Focus Trek #4 - That's a Wrap! Part 2: Cape Cod

May 12, 2015  •  1 Comment

A story of the Big Apple and the filming of a movie on Cape Cod.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

-T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets


The Experience Trip Part 2: Cape Cod   [Go to Part 1]

Part 1 of this story detailed what was, in essence, a four mile hike through Manhattan. The weather cooperated nicely as was evidenced by the multitudes that flocked to Central Park. It's hard to say enough about green space in a city, one of the only sources of free oxygen in an area usually blanketed by the fumes of commuters. Even though I am from Illinois, I have a fondness for Central Park and a personal connection to it's developers, Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux. These two also designed and developed my home town of Riverside, IL as "a village in a park".

Central ParkCentral ParkCrowds fill Central Park on a spring day in Manhattan

So, from the green space in the city, we move up the coast to the green space that is the coast of Massachusetts to Cape Cod, where the filming of "Year by the Sea" was well underway. If you are not aware of Joan Anderson's best selling memoirs, you can read about the whole project here By the time this article is public I believe the bulk of the filming will be completed, but the effect the cast and crew had on the area was obvious with an influx of activity and customers during a normally slow off-season period.

It's nice not to be on a schedule sometimes. We were not in any hurry to get to Wellfleet and arrived late in the afternoon on Sunday. There was no TV or internet in the house we were staying in, so we picked up some groceries (at the only place open on the Cape it seemed) and settled in for a quiet evening. After sleeping in late and finally having a charged phone, I got a message from Laura, the associate producer, that they were going to start filming at the Nauset Lighthouse on the Atlantic side very early. Sleep wins out though, and so we would have to meet up with them at their next location.

Around 8:30am we met the crew at the Nauset Lighthouse in Eastham right after they were finished shooting their first scenes. Compared to many lighthouses in this area, it is fairly modest and in extremely great shape despite being recently moved across the road from it's original location. Due to natural shoreline erosion, it was in danger of sliding off the cliff. This is a National Park, and they are doing a great job preserving part of our heritage. But there is still an ongoing threat of erosion.

"Cape Cod is gradually narrowing. It loses more land than it gains. In several thousand more years, it will no longer exist."

Nauset LightNauset Light1/2000 @ f/4.8 52mm

The next scene was being filmed on a private beach in the area, so we headed off to watch. The path down to the beach included a small cliff that reminded me of the shores on Lake Michigan. In this case the rising and falling tides, and the occasional storm, create a natural wall that is constantly evolving. The whole area actually reminded us of Leland, except for the accents.  

While waiting for the actors to arrive, everyone was busy preparing the area. We watched the prop-master below walking what seemed like a quarter mile down the beach in the water collecting a bundle of seaweed that the actor would eventually use in the next scene.

PropmasterPropsThe prop master searches for seaweed to use in the upcoming scene This crew member backed up very carefully and used a sweeper on the sand in an attempt to make the sand appear untouched.
Sweeping sandSand sweepingA crew member sweeps the sand to remove evidence of footprints The day started out chilly, but I think it was rather temperate for the season. The sky was starting to open up and give us some sun.
On SetOn setWe wait for filming to being on the beach I think I need to apologize to this crew member. He was bringing down lighting equipment and had to negotiate a cliff. As he got close to the edge, the wind whipped up and caught the scrim he was carrying and the tripod leg went right through it. Zooming in on the photo I could see he was looking directly at me at the time. If I distracted you sir, I'm terribly sorry, that's not exactly the shot I was looking for.  I'm glad there was some tape on hand.

Tripod and ScrimTripod and ScrimCrew members negotiate the cliff down to the beach with the equipment When it all comes down to it, this is a complicated process, involving many people, with many jobs. They all work in a sort of organized mayhem, everything planned, but eventually slightly improvised to fit the conditions. One take gives them a canvas to work from. Each successive take changed slightly to account for things not anticipated until it's seen on the monitor. 

