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That '70s show

WHENEVER A FILM is made, you can always count on two things:

1) They always cast an actor from Brooklyn or New Jersey to do the Southern accent.

2) Everyday life on location is disrupted to some extent.

I've seen a lot of movies made in Savannah over the years, and frankly some have been more disruptive than others.

But the film CBGB, which has briefly transformed parts of downtown to the 1970s, has been as remarkable a case study of civic life/film industry harmony as I've witnessed. Some of this no doubt is due to the small-budget nature of the film.

Though "small" is a relative term - we're still talking several million dollars to make this film about the seminal New York City punk club of the same name and its longtime owner, Hilly Kristal, played by the great Alan Rickman.

(CBGB put a twist on item number one above by having the British-born Rickman do a New Jersey accent.)

The big-budget productions that hit town are typically much more tightly controlling and much more insistent in demanding that us regular folks rearrange our days to conform to Hollywood's whims.

But in the case of CBGB, we have a shoot which is not only smaller in scope, there's clearly been a deliberate effort to include the community as much as possible - and interfere with it as little as possible.

Credit for this goes to the film company, Unclaimed Freight Productions, and our own Savannah Film Office, headed by Jay Self. The two work together to make an enjoyable experience not only for cast and crew, but for residents and tourists as well.

Most CBGB exteriors so far have taken place right in the hub of Savannah's tourist activity. And as our favorite local celebrity might say, we all know which side of the bread the boootter goes on, y'aaaall...

Speaking of Mrs. Deen: Case in point was this past week's shoot on Congress Street, a couple of doors down from her world-famous restaurant.

The film crew meticulously recreated a gritty Manhattan street of the ‘70s, transforming a storefront with the iconic CBGB awning (complete with cryptic subhead OMFUG, which stands for Other Music For Uplifting Gormandizers).

Piled up (fake) trash lined the set's sidewalk. Grime and dirt (also fake) were strewn about, along with empty liquor bottles (not fake). Crews hosed Congress Street down to replicate a New York rain.

But - as you may have noticed in an ad in Connect Savannah the last couple of weeks - all restaurants and nightlife venues on the Congress Street corridor around the corner from busy Ellis Square remained wide open for business the entire time.

While this occasionally made for some pretty surreal scenes - such as the time an assistant director put her finger to her mouth to gently sush bystanders before cameras rolled on Rickman, while a musician inside a Congress Street club continued belting out "Margaritaville" or whatever - it has made for an interesting and largely positive win/win situation for everyone.

And who knows? The hubbub may actually have helped in the filming of the movie - since after all CBGB deals with rock ‘n' roll and, you know, partying.

Many tourists ambled up to the Congress Street set and asked what was going on - distressingly few of them having ever heard of the club CBGB or even of Alan Rickman, who played Severus Snape in several unbelievably popular Harry Potter films.

Others, however, were more, shall we say, focused in their tourism, such as the man in the bright pink polo who left Lady & Sons clutching a large bag of Paula Deen merchandise. He exited the restaurant and proceeded to walk obliviously right through the film set just before cameras started rolling, passing literally inches away from Rickman.

A production assistant calmly explained to the man that he was going the wrong way, right through the scene. He nodded briefly and kept on striding toward Ellis Square, still clutching that big bag of merch.

The crew and bystanders shared smiles, as if to say, "That's show biz." And, I guess, that's rock ‘n' roll too...