It was a great day to chase a bus. The weather was sunny, but cool, as my co-worker Liselle and I headed out to follow the PSTA bus that was going to be used for several scenes in an independent film called Sunlight Jr. Our plan was to take some photos (if we were allowed), be on hand if there were any bus questions, and maybe get to see some movie stars.
While Liselle drove, I looked up the movie on IMDB’s mobile app. We learned that the film is about a Florida couple who deals with an unexpected pregnancy while holding minimum wage jobs. It stars Naomi Watts, Norman Reedus, and Matt Dillon. Yes, Matt Dillon was going to be there! (He starred in the film that was the first ever recorded on our family’s VCR in the 80’s. It was The Flamingo Kid.)
We followed the bus as it pulled up to the back side of Thrift CityUSA in Pinellas Park. Although they were filming inside the store, there was a fair amount of activity outside. The various behind-the-scenes workers moved around in a wave of coordinated movement. The tech guys carried equipment in and out and the food service lady served snacks. The PSTA staff (Liselle, Driver of the Year Vance Wegner, and I) stood by the food tent watching the activity and swapping stories.
It was while we stood there waiting for something to happen that this guy walked between us, and brushed past me. He was wearing jeans and scruffy old work boots. His dark hair was shoulder length, and he shuffled along with his head ducked down. I glanced at him as he walked by, then did a double take — that was Matt Dillon!
Once they finished filming, the tech and camera guys rolled out to the bus with their huge camera rigs and started loading equipment on the bus. Somehow the stars all exited the back of the store and got into their trailers without us noticing. I’m sure it’s a combination of years of experience, and the zillions of people streaming out of the building all at once. By this time, Vance was with his bus helping the crew and Liselle and I were chatting with the extras (who they actually called “backgrounds”). They were all locals and were pretty excited about going on a bus ride!
The actual bus-following wasn’t anything worth writing about. The bus left ThriftCity and headed to Jungle Prada Park in St. Petersburg, we followed it. That was about it for us. But, Vance tells me that on board the bus was another story. The crew put up a black curtain right behind Vance so they wouldn’t get light in through the front of the bus. The assistant director, Scott, called out crisp instructions for Vance: speed up, slow down, A/C on, A/C off, stop for a break. When Naomi Watts needed a break from eating donuts (her character was eating donuts – no, eating isn’t usually allowed on the buses, but we let it slide this one time!) they stopped on 49th Street for a few minutes.
The original routing called for Vance to turn on 22nd Avenue, but Scott really liked the background images he was getting so they changed the route on the fly and stayed on 49th Street all the way to 5th Avenue. It took quite awhile to make the trek since they kept the speed a nice slow 20 mph the whole way. When we finally got to the park and the on board scenes were done the producers invited Liselle, Vance, and I to join the cast and crew for lunch. It was pretty cool to be dining at the next table over from Naomi Watts! (Matt Dillon didn’t dine with us.)
As we drove back to the office, Liselle and I agreed that our day spent waiting and then following the bus was quite awesome. We got to take some photos and meet some pretty interesting people. Filming a movie seems to be a whole lot of hurry up and wait – but I can’t wait to see the finished product. Vance won’t actually appear in the film, but he did drive the bus, so I’m sure he’d still be happy to give you an autograph!