Perhaps unbefitting to the historical significance and elegant grandeur of the Converse Memorial Library in Malden, the interior of the library’s historic wing provides the setting for a scene in the recently released Ted 2 comedy starring Mark Wahlberg and Amanda Seyfried.
The scene was created and filmed over a two-week period in July last summer.
Full disclosure: I’m on the Board of Trustees for the library and have an inside view for this story. The Trustees voted on the approval for the filming after the library was approached by the film company, Raging Bear, last June. There was some, but not much hesitation, on approving the deal. According to John Tramondozzi, President of the Library Trustees, “Our main concern was the safety of the building.” The library was offered considerable compensation for the filming, though the project would require a great deal of time and extra work on the part of the library staff.
“Sure, we would have loved for the film to be a period drama,” says Dora St. Martin, the library’s executive director, implying such a film would showcase the library’s stunning architecture and beauty in a more appropriate setting. “But what was offered was Ted 2.”
The building, designed by famed architect H. H. Richardson and housing a museum-quality art collection, had been used before as a set for an episode in the Travel Channel’s cable show The Dead Files, so this was not totally new ground.
But the magnitude of this film shoot far overshadowed the TV series set-up and the trustees sought legal advice, with help from the city, from the Boston Public Library, another historically significant building which has seen its share of filmmaking. Much of the contract details laid out between the library and Raging Bear was borrowed from one used by the Boston library.
What you think about the film depends on your sensibilities. Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane built on the commercial success of the original Ted movie about a teddy bear that comes to life and becomes the lifelong buddy of his owner John Bennett (played by Wahlberg). They share a passion for pot smoking, juvenile humor and a prolonged adolescent lifestyle, but also a fierce loyalty and a rather sweet bond. The humor is generally crude and often offensive to a variety of groups. But the movie provides plenty of laughs, some appropriate for all audiences, a splash of cuteness, and I would even add a few doses of schmaltz.
How I know this, of course, is I needed to go see the film in order to write this article. My critical review—if you liked Ted 1, you’ll like Ted 2. The library scene made the cut, about two minutes of very recognizable footage that was visually rather stunning. I wish I could have rewound the scene.
Both Ted movies are set in Boston and feature iconic landmarks and cameo appearances by several local heroes. In Ted 2, the bear’s year-old marriage to Tammy Lynn (Jessica Barth) is on the rocks and they decide to save it by having a baby leading to sperm donor hi-jinx and eventually a court case centered around the bear’s human rights. The movie plays off of recent civil rights issues in the news.
Seyfried plays a young upstart lawyer who shares John and Ted’s penchant for pot-smoking. Their work on the case leads them to research on past civil rights cases, hence the setting in a law library supplied by the Malden library. Research devolves into more weed-smoking, dancing and general goofiness set to a musical soundtrack.
What was interesting to me, as someone with a TV/film production background, is how the scene was created. As a trustee, I had a couple of opportunities to sit on the set and keep a watchful eye on the care and treatment of the library, once during the set-up phase and once during the filming. Although I generally understand the incredible time, teamwork, and resources it takes to put together a movie, I was still amazed at the amount of work involved in creating this scene. There were five long days of set-up, two days of shooting, and three days for breakdown—all for what amounted to barely two minutes in the finished film.
The action takes place in the original building of the public library which opened in 1885. It was bequeathed to the city by the first mayor of Malden, Elijah S. Converse, who made his fortune with the Converse Rubber Shoe Company—a precursor to Converse sneakers. The reading room, as it is known, is now open only for local history hours, art tours and special events. It features elaborately carved white oak and a high-vaulted ceiling. The central room is encircled with bookshelves and has a balcony level with reading alcoves and more shelves, now housing local history volumes. The main room is set behind a gate that, in the library’s early years, was used to separate the library patrons from the librarians who would retrieve the desired books. The gate had to be removed for the filming.
The next step in transforming the set was to remove all the books on the downstairs shelves and replace them with books that looked more legal in nature. Since the library contract required that they replace each book in exactly the same place, they first had to photograph the hundreds of books on the shelves and remove them in a systematic process. Then truckloads of leather (or likely faux leather)-bound books were brought in to fill the shelves on the bottom floor. For the second floor, they covered up the rows of books with fake book rows—basically just a façade of the spines and the covers that are seen on the ends of each row. This process alone took about two days. Once they got the library to look the way they wanted, they then took about a thousand digital pictures of the interior which allowed them to recreate a computer-generated version of the room into which the animated teddy bear could be inserted.
