The anticipation is not quite like a little kid waiting for Santa.
But for 18 months, residents of Washington Avenue have looked ahead to the release of Netflix’s new Christmas movie “The Noel Diary.”
The film — starring Justin Hartley (“This is Us”) and Bonnie Bedelia (“Die Hard,” “Parenthood”) — is about a man who returns home on Christmas to settle his estranged mother’s estate, then discovers “a diary that may hold secrets to his own past and of a beautiful young woman on a mysterious journey of her own.”
Not exactly “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
But hey: It was filmed in Westport.
In the spring of 2021, a film company took over Washington Avenue — a tight-knit street connecting Main Street and Evergreen Avenue near downtown.
They’d negotiated deals with 6 homeowners. Their old New England-y, decidedly non-McMansion-type houses became a Hollywood set.
It was “Christmas in June” — cinematically, and perhaps for the checks those families received too.
It was also at times a pain in the butt.
On June 28, 2021 I wrote about the Washington Avenue adventure. You can read that story below.
But before you do, click on the trailer:
Then click here to watch the entire film.
It’s the Westport way to “Netflix and chill.” Even if it was not exactly chilly way back in June 2021, on suddenly wintry Washington Avenue. (Hat tip: Carol Anne Ances)
Here is the “06880” story from June 28, 2021: “Behind The Scenes Of ‘Noel Diary”:
The guys from the film company were up front.
“We’ll take over your house for a couple of weeks,” they told Brett Adams. “It will be crazy.”
They offered a contract. It specified exactly what they’d rent — the porch on his handsome Washington Avenue home, that sort of thing — and what they were responsible for. It spelled out the COVID restrictions, and other contingencies.
Brett signed. A couple of weeks later, the production crew arrived: all 50 to 75 of them.
“We probably didn’t fully understand that,” Brett says. “Or what it would mean for the entire street.”
Welcome to life, when your quiet Westport home becomes a bustling Hollywood movie set. Along with 5 others, next door and across the street.
The Adams’ house will be seen on screen a year and a half from now. December 2022 is the anticipated release of “The Noel Diary,” the Netflix film starring Justin Hartley (“This is Us”) and Bonnie Bedelia (“Die Hard,” “Parenthood”).
Yes, Christmastime. “The Noel Diary” is (duh) a holiday film.
And yes, it was filmed in Westport, on the hottest days in June. That’s the way the movie industry rolls.
Like anyone else in the business, Adams and his family learned to roll with the punches.
The saga began in March. Working at home, Adams saw people taking photos of his house.
Working with representatives from the state’s Office of Film, TV and Digital Media, they were scouting for 2 porches. They’d come to the right place: Adams’ — and the facades of other nearby houses, on the end of the usually quiet road just off Main Street — are historic and gorgeous. There’s not a McMansion in sight.
Filming began in other Fairfield County towns. The first sign of Westport’s star turn came when several enormous trucks massed in the Playhouse parking lot. That was the staging area.
Adams’ first sign that the crew was ready to take over — and do it their own, practiced way — was when they installed a massive generator on the side of the house. Then came tents in the back.
And huge cranes, for lighting. Plus cutting down a tree, for a better shot of another house across the way.
The original contract included rental of the porch, a bit of the first floor interior, and basement (as a break room for the crew). Quickly, the producers asked to rent the driveway and garage too. Those riders were added.
Adams, his wife and son Will were both fascinated and blasé about the production. They watched in wonder as actors sweated through take after take in 90-degree heat (someone’s specific job was helping them take off their heavy coats).
Bedelia asked Brett if she could come inside between takes. Sure, he said. Will — a Staples High School junior — came downstairs during a study break, greeted the Emmy-nominated actress with a casual “hi!”, then went about his business.
The shaded porch became a favorite hangout for hair and makeup crews. Brett would take breaks from his own work, and ask them about their work. “I have my job, and they have theirs,” he says. “I learned a lot about what they do.”
One surprising lesson: how long it takes to shoot one scene. Each involves multiple angles, and many takes.
Once, a boy rode a bike up and down the street, over and over again. Another time, a dog chased a car — over and over and over again.
Brett was also astonished at the number of people involved, in every aspect, from the production manager to the guy watering the street.
The final night, the crew created a snowfall. Brett was impressed. “They really can create magic,” he says.
Nearly everyone who tromped onto Brett’s porch, and into his basement, had kind words for how nice and accommodating everyone in Westport had been. Apparently, that’s not always the case.
He returns the compliments. Negotiations were not stressful, he says. “They’re very practiced at this. They know antagonism will never get them anywhere.”
When a recycling bin went missing. someone hustled over to Westport Hardware and bought a new one.
The actors were great too, Brett says. Hartley took photos with everyone. Director Charles Shyer (“Father of the Bride,” “Private Benjamin,” “Alfie”) — “classic Hollywood, 79 years old in sneakers and a t-shirt” — was often available for interesting conversations.
“He never yelled ‘action,'” Brett observes. “There was someone else around to do that.”
“I don’t know where a Netflix film fits in with the whole art scene. But for a couple of weeks, even though it could be a nuisance, it was pretty cool.”
Besides, there was this: While work colleagues apologized for dog or toddler interruptions, Brett had another excuse.
“Sorry, guys,” he’d say. “They’re filming a movie at my house.”
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