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Originally published July 29, 2010 at 10:00 PM | Page modified July 30, 2010 at 6:34 AM

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Seattle provides a backdrop for new film about 2001 City Council race

For the past month, a film called "Grassroots" has been shooting at dozens of locations in Seattle, including The 5 Spot, Re-Bar, the Space Needle, King County Courthouse, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and Seattle Central Community College. The cast includes Jason Biggs ("American Pie"), Cedric the Entertainer, Cobie Smulders ("How I Met Your Mother") and Tom Arnold.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Filming locations:


View "Grassroots" filming locations in a larger map

Who's who

SOME RECOGNIZABLE NAMES from "Grassroots" cast and crew:

Stephen Gyllenhaal, director and co-writer (with Justin Rhodes): A director of film ("Losing Isaiah," "Paris Trout") and TV ("Numb3rs," "Twin Peaks"). Father of actors Maggie Gyllenhaal and Jake Gyllenhaal.

Jason Biggs, actor: Best known as "Jim" in the "American Pie" movies. He portrays real-life journalist Phil Campbell, author of the book on which the film is based ("Zioncheck for President: A True Story of Idealism and Madness in American Politics").

"It required me to exercise different muscles. It's an emotionally intense role," said Biggs, 32, who was making the "American Pie" series when the events of the movie were unfolding. "I'm growing up. I'm embarking on a new phase in my life."

Cedric the Entertainer, actor: Known for HBO comedy specials and films such as "Barbershop" and "The Original Kings of Comedy." He plays Seattle City Councilmember Richard McIver — the target of Grant Cogswell's 2001 political campaign.

Tom Arnold, actor: A veteran TV actor ("Roseanne," "The Tom Show") and one of the originators of "The Best Damn Sports Show Period." He plays Tommy, who is a bartender in a scene set at the Re-Bar.

Cobie Smulders, actor: Known to fans of TV's "Smallville" and "The L Word," she now plays Robin on "How I Met Your Mother." In the film, she is Clair, a monorail activist.

"I love the script ... about boys becoming men and that journey," said Smulders, who flew back and forth during the filming to L.A. to spend time with her 1-year-old. "It's been very intense working on the movie. TV is so quick. It's two takes and you're done. The movie gives you a chance to live in the character for a while."

Information

"Grassroots":

www.grassrootsthefilm.com

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Crammed into an upper bedroom of a tiny Queen Anne home was a crew of 65.

The balcony was stuffed with cameras, lights and equipment. Support staff tiptoed up and down narrow, creaky stairs, piling laptops on couches.

For the past month, a film called "Grassroots" has been shooting at dozens of locations in Seattle, including The 5 Spot, Re-Bar, the Space Needle, King County Courthouse, Youngstown Cultural Arts Center and Seattle Central Community College.

The film is a low-budget operation by Hollywood standards (costing "under $5 or $6 million," according to the filmmakers) with some fairly big names attached.

The director, Stephen Gyllenhaal, is known for his TV work ("Numb3rs") — and also for fathering two well-known film actors, Maggie and Jake Gyllenhaal. The cast includes Jason Biggs ("American Pie"), Cedric the Entertainer, Cobie Smulders ("How I Met Your Mother") and Tom Arnold.

But much of the rest of the crew, from director of photography down, is from Seattle.

The story is about Seattle, too. It's based on a 2001 Seattle City Council race, when unemployed music critic Grant Cogswell challenged incumbent Richard McIver. Cogswell, an eccentric political activist, championed the monorail, but ultimately failed.

"Everybody asks, isn't this story too local?" said producer Peggy Rajski ("Towelhead," "Bee Season"). "But it's a bromance, a buddy comedy, a coming-of-age piece."

The "bromance" blooms between Cogswell and former Stranger writer Phil Campbell, who eventually becomes his campaign manager. The film is adapted from Campbell's book "Zioncheck for President: A True Story of Idealism and Madness in American Politics."

Biggs plays Campbell; Cedric the Entertainer plays political rival McIver. Joel David Moore, recently seen as the scientist in "Avatar," stars as Cogswell. The real Cogswell, now 42, lives in Mexico City and is opening an English-language bookstore. He has visited the set nearly every day for the past three and a half weeks.

"They took liberties with everything," said Cogswell. "But it doesn't matter. They are making a myth."

The film is set almost a decade ago, so designers paid attention to period details. The cast used flip cellphones, smoked at The 5 Spot and typed on bulky blue iMacs. Production designer Laurie Hicks wanted to go for a gritty look, but ironically found the local coffee joints too clean. She ended up transforming the Comet Tavern into the Comet Café.

Ron Leamon, wardrobe head, researched Seattle Magazine advertising, WTO-riot film clips and newspaper archival photos to capture the "hipster look of Seattle." The local designer, who worked on the movie "Battle in Seattle" and the TV show "Twin Peaks," supplemented his own collection of clothes with borrowed items from Goodwill to create a "layered eclectic new and odd look."

David Meinert, Capitol Hill Block Party organizer, advised the filmmakers on music. Although it's set in 2001, the soundtrack will be current, with Seattle bands like Fences and Mt. St. Helens Vietnam Band.

Many concessions were made to the low budget. There are 12 vehicles on set, but six — including the "prop truck" — are sedans, jammed to the brim with papers and props. Dressing rooms are "honeywells," as big as a small walk-in closet, where a table covers the toilet. (One actor described it as a "crypt.") And the Queen Anne set is actually the home of location manager Stacia Beer.

Shooting wraps up in the first half of August. The film hasn't found a distributor yet, but filmmakers hope for fall or spring.

"It's a comedy where you laugh not just from the belly, but from the heart and from the head," said Director Gyllenhaal, 60. He hopes "Grassroots" will join "Sleepless in Seattle" and "Singles."

"Toward the end, there's a whole chorus shout to Seattle. ... It's a love story to Seattle."

Marian Liu: 206-464-3825 or mliu@seattletimes.com

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