CLUTIER, Iowa --- A crew of New Yorkers left their bustling city of skyscrapers and subways Wednesday for two cozy, quaint rural Iowa towns for 3 1/2 weeks to film a motion picture.
Filming began Thursday for "A Time for Heroes," a World War II story written and directed by La Crosse, Wis.-area filmmaker Scott Thompson of MyTown Pictures and produced by Staten Island, N.Y.-native Sam Borowski.
The patriotic-themed movie will be filmed almost exclusively in Traer and Clutier with some well-known actors joined by local war veterans.
Thompson decided to revisit Tama County after directing two small community movies there in 2011 --- "The Call" in Traer and "Hometown" in Clutier.
"Traer and Clutier have very helpful people, very generous people," Thompson said. "We thought it would be a good place to shoot."
Folks from Clutier, Traer, the Meskwaki settlement and Tama County provided a major portion of the $200,000 budget, Thompson said.
"Basically a home-grown project," he said.
The mayor of Clutier, Ardene Cross, assisted Thompson last year and was first in line to help.
"You never know when you do something like that what the rippling effects will be. We were real honored that they chose to come back to Clutier," she said.
The old-fashioned streets of the town with about 300 people offer a unique backdrop for the movie, which includes flashbacks to the 1940s.
"It's perfect for the script. It's just an interesting look. You can't fake that kind of a look on a studio backdrop. Here it's just real," Borowski said.
The movie's main character, played by Paul Sorvino of "Goodfellas" fame, is a World War II hero. His life is depicted with twists of mystery wrapped through the plot as the audience learns of his checkered past.
A scene from the movie takes audiences back in time to a USO dance. The USO was developed in 1941 in response to a request from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for recreation and leisure time for service members and their families.
"They actually have a hall here that was used for USO dances. That's amazing," Borowski said.
Thompson was delighted when he learned of the historic Czech-heritage Zapadne Ceska Bratrska Jednota Lodge, which has hardly changed since the 1940s and still contains some memorabilia from the time period.
Borowski has plenty of experience working with big name actors, like Academy Award-winners Benicio Del Toro and Ernest Borgnine. He is the winner of 16 awards for films including "Night Club" and "Mandala Maker."
After joining the project he immediately contacted Sorvino, Bill Sorvino, nephew of Paul Sorvino, and Samantha Tuffarelli, an up-and-coming actress from the Bronx.
"I brought this crew of New Yorkers out to Iowa, and I think its kind of a cool thing. Maybe they'll deal with culture shock, but if they're like me and Sam they'll have the time of their lives," Borowski said.
Tuffarelli was a character on Sesame Street for three years as a kid and had a small part in the first "Sex and The City" movie. In Clutier she plays a major supporting role in the film and is also on set as associate producer.
Borowski and Tuffarelli were in awe of the peaceful, natural essence of Clutier as they took a break Thursday afternoon. They took time to admire old signs, abandoned buildings and the idea of a volunteer fire department.
"It's humbling. It's beautiful to me. I like seeing different pictures of Americana, and this is one of them," Borowski said.
Respected veteran Hollywood actress Sally Kellerman will join Sorvino on screen. She is perhaps best-known for her Oscar-nominated performance as U.S. Army Maj. Margaret "Hot Lips" Houlihan in director Robert Altman's 1970 film "M*A*S*H," which inspired the longtime hit television series.
Sorvino is also known for his roles in "Reds," "That Championship Season" and his turn as New York City Police Det. Sgt. Phil Ceretta in the television drama the "Law and Order."
"It's kind of unique to be on a crew with big names yet have this small town feel to it," Borowski said.
Gary Kroeger, who left show business to return to his Cedar Falls roots in 2003, was introduced to the script a couple months ago. He immediately agreed to play a supporting role.
"I'd like to think it's not a stretch. I play a nice Midwestern guy who is kind of funny, but you could make me a homicidal maniac and I'd be thrilled, too," he said.
Kroeger has built 25 years' experience as a professional entertainer, including three years as a "Saturday Night Live" cast member and stints as an actor, director and game show host.
"You see these people on TV and in the movies, and when do you think you're actually going to meet these people? I've always loved the idea. Very exciting to meet people that are in show business," Cross said.
About 30 local veterans will take part in a Memorial Day scene held at the Traer Memorial building. Veterans will appear with Sorvino, who will be giving a speech.
"That in and of itself is really great," said Cecilia Podhajsky of Traer.
Local veterans include Norbert Caloud and Richard Wiebbecke, both of Clutier, and David Svoboda of Toledo.
Cloud, 87, served in the U.S. Army in Hawaii from 1945 to 1946. He will be wearing his original uniform from the war.
"I thought it'd be a good experience to see how it's put together. I thought it'd be kind of fun," he said.
Svoboda and Wiebbecke both served in the U.S. Army in Vietnam.
Svoboda served from 1964 to 1966. He said he agrees to do anything he can when it's related to a Legion function.
"Sure, I'll try most anything to be a star," he said.
Wiebbecke served from 1965 to 1967.
"They just asked me to partake in it, and I said yes," he said.
Filming will continue this week in Clutier, next week in Traer and will wrap up with five more days in Clutier.
Podhajsky and Cross joined forces to provide meals with volunteers for more than 20 people daily for the filming's duration.
The pair combined their resources to make sure their community gives its guests a warm reception.
Cross said the meals are the simple part.
"I just wanted to make sure they have something they like. And it turns out they kind of eat just like we eat. They like the meat and potatoes," she said.
Local residents responded to the duo's need for antique vehicles, which will accent downtown streets this week for scenes from 1943. Local car enthusiasts offered about 12 cars ranging from model years 1929 to 1940 for filming, including a Model T and a Chevy.
"There's just a lot of little things that you don't think about. It's just a neat experience," Cross said.
Cross has been searching for clothing representative of the 1940s.
"Can't have anything that wasn't in existence. There's a lot of stuff that you don't think of that's hanging around, like you can't have a flag that has the 50 stars on it. You've got to have the 48 stars like in 1943," she said. "And in 1943 if anybody wore nail polish it was usually bright red."
Screenings of the movie will begin next spring, according to Thompson.
Other cast members include soap opera stars Eileen Fulton, who for five decades played Lisa on "As the World Turns," and Monticello native Ellen Dolan, who also played on "As the World Turns" as well as "Guiding Light." Another is Ben Easter of West Des Moines, whose film credits include "Pearl Harbor" and "I'll Always Know What You Did Last Summer."
"I think it's exciting that the small community in Iowa, rural Iowa, is drawing movie companies. I think it speaks a lot for the people of Iowa, their ability to make it a little more extra special," Podhajsky said. "It's just a wonderful thing for the two communities that are so close to get and now we're getting pulled tog closer by the making of this film here."