When Jana Simpson created a website to help sell her Ashland Place home, she had no idea it would lead her to Hollywood. Or, more accurately, that it would lead Hollywood to her. But location scouts for the feature-film directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele found Simpson’s house online, and it had exactly what they were looking for: an interior room with a large window through which you could see the sidewalk. They ended up filming the movie’s shocking opening scene on that sidewalk, in one of Mobile’s signature torrential downpours spring provided.
The rain was just one of many insights into the nuts and bolts of filmmaking that Simpson and her family gained from the unique, whirlwind experience of having a major motion picture filmed in their home. Although one might imagine naturally occurring rainfall was ideal for the shot, it actually created a need for special effects. In order to produce a consistent rainfall take after take, the crew had to bring in a special truck and a cherry picker to create rain, masking the real, sporadic rain.
The film, “Get Out,” is a horror film written and directed by Peele that explores race in America through the story of a young African-American man who visits his white girlfriend’s family estate, which is “cursed.” The film’s star, Allison Williams of HBO’s “Girls” and NBC’s “Peter Pan,” and other cast and crew members made their home on the Eastern Shore for several weeks during shooting.
Peele is well known to fans of his successful Comedy Central sketch show, “Key and Peele.” One person, however, who did not immediately recognize him was Simpson herself; amid a flurry of activity when a team of dozens of producers descended on her home, Peele introduced himself and the homeowner had no idea who he was. Her 25-year-old son had to clue her in.
After multiple visits from Peele and his team, filming began on a rainy night in March, with approximately 17 vehicles filling Levert Avenue, cast trailers and craft services set up at Ashland Place Methodist Church, and police on hand to block off streets. Despite the rain, Peele took time for pictures with neighborhood fans and exhibited a hands-on approach to every stage of filming.
Simpson saw her home transformed into a film set by a huge team of specialized professionals, even some people whose sole job it was to camouflage her 25-year-old sago palms into different shrubbery. Every single prop, even children’s toys from a thrift store, had to be stored in a warehouse until filming was completed, in case of reshoots. There was also a team making food for the family meal in her kitchen, and people who photographed every detail of her home so they could return it to an absolutely identical state after the filming ended.
“You would never know they had been here. They even put every book back on the bookshelf in the exact same order,” Simpson marveled. She witnessed firsthand the tremendous effort and expense that goes into simply transforming a house into another house, for fewer than 24 hours. Once the veil of movie magic has been lifted, you never watch a movie the same way again.