EDtv began principal photography on location in San Francisco on March 31, 1998. The film concluded production at Universal Studios in Los Angeles on July 2, 1998. Writers Ganz and Mandel set their story in San Francisco after originally looking to the east coast (and Paramus, New Jersey) for the locale of EDtv.
"We liked Paramus because we're New Yorkers and we like that sound," Ganz relates. "We wrote the whole thing with a kind of New York rhythm, an eastern urban rhythm. Whenever I'm back in the New York area, I notice it doesn't sound any different at all after 25 years. It's a slam dunk for us to create that sound. I guess we thought that the media, this cable channel, would be based in New York."
"We talked about it being a New York picture basically," adds Howard, who shot his last feature, Ransom, on the streets of Manhattan. "Then we thought Los Angeles. Both cities, we felt, were a little too large to be sort of captivated by an event like EDtv."
"Now, of course, EDtv goes national, but it begins on a local level," the director emphasizes. "But, it needed to be a big city, a media center, a center of popular culture. I also wanted Ed to be out and about, not stuck in his car out in the suburbs. San Francisco seemed to be a great place. It's also wonderful to shoot there, looks great and very diverse. And those hills! You can be funnier in San Francisco than other places because of the hills."
Production designer Michael Corenblith, joining Howard for their third consecutive project together, embellishes his colleague's comments about the choice of placing Ed's story in the picturesque City by the Bay.
"Because of the nature of the story with its blue-collar roots, we talked about movies that were actually slick productions that looked very real, thus the word 'verisimilitude' was brought to the design process," the Oscar-nominated (Apollo 13) talent offers. "We looked at pictures like Muriel's Wedding and The Full Monty, both terrific looking movies. Because they were both foreign films, what you see is a documentary realism to them. One I'm very fond of is a movie called The Commitments a wonderfully designed picture. To the viewer, there are such documentary elements to the basic nature of EDtv. We really wanted to make the settings and the scenery real in that sense."
"The film was many things, one being a romantic comedy," Corenblith continues. "I felt that being in the Northeast even in spring was wrong. It would still be on the gray side, and the trees were still going to be bare. I wanted a foundation that was a little more friendly, a little more hopeful, not urban grit. Ed's becoming famous, becoming recognized, truly required a pedestrian environment. Associate producer Louisa Velis was the first advocate of San Francisco, which seemed like such a good idea."
During the company's three week-stay in Fog City beginning in late March, Howard filmed at over thirty sites around town, including the city's vibrant Chinatown, the majestic Palace of Fine Arts, Yerba Buena Gardens and the Center for the Arts, the aging Castro movie palace, the Russian Hill and Protrero Hill neighborhoods where Ed and his family reside, and the San Jose Hockey Arena, where Ed is invited to drive the ice-clearing Zamboni machine.
The company shot this unique sequence during two period intermissions at an actual NHL hockey match between the Sharks and the Mighty Ducks on April 9, when playoff fever set the San Jose Arena on fire, and 17,483 local fans were there to fan the flames.
While McConaughey (and co-star Elfman, also part of the sequence) stayed behind in San Francisco to complete scenes there, a 2nd unit team (captained by longtime Howard associate Todd Hallowell) arrived at the arena about five hours prior to game time to begin rigging four cameras (two on the Zamboni, the other pair high-and-wide according to Hallowell) for the scene.
Months before the actual shoot date, Howard, Hallowell and crew toured the five-year-old facility. The scout took the group through the bowels of the arena, including the cavernous backstage areas that house everything from the press room to the locker rooms, from the team's administrative offices to the garage where two Zamboni machines sit idle.
The filmmakers also climbed 150 feet above center ice (and the Jumbotron scoreboard) to rafters that would contain another key camera set-up for the unique sequence. The company also returned to San Jose two days before the actual filming date to complete one more hour-long rehearsal.
"I'd never seen the crowd this full after a period, which killed our concessions," Sharks executive Malcolm Bordelon remarked to a local reporter. "It was a sacrifice, but worth it. It added to the playoff excitement."
Howard would agree. The celebrated filmmaker felt the heat of playoff fever when he stepped onto the ice to fire up Sharks fans for the two sequences. The crowd responded with roars of "Opie! Opie!," bringing a smile to the director's boyish face.
