By: Emily Vaughan
Fort Lauderdale got a taste of Hollywood when actors Owen Wilson and Eric Dane materialized at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newsroom on March 7. But it wasn’t a casual visit. The actors were scoping out a setting for their upcoming movie Marley & Me, based on the best-selling memoir by former Sun-Sentinel and Philadelphia Inquirer columnist John Grogan about his relationship with his yellow Labrador retriever.
Three weeks later, the comedy went before the cameras at the Sun- Sentinel, with about 180 actors and crew members around. Forgoing a set or soundstage, the director, David Frankel, embraced the newspaper’s layout and atmosphere. “The kind of branding and newsroom environment they wanted was here,” says Editor Earl Maucker.
The production team started negotiations with the Sun-Sentinel more than six months ago. Production crews had come by to size up the space and work with the lighting and other elements in the newsroom, and then had to dress the “set” to make it appear more dated ? it’s “time- period sensitive,” Maucker says. The movie takes place during the late ’80s, he adds, and at that time, “flat-screen computers did not exist.”
The movie crew and newsroom adjusted their schedules and routines to accommodate each other. Scenes where Wilson and Dane walked through the newsroom were filmed earlier in the day, sometimes starting as early as 6 a.m., while the newsroom was relatively quiet. Maucker knew it would be disruptive, but says he had talked to the producers about how to still “get the newspaper out” (which they managed to do during the late-March filming).
Most of the scenes were filmed in a small area of the newsroom in and around Maucker’s office. Some staffers had to give up their cubicles during the shoot, but he says they were excited about the filming, and didn’t mind the inconvenience. The editor had to vacate his own office.
Wilson and Dane spent time familiarizing themselves with the newsroom and newsroom culture. “They’re both very, very engaged,” Maucker reports. The actors chatted with him about the nuances and language of the business. Dane, a fan of All the President’s Men, was particularly excited to be in the newsroom environment. Wilson even asked for the editor’s phone number to talk things over further.
The visit caused a stir, but “I would like to think the newsroom is not starstruck,” Maucker says. “Everyone was very respectful.” Still, Dane’s presence did get some Grey’s Anatomy fans excited. “Everyone was like, ‘Oh McSteamy’s here!'” says Senior Copy Editor Kathy Laskowski.
Laskowski is a friend of Grogan, and appears as a character in his book. She once dog-sat Marley for the Grogans for a few weeks while they were on vacation. “Marley was an 80-pound puppy ? and if you know what 80 pounds is and what a puppy is, you know it was a handful,” she says. “I had a lot of adventures with him that didn’t even make the book.”
When the producers offered staffers the chance to be extras, Laskowski jumped at the chance. She and about half a dozen others answered the casting call, supplying full-length pictures and information on their height, and even the make and model of their cars. Laskowski planned her vacation around the shoot: “We were told they would give priority to people in the newsroom as long as it didn’t disrupt anything. This is John’s story, but this is my story too.
“I wanted to be a trivia question,” she adds. “Which character in the book also appeared in the movie?”
Owen Wilson’s desk in the film actually belongs to business writer Harriet Johnson Brackey. She agreed to let the producers use her desk so long as her pictures of her twin daughters remained there for the shoot.
The newsroom may have been hectic for a few days but most staffers were just excited to be a part of a movie, especially one with ties to their staff, says Maucker: “I’ve got nothing but good things to say about John Grogan. So anything we can do to help the movie, we will.”