From ‘Return to Me’ to ‘A Beer With Baron,’ creating a scene is a marvelous, meticulous art

Twenty summers ago, on a warm mid-July night, my wife, Bridgett, and I ambled out of a Chicago bar.

Sauntering toward the corner, we passed an older gentleman sweeping the sidewalk. On the fire escape directly above us, a woman gazed at us with a deep melancholy. And all around were scores of people, each playing their part in this moment.

Then, we did it again…and again…and again–at least a dozen times in all.

You can see the last portion of how it looked, almost exactly one hour into “Return to Me,” a sweet, heart-string-tugging movie directed by Bonnie Hunt and made possible by a crew that shot at the Twin Anchors Restaurant & Tavern in the Old Town neighborhood

 

The sweeping man (who appears a few moments before this clip begins) is Carroll O’Connor, the actor best known for his role as Archie Bunker in the 1970s hit series “All in the Family.” The woman on the fire escape: actress Minnie Driver, playing the film’s lovelorn female lead.

The scene lasted for all of 20 seconds, but it took at least a half-hour to secure all the angles and options that Hunt sought. It was a meticulous process that turned these mundane moments into something marvelous. The scene concluded as Bridgett and I kissed at the edge of the crosswalk, Driver peering down wistfully. For this point in the scene, I asked Hunt in jest: “What’s my motivation?”

“Not to sleep on the couch tonight,” came the reply from Hunt, who knew my wife through her role as the movie’s payroll accountant.. (Our extra moment was an impromptu happening, after we visited the set during a date and one thing led to another.)

More recently, on a cold November afternoon, I forged a recurring relationship with a bar door–and deepened a partnership with another director, Joe Kreml, who is every bit as dedicated to his craft as Bonnie Hunt is to hers. This time, I walked up to it (multiple times), reached for its handle (repeatedly), then proceeded through it (time and again). The occasion was filming a new introduction to “A Beer With Baron,” my talk show for the Village of Oak Park’s Channel 6.

One of many takes of the One Lake coasters.

After 10 episodes at The Beer Shop in Downtown Oak Park, Kreml, Oak Park’s video manager, and I agreed the time was right for a change–to the very eastern border of the community, where One Lake Brewing opened in May.

Kreml and I have collaborated on video projects for over 10 years, dating back to my super-heroic turn as “Super Shopper Spotter,” a role that I imagined to turn a “shop local” campaign from a tedious slog to a fun, instant-gratification exercise in customer rewards. While I concocted the campaign’s campy framework, complete with a garish costume that included a bright red cape, Kreml took it to another level with an outstanding, outlandish commercial that highlighted his creative mind.

Last week, once we moved our shoot indoors–mercifully so, given the mid-30s temperature–One Lake Brewing owners Jason and Kristen Alfonsi joined the action.

Capturing the beer tap’s pour.

Jason greeted me as I came inside, and then Kristen had the more multi-tasking role of turning to greet me as she was in the midst of bar upkeep, hearing my request for two beers, and then turning to begin the process of pouring the drinks.

If we did each of those portions once, we did it at least 10 times, and the Alfonsis were great sports with each successive run-through.

But the undeniable, genuine star of the show, thanks to his technical acumen and tenacious attention to detail, is Kreml. Check out the 21-second intro, as part of the entire One Lake debut of A Beer With Baron that features cartoonist Keith J. Taylor:

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