McConaughey called his moments atop the Zamboni before such a huge crowd "pretty surreal. It was so much fun driving this gigantic golf cart. What was really a trip was the 17,000 people, and (my face) on the big screen. The place was really loud. I lost my voice and was quite exhausted after doing those two intermission scenes. I think that was from being so pumped up about it. But, the adrenaline really kicked in."
Back on the streets of San Francisco, Howard and Corenblith began searching for the location of the video store where Ed works. For the filmmakers, the North Beach neighborhood, the city's Little Italy area off Columbus Avenue, fit the bill.
"Grant Street was perfect," Corenblith comments. "The first thing was not to look for a specific video store, but a neighborhood and the right mix of working-class people. Because we had scenes both inside and out of the video store, we needed to see the neighborhood. Ron's idea wasn't a supermarket type of place, nor a modest mom-and-pop store, but a large independent."
Howard finally chose the corner establishment on Grant and Green Streets which formerly housed a local video store that had closed in favor of larger quarters up the street. Corenblith and his carpenters also took over the adjacent vacant space and built a modern video rental outlet that the landlords kept in place. Following the company's completion of the three-day sequence, North Beach Video kept its doors open to local residents, and still operates today.
Following the San Francisco schedule, Howard took his cameras to Los Angeles, as production moved to Southern California in mid-April for the bulk of its fourteen-week schedule. Production designer Corenblith constructed several sets on five separate sound stages at Universal Studios, including the interior of Ed's apartment, his parents' home, Shari's apartment, Jill's lavish digs and the cable network's executive offices.
For several montage sequences where we see various audience reactions to Edtv, Corenblith built such set pieces as a prison cell block, a New York City deli, a bus depot, a fraternity house and a replica of the Oval Office (originally designed for the recent movie comedy, Dave).
While Howard elected to use a photo double to portray the President, the real Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich, stopped by the set on a break during a campaign swing through Southern California to visit the director and stars McConaughey and Reiner.
The company also visited the NBC Studios in Burbank on two separate occasions, using the actual Tonight Show set and stage for two distinct scenes illustrating Ed's fame and popularity.
The company's first visit, in mid-June, utilized the backstage "green room" at Jay Leno's program to shoot the first meeting between Ed (who has just completed his guest segment with Leno) and the aspiring actress Jill (played by Hurley). While the crew prepped each set-up, NBC broadcast the network's NBA playoff coverage on the huge monitor adjacent to Leno's stage to minimize the monotony.
In between takes, the film company, who worked everyday with such stars as McConaughey, Harrelson, Elfman, DeGeneres and the rest of Howard's stellar cast, seemed starstruck at the chance of sitting in the actual chair that Leno uses nightly to interview such high-profile celebrities.
So, set still photographer Ron Batzdorff took pictures of various crew members sitting in Leno's seat "interviewing" one of their set colleagues. Soon, the mayhem included Howard and McConaughey (both former guests), with NBC security breaking out their own cameras for candids!
A month later, Howard and McConaughey returned to Leno's set for the final scene of the entire shoot, which cast Leno (as himself) interviewing Ed about his overnight fame. Filmed after Leno's evening taping, Howard convinced the comic host's real audience to stick around for the chance to see themselves in his movie and have a fleeting shot at stardom.
"The film deals with fame," Howard reiterates. "The idea that in this country, maybe the world, arguably at this moment in history, fame is the most coveted achievement. How does one's life change if you realize this kind of fame? When that spotlight settles on a person, what happens?"
"It could have been about winning the lottery. It could have been about getting cast in a movie overnight," the director continues. "Instead, it's about having a TV show, having TV cameras follow you around 24 hours-a-day. The film addressed a lot of feelings, a lot of questions people have in this day and age, and addressed them in a really funny, fresh, imaginative way."
"For the first time in his life, Ed gets exposed to certain things that go along with celebrity and fame. We get to see that, we get to go on that ride with him. It's a pretty fast, bumpy and, hopefully, funny ride. I hope that's the kind of experience that audiences have watching this movie," Howard concludes.
©1999 Universal Pictures