Bridgewater watched lights, camera, and explosive action

By Hannah McBride and Noah Bierman
Boston Globe
September 27, 2009

Anyone who was awake near dawn in Bridgewater yesterday may have noticed a boom, followed by a giant shooting fireball over one of the town’s cornfields. Not to worry. The dismantled 727 aircraft had not crashed or blown up, despite the 200-foot-tall mushroom cloud that rose above it.

Hollywood had come to town and choreographed one of those elaborate scenes action-adventure fans have come to expect. “It was an amazing fireball in the sky, very controlled situation. At no point was any of the public in jeopardy,’’ said Lieutenant Bob Mancinelli, of the Bridgewater Fire Department.

Members of the public who wanted to catch a glimpse were kept far away, he said. Mancinelli and at least 50 other public safety professionals from local and neighboring departments stayed up all night for the spectacle, joining hundreds of film crew, who were working on the movie starring Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz.

Officials with 20th Century Fox are calling the movie “Wichita,’’ an “action comedy’’ scheduled for release next summer. Entertainment magazine Variety said Cruise plays “a secret agent who pops in and out of the life of a single woman.’’

Elizabeth Boutilier said she nabbed a spot in her neighbors’ backyard on sleepy Curve Street, where they had started two bonfires. Boutilier, 17, had dozed off, curled up in a chair with a blanket, when the fireball exploded.

“As soon as I heard it, I was up in a flash,’’ she said. The detonation was so big, “it was the only thing you could focus on.’’

She said about 50 people milled around waiting for the explosion, which was pushed back several times as the night wore on. A crew member was updating the crowd with instructions from the set via walkie-talkie.

“He would say, ‘Rolling,’ and we had to be completely silent,’’ she said. “Then he would say, ‘Cut!’ and we could talk again.’’

Christine Sprague, another Curve Street resident who could see the movie scene from her backyard, said her family camped out from midnight until around 5 a.m. when the explosion was set off.’’

“You’re sitting there and you’re covered in blankets. You’re waiting an awful long time,’’ she said. “And then all of a sudden you heard, ‘3. . . 2. . .’ – I’m still getting goose bumps – it was ‘3. . . 2. . . BOOM!’ And that was it.’’

Sprague said the free entertainment gave the gathering a festive atmosphere, with children playing and dancing.
“It was fun, we were laughing hysterically,’’ she said. “You get caught up in the moment.’’

Sprague, her husband, and two sons, 13 and 16, stuck around until the sun came up, said “good night’’ to the neighbors, and retired inside to catch a few hours of sleep. “It was definitely worth waiting for,’’ she said.

Timed pyrotechnics kept the flames in parts of the faux plane smoldering after the initial fire, giving it a realistic appearance. Even professionals like Mancinelli and his friends in the department were impressed with the realism.

“I hope to God that we never have to witness or respond to anything of the magnitude of this,’’ he said.

Lights, camera, boom!
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