When John Sayles wrote “City Of Hope,” (which debuted last month at the Sundance Film Festival), he envisioned an aging industrial town in New Jersey. When it came time to shoot however, Cincinnati fit the bill – with the film’s $3 million budget and 32-day shooting schedule, New Jersey would have been too expensive and too congested.
Sarah Green, who co-produced the film with Maggie Renzi, says the lack of traffic and plentiful parking were major factors in choosing Cincinnati. “John wrote a script with a lot of locations,” she says. “We had to be able to make moves very quickly.”
In addition, the city had the right kind of architecture. “It was built around the same time as cities in New Jersey, and we knew we could make the streets work,” she says. The producers even found the kinds of tall housing projects that the script called for.
Cost was equally important since the low budget demanded a largely non-union production. The only union involved was the Screen Actors Guild, though extras were paid less than the usual SAG rate.
Even though most of the crew was brought in from New York and other cities, the cost of airfares and hotels was not too prohibitive. “The nice thing about location shooting is you can pull people from all over the country,” Green says.
Cincinnati had an edge over other possible locations because Sayles had a pleasant experience filming part of “Eight Men Out” there. The producers solicited photos from several cities, including Pittsburgh, but only scouted in Cincinnati. “We decided to go there first, and we didn’t go any further,” Green remembers.
Because of the greater cost and congestion, Renzi says, “We didn’t entertain the idea very long of shooting in New Jersey.”
Parking permit problem
Renzi’s only complaint was that the film office didn’t hand out enough parking permits. “The city should do more about letting films park legally,” she says. “There’s no other business that gives you this kind of money this quickly.”
But Renzi has no regrets. The producers found plenty of locations to choose from in the city, suburbs and in northern Kentucky. They also got hotel rooms and other services at a reasonable cost. “Every vendor tends to be less expensive the farther away from New York,” Renzi notes. “You can make deals you can’t here.”
Renzi and Sayles, who have lived together for 17 years, both enjoy location shooting since it involves getting to know another part of the country. While making “Matewan” in West Virginia, she says, “We fell deeply in love with the people and the place.”
In Sayles’ future scripts, the location may come first. His next film project may take the couple to New Orleans or Ireland – partly because they would like to spend time in both places.