Movies are always a big deal—it’s one of the biggest industries in the U.S. and the world over, and its very nature makes people famous. When big, famous movies are filmed in St. Louis, does that fame trickle down?
During the first half of 2009, director Jason Reitman, along with actor George Clooney, created Reitman’s third film Up in the Air in and around St. Louis, using Lambert International Airport for several scenes. Local talent was called upon for various roles in the production of Up in the Air, and I was fortunate in having a sit-down with two of them.
Nichole Tarpea and I had our sit-down at Las Palmas, a Mexican restaurant in Woodson Terrace, just southeast of Lambert. Nichole is a University of Missouri-St. Louis graduate that worked with the locals that were hired on the film. Sipping her $6 margarita (on the rocks), she described her job as “a liaison between the production assistants and the extras.” She worked extensively with the wardrobe department in this capacity, because “we shot 7 different cities in Lambert. One day we’d need to be Dallas, and the next would be Miami.” Nichole, along with all of the production crew, worked 20-hour days while filming in Lambert. She told me some of their stories over carnitas and salsa. “If any of the extras got bored, we just let them watch the runway,” and how “there was no smokescreen between us and George Clooney— when we sat down in to eat, he was right there.” She told me that many people were “Clooney hungry.”
I asked her what kind of impact this film would have on the careers of those who worked on it, especially if it wins any of the six Oscar awards it has been nominated for. She put her fork down for a moment of thought. “I’m not so sure about the production assistants, but definitely the higher-ups.” She explained that the production crew in St. Louis worked on Bill (now called Meet Bill, the 2007 movie) as it was being filmed here, and they’ve produced several commercials as well. She hopes that the presence of films such as Up in the Air will continue to attract film productions here. “I mean, the city has a big tax break, and not many people use it.” The experience of working on this film has “legitimized” her own career—she would have had “to move to L.A.” to experience this job in normal circumstances.
In her case, as for many, a big, famous movie can propel someone’s career, well, up.