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Is 'Man of Steel' super for business?

Big movie productions generate publicity for the businesses they feature, but also create blockbuster headaches

By Luis Gomez

5:15 PM CDT, September 6, 2011

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The fake 7-Eleven gas station will soon be cleared out to make way for an Oktoberfest celebration, and the Smallville's Best Pizza sign will eventually be taken off of Uncle Lar's Pizza restaurant, but the city of Plano, which last month hosted 14 days of filming of "Man of Steel," is not ready to say goodbye to Superman just yet — if ever.

Plans are already in place for a "Man of Steel" museum and festival next summer to commemorate the filming that closed down the city's Main Street. The museum will feature props and set pieces from filming and will likely be located in the Amtrak station on Main Street, or, as it was known during filming, Smallville City Hall.

"It's something we could do as a city to keep the excitement going and capitalize on all the inconveniences we've endured during filming," said Plano Mayor Bob Hausler, who was used as an extra during the shoot.

Next in line for the excitement and inconvenience of "Man of Steel": Chicago. Filming in Plano included low-flying helicopters and burning vehicles, and filming on nearby Illinois Route 56 in Sugar Grove appeared to involve a tornado scene, but film publicist Lee Anne Muldoon would not comment on what will be filmed or where filming will take place in Chicago. She did, however, confirm that it will take place Wednesday through Sept. 17.

What does this mean for local businesses involved in the shoot? Publicity, star sightings and, inevitably, a few headaches along the way.

Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern in Lincoln Park was briefly under consideration for "Man of Steel" filming, according to co-owner Paul Tuzi. A film scout visited Twin Anchors in the spring looking for a bar where the movie could shoot a transaction involving a "shady person" in a dark corner booth.

"He said, 'We need a bar for this scene. Have you guys ever thought about having a movie film here?'" Tuzi said. "I got a chuckle out of that."

Why? Because it was only four years ago that another superhero film shot in Twin Anchors: "The Dark Knight." And, before that, the 2000 romance "Return to Me," starring David Duchovny andMinnie Driver.

Tuzi said customers ask about the films on a weekly basis. Both movies are mentioned on Twin Anchors' website, and an autographed photo of "Dark Knight" director Christopher Nolan hangs on the wall at the restaurant. The restaurant also capitalized on the buzz surrounding the highly anticipated Batman sequel by offering a free drink to customers who brought in a "Dark Knight" ticket stub. About 500 people participated, Tuzi estimated.

"In 'The Dark Knight,' you can see the Twin Anchors logo in the background," Tuzi said. "I thought that was nice. It was a $100,000 product placement we didn't have to pay for."

Downtown, Hotel 71 took advantage of its cameo in "The Dark Knight" by offering a "Bruce Wayne" package, which included a stay in a penthouse similar to the one Wayne lived in during the film (Wayne's penthouse was actually the ballroom on the hotel's 39th floor). General manager Steve Shern said the package did "decent," but didn't perform nearly as well as the one offered when "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" filmed outside of the hotel on Wacker Drive last year.

"When we were approached (by 'Transformers') months ahead of time, they told us there would be disturbances and were like, 'We want to work with you on this,'" Shern said. "We said, 'If you're comfortable with us going out into the community, we'd like to sell this as a package.' We had the first two ('Transformers') movies available upon request, Transformers sugar cookies and all-access to the viewing of the filming. It sold out in three days. About 150 people bought the package.

"Once the movie hit, we got a lot of phone calls inquiring if we were a real hotel and where we were located in Chicago," Shern said. "It did exactly what we hoped it would do: generate recognition of our great location as well as the wonderful architecture surrounding the hotel."

Across the river, Trump Tower chose not to promote its involvement in "Transformers" filming during the Chicago shoot because the stars were actually staying there. Some scenes were shot inside the hotel as well — the hotel's restaurant, Sixteen, and outdoor Terrace at the Trump became Patrick Dempsey's character's penthouse pad in the film. When the movie hit theaters in June, Trump made the "Transformers" Xbox video game available to guests (the hotel appears in the background of the game), and Trump's cocktail lounge, Rebar, added two Transformers-themed cocktails to its menu: Bumble Bee and PrimeTime (the latter after Autobot leader Optimus Prime).

"One thing we have seen is an influx of families staying at the property," said Robert Prohaska, Trump Tower's director of sales and marketing. "We hear kids by the reception desk say, 'Wow, this is where "Transformers" filmed.' It seems kids are making the decision where to stay."

(Asked if "Man of Steel," which is being filmed under the code name "Autumn Frost," would be filming in or around their hotels, reps for Trump and Hotel 71 said they could not confirm it.)

A bonus of hosting a movie shoot is the possibility that the film's director or stars will return after filming completes. Linda Bacin, owner of Bella Bacino's, on the same stretch of Wacker as Hotel 71, bonded with the "Transformers" cast and crew while they filmed on her patio. "You're with them for three or four days and build a connection," said Bacin. "Josh (Duhamel) has been back twice this summer." Ron Howard filmed a scene for the comedy "The Dilemma" at Sepia restaurant in the West Loop and later returned with his wife for dinner.

Although a movie production can bring plenty of publicity and star power, it has been known to inconvenience local businesses and residents. Plano Mayor Hausler said he has received complaints about the lack of parking around Main Street. Tuzi said he was compensated for renting out his business to the films, but called the compensation "pain in the (butt) money."

"It's a challenge," Tuzi said. "Once they pay you several thousand dollars per day to rent the place, they'll do everything short of blow up the place to get the shot. They took three booths out of the restaurant and took out part of the fire escape (for 'The Dark Knight'). Even though they're very good at putting stuff back, when we did go to open the next day all kinds of stuff was misplaced."

There is also the possibility that dreams of free publicity will be shattered when the on-location scene ends up being left on the cutting-room floor. Robert Teitel, producer of the Chicago-based "Barbershop" and "Soul Food," has seen this firsthand. "A grocery store we used in 'Nothing Like the Holidays' didn't make it in the film," Teitel said. "We paid to use the store, but I knew the (owner) through a friend and he was really disappointed. I was too."

Even if the scene does make it into the film, there's no guarantee it will lead to more business.

In "The Dilemma," Jennifer Connelly's character is a chef at Sepia and wears a chef's jacket with the restaurant's name on it. What should have been great publicity for the restaurant seemed to have had little impact as the comedy fell short of expectations at the worldwide box office, earning about as much as its reported $70 million budget.

"Some people who have seen 'The Dilemma' or live in the neighborhood have inquired about what was filmed," said Sepia owner Emmanuel Nony, "but the movie was not a huge hit, so we did not get as many inquiries as other restaurants that have appeared in more prominent movies."

Nony, however, admitted he would do it all again in a heartbeat (he said there is already talk of a TV show filming outside his restaurant in the near future but wouldn't specify which one), as would most other businesses.

For Tuzi, the movies have given him stories he can tell for the rest of his life.

"In 'The Dark Knight,' Aaron Eckhart's character, Harvey Dent, confronts a guy at the bar and takes a sip of whiskey from a shot glass — which was really iced tea — and slams the shot glass down on the bar," Tuzi said. "They did 30 takes for this, and the funny thing is, the one they used was him setting the glass down.

"Afterward, my sister looked at the bar and said, 'Good Lord, he dented the hell out of the bar. They'll have to fix it.' I said, 'No, let's leave it. This will make for a good story.'"

Twitter @aboutluisgomez