The Filming of The Jane Austen Book Club

The Filming of The Jane Austen Book Club, (through the eyes of a partial, prejudiced, and ignorant historian), republished from Winter 2006

When Claire Bellanti first asked me to represent JASNA at a day of filming of The Jane Austen Book Club, I was quite excited and honored. True, I’ve grown up in the City of Angels, have indeed seen movie stars in person, have indeed attended movie premieres with the red carpet deal, and am even indeed related by blood to people who have accepted Academy Awards on national television for their work in movies. I had not, however, attended an actual filming, walked around the set with the director and producer and one of the stars, or represented a literary society. These were new experiences for me.

All week prior to our special day, Diana (the other JASNA rep) and I were sent several e-mails, with information about the location, the scenes being filmed that day and time, cell phone contacts once we arrived, and the basic plan. In preparation, I reread chapter 1, which includes the book club scene we were to witness in the making, made special preparations to leave work a bit early, and planned my outfit (you know, in case they needed an extra to play Hugh Dancy’s love interest). Two nights before filming, I read the guest list for the scene we were to watch: it read The Jane Austen Society and The New York Times. Giddy, I packed my camera and my notepad and prepared to join the elite reporters in my responsibilities as Features Writer for our local journal.

Things didn’t go as smoothly as I might have hoped. There was a fire on the 405, so what would have been a 30-40 minute commute from work instead took nearly 90. I showed up late, found a seemingly deserted parking lot, and jumped out, hoping someone would find me. Someone did. Though my mommy has told me never to do such things, I willingly got into this unfamiliar man’s truck as he communicated with someone else on a radio. I heard him say “Jane Austen Society,” so I figured I was safe. He mentioned that my friend was already here (yay for Diana). I got deposited in a less remote area in the wilderness with three men who were probably keepers of the trailers. We made chit chat, but there was a concern that I wouldn’t be able to enter the set now without disrupting the scene. They called the press rep, who told them where to send me, and I—very quietly—trudged through wet grass to appear on set—just as a scene was about to be redone.

It was cold and gloomy, and I had left my jacket in the car because it didn’t seem chic.

I was very happy, needless to say, to see Diana, and my luck began to change. She introduced me to the press rep, who was also new to the scene, and very soon after that, we met the director, Robin Swicord, who had also adapted the novel for the big screen. Robin’s tee-shirt made me laugh; it read “You have my continuous partial attention.” I could easily wear that to work on faculty meeting days. She was warm and friendly, coming closer when she learned who we were, and even hugging us.

We then met John Calley, the producer. I have to be honest here: I had never heard of these people. But Diana seemed as excited as I would have been if Colin Firth or Jeremy Northam were on set, so I played along, understanding that meeting this man was a big deal and that his friendliness, warmth, and insistence that we stop apologizing for taking up too much of his time with our questions and photos, reflected true generosity. I could understand, to some limited degree, Diana’s glee.

The set, the Disney Ranch, where Little House on the Prairie, among other shows, was filmed, was rustic. The scene we watched took place on Jocelyn’s porch, during the reading group’s first meeting, to discuss Emma. There were two screens set up for us to watch inside the cottage, or we could watch the scene live outside. We did both (the scene was filmed several times). We walked through “Jocelyn’s bedroom” where a later scene would be filmed, and all around the set, making sure to do so silently during filming. There were a LOT of people besides the actors and aforementioned leaders there—setting everything up and then watching to make sure everything went as planned. I learned that, when the scene is about to film, one person yells “roll,” and everyone echoes back “rolling,” which was an easy cue to follow to be quiet. We saw the storyboards for the scene, and people explained to us that the scene had to be filmed multiple times because they were capturing it from multiple angles.

So it was an exciting afternoon, yes; but the best part of it was the treatment we received from everyone with whom we came into contact. We were the expert Janeites, there to offer support for a project that is likely being made because there are people like us to share Jane with the masses (or at least, as close to the masses as any of us are likely to get any time soon). We were offered food and drink, seats, and kindness. I felt how important it is to be a leader in an organization such as this.

For Diana, the most exciting celebrities were likely John Calley and Robin Swicord. For me, the most exciting celebrity came at the end in the form of one of the actresses, Maggie Grace, who asked to speak with us when her scene was over. Maggie is a young star, most notably (for me, anyway, since I have a younger brother who follows these things) for her work in Lost, and an avid Jane Austen reader. She shared with Diana and me her experiences with Austen, and her meeting of Colin Firth (she was so tongue-tied she could hardly speak, which makes me think twice of my desire to ask him to attend our next event). She was very excited to learn that the author of a book she had discovered in Santa Monica was, in fact, Diana, and the three of us shared a chuckle over that coincidence. And she graciously welcomed us to take some pictures (which we had earlier been asked to refrain from) with her. Maggie rode back with me and Diana in the van to our cars (well, Maggie, to the costumes area), and I found it a delightful conclusion to our Hollywood visit.

If only she could have introduced me to Hugh, the afternoon could have been absolutely perfect.


P.S.from Diana: It was such an exciting afternoon, exactly as Natasha describes! I was particularly delighted that the filming took place on the Golden Oak Ranch owned by the Disney Studios in Placerita Canyon, for that’s one of the last surviving movie ranches, and not open to the public. On the site of an 1840s gold strike, the ranch was bought by Disney in the 1950s for the filming of Spin and Marty, and the place is rich in film history, as well as being a beautiful setting of golden foothills and live oak trees, with a real old West feel; you can imagine how the area looked decades ago. I knew I’d come to the right place when I made the turnoff onto the country road and saw a handmade “JANE” sign tacked to a tree. As Natasha recounts, we were given the V.I.P. treatment. And she’s right, I was particularly thrilled to meet the director Robin Swicord, whom I’ve admired ever since seeing her brilliant adaptation of Little Women (the 1994 Winona Ryder version), and the legendary producer John Calley (Da Vinci Code, Remains of the Day, the Cincinnati Kid, The Americanization of Emily, Catch-22). Both were incredibly down-to-earth and gracious to us and felt like old friends by the end of the day. Calley, though an elderly man, ran spryly around the set in blue jeans and at one point said puckishly that he wished he had a T-shirt that said “Jane Austen Gave Me the Clap.” Robin looked at us anxiously at that, but we all burst out laughing. I have written up my version of these adventures for the Spring issue of JASNA News, but the conclusion of both my account and Natasha’s is definitely that we wish you could all have been there with us!

Published in: on July 27, 2014 at 6:56 pm  Leave a Comment  

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