Bull Durham was a witty, literate film that helped establish Kevin Costner as Hollywood's top leading man and launched the careers of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins as the power couple of Hollywood's liberal smart set. Now if the persistent promises and rumors pan out, Oscar nominees Amy Adams and Philip Seymour Hoffman could become the next faces of Durham. Not many insiders are talking, but a manager of a local hotel has confirmed that it will be leasing a floor to producers of Main Street U.S.A. this month.
And a subscription-only industry tip sheet called Production Weekly reports a mid-May start date for Main Street U.S.A. There are no actors listed, but the plot is described as "revolv[ing] around the efforts of a large corporation to hoodwink a small Southern town and the Southerners' unusual and successful defense." The fact that the film has recently entered the listings of this bulletin is a strong indication that actual cinematic ground-breaking is imminent.
There's been persistent skepticism surrounding this project, once called Durham Grill but since retitled Main Street U.S.A. The project's executive producer, Thom Mount, who produced Bull Durham, had seen steadily declining fortunes through the 1990s. Although he produced several other high-profile projects after Bull Durham, including Tequila Sunrise and Natural Born Killers, his output declined as he hit the "bust" part of a notoriously precarious profession. Along the way, Mount filed for bankruptcy twice, most recently in 2003.
Two years ago, news started spreading about a comeback project for Mount that would bring movie cameras back to Durham. It was originally conceived as a television pilot over a decade ago by two Durham producers named Sandy Freeman and Rob Shoaf. But when the announcement was made, the project had acquired a new screenwriter and a director. Horton Foote, the 90-year-old creator of The Trip to Bountiful and Tender Mercies, and the Oscar-winning screenwriter of To Kill a Mockingbird, was rewriting the story. The director was Peter Masterson, Foote's cousin and the director of The Trip to Bountiful.
After some initial fanfare, however, talk about the film died down. Whatever buzz remained was effectively killed by a News & Observer article that quoted disgruntled collaborators--including Clyde Edgerton--and cast a skeptical eye on Mount's ability to raise funds.
But the possible viability of Mount's new production reemerged quite unexpectedly last September when I met the actress Amy Adams while she was in Chapel Hill to promote June-bug. Speaking at a party at Lantern on Franklin Street, we made some cautious conversation about her Oscar prospects. I then remarked to the Colorado native that she seemed particularly adept with Southern roles.
Adams replied with the news that she expected to be back in Durham in January to be in a film with Philip Seymour Hoffman. I asked if she meant Thom Mount's Durham Grill. Yes, she said, but there was a new title: Main Street U.S.A. However, Adams said that she was unsure just how reliable the proposed January start was.
Last week Bill Arnold, director of the North Carolina Film Commission, said his most recent information indicated a March 2 start, but he hadn't heard from the production in a month. He had heard talk of Hoffman's participation, but he'd heard no mention of Adams.
With the most recent promised start date looming, it's difficult to find much evidence of pre-production activity. But one of the most recent bits of evidence that the film will materialize is an interview with Horton Foote in New York's Playbill magazine. In the profile, which was published on Feb. 16, the nonagenarian discusses his creative future:
"There's this film I'm doing with [producer] Thom Mount. It's called--I'm not crazy about the title--Main Street, U.S.A."
"[The setting is Durham] 'because Thom asked me to come down and visit with him and talk about doing a film, and I fell in love with the town. To look at those abandoned tobacco warehouses--it's heartbreaking. I had my story right away.' "
According to Carolyn Carney, film liaison for the Durham Convention and Visitors Bureau, the story has been completely rewritten by Foote. Carney hasn't read the script, but she understands that it will be an ambitious saga that concerns "the decline and revival of a city," she says. The film's events will span decades reaching back "40 or 50 years, when Main Street was a bustling, thriving area."
Carney hasn't received any updates from the production since December, when she was told that production should "ramp up in March or April for the main part of the shooting." Despite the official silence, she's confident that cameras will roll soon. "It's going to happen--they've got the financing," she says.
The production budget has been announced in the past as approximately $10 million. Carney won't speculate on the actual budget, but she says it's "a few million."
For sake of comparison, Hoffman's Capote was shot for a reported $7 million.
Although there does seem to be some heat underneath the smoke, official confirmations have not been forthcoming. However, at least one local business seems to be gearing up for a production. The Best Western Crown Park, in downtown Durham near the American Tobacco campus, has agreed to lease its top floor to the production. A manager at the hotel, speaking anonymously, says that the exact timing is contingent on Hoffman's schedule in light of the possibility that he will win a Best Actor Oscar.
As the career of Thom Mount attests, making movies is a non-stop hustle that requires an inordinate amount of bluffing. It remains to be seen whether the film will materialize, with or without two Oscar nominees at the peaks of their careers. If it does, Main Street U.S.A. will provide amusing diversions for many, and paying work for local performers and skilled crew.
Just before deadline on Tuesday, I finally reached Sandy Freeman. He refused to comment on any aspect of this story, saying that "casting and scheduling" were not finalized.
Freeman said that we might "expect some news in March."
The Oscars are March 5. Stay tuned.