Main Street

Main Street

Ellen Burstyn, Colin Firth and Patricia Clarkson in MAIN STREET, a Magnolia Pictures release. Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures.

Main Street (2010/2011)

Opened: 09/09/2011 Limited

Palm Desert, CA09/09/2011 - 09/15/20117 days
Durham, NC09/30/2011 - 10/06/20117 days

Trailer: Click for trailer

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Genre: Drama

Rated: PG for mild thematic elements, brief language and smoking.


From Horton Foote, Oscar winning screenwriter of To Kill a Mockingbird and Tender Mercies, comes MAIN STREET, a moving ensemble drama starring Oscar winner Colin Firth, Orlando Bloom, Oscar nominee Patricia Clarkson, Oscar winner Ellen Burstyn, and Andrew McCarthy. The lives of the residents of a small Southern city are changed forever by the arrival of a stranger with a controversial plan to save their decaying hometown.

Directed by John Doyle and stars Colin Firth, Ellen Burstyn and Patricia Clarkson with Amber Tamblyn, Orlando Bloom, Andrew McCarthy, Margo Martindale, Victoria Clark, Tom Wopat and Isiah Whitlock Jr. The screenwriter was Horton Foote. The movie was produced by Spencer Silna, Megan Ellison, Jonah Hirsch, Adi Shankar, Douglas Saylor Jr. and Ted Schipper.

About the Film

Ellen Burstyn, Colin Firth, Patricia Clarkson, Amber Tamblyn and Orlando Bloom star with Andrew McCarthy, Tom Wopat, Margo Martindale and Victoria Clark in the film production of celebrated screenwriter Horton Foote's final screenplay, MAIN STREET. Tony Award-winning director John Doyle (the 2004 revival of "Sweeney Todd") makes his feature film debut, with Donald M. McAlpine (Oscar nominee for Moulin Rouge!, Predator) serving as director of photography. Other members of the creative team include production designer Christopher Nowak (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, The Basketball Diaries), costume designer Gary Jones (Spider-Man 2, The Talented Mr. Ripley), editor Richard Francis-Bruce (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Shawshank Redemption), and composer Patrick Doyle (Thor, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire). MAIN STREET is produced by Jonah Hirsch, Megan Ellison and Spencer Silna. Adi Shankar, Douglas Saylor Jr. and Ted Schipper are the executive producers.

MAIN STREET is a contemporary drama about several residents of a small Southern city whose lives are changed by the arrival of a stranger with a controversial plan to save their decaying hometown. In the midst of today's challenging times, each of the colorful citizens of this close-knit North Carolina community -- from its Mayor to a local police officer to a once-wealthy tobacco heiress -- will search for ways to reinvent themselves, their relationships and the very heart of their neighborhood.

Filmed entirely in Durham, North Carolina, Foote's tale follows the intertwining stories of several Durham residents as well as newcomers which will intersect in ways none of them could ever imagine at an essential juncture in their lives. Georgiana Carr (Ellen Burstyn), one of the last members of a once-powerful Durham tobacco manufacturing family, is facing the prospect of losing her family's mansion due to the world's fallen economy. She desperately agrees to lease her family's empty downtown tobacco warehouse to Gus Leroy (Colin Firth) a Texan representing a waste storage conglomerate. Prodded by her grown niece, Willa Jenkins (Patricia Clarkson), Georgiana discovers that toxic waste has been placed in her warehouse by Leroy and is guarded by a group of wary Mexican workmen. Alarmed, she calls local policeman Harris Parker (Orlando Bloom) to investigate. Parker, a local boy also studying for his law degree, is distracted by his longing for high school first love Mary Saunders (Amber Tamblyn), a young woman yearning to leave her current job in nearby Raleigh for the prospects of living in a larger city (perhaps Atlanta) after a failed affair with a married co-worker, Howard Mercer (Andrew McCarthy).

Once Leroy's canisters of hazardous materials are discovered, their existence becomes a concern not only for Georgiana and Willa, but the town of Durham as well. Caught up in the nation's economic downturn, every citizen will have to make this decision: "do I do what is right, or what is needed?" when Gus Leroy promises that the city could become the future site of a larger waste depository that, while enriching the town, would place all of it inhabitants in peril.

Screenwriter Horton Foote, who passed away in March, 2009 at the age of 92, completed work on this, his final screenplay, in 2008. Typical of Foote's past film work (Tender Mercies, The Trip to Bountiful), MAIN STREET focuses on the dreams and aspirations of everyday people, reflecting his early upbringing in the small town of Wharton, Texas. It was this love of simple folk and their beloved hometowns that led to the writer focusing on the plight of Durham, North Carolina five years before filming took place.

