H-Town goes Tinseltown
On the set for rare Houston movie making: Filming Puncture in the Heights
With the exception of the series of sparkling white trailers parked on the corner of 17th Street and Durham, there's no evidence that a quirky green bungalow on a small block of 18th Street in the Heights has been the site of a movie shoot for the past week.
Puncture (currently listed on IMDB as Safety Point) has been filming in and around Houston for over a month. It's based on the true story of Houston lawyer Michael Weiss as he fought medical supply companies to establish use of retracting safety needles in a struggle to save lives in the age of AIDS — all while fighting his own inner demons.
When I showed up at 5 p.m., about an hour after the beginning of a 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. shoot, rehearsals were talking place in a closed set in an upstairs bedroom. Co-producer Jordan Foley still showed me around where he could, including the kitchen, staged as a disaster for a party scene, and a corner of the backyard set up to represent Africa in a vignette. Apparently Africa = pile of trash.
Even though I couldn't watch the actors in their emotionally heavy (and naked) scene, I learned a lot just by talking to the crew, who were set up mostly on the lawn and in the garage. Here are ten interesting Houston tidbits about Puncture, the shoot, and the cast and crew:
1. The last day of shooting was set to be a quick transition scene at Hobby airport on Monday, which would represent Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C., but while I was there Foley and production supervisor Erin Charles were weighing the benefits of sending a skeleton crew to do a half-day of shooting in D.C. instead. "A shot of the airport looking onto the Potomac, a shot of the capitol, and boom, you're in D.C.," Charles said.
2. Production Designer Christopher Stull had his first film job as an assistant art director on Reality Bites, which has probably the most iconic images of Houston in film to date. "The house we found was on Dallas, I think, and it was this great shot with the downtown skyline set over the street. But that's disappeared now, they built an apartment complex there or something."
3. Many scenes in Puncture take place in a courtroom or a hospital. Court scenes were shot in a real Harris County Civil Court, and the production was given several floors by Park Plaza Hospital. "We were literally filming and through the doors in the next room was a working emergency room. It was crazy," Foley said.
4. To portray the home of a big-shot lawyer, the crew filmed at Mark and Becky Lanier's opulent mansion. Lanier also appears in the film in a small role — as himself. "Actually he was playing an actor playing Mark Lanier. He did a great job," Charles said.
5. Those looking for recognizable pieces of Houston in the film should keep their eyes peeled for Irma's Tex-Mex joint downtown as well as some popular taco trucks.
6. The non-local cast and crew were set up in condos at Post Midtown Square, and named their favorite off-shoot hangouts as Cyclone Anaya's and Front Porch Pub.
7. When I was there a wrangler was watching a huge iguana and an incredibly sweet golden retriever. I was told I missed by a day four more animal actors: Two boa constrictors and two crocodiles.
8. Set designer Stull went out of his way to include items from the real Michael Weiss in the movie. The desk in the home office once belonged to the real Weiss. Stull found a gallery director who remembered Weiss and the art pieces he'd bought, so Stull could get similar styles to be placed around the house set.
9. The 18th Street house set-up was scheduled to be four days, but was shortened to three when the owner accidentally locked them out for a day. The interior is essentially removed of all personal objects — even painted — rendering the space almost unrecognizable. But contracts require the crew take copious pictures and return everything to it's original state "as if we were never here," Foley said.
10. Foley's last film, The Open Road, was also shot partially in Houston, while directors Adam and Mark Kassen's last film, Bernard and Doris (for which they served as executive producers) earned Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. Other notable actors in Puncture include The Fantastic Four's Chris Evans as Mike Weiss, Law & Order's Jesse L. Martin and Vinessa Shaw.