Spotlight on town for film premiere

Set: Berlin celebrates its role in `The Runaway Bride' with a Hawaiian-themed street party that includes a real wedding.

July 30, 1999|By Chris Guy | Chris Guy,SUN STAFF

BERLIN -- This little town on the outskirts of Ocean City went Hollywood last fall when Paramount Pictures converted the downtown business district into a movie set.

Last night, Berlin, population 3,000, put on its own movie premiere. But instead of Hollywood, it went Hawaiian.

After serving as the backdrop for "The Runaway Bride," town leaders were determined to celebrate their prominent role in the romantic comedy that features Julia Roberts and Richard Gere in the fictional village of Hale, Md.

"We all had such a good time last fall, we just had to keep it going," said Colleen "Cam" Bunting, who at midday yesterday was perched on the roof of her real estate company hanging a banner that read "Welcome to Hale, Md. July 29, 1999."

"This is a great way for Berlin to publicize what a town we have here," Bunting said. "The state tourism office tells us that people are already calling to find out where Hale is."

None of the stars made it to Worcester County, but Paramount and director Garry Marshall came through with five copies of the film just in time for Berlin's big bash -- a luau street party, complete with Hawaiian shirts and skirts that matched the theme of one of the weddings in the movie, in which Julia Roberts' character leaves another would-be groom standing at the altar.

Folks have become so taken with the Hawaiian theme that there's been a run on loud, flowered shirts and dresses all over town, said Debbie Parker, who heads the Berlin Chamber of Commerce. Her Victorian Charm gift shop was closed for more than a month as the film crew transformed it into a bridal shop for key scenes.

"I just had to make a mad dash to the outlet stores, trying to find something that looked Hawaiian. I mean, I have to be in costume," Parker said.

Mayor Rex Hailey, who along with 300 to 400 others was an extra in the film, has gotten so into the spirit he's been wearing loud-print shirts for days.

"I got this one on the [Ocean City] boardwalk," said Hailey. "I've got a whole collection of Hawaiian shirts I got out of my attic and dropped them off for people at Town Hall. We're sharing."

About 1,700 people paid $30 each to attend one of a half-dozen screenings of the film yesterday afternoon at the theater complex at White Marlin Mall in West Ocean City.

Many dressed in luau attire -- leis, shorts and bright, flowery dresses -- took shuttle buses from Berlin to the theaters and lined up for a look at their hometown on the big screen.

Ticket holders also got catered meals under big tents set up in the restored downtown that moviemakers said looked as it had been built to accommodate them.

Joyce Starr, of nearby Ocean Pines, sat in the front row during the first screening. Her family -- husband Brian, Brian Jr., 7, and daughter Elizabeth, 5 -- appeared in the movie. Elizabeth was cast as a flower girl and even had use of a trailer on the days her scenes were shot.

"She's just been so excited about finally seeing it," said Joyce Starr. "We had to sit down front."

All day, volunteers, who only had about a month to organize the event -- they had to wait for a definite release date from Paramount -- scrambled to make Main Street presentable.

Almost every store window in town was adorned with "Runaway Bride" movie posters, and shopkeepers displayed photo collages of snapshots they'd taken during filming in October and November.

But Paul Williams had it all over everybody, even the movie producers. He's been running home videotapes -- shot secretly by his sons Gary and Grant from his Main Street shop -- of scenes acted out across the street.

Since neither Gere nor Roberts responded to invitations to the Berlin luau, organizers decided to sponsor a celebrity look-alike contest last weekend.

And how's this for sticking with the bridal theme? Andrew Dennis and Shannon Palmer, both of West Ocean City, agreed to kick off last night's party by getting married in front of the Atlantic Hotel, an idea cooked up by the town's Chamber of Commerce.

Hastily placed ads in two local newspapers generated calls from 17 couples willing to tie the knot in the middle of the four-block section of Main Street that formed the backdrop for much of the movie.

Reynolds Palmer, the father of the bride, wore a tuxedo and running shoes, and promised the crowd gathered on Main Street, "I'll catch her if she tries to run away."

Part of the wedding package includes a night in the Richard Gere Suite at the restored 1895-era hotel that is the centerpiece of Berlin's revitalization, which began about 10 years ago.

Helped out with a lot of volunteer labor, free services and donations, last night's party cost about $20,000 -- money well-spent, according to the business community.

Officials said the film pumped as much as $1 million into the local economy during three weeks of shooting and has already produced dividends in publicity.

Interest generated by the movie is advertising that money can't buy, business leaders said. Roberts, for instance, might not have shown up for the premiere yesterday, but the actress mentioned Berlin during an appearance on television's "Rosie O'Donnell Show."

Tour buses have begun showing up and the town has erected a sign to help lure tourists off nearby U.S. 50.

"It's already been a real boost, another push for the businesses that have been a part of everything that's happened in downtown for the last 10 years," said Kate Patton, who owns the restored Globe Theater, a 1902 movie house that now has a bookstore, deli, art gallery and small stage for live entertainment.

Pub Date: 7/30/99

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