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Generating Hollywood Heat in D.C.

Residents Gawk, Gripe Over Filming of Thriller

By Nicole Fuller
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2004; Page B03

The artificial sweat seemed unnecessary on an 85-degree summer day in Washington.

But in true Hollywood style, a pair of production assistants crowded around actor Jeffrey Wright at13th and Clifton streets NW, furiously spritzing his forehead and gray T-shirt.


Video technician Rich Klompus moves equipment at 13th and Clifton streets NW to help set up a scene for the filming of "Syriana," which stars George Clooney, Matt Damon and D.C. native Jeffrey Wright. (Dudley M. Brooks -- The Washington Post)

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The sweat had to be just right: They were making a movie. Shooting began yesterday on "Syriana," a geopolitical thriller, starring George Clooney and Matt Damon, in front of Cardozo Senior High School, with co-star Wright, a Southeast Washington native, jogging on a sidewalk.

"I grew up with this heat," said Wright, who was raised in Hillcrest, as he was whisked off in an air-conditioned car to an undisclosed location for lunch. He had jogged west on Clifton Street more than a dozen times, four crew members following him in an all-terrain vehicle with a movie camera. Wright had stopped at the corner, breathing heavily for effect. Then someone had bellowed, "Cut!"

In a town where senators don't elicit much more than a head turn, the hordes of white vans and tractor-trailers that lined nearby streets, and the word that Wright has starred in such popular films as the 2000 remake of "Shaft" and the current remake of "The Manchurian Candidate" was enough to draw area residents outside to greet the visitors.

Not everybody was thrilled. "All I know is, it caused me undue anguish today because there's restricted parking over here," Sandra Ford, 60, said. "But it's exciting."

Crystal Palmer, director of the D.C. Office of Motion Picture and TV Development, said the movie's production company, Warner Bros., doesn't pay to film in the city, but the nine-day shoot will yield revenue for various businesses in the area, such as hotels and catering companies.

Palmer said Warner Bros. paid for a police detail to keep the traffic moving after parking was prohibited on parts of Florida Avenue and Clifton and 13th streets.

"We tend to do well" at drawing movie crews, Palmer said. "Political themes seem to be quite popular."

"Syriana" publicist Rob Harris declined to say whether Clooney or Damon will be in the city or whether parts of the movie will be shot in any areas of heightened security downtown. He hinted that shots of the Capitol dome or the White House might make the final cut.

"We're obviously shooting it in Washington to identify some of those scenes as taking place in Washington," Harris said by cell phone.

Harris said the crew has filmed north of Austin and will make stops in Baltimore, Europe and Morocco. He declined to discuss specifics, except to say the film is scheduled to be released next year.

On the set, crew members, who noshed on biscotti and roast beef wraps with artichoke spread, goat cheese and greens, were tight-lipped about details.

"While we're filming in Washington, we don't want you to do a story," producer Michael Nozik said in between takes. "We want to settle in a bit before we get inundated with visitors."

The beginning of that flood was already there.

Hinmar Ventura, 20, wanted to see what the throng of crew members, standing around talking into small microphones, were up to.

He pushed along his 18-month-old nephew, Ariel Arias, who seemed more concerned with getting a swig of water from his bottle. Ventura stood mesmerized near a black tarp where two flat-screen televisions played back scenes filmed moments before.

"I mean, I never seen this around here before," Ventura, wide-eyed and smiling, said. "It's a totally different thing. I can't wait to go see it."

The gawkers were joined by the opportunists. Larry Burch, 48, a machinist, came to visit his brother but ended up trying to land a job in the film. "I wanted to try to get an extra spot in it," Burch said. "They said I had to call some number."

Some were not enthusiastic about the movie crew's presence. A pair of construction workers installing marble in a condominium were asked to turn off an electric saw while the crew filmed. "I couldn't even work," said Keith Murray, 28, of Upper Marlboro.

"We don't live in the movie world," said another worker, who declined to give his name. "I'm trying to make a living. I'm a George Clooney fan and everything like that, but George [has] got millions. I'm just trying to pay my mortgage."


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