Couple's Schenectady residence featured prominently in film

Friday, April 5, 2013
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Heather and Andy Chestnut look over campaign posters and buttons at their home in the GE Realty Plot.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Heather and Andy Chestnut look over campaign posters and buttons at their home in the GE Realty Plot.

On a Saturday morning in late September 2011, Heather and Andy Chestnut walked in the door of their historic home in the GE Realty Plot to find a huge mess.

Empty booze bottles littered the room, the remnants of their contents puddled here and there; pills, joints and cigarette butts were scattered everywhere.

But the couple remained calm and obeyed the big sign that had been pasted to their home's exterior door. It said something like: "Do not touch anything. The party is a mess. Everything is spilled, but it's set how we want it."

The carefully arranged chaos was part of a party scene in Derek Cianfrance's film "The Place Beyond The Pines."

Shot almost exclusively in the Schenectady area in 2011, the movie tells the story of Luke Glanton, a motorcycle stunt rider played by Ryan Gosling, who resorts to extreme measures to support his young child. During a robbery-gone-wrong, he meets up with Avery Cross, a rookie Schenectady cop played by Bradley Cooper. A long-stretching conflict between the two men and their families ensues.

Crews spent September of 2011 filming scenes both inside and outside the Chestnuts' home, which was built in 1907 for City Judge Alexander Vedder.

The home's elegant white corner pillars mirror those on Schenectady's City Hall, Heather Chestnut noted.

For the film, the stately residence was first transformed into the home of Cross' father, Al, played by Harris Yulin. Later in the film, when Al Cross dies, Avery Cross moves in.

Don Ritter, who heads the New York-Capital District Film Community, approached the Chestnuts about using their house in the movie in June of 2011 and the couple readily agreed.

"I called [the filmmakers] and within an hour they came over and circular filmed every room in my house and then they started coming over every day," Heather Chestnut recalled.

In preparation for the shoot, some of the couple's furnishings were moved out and different furniture was brought in. Walls were painted, light fixtures replaced and new curtains hung.

The furnishings had masculine trophy and nautical themes, Andy Chestnut said.

The first floor of the house served as Al Cross' residence for the first two weeks of shooting. The Chestnuts were allowed to cook breakfast in their kitchen, but once the film crew showed up for its noon-to-midnight filming cycle, they had to make themselves scarce.

"We were allowed to be here and watch on the monitors any of the filming but we couldn't be where the shots were," Heather Chestnut said.

In the final two weeks of shooting, the house was Avery Cross' residence, and scenes were shot both upstairs and down. During that time, the Chestnuts were put up at the Holiday Inn in Schenectady, where the film crew was staying, because pretty much everything in the house was off limits.

"The toilet paper was already turned just the way they wanted it in the scene. You can't touch a towel, you can't touch the toilet paper, you can't touch anything," Heather Chestnut explained.

When filming was in progress, there were over 100 people in the house at all times.

"I certainly look at credits of movies differently now," said Andy Chestnut, listing some of the crew members' jobs that are no longer a mystery to him.

"There was the location manager and I learned what they do, which is basically to babysit us. He was very personable but it became apparent that his job was to distract us while the other guys were doing what they were doing," he said.

Owner lands a part

When filming got under way, an actress was still being sought to play Avery Cross' mother-in-law. Heather Chestnut, who has acted in shows with the New York State Theatre Institute and the Empire State Youth Theatre Institute, landed the role.

She's in two scenes filmed at a house on Story Avenue and has a speaking part in one of them.

"We had to eat spaghetti and meatballs for 3 1/2 hours and every time he said 'cut,' [he told us] 'Load your plates back up and make like you're hungry,' It was crazy, but you do what you have to to be in the movies," she said.

Despite their close proximity to the movie's stars, the Chestnuts gave them a lot of space.

"I could have taken pictures, I could have asked for autographs, but I decided that I didn't want to do any of that," Heather Chestnut said. "When I'm an actor, I don't want people disturbing me when I'm trying to do my work, so I gave them the same thing. I would say, 'Hi, how are you Bradley Cooper today?' and then he'd go off and he'd have his cell phone and he's doing this and he's doing that and other people want to talk to him too and I just left him alone. I just did it kind of out of respect," she said.

A few mementos

Although they don't have photos that document their brush with fame, the Chestnuts do have a few mementos. Heather Chestnut kept Avery Cross' grey Union College sweatshirt, used in a scene shot in the master bedroom. Her husband has campaign posters and buttons from the part in the movie when Avery Cross runs for state attorney general.

The curtains in two of the bedrooms and a galvanized tub that held a keg during the party scene are remnants of the shoot as well.

The Chestnuts were also rewarded with a paycheck for opening their home to the filmmakers.

"We got paid for every single day they were here," Heather Chestnut explained. "It was a contract, and it was a shooting day, a hold day or a moving in and out day. They were doing one of those things every single day in September and so there's a fee scale for each one."

She wouldn't divulge how much they were paid, but said, "It was wonderful. It was not life-changing, but it was very nice."

 

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