Quiet on the setQuiet on the setRehearsing for the next scene Some of the filming was done whenever the sun was filtered by passing clouds, or when my "son" was not wandering down the beach looking for rocks. There is nothing like being guests on a set and seeing one of the crew running toward your child in a desperate attempt to get him out of the shot. It's a proven fact that if you have to get someone's attention, they will always be upwind.

A note on the cloud below, it seemed to hover endlessly over the dune, probably a result of the ocean breeze being swept up into the cooler forest air, but despite the scientific explanation, they could not have had better weather for this shot.

DirectionDirectionXandy Janko discusses the current scene with Karen, Celia and the head cameraman A note on the photos in this article, I am not going to publish close up photos of Karen Allen or S. Epatha Merkerson (although I have some). You'll remember Karen from her role as Marion in the Indiana Jones movies and Epatha from Law and Order (as well as Reba the mail lady from Pee-Wee's Playhouse!). To be honest, even though we were feet away from each other many times, I did not meet either one personally. But I don't feel that is the object of this article. I do have to say that they looked like they were both having a lot of fun and were as laid back and unpretentious as I imagined them. I am a big Raiders of the Lost Ark fan, so watching Karen Allen work was a big thrill. I think their presence gave this independent movie a huge boost. Fortunately, I did get the opportunity to meet the author, Joan Anderson. She was in and out with her camera taking shots throughout the day.

Instead, you get shots like this of Director Xandy Janko and Producer Bill Latka discussing the current scene. Bill is another Michigan connection for this film, hailing from the Traverse City area. That day I wore my 49654 hat and he was wearing a Crystal Mountain hat. I think the kids call that "representin'", right? No? Oh, I'm sorry, I'm told I can't say things like that.

DiscussionDiscussionDirector Xandy Janko and Producer Bill Latka discuss the current scene

Here we were able to view what the camera was filming on a remote monitor. You can see the actors down the beach. The reflection in the monitor is not Xandy, but Ted who runs the nearby Wellfleet Motel. They were host to a good number of the cast and crew.  MonitorMonitorWatching the scene being filmed remotely


The kids kept themselves busy building a "stone throne".

Stone ThroneStone ThroneThe kids kept themselves busy during the down times The next scene was filmed on the Cape side near Wellfleet. I think the boat below is a crab or lobster boat. There were also a few groups of "clammers" walking around in the shallows. 

ShellfishShellfishI think might cover it I was told there was going to be a "car stunt". I think I might have misinterpreted it as "car jump". I was corrected and told it was more like "a car being driven down a bumpy road real fast". Whatever. I enjoyed watching take after take. Below is the First Assistant Director, Bruce Hall, standing (or sitting) in for Karen Allen in the passenger seat for a quick white-knuckle go-around. The stunt driver is Andria Blackman. The car is played by a squeaky silver Subaru.

Car StuntCar StuntBruce Hall takes a ride  

The Producer's dog helped keep at least one person interested in staying longer...

JF4_0480JF4_0480  The clouds started rolling in late in the afternoon. We left after that scene was shot but I understand they were still shooting until 6:30pm that night.

Cape SideCape SideA beautiful day We took a walk after getting back to the house. Down a back road we walked past a llama farm. These guys were funny. They just love to watch you walk by. There were only two or three outside, but after one saw us, she told the next Llama, and then she told two friends, and they told two friends, and so on and so on and so on. Eventually, you have 30 llamas standing at the fence staring at you in statuesque silence as you walk by. Did anyone catch the Faberge shampoo nod there? No? I'm old.

Llama DramaLlama DramaCurious llamas watch us pass by

Around 8pm I got the notice that we were to report to our wedding scene filming location at 5:30am. That meant going to bed fairly early. We got there while it was still dark around 5:15am. Later, I caught Meredith in mid-yawn (below on the left). We were to bring our own clothes, with options in case what we were wearing wouldn't work. There was a small cadre of costume and make-up people milling around making sure everything matched. 

