with the slogan ‘Harry Potter 7’ on his back. So when I asked for a photo of such I receive a grainy iPhone photo of the store CCTV video screen of some random guys sat down, so much for professionalism, thanks boss; I’ll omit the email subject header you sent…
The costume, seen in the following photos somewhere just outside London is based on the ‘Ultimates’ Marvel comic line of Captain America. Chris Evans was quoted in saying he had bulk up in weight because his previous size wouldn’t be right for the role. You can see that the stunt man has to fill the costume, which if it is to be used is certainly of 1940s origin along with the wartime motorbike in use. Whether Captain America gets a spandex update when he’s ‘thawed’ [if the movie follows the original comic story arc] is yet to be seen… here’s hoping they don’t go down the same route as the abomination in Ben Affleck’s Daredevil, because due to the fact that this must be a stunt suit, where you can see the torso of such is painted on, it still is not that bad in my opinion:
The tone was set by one bystander quoted as saying â€œSamuel L. Jackson is Captain America isn’t he?â€ — one of the signifiers that suggests that reading those weekly celebrity rags does not a film expert make — which means that Samuel L. Jackson will not be in England, as he is an present day agent of S.H.I.E.L.D… which means my mother won’t get a picture of me and him, sorry mum.
I’ll end with this: One goof, I know should and may appear on IMDB is that one of the street clocks was strange. Instead of Twelve o’clock situated where is should be, the time [must be a 1940s thing] at the top of the hour will always be… Eight o’clock.
I do hope Joe Johnston does this film justice, after Spider-Man set the benchmark for comic book movies, and that most comic properties are now being developed or in development [discounting Jonah Hex, and considering the Seventies Hulk with glazed nostalgia] that there will be high expectations for a film of a Patriotic American Icon and Hero, only next to Superman. With the current sociopolitical climate in the situation it’s in now, it might make it all the more relevant and therefore necessary. Or it could just be another turkey.
But I commend the production for making dreary Manchester look like a convincing historical New York and I am proud to be able to say I was there to see it happen. As of the 3rd of October the production left and has moved onto Liverpool, a city I will never visit fortunately. I’ve heard that Samuel L. Jackson has made an appearance in Liverpool… probably loves it after doing 51st State a few years back.
Dale Street will return back to normal, the shop fronts will get painted back to normal, the CCTV cameras will reappear, and life will continue as if it never happened. Oh well. Here’s to 2011 and the release!
For further insider fun go to the YouTube set visit page.