Meanwhile the lighting set-up was a complicated process of installing huge reflective material for bouncing light, ramping up the electrical system with a generator and snaking lots of cables, which all needed to be trucked in and laid down on a well-protected floor surface.
A central part of the scene involved the main characters dancing on the balcony a la the classic scene in the movie The Breakfast Club. The room had a perfect balcony for such a scene but no one would be allowed to actually step on the balcony, let alone dance on its railing. During the building’s painstaking restoration process, the balcony had been shored up by replacing the elaborately carved columns that help support the structure which had begun to sag. So the set creators had to build scaffolding in front of the balcony and a platform behind the railing so the scene could be created via the magic of chroma key.
There’s also a slow motion effect in the film where the characters appear to be floating in the air. This was created by setting up 75 digital still cameras along a beam on the top of a pole, all set to timers and hooked into an editor’s laptop on the set. The characters were dropping from the top platform to another makeshift platform about four feet down but the slow motion effect makes them appear as if they are floating.
The actual two long days of filming was a thrill for the community as glimpses of the stars and director were seen about town. The Malden High School cafeteria served as “base camp” for the actors and crew, supplying catering and a place for costume changes. There was always a steady throng of onlookers in the area of Salem and Main Street anxious to catch a glimpse of Wahlberg, Seyfried or McFarlane. Many did. And of course the mayor got to go on the set and pose for a picture with Wahlberg and the other stars. Wahlberg has a special connection to the Malden community. The singer-turned-actor donated $10,000 to the Malden Teen Enrichment Center shortly after its grand opening in 2012.
I got to watch some of the filming along with Library Director Dora St. Martin though we were relegated to the entrance to the Carr Gallery across from the reading room and it was a little hard to see clearly onto the set. As Dora described, watching the filming process is a bit like watching paint dry. It can take an hour or more to set up a shot and the actual “action” might consist of one word spoken by an actor. Then back to set-up. You get the idea.
What was far more interesting was watching Dora battle the producer, Jason Clark, for any infringement on the contract. The production crew, once they got rolling with the scene, clearly wanted to push the limits of what was spelled out and Dora, no shrinking violet, made it clear it to them that was not going to fly. A few rather comical exchanges transpired in which the director mistakenly concluded that Dora cared deeply about the “good of the movie Ted 2” and she informed him in no uncertain terms that was not her main concern.
She fiercely defended the historical value of the set on which the actors were now getting high (except not really) and wanting to do push-ups on the recently restored tables designed by renowned architect H. H. Richardson. In most cases, the crew had to settle for computer-generated alternatives and, in rare cases where Dora was willing to concede, a higher payment made to the library.
The money received from the film is known by the trustees as “Ted money.” It came in handy when the library’s snowblower broke just before the winter storms hit and a new snowblower needed to be purchased. Likewise for a much-needed copy machine. A portion of the money was also used to buy an 1852 painting of Malden done by Joseph Morviller for the library’s famed and expansive art collection. Remaining funds will be split between programming and improvements to the Converse Memorial building. An unforeseen benefit is the ramps that now exist which were used to haul in all the heavy film equipment.
Malden has been seeing more and more action as a location for Hollywood films. The 2014 Academy-nominated film American Hustle was filmed partially in a home on Beltran Street and very recently, the action film Central Intelligence starring Kevin Hart and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson staged a car crash scene at Canal and Charles Street.
Malden’s Strategy and Business Development Officer Kevin Duffy has been the point person for all things Hollywood in the city. He has been working to ensure that film scouts find what they need here in Malden and assists them in arranging the myriad of logistics involved in doing a shoot. “The big film trucks need a place to park while the movies are being shot so we’ve able to secure school parking lots during the summer,” Duffy says. Filmmaking provides detail hours for local police, fire, electrical workers and more. “We want to ensure opportunities for people, places and organizations in this community. It brings in revenue, jobs and overtime hours. Plus it’s still pretty much a thrill when the stars come to Malden or when folks get to peek into the process of movie-making.”
As Hollywood recognizes the Boston area as a good location for filmmaking, we’ll all perhaps become a bit more jaded with movie stars in our midst and seeing all that impressive film equipment set-up outside our local landmarks. But for now most people find it exciting to be the locale for major motion pictures, whether it’s jamming up traffic on Salem Street during the filming process or being viewed later as a finished scene on the big screen. —Anne D’Urso–Rose
Check out a quick video clip from the filming of the “floating” effect.
VIDEO BY PAUL HAMMERSLEY (Communications Specialist for the City of Malden)