DiNiro, Jolie and Damon in the Adirondacks

Two summers ago, when I was working at Great Camp Sagamore as a tour guide, we were privileged to be the site of the filming of a major motion picture, The Good Shepherd. The Camp, in fact the entire Central Adirondacks, were abuzz for some time before hand with discussion—despite attempts at secrecy. I thought that now the film has come out, it would be a perfect time to relate reminiscences of my glimpse behind the scenes.

About a week before the filming began, a number of what appeared to be semi trucks arrived. The teamsters began to set up equipment, especially their trucks, which turned out to be massive portable generators and a set of huge cranes. They also constructed large floating platforms that the cameras would eventually be placed on.

The night before the filming, a massive caravan arrived around 3am: tech squads, sets, equipment, actors, costumes, makeup, directors, food (called ‘craft services’) and who knows what else. Dozens upon dozens of all types of vehicles.

Having acted a bit on the stage, I think for me the most distinctive features of film acting is the fact that it is incredibly boring. The same scene is repeated 10, 20, 40, 50 times, each time with cameras at a slightly different angle, or with tiny modifications to the lens or acting style. Just outside of the camera lens are dozens of people, holding equipment, clipboards, food, or simply watching. Anyone can watch, sometimes from only a few feet away, so long as they don’t get in the shot or make a noise. The entire camp remained absolutely silent during filming—numerous directoral assistants with headphones were positioned around the set to maintain the absolute quiet. It was a world away from the week before, when we housed a children’s camp.

Filming went on throughout the day and night—not continuously but staggered throughout, with preparations for a shot going on when filming wasn’t. Lights on the cranes could transform night into day; large (10-15 m) screens carried by crews of men could transform midday into twilight.

Now, the food at Sagamore is generally delicious, however, any chef becomes a bit tiresome after four or five months. I think that, after the initial excitement wore off, perhaps the best part of the experience was the food. Simply put, movie stars eat well. Not just the stars, but everyone. Three meals a day were served under a huge tent, with perhaps the longest buffet line I’ve ever seen. All gourmet. Not only that but a snack-shack, similar to ones that serve fried dough at the state fair, was open 24 hours a day.

Of course, I’ve drawn you in with stars in the title of this post, but I haven’t mentioned them yet. The film is directed by DiNiro and he was a regular presence about the set, biking from one end of the camp to the other at all hours. The other big names that were around—note I haven’t spoken to any of them—were Angelina Jolie, Matt Damon and William Hurt. Of Angelina and Matt, we saw little: when not actually in filming, they were found up in their trailers. When a shot began, a black Lincoln Navigator would drive up and pick up the star in the shot, it would drive them the approximately 400 meters to the shot and idle the entire time they were filmed. If Angelina and Matt were in a shot together, there would be two Navigators waiting side-by-side to take them to side-by-side trailers. William Hurt, on the other hand, walked back and forth, socialized with us common folk and ate under the big tent with all of us.

It was in all a strange week, a mixture of tedium and silence with the strange and wonderful. You can see Sagamore, and a few famous names, starring in the Good Shepherd today. You’ll recognize the Main Lodge in the background of a large party shot, I’m told the one where Angelina and Matt meet each other for the first time (I haven’t seen it yet myself, though I will soon).


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