"Lights, Cameras ... Travolta!
Movie Filming Leaves Crowd Star Struck"


by J. Freedom du Lac, Sacramento Bee, 5 March 2000

Gary Ryle went to sleep Friday night in Sacramento, but he awakened Saturday morning in Harrisburg, Pa., with his house suddenly surrounded by lights, cameras and Tinseltown-style action.

And there, parked in front of his expansive 39th Street estate, was John Travolta in a lime-green Buick Regal.

It was all a bit much to take in.

"It's surreal," Ryle related. "Not like being inside a Salvador Dali painting — but it's definitely bizarre."

Surely, they couldn't have scripted a stranger sight than the one seen around Ryle's place:

Hollywood had come to town and taken over, turning a quiet part of east Sacramento into an action-packed East Coast city street — one that was dusted with biodegradable faux snow and bustling with production workers.

Sacramento Bee photos — Dick Schmidt
Hollywood superstar John Travolta shakes hands and signs autographs Saturday at 39th and M streets following a filming of a scene from Paramount Pictures' "Numbers."

Along both edges, it also was lined with hundreds of people stricken with Saturday afternoon fever.

It was all because of "Numbers," a Paramount Pictures feature starring Travolta and Lisa Kudrow from TV's "Friends." Ambitiously slated for a late-summer release, the movie is based on a true story about a rigged state-lottery drawing in 1980.

Though set in Harrisburg, Pa., a few scenes from the film are being shot in Sacramento over the next week, weather permitting. The action began Saturday, and after a day off today, it will resume Monday on the same stretch of 39th, between M and J streets.

Eventually, the production will shift to a dead-end section of 44th Street, also off M, where a spectacular snowmobile chase will be staged beneath a man-made blizzard.

As bizarre as it may all seem to Ryle and other onlookers, it's clearly one of the most exciting things to jolt through town since, well, the last movie was made here. If not longer.

"It's definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience to see this happen," said Ryle, who received an undisclosed amount of money for allowing his home's exterior to be featured briefly in "Numbers." A next-door neighbor received $400 for allowing crews onto the property.

Though a growing number of movies have been partially filmed in the Sacramento area — from "American Beauty" and Eddie Murphy's "Life" to "Rocky and Bullwinkle" and Travolta's own "Phenomenon" — "Numbers" is the biggest production to hit town yet, said Lucy Steffens, the Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau's film commissioner.

Sacramento Bee photos — Dick Schmidt
Crews work their magic and transform a normally quiet Sacramento street into a movie set during Saturday's filming of "Numbers."

And the impact won't just be measured on the buzz-o-meter, which is at full tilt: Steffens estimates the production will pump anywhere from $500,000 to $600,000 into the local economy.

Still, it wasn't money on the mind of the crowd of at least 300 looky-loos assembled along either side of 39th on Saturday.

Instead, they were there to witness the movie-making machine in action — and, of course, to stargaze.

Stephen Crase came armed with a still camera, hoping to get a shot of Travolta and, perhaps, "that Bundy guy from 'Married With Children,' " which is all he could think of to call actor Ed O'Neill, who was in the scene shot Saturday afternoon.

"Hey, there's the Bundy guy right there!" Crase gushed as he aimed his camera down 39th Street.

Soon, Travolta was on the scene, too.

The crowd could hardly contain itself.

"I can't believe he's right there!" a girl shouted.

"There he goes!" cried another.

"John, John — please look over here!" a teenage boy begged.

Travolta didn't look — at least not for now.

That hardly stopped the shutterbugs.

Click. Click. Click. Click.

Somebody called a friend on a cell phone to say they were staring right at the actor.

"Yes, John Travolta!" she screamed.

Suddenly, the noise was no more, as somebody called for quiet on the set.

And then, action.

Sort of.

Up and down the block Travolta drove in the Buick Regal, with O'Neill entering the car over and over and over as the cameras rolled.

Across the street, Scott McKinney stood on his porch and surveyed the scene as Nora Ephron sat in a director's chair at the edge of his lawn. Quietly, McKinney admitted he'd rather be inside, watching the Sacramento Kings playing on NBC.

"But this does bring some excitement to 39th Street," he said. "The Hollywood hoopla is kind of cool."

His wife, Toni, was slightly more effusive.

"I think this great. We've been out here most of the day, checking everything out."

And there was much to see, from the potted evergreen trees being adjusted to hide the blooming camellias to the plastic-reindeer props being hauled away.

All along the block, machines dusted the trees, lawns and pavement with the faux snow.

The white flecks also landed on the shoulders of most of the crew members, making for what appeared to be a widespread dandruff problem.

"It's not really a movie — it's a Head and Shoulders commercial," cracked David Crownshaw, the self-described "head snowman."

Rain was falling Saturday night, which promised to create some headaches for the production crew. Rain and fake snow don't mix well.

Eventually, after the action was completed, and director Ephron had yelled "Cut!" for the final time of the afternoon, it became a meet-and-greet session: There was Travolta, making like a political candidate and pressing the flesh with the throng of fans gathered behind a barricade.

Cameras clicked. Hands were touched. Little girls shrieked.

And for nearly 15 minutes, Travolta, looking overly tanned (for the role, of course), signed everything in sight — including a crumpled $5 bill, which Aris Doykos said was now worth $100.

Said Doykos, a 14-year-old who lives just down the block: "I'm probably going to frame it."

©2000 Sacramento Bee



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