About the Production

A group of producers conceived of several ideas five years ago that could be brought to fruition and filmed in Durham. North Carolina had long been a center of film production, especially in the studio town of Wilmington. But with the economy shifting, the state had not been as active as it had been years before.

"We made a list of writers to approach with the task of capturing the essence of the city," recalled producer Jonah Hirsch. "And on the top of our list was Horton Foote."

The producers managed to convince the writer to fly to Durham and see the city for himself. "He spent a week in Durham meeting people and being taken all over town," recalled Hallie Foote, the screenwriter's daughter. "He was fascinated with these empty tobacco warehouses. I know he was thinking about what it would mean if someone decided to use them for something else."

Foote connected another idea he had been struck with years ago, when his own hometown faced a threat from a former sulfur mine that had been proposed as a potential toxic storage dump by a French company. "People in Wharton went crazy," said Hallie Foote. "The French ultimately had to give up and move on. I think my dad remembered that when looking at these immense tobacco warehouses, and this sowed a seed for the story that became MAIN STREET."

"Within hours, Horton was at work on his screenplay, writing in his Durham hotel room," said Jonah Hirsch. "He saw there was a very interesting story to tell about this city and its decline. His vision was ahead of its time."

"To Mr. Foote, Durham was the embodiment of every small city in the US," added Spencer Silna. "He envisioned what Durham once was and what it could be again. Incredibly, he was able to see the economic decline of our country many years in advance."

The script went through many revisions. "Horton wrote new drafts of the screenplay right up until he passed away," said Jonah Hirsch. "Probably twenty to thirty in all. He constantly revised and edited, crafting each scene in order to create his perfect script. But he was such a gentleman. He never let his stature get in the way of listening to others' ideas."

Foote walked around Durham, meeting as many people as he could in order to understand the rhythm and demeanor of its citizens. "I know he came to love the town," said Hallie Foote. "He met the mayor and townspeople, and they were lovely to him. I know he felt that was totally unexpected and he was intrigued by their decency. And then he came home, staying up all night writing. I know he would be happy seeing this film being made."

Once the script was finished the producers concentrated on finding a director and cast. John Doyle, an acclaimed British-born stage director, got the nod to guide the film.

"John was obviously familiar with Mr. Foote's work," said Spencer Silna. "Although, he had never directed one of his plays, John had certainly been a fan of Mr. Foote, and the themes his work explored, for many years. He was immediately intrigued by the prospect of directing this piece."

"Horton's story is what attracted me," recalled John Doyle. "It is a great piece of writing. I can't believe I have the honor of directing his last movie. This is also an actor's film, and I love working with actors. This film had real scenes in it, with real people really speaking to one another. Other films I had been approached to direct were action films. This one, for once, was about humanity."

With Foote's script and Doyle's participation assured, the producers went about attracting their dream cast. For one character, only one actress was considered: Ellen Burstyn as the lonely spinster 'Georgiana Carr'. "As arguably the greatest living American actress of her generation, Ellen Burstyn was an obvious choice. She has the rare ability to bring a terrifying, raw quality to the characters she portrays, while remaining grounded and simple."

Ellen Burstyn had actually played the lead in two Horton Foote plays on Broadway: "The Trip to Bountiful" and "The Death of Papa". An Academy Award winner herself for her performance in 1975 in Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore and a Tony Award winner as well for "Same Time, Next Year", the actress was pleased to be a part of Horton Foote's most recent work. Little did she know then that it would become his final screenplay.

"I always had a lot of admiration for Horton's works," said Ellen Burstyn, who most recently portrayed former First Lady Barbara Bush in director Oliver Stone's W. "I always felt he ranks with Eugene O'Neill, Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams as the greatest American playwrights. I didn't know that when I signed on to this film I would be doing the last thing he wrote. I always loved his very subtle way of writing, where there is so much going on underneath the characters so there is so much to play."

According to Hallie Foote, Burstyn's character 'Georgiana Carr' would be based by the writer, in a sense, on himself. "I think she is my father," surmised Hallie Foote. "I asked him 'Georgiana is you, isn't she?' He said 'yes'. She isn't exactly my father, but she characterized his experience with change and letting go of things once you are older. He wrote 'Georgiana' as an optimist, someone who makes adjustments when their life inevitably changes