By Ned Cheever
It was a chilly morning in the French Quarter as the breeze stirred from the river. The sun would rise in a few minutes over Algiers Point under my watch from the Moon Walk.
Time still permitted a trek down Chartres and back up Royal before the sunrise. As I approached the corner at Dumaine, there appeared a troupe of movie-makers in full swing. The previous day I had noticed signs in a couple of locations announcing restrictions for movie shoots, so this one was no surprise.
Huge trailers, seven of them, were parked at various locations on Dumaine and Royal. Cables criss-crossed the barricaded streets, streaming from generators and other devices. A camera rested atop a motorized contraption capable of attaining every possible point of vantage. Large screens were erected to shield and diffuse the light, while mirrors stood with equal charge to redirect the sun’s rays. Large banks of lights loomed to augment that which could not be transformed from nature. Microphones dangled from their booms.
A crew of about 50 bohemian types scurried about, setting up the various appurtenances, adjusting, focusing, and directing the devices. I counted no less than 11 bar-height directors’ chairs. A breakfast soiree was set up just around the corner to feed the busy crew.
A robust voice called out terse orders, politely but forcefully, and the workers responded with increased scurrying and adjusting. The source of those orders was a tall, blond man whose chiseled face, flowing locks, and handsome build would easily suit the role of leading man, but his role was more important. This man, apparently the producer or director, skillfully went through his mental checklist, pointing out changes, encouraging haste, and orchestrating the chaotic tasks into an overture of harmony and rhythm. I envisioned a modern-day DeMille or Capra at work with megaphone in hand.
Would this be a classic moment to be preserved for history? Would I see Brando screaming “Stella!” from the street, or perhaps see Scarlett’s eyes fill with tears as Rhett tells her he doesn’t give a damn?
As the scurrying continued so did my curiosity. I moved to a more advantageous position to acquire the best view of the actors when the shooting started. Brad and Angelina? Cage? Bullock? Whither the stars?
Excited as the drama unfolded, I looked around to seek out the star with whom I would bond as I witnessed this cinematic milestone.
“Good morning, my dear!” the director projected as all eyes turned to see the leading lady make her entrance on the Royal Street sidewalk. “We’ve been waiting for you,” he gently scolded with a smile.
From the shadows advanced a lovely woman in a simple smock, stepping sprightly as she neared the filming site. The sun, now peeking between the buildings, shone briefly upon her as she passed the bright rays of morning. Black and lustrous was her hair, perfectly coifed, and her brown skin glistened in the sun. A toothy smile beamed from her ruby lips. As she neared the corner, her smock was loosened and allowed to slip away gracefully down her back to reveal her simple tan costume. Her lovely face was familiar, but nameless.
The bib of a clean white apron covered her blouse, and upon it was a circular splash of red and yellow artwork emblazoned with white letters spelling out “Popeyes.”
Crushed by the moment, my bated breath leaking, I turned away. Her face now stepped forward from my memory. In tantalizing anticipation I had dwelled fully 20 minutes amid the aura of cinematic artistry, to see the epic scene, only to realize I would view instead the filming of a fried-chicken television commercial.
Tragic irony prevailed, but not of the scripted genre. It was real, and it was visited upon me.
Raising my collar to ward off the chilling wind, I turned and started my way up Royal Street, my image and my visions silently fading into the dark morning shadows.