"Shhh! Explosions Foil Quiet Attempt by The Hunted to Tiptoe Back into Town"

by Jennifer Anderson, Portland Tribune, January 2002

The explosions and gun-toting extras that were welcome novelties last spring now draw worried calls to 9-1-1.

This isn't the casually open movie set of last spring, when Benicio Del Toro and Tommy Lee Jones began filming The Hunted around the Portland area. Del Toro's broken wrist, suffered during a fight scene filmed last June, shut down the production for six months, and shooting only recently resumed.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, secrecy now surrounds the moviemakers. Last spring, the director, William Friedkin, invited the media and Gov. John Kitzhaber to a Northwest Portland set so he could sing the praises of Oregon.

The secrecy is part of worldwide security precautions instituted by Paramount Pictures. The studio, worried about the safety of its movie stars, is allowing no access to the media and is releasing no information publicly about its filming locations.

So it was no wonder that dozens of North Portland residents called the city's 9-1-1 center Tuesday evening. They heard explosions near the bluff overlooking the Columbia River at the same time that two low-flying fighter jets were circling Portland. The jets were searching for a small plane after the pilot allegedly told someone he might fly the plane into a downtown building.

The movie crew that night had been testing special effects for a bomb scene.

"It was a huge noise, and the house kind of shook," said Bonnie Hutchens, who was at home in the St. Johns neighborhood with her husband and 10-year-old daughter. "We saw the plane flying overhead, and at that time the explosions went off. We thought a plane had crashed. It was a little bit unnerving."

Liza McQuade, the film's project manager, said Portland police, the Portland fire department, Federal Aviation Administration, FBI, Coast Guard, Air National Guard base and city officials are being notified in advance when any special-effects filming or testing will take place.

McQuade said St. Johns residents also were notified of the testing. But there were no public notifications of Tuesday night's explosions, and there will be none in the future. The absence of access and information is part of the new directive to keep information about the production hush-hush.

The secrecy is in stark contrast to last spring and summer, when, for 13 weeks, hordes of people watched the Tri-Met bus-turned-MAX train zip across the Hawthorne Bridge, a Del Toro double jump off the bridge into the Willamette River, and car crashes in Northeast Portland.

Portlanders gathered at many locations hoping to catch a glimpse of the stars, if not their body doubles. Filming also was done at Blue Heron Paper Co. in Oregon City, Ross Island, Portland International Airport, a custom-built cabin on Mount Hood and Silver Falls State Park.

In the movie, Jones portrays a wilderness tracker enlisted by the FBI to chase down a serial killer, played by Del Toro, who has been attacking hunters in the woods. The chase leads from the Cascades to Portland.

During some of the filming last year, Portland police say there were a few miscommunications between officers and the crew when the bureau received occasional calls from people who reported seeing guns brandished on the streets at various locations.

"We went to the scene and arrested a couple of folks because they were not near any other person being filmed, and there was no evidence there was a movie going on," said Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a police spokesman. "They were either walking or running down the street with a weapon that turned out to be fictitious."

In each instance, Schmautz said, someone on the film crew explained the situation, and the person was immediately unhandcuffed.

"For the most part, we've been notified and it's gone real great," he said. "These are just the things that happen when they're thinking about filming and we're thinking about police work."

Production was cut short a week away from completion last summer when Del Toro broke his wrist during a staged knife fight with Jones. They had been filming at Silver Falls State Park, southeast of Salem; they'll probably revisit the location to finish the scene, sources said.

This time around, the crew will use various locations to shoot the film's beginning and ending scenes, which involve both Del Toro and Jones.

Earlier this week, art crews contracted by the film were found adding leaves to trees at Gov. Tom McCall Waterfront Park near RiverPlace Marina in preparation for a scene that was shot at the park last May but wasn't completed. Because of the change in seasons, crews in a cherry picker were stringing cables of green silk leaves through a group of trees on the west side of the Hawthorne Bridge.

Another scene, scheduled to be filmed at Willamette Falls, had to be moved to a location in Washington state because the water level was too high.

On Tuesday evening, the Portland 9-1-1 centers switchboard lit up as people called to report both incidents. Dispatchers said the panic interfered with the normal emergency call load, and callers were placed on hold for longer periods of time, causing potentially dangerous situations in real emergencies.

While a similar response to the special effects may happen in the next few weeks, the film, scheduled to open later this year, has brought few inconveniences to the city besides the closure of the Hawthorne Bridge for five weekends last April and May.

The filming does have its benefits to the city. Paramount will leave town having contributed more than $30 million to the local economy, production officials said. More than 250 local workers were hired for the crew, along with 2,500 extras for crowd scenes.

©2002 Portland Tribune

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