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At long last, Leatherheads lights up the big Triad screens

by Mark Burger

It was a dark and stormy night….

Actually, that’s exactly what it was like last Friday evening at the opening of Universal Pictures’ Leatherheads. As you probably know, much of the film was shot in North Carolina – and quite a bit of it in the Piedmont Triad.

So it was hardly a surprise that the area contingent of those involved in its production would celebrate with their own red-carpet opening.

Greensboro’s Derek Gibson, who appeared in the film as a reporter, arranged the red-carpet premiere on the film’s opening night at the Palladium Cinemas 14 in High Point. Along with a contingent of fellow film extras known as “The Triad Leatherhead Extras,” these local folk all had their own stories to share about the making of the movie and about their own little taste of hobnobbing with such stars as George Clooney and Renee Zellweger.

Gibson appears in an early scene with John Krasinski, playing a college football star recruited by Clooney.

“I thought I was brilliant,” Gibson says with a smile. “I thought I really captured the essence of my character.”

This was Gibson’s first taste of screen acting, and he says he’s got the formula down.

“The trick to it is to get up front, smile and do whatever they say,” he jokes.

Actually, says Gibson, “I was a little overwhelmed. My face was huge up on the screen.”

Thanks ­- or no thanks – to the rain, the red carpet got a little wet, but the collective spirits of those in attendance weren’t dampened by the inclement weather. Others attending included actor Stephen Kay (seen last week on page 3 of YES! Weekly), who also appears in the film in a speakeasy scene with Clooney.

Rebecca Clark, the Piedmont Triad Film comissioner, had already seen the film twice previously – including a special screening in Salisbury with stars Clooney and Zellweger – but this time was maybe the most fun she’s had watching it.

“It’s exciting to watch it with the hometown crowd,” she says. “People in the audience were clapping and cheering when they see themselves, and that was fun to see.”

The film, which stars Academy Award winners Clooney (who also produced and directed) and Zellweger, is a rollicking comedy focusing on a semi-professional football team barnstorming across the country during the 1920s. Clooney plays a player/coach who tries to revive his team’s (and the league’s) fading fortunes by drafting a college superstar (Krasinski).

The shenanigans occur off the field as well, with sassy newspaper reporter Zellweger attracted to both Clooney and Krasinki – while the fate of football hangs in the balance.

Also on hand: Jack Thompson, Stephen Root and two-time Tony Award winner Jonathan Pryce, the latter as a manipulative sports agent (imagine that!).

The Leatherheads production team scouted locations throughout the state in September 2006. Among the locations offered by the commission were the old Forsyth County Courthouse, the RJR Building, City Hall and the Millennium Center in Winston-Salem; War Memorial Stadium, Grimsley High School and the chapel of Hagan-Stone Park in Greensboro; and the Yadkin Valley Railroad, which runs through the region.

Leatherheads shot in the Piedmont Triad for approximately two weeks, and according to Clark pumped “at least $5 million” into the local economy – and, she notes, that is probably a conservative estimate. That’s more than the entire budget for the Oscar-nominated Junebug, which filmed in Winston-Salem four years ago.

Then again, Leatherheads has the benefit of a major studio behind it, and reportedly cost in the $60 million range.

Among the other North Carolina resources sought by the production team were, of course, the locals. Hundreds of area residents turned out to vie for the opportunity to appear in the film, whether playing cheering fans at one of the many football games depicted onscreen or filling out background scenes.

Whether the film is a blockbuster or not – it only opened at No. 2 at the nation’s box offices on its opening weekend ­- Clark is certain that Leatherheads will leave a lasting impression on the landscape of both the Piedmont Triad and on Tinseltown itself.

“People will know that this is a great place to shoot,” she says. “It’s fun to film here.”

During the year of 2007, there was an average of one feature film a month in the Piedmont Triad region. Combined with television, commercials and photo shoots, that funneled well over $20 million into the community.

For questions or comments email Mark Burger at marksburger@yahoo.com.

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