A neon sign for a bar called Sonny’s glows in the night at an intersection in southwest Detroit. The cars in the street are parked haphazardly. The sidewalks are scattered with pieces of clothing, oddly enough. Suddenly, a man and a woman run tentatively away from the bar. “Keep up,” says Hayden Christensen, who’s best-known for playing Anakin Skywalker in two “Star Wars” prequels. He’s talking to Thandie Newton, star of “Crash” and “Mission Impossible II.”
The actors are working on a scene for “Vanishing on 7th Street,” an independent movie that has aspects of a psychological thriller and a horror film.
The story involves a blackout and the mysterious disappearance of a city’s population. Five remaining people must try to figure out what they’re up against. Detroit will play itself in the film. For this scene, the crew has turned an existing building on Junction Street into the exterior of a tavern.
The movie, which has a budget of around $10 million, needed a setting that would evoke the right look and feel for the subject matter. After considering locations in Iowa, Washington, New York and Canada, the filmmakers chose metro Detroit for creative reasons and for Michigan’s generous tax breaks for filmmaking. “The city is such a character in the way we’re shooting the movie,” says producer Celine Rattray. “The city looks a combination of beautiful and, at times, haunting. We hope that it portrays Detroit in a beautiful light.”
The “Vanishing” team has been impressed by the architecture and friendliness of local communities as it’s gone about its scary-making business. And in practical terms, when you’re shooting an eerie scene like the street exterior on this particular night, it’s easier to shut down locations and create an empty landscape in Detroit than it would be in a more crowded urban area.
Executive producer Kelly McCormick, who grew up near East Lansing, has been struck by the fact that “there’s beauty and there’s brilliance juxtaposed to extreme destitution and emptiness.” Says McCormick, “What’s been amazing is that you’ll find empty streets without any trouble here. You’ll find empty buildings that are either still together or partly dismantled or ruined in some way, shape or form that show that people have sort of already vanished. And that’s really fascinating.”
The director is Brad Anderson, whose credits include the 2004 film “The Machinist” with Christian Bale, and several episodes of the Fox series “Fringe.” John Leguizamo also stars.
The cast and crew have filmed at several locations, including a portion of I-75, the movie theaters at Dearborn’s Fairlane Town Center and Detroit churches and bars.
Scenes were shot at WXYZ-TV (Channel 7) studios in Southfield, a handy setting because Christensen plays a TV reporter. Weekend anchor Dave LewAllen and traffic reporter Erin Nicole landed small parts. Filming is supposed to be completed next week on the roughly five-week shoot. The movie is expected to be released next year.
McCormick finds hope in the fact that projects like this are discovering Detroit’s visual potential.
“It’s like, take advantage of what this landscape is,” she says. “In a sense, then we can rebuild or we can find something interesting in it or something valuable in it still, which, for us, is this awesome landscape that makes our movie look bigger than we ever thought it was going to look.”
Contact JULIE HINDS: 313-222-6427 or firstname.lastname@example.org