Hold RoomHolding RoomExtras and other cast members wait for scenes in the holding room One of the wardrobe designers was known as "Purple Pat". Here, she is pinning Meredith's shawl in place.

Purple PatPurple PatMeredith gets some wardrobe help from Purple Pat

Meredith also got a special hairdo from the stylist. Hair DoHair DoMeredith gets some help with her We met a lot of new people, Carol and Joanne here were personal friends of Joan Anderson and were about as thrilled to be part of the production as we were. As most of being an extra is waiting, it was great to have these people to talk to. The extras in the show were a mixture of professional actors and first-timers like us. 



And what do you do when you are waiting to be called for your scene? Most people just talked, our kids got creative. MoMa candidates for sure.

Boredom ArtBoredom Art 1 Boredom ArtBoredom Art 2 Boredom ArtBoredom Art 3

Of course, I know what to do when I'm bored.

RosesRosesVases of roses at Captain Linnel's We were finally called into the reception room and over the next couple hours we were positioned and directed and moved around during the scenes that they were filming. We were "background traffic", there to fake talk and mime drinking. We had fake champagne that was drinkable, but we were told not to or the prop master would put salt in it. We knew she was kidding. At least, I think she was kidding. Enough said. :) When this movie gets to the big screen, look for me in the background talking with DK (one of Xandy's friends from Princeton) at the bar at Joan's son's wedding reception. My wife will be crossing at some point with Daniel.

After that, there were some additional scenes that were being filmed that didn't need the extras. That meant more waiting in the "holding room". After the kids had been there for 12 hours, they decided to call it quits and Erin took them out to shop souvenirs. Not too soon after they left we did film the next scene, an outside reception line for the bride and groom. The last scene was going to be the dancing scene during the reception and I texted Erin to get back as soon as she could if she wanted to be in the scene dancing with me. Otherwise, Xandy said he was going to pick someone for me to dance with. Uh-oh.

Reception Line SceneReception Line SceneCamera crew set up for the reception line scene

Here is part of the preparations for the dancing scene. And in the end, Erin did not get my message in time and Xandy did pair me with someone in the movie to dance with. Who? Well, let's just say she "stands" out. But you'll have to go see the movie to find out who. No, it wasn't Karen Allen. Dancing Under the StarsDancing Under the StarsPreparations are made for the dancing scene

A parting shot of the white roses in the foyer of the restaurant where we filmed White RoseWhite Rose


At GuaposAt GuaposA great end to a great day


After Xandy filmed on final scene, we met him and some of the other producers, directors and crew at Guapo's Tortilla Shack for some "non craft service" food. The lead cameraman talked in great detail about how he applies his craft, which I found fascinating. Being one of several there not in the "business" It was incredible hearing all the details from veteran film makers.




All in all, I have to rank this experience up at the top so far.


I'm certainly not quitting my job to become an actor, however.


But it was great fun to pretend for a day.


What did we learn?


  • On a movie set, know where your kids are at all times, or they might end up SAG accidentally
  • Cape Cod may be 5 degrees south of Leland latitude-wise, but Leland is warmer.
  • The "Cape Cod" style of home is literally the majority of the homes in Cape Cod, it might actually be a law.
  • My brush with fame now includes Karen Allen, next to:
    • Watching a scene and meeting Ted Lange (Isaac the bartender) in his trailer on the set of the Love Boat
    • Spotting John Tesh and Connie Selleca driving up Mulholland Drive. Actually, I didn't actually see them, my wife and friend did, but that counts, right? 
    • Who could forget a "tipsy" Chris Penn down on the Santa Monica Promenade?
    • I met Tom Silva from This Old House, he signed my squishy novelty hammer
    • I did a scene at Improv Olympic in L.A. one night with Neil Flynn, the janitor from Scrubs


Thanks for reading, feel free to comment, anonymously if you prefer!


Ginny Hogan(non-registered)
Well now I've read/seen the second edition and enjoyed it too. Couldn't help but think that so many of those shots could have been mistaken for Big Blue. Thanks for sharing.
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