NEW BEDFORD — Parts of the Whaling City have been transported back to the 1930s, as AMC’s “Invitation to a Bonfire” continues filming its first two episodes.
“It’s been a wild week down here,” said Jennifer Smith, superintendent of the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.
Since Oct. 13, set designers from the new AMC series have been recreating the windows scenes on William Street and North Water Street to be set in the ’30s.
Filming took place Oct. 17 and 18.
Businesses such as The Drawing Room, Lat41NB, Moby Dick Retail and the National Park had their windows replaced and signs painted.
“Overall it’s been fun,” said Anthi Frangiadis, owner of The Drawing Room which was turned into Dreyer’s Pawn Shop for the scenes.
“It has been an eye-opening experience to see the herculean effort that goes into one day of filming,” she said, adding that the crew has been professional and easy to work with through the process.
“I love that we are in a neighborhood that is so architecturally intact with historic buildings that only a few changes were needed to bring us back to the 1930s,” Frangiadis said.
“However, I’m looking forward to not having to explain why we have pawn shop signage in our windows.”
Set designing a ‘1930s William Street’
On William Street, one sign read, “Highest loans on anything: golf clubs, motors, boats and fans.”
There was also a flower shop window and a grocery store featuring signs for fresh ground pork for only 28 cents and a can of Pepperell Mills high quality coffee on display in another window.
“It’s almost like walking down a street at Disney World or something,” said Emma Graves, a customer leaving The Drawing Room. “I’ve never seen something like this before. It’s so strange.”
Filming on Monday and Tuesday featured several vintage cars and background actors dressed in 1930s attire flooding the streets. The crew set up in the Whaling Musem courtyard as well as other hidden places around the corner.
“History is always alive on our cobblestone streets,” said Amanda McMullen, president of the museum. “It’s terrific that New Bedford caught the eyes of Hollywood. How fun to have our city shine so bright in this filming.”
Smith said The National Park Service has a special permit process to use their building, and after some negotiating with the production company they were able to make it work with them creating something and removing it as soon as they were done.
“They were under a tight deadline but they did it and they were very nice about it the whole time,” Smith said.
By Wednesday afternoon, some of the props remained on the streets, windows were still painted and the set dressed. Frangiadis said they would be cleaned up by Friday.
Jillian Dunn, owner of Whaling City Florists & Gift Shop, said it has been great to see the city show off its historic significance and what the downtown area has to offer as a backdrop for a TV show.
“I think sometimes I forget the pure significance and overwhelming history that overflows our well-known city;” she said. “The past couple years or so, of movies and TV shows being filmed here, is the perfect reminder of how special New Bedford really is.”
This is what the TV series is about
Despite yellow and black production signs that read “Stalwart,” the AMC series is really called “Invitation to a Bonfire,” and based on the book of the same name by Adrienne Celt.
Set at an all-girls boarding school in New Jersey, the story follows a young Soviet refugee Zoya, who is an outcast at the school.
It’s not unusual for a film to have a codename. For example, films such as “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Avengers: Endgame” were filmed under the codename “Mary Lou,” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” was known internally as “Space Bear.”
“Hocus Pocus 2” was filmed under the codename “Black Flame” as the title, while shooting Newport and parts of Providence last spring.
The series stars Tatiana Maslany, known for her title role in the new Disney+/Marvel series “She-Hulk” as well as “Orphan Black.”
Maslany will star opposite “Game of Thrones” baddie Pilou Asbæk and Freya Mavor who also appears on the HBOMax series “Industry” and starred opposite John Malkovich in the mini-series “The ABC Murders” on BBC.
The story is loosely based on the marriage of Vladimir and Véra Nabokov.
Filming continues at The Whalehouse
On Wednesday, filming took place on Madison Street featuring scenes on the property of The Whalehouse — an Airbnb that once belonged to author Herman Melville,
The three-story Victorian home, which was constructed by whaling merchant Henry Taber as a wedding gift to his daughter Abby Taber Hunt, also served as a prestigious art school and a bed and breakfast.
Maslany filmed scenes on the stoop of the house as well as on the sidewalk.
New Bedford Festival Theatre’s George Charbonneau and Armand Marchand live across the street from The Whalehouse.
“It really is exciting having Hollywood come to New Bedford, especially when it’s right across the street,” said Charbonneau, adding they were using their backyard for craft services.
“I never realized how many people and equipment it took to put together for 10 minutes of film.”
Honoring Marchand and Charbonneau:Event will pay tribute to two legends in Greater New Bedford theater — but that’s not all
While vising the set, Marchand was reunited with a former student Gordon D. Manson, who works as a lighting console programmer for the show.
He attended New Bedford High School, and said Marchand and Charbonneau were responsible for his career path in the industry because of what he learned from them.
The filming will return at a later date
The additional four episodes of “Invitation to a Bonfire” are set to be filmed through February with plans to return to the city at a later date for more exterior shots.
They crew has been filming in other areas including Easton and Randloph.
Michael Paiva, a retired New Bedford police officer working detail for the set, said he had connections with The Whalehouse because his brother would stay at the Airbnb whenever he’d visit.
Paiva was very excited to see it finally being showcased by Hollywood.
“I think this whole thing is so good for New Bedford. It’s just a positive thing,” he said. “And it seems like the momentum to it’s just taken off now. People are learning more and more about what this city has to offer them.”
Meanwhile, Marchand said he just can’t get over the wardrobe. “It’s been great to see somebody in period clothes walking down the street and the cars… Oh, my God, the cars are amazing,” he added.
“I think it’s a reflection of how we all see things today. And because of the pandemic, Hollywood has really felt that the expansion of movie production and how the world is their studio.”
Charbonneau also said that The Whalehouse’s owner Laura Parrish was a central part in bringing the AMC project to the area because she originally volunteered her house to a production scout.
“They had her house totally redone, and it’s just so beautiful. And I think the crew is using it to the utmost,” he said, adding that it’s heavily featured in the entire show.
“It’s very exciting to have this vibrancy, right here. And I’m just hoping that it becomes a contagious thing that more will come from it,” Charbonneau added.
At the request of a producer at AMC, Parrish was unable to comment at this time but did say she couldn’t wait to share all the details as soon as she gets permission.
Other projects are ‘eyeing the city’
In the last six months, New Bedford has become a hotspot for Hollywood with the filming of “The Holdovers” and “Finestkind.” The production brought stars such as Tommy Lee Jones, Paul Giamatti, Ben Foster, Jenna Ortega and Tim Daly to the city.
“New Bedford offers the film industry a wealth of compelling scenery and backdrops, along with a city government and residents readily willing to accommodate the needs of film crews,” said Mayor Jon Mitchell in a prepared statement.
“I’ve long advocated that our city should realize its share of the benefits of the state’s film tax credit, and so I’m pleased whenever we have an opportunity to host a film shoot.”
Now, an inside source has revealed that another television series as well as a major blockbuster movie have been eyeing the city to film here next summer; both have started “conversations” with city officials.
Standard-Times staff writer Seth Chitwood can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on twitter: @ChitwoodReports. Support local journalism by purchasing a digital or print subscription to The Standard-Times today.
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