Craig Cobbett beamed like a proud new father as he waited for one of his taxicabs to be smashed into spare parts by a Cadillac on Monday morning.
“We took the engine out, dismantled the suspension and arranged for that rear tire to collapse on itself. The other car won’t have to be going more than 10 or 15 miles per hour to really do some damage,” said Cobbett, co-owner of 207 Taxi. “That car is going to the scrap heap for sure.” And, hopefully, going to movie or TV screens around the world.
Cobbett and 207 Taxi’s co-owner Garrin Brady donated one of their cabs to help with the filming of “Night of the Living Deb,” a zombie romantic comedy by Mainer Kyle Rankin. They were among several dozen people who watched the first day of public filming in Portland, at the corner of India and Newbury streets.
The onlookers were treated to a car crash when a 1970s Cadillac, going just about 15 mph, smacked the cab and made it collapse like an accordion. They also saw a half-dozen or so of their fellow Mainers looking ghastly as zombie extras, their clothes spritzed with fake blood from a spray bottle.
Lindsay Roberge, 26, a sales rep from Portland, looked extra scary when the bright mid-morning sun lit up the red contact lenses she wore for her scene.
Her clothes were covered with streaks of fake blood, and bloody make-up was congealed and black on her lips.
“We’re told the blood is water-soluble and will wash off,” she said. “But I’d never wash these clothes anyway. I’ll want to keep these the way they are.”
Derek Brigham of Biddeford, another zombie extra, waited on a sidewalk for much of the morning before his big scene. He got to pretend to be crushed between the taxi and the Cadillac. His beard oozed with blood and his eyes were void of emotion, as any zombie’s eyes should be.
The movie stars a team of veteran Hollywood actors, including Michael Cassidy of the TBS sitcom “Men at Work,” Maria Thayer of the hit comedy “Forgetting Sarah Marshall,” and Ray Wise, whose credits include “RoboCop” and “Twin Peaks.”
It will also star the people and places of Portland, thanks to Rankin’s passion for the city and the business community’s generosity. The film has a $160,000 budget, extremely meager by Hollywood standards, so free props, supplies and locations were a key for Rankin and his crew.
“Kyle conceived this story with Portland in mind, with all the places where he lived, worked, dined and hung out,” said Cassidy, who is Rankin’s co-producer on the film. “People here have been so generous to us, so willing to get involved. … Back in L.A., people are pretty blasé about being involved in a film.”
In Portland, merchants were eager to trade locations or products for the chance to get their businesses or logos into the movie. Filming locations for “Night of the Living Deb” will also include Andy’s Old Port Pub on Commercial Street, GoBerry Yogurt on Fore Street, and the Western Promenade park.
On Monday, filming began inside Coffee By Design on India Street, whose owners allowed zombies to be made up and spattered with fake blood in the coffee storage room.
Rankin said he plans to shoot in Maine for about 18 days, wrapping up in early July. He doesn’t know yet how the film will be distributed.
After talking about the film and local hospitality, Cassidy walked onto Newbury Street to lie down. In the film, it will look like he was almost run over by a car.
“These two zombies are supposed to come and try to take me out,” said Cassidy, pointing to Roberge and Skip Ernst, 41, of Sidney. “But then this car comes and runs them over.”
Portlanders learned Monday that filmmaking is a slow process, and that a finished film rarely looks like what happened on the set.
The scene Cassidy described – two zombies getting hit by a car, which then crashes into another zombie and a taxi cab – took about three hours to film. Nearly three dozen crew and cast members filled Newbury Street.
No zombies were actually hit. They were filmed running into the street and flopping to the pavement on spots marked with masking tape. Then, the zombies would leave and the Cadillac would run over the marks.
“I can’t believe how many people are here doing this, how much it takes to set up every shot,” said Bridget Chamberlain, a legal secretary from Falmouth who was bloodied Monday for her role as a zombie. “This sure is a lot more fun than typing.”
Chamberlain works with her husband, David Chamberlain, in an office on India Street. The Chamberlains allowed their law office to be used as a wardrobe room for the shoot. The building’s exterior will be an apartment building in the film.
Rankin, a native of York who made indie films in Portland in the 1990s, said he has tried to persuade studios to back a film project in Maine for years. He said the biggest reason studios resist is the lack of competitive tax incentives for filmmakers. So, Rankin decided to raise money on his own through the fundraising website Kickstarter.
Rankin, 41, is best known for winning Matt Damon and Ben Affleck’s Project Greenlight, a contest for aspiring young filmmakers. That allowed Rankin and fellow Maine filmmaker Efrem Potelle to make a $2 million movie called “The Battle of Shaker Heights,” with former Disney child star Shia LaBeouf. His other films include the horror-comedy “Infestation” (2009) and the SyFy network series “Nuclear Family” (2012).
Besides getting Portland places and people into his film, Rankin’s shoot may show Hollywood one clear reason to come to the state: the food.
Thayer, who plays the red-headed “Deb” in the film, talked glowingly about what she’s been eating during her week in Portland.
“I had Brussels sprouts at Blue Rooster (Food Co.). Someone just gave them to me, and I couldn’t believe how good they were,” said Thayer, minutes before she drove the Cadillac that smacked the cab and crushed a zombie. “I have never had oysters in my life, but now I’ve had them at Eventide (Oyster Co.) and J’s (Oyster), and I think I’m addicted. I’m not sure I can leave here.”