It was just about a year ago that my husband and I spent a few exciting days hanging around downtown New Haven, Connecticut in the vicinity of the Yale University campus. The fact of our being in New Haven wasn't in itself remarkable or exciting — it's our home turf, as we work there and live in the surrounding suburbs — but the city had been transformed by the magic of cinema, and that was exciting.
For roughly two weeks last summer, shortly after Yale commencement turned this normally bustling college town summertime-sleepy, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas brought a huge production crew to town to film some major scenes for the fourth Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. While New Haven has been used for film shoots before, nothing of this magnitude had ever come to town.
Prior to the actual filming, a large production crew spent time in the city getting set up. Chapel Street, New Haven's main shopping thoroughfare which borders the Yale campus, was transformed into the home of fictional Marshall College, the school at which Professor Henry "Indiana" Jones teaches archeology. It was fascinating to watch our trendy boutiques and the local Starbucks turned into barber shops and storefronts circa 1950-something. The attention to detail given the transformation was nothing short of fascinating: in addition to the care taken to disguising and re-decorating the storefronts, crews re-painted the fire hydrants and street lamp poles, and put black tape over the white parking stripes on the street. Tractor trailers full of camera equipment, lighting equipment, sound equipment, and materials with which to decorate the sets began to arrive. If you ever wondered where those multi-million dollar film budgets go, this would have given you a good idea of how the money gets spent.
As interesting as it was to wander around campus at lunchtime and watch the crews prepping the sets and unloading equipment, the real excitement came a week or so later when Spielberg and company showed up. People came downtown in droves to see if they could catch a glimpse of Harrison Ford and just generally partake in the excitement. Harried production assistants spent a great deal of time keeping the crowds at bay and answering an endless stream of questions from curious onlookers. Those of us who knew our way around some of the less public parts of campus were able to glimpse (at a distance) some of the shooting. We did get to see Shia LaBoeuf's stunt double close up and personal one day (dressed in his biker leathers), and were ultimately rewarded with a brief glimpse of Harrison Ford, who was fairly reclusive during the shoot. We think we may have a photograph of the back of Mr. Spielberg's head, but that may be wishful thinking. Spielberg, it should be noted, was extremely gracious to the many fans who came to watch and was seen signing autographs and chatting with onlookers when time permitted.