By Steven A. Rosenberg
About 100 people stood silently for several hours, staring at the commuter rail platform in Swampscott. Adam Sandler huddled with a group of Hollywood producers and camera operators as a train rolled into a scene that included actors David Spade and Alexander Ludwig. After the final take, Sandler left a gaggle of technicians, crossed the street, and waded into the cheering crowd.
He wore a blue T-shirt, baggy silver gym shorts, red sneakers, and a Swampscott Big Blue baseball cap, the same hat he would sport three nights later at the MTV Movie Awards in Los Angeles. On the normally quiet Swampscott street, he schmoozed with the crowd, smiling for pictures, autographing anything that was handed to him, and even cradling and kissing a baby.
When asked why he chose to film nearly all of his new movie, “Grown Ups 2,” in Swampscott and Marblehead this summer, he simply answered, “I love it here.” He waved off any further questions, returned to his fans, and soon left the set.
Sandler’s appearance represents the symbiotic relationship between Hollywood and the North Shore. In recent years, more scenes for big budget films have been filmed here, and Sandler discovered the area three years ago while filming for the original “Grown Ups” on Marblehead Neck.
“Grown Ups 2” is the first film that will be shot almost entirely in Swampscott and Marblehead. The North Shore offers Hollywood a small-town feel with sweeping ocean views. It also allows producers to take advantage of a state tax credit program to save millions on a film.
For local residents, it’s a chance to have a brush with fame, and for some businesses — such as hotels, restaurants, and builders — to make money from the film.
A few days earlier, Mimi Getz stood on a sloped street in Marblehead trying to get a glimpse of the actor Andy Samberg — best known for “Saturday Night Live” — who she desperately hoped to meet. She already has met her share of stars, including Sandler and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, and said hobnobbing with the famous brings its own unique status.
“When I meet them, I — at least — feel famous to people who haven’t met them,” said Getz, a Marblehead High School student.
Since late last month, Hollywood has set down its footprint in these two small coastal communities better known for their beaches, quiet streets, and Revolutionary War history. Sandler is producing and starring in the film, along with David Spade, Alexander Ludwig, Chris Rock, Kevin James, Salma Hayek, Maya Rudolph, Taylor Lautner, Katy Perry, Nick Swardson, and Steve Buscemi.
According to location manager Charles Harrington, the film portrays one day in the life of a Hollywood agent played by Sandler, who has moved back to his hometown. “Adam is really involved in the look of the movie,” said Harrington. “He wanted to give the feeling that it’s all the same town.”
Harrington said Sandler got to know the area and liked the people and local restaurants. Sandler and the rest of the movie’s stars have rented houses in the two towns and plan to bring their families here this summer, said Harrington.
Now three weeks into production, reminders of Hollywood seem to be everywhere. On the main roads, telephone poles are festooned with yellow signs pointing film trucks and actors toward the day’s set. A former synagogue site — now owned by the town of Swampscott — is jammed with dozens of trucks and trailers, which lumber in and out of the lot in the early and late hours. Down the road, at the former General Glover restaurant, the parking lot is filled with vehicles, such as school busses and police cruisers, that bear the film’s fictional town name, “Stanton.”
Also in Swampscott, workers are constructing an 80-foot-high, 45,000-square-foot soundstage that will serve as Sandler’s house and backyard in the film, complete with a large in-ground pool, tennis courts, a pool house, and dozens of real trees. Harrington said filming in the soundstage — located behind the town’s football field — will begin on July 1, and continue for as long as 17 days. Some of the scenes scheduled at the sound stage include a party, where the J. Geils Band will perform.
To date, most locals have obliged the production by treating it like any other business. Crowds have been respectful around the sets, and when people do come to watch, at least one actor usually poses for photos. For the towns, and other area businesses, the production means a boost to the area economy.
In May, one of the film’s producers, Barry Bernardi, told a Marblehead School Committee meeting that there were plans to spend millions locally. So far, town officials like what they’re seeing. Marblehead is expected to garner over $100,000 for allowing scenes to be shot at its middle school, Old Town Hall, and a playground. Swampscott is receiving $248,000 for the use of the former temple, its middle school, and the athletic field where the soundstage is being built. In addition, area police are expected to profit by working hundreds of extra detail hours. Both towns have not decided how they will spend the money, but officials say it will help supplement next year’s budget.
“In these financial times, this is a great asset for the community,” said Swampscott Town Administrator Thomas Younger. Younger said before the film leaves town, he plans to meet with the movie’s producers and strategize on how to bring more Hollywood films to Swampscott.
Every little purchase helps, said Ann Steriti, who owns Periwinkles cafe in Salem. She has already catered several lunches for the production. “It’s an added bonus, and it’s not something that we expected and it helps,” she said. In Nahant, Linda Tanfani has been able to add to her savings by renting a couple of rooms to two drivers on the set. “I’m thrilled about the film because I only wanted a short-term rental and this turned out to be perfect,” she said.
With 300 workers, the film ranks among the largest employers in the two towns. More than 100 are working all hours to construct the soundstage where the film’s final scene will be shot with J. Geils.
David Townsend has seen the soundstage at a distance, and says he has no plans to see it up close. He is the fourth generation in his family to raise a family in Swampscott, and his late father — who once served as town engineer — volunteered to design the athletic field where the soundstage is now rising. Townsend approves of the field being transformed into a place where J. Geils will perform at a party. After the scenes are shot, the pool, tennis courts and all of the soundstage will be disassembled.
If given the opportunity, Townsend would ask Sandler and the rest of the Hollywood crew to keep the soundstage up for a week after the film concludes, and allow the town to hold a real pool party there.
“And, of course, we’d have to have J. Geils as the band,” he said.
Steven A. Rosenberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @WriteRosenberg.