Residents of Evanston's northeast side awoke Friday to a world where a contagious disease is spreading, the National Guard has been called in and helicopters drop limited supplies to a group of hopeful survivors.
The crew of Contagion, an upcoming feature film starring Matt Damon and directed by Steven Soderbergh, spent most of the day filming a handful of scenes in the vacant lot near the intersections of Lincoln Street and Orrington Avenue. The film follows the lives of several characters as they struggle to live through the spread of a contagious disease.
For the days leading up to the filming, the lot where Kendall College once sat was transformed into a Minneapolis park, complete with a makeshift baseball diamond, in preparation for the shoot.
More than 100 crew members and 600 background actors packed the square block. Roads within a two- block radius were closed to traffic and nearby residents were asked to exit their homes through the back door so as to avoid interfering with the filming.
Some residents trickled over to the set anyhow, in many cases simply to catch a glimpse of Matt Damon, who was on set. Although security was tight, one made it all the way through to the star himself.
"I went and tapped him on the back and said 'Do you mind if I take a picture, I'm a neighborhood person,'" said Holly Zimmerman, of 729 Lincoln Ave. "And he said 'sure'. He was very gracious."
Her husband was also enthusiastic about having a taste of Hollywood in Evanston.
"All week we've been getting excited and anticipating [the filming]," Lee Zimmerman said. "I took off work. It was very exciting to have them in the neighborhood. It's not every day that Matt Damon's across the street from my house."
Although a notice informed nearby residents that prep crews would work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., a few residents complained that trucks woke them up as early as 4 a.m.
During the filming, cranes dropped crates of supplies, containing Dasani water bottles and Meal, Ready-to-Eat packages, which are often used in combat zones. High-powered fans were utilized to assist in the illusion that helicopters were dropping the rations.
National Guard and Army troops in the film were played by members of the Illinois National Guard, who also brought along Humvees and Light Medium Tactical Vehicles for the shoot. Additionally, several Minnesota state trooper cruisers were brought in for the filming.
By 6 p.m., the lot was again near empty. Film crews will spend the next few days removing any additional props or equipment.
Contagion is set to be released in October 2011 and also stars Gweneth Paltrow, Jude Law and Kate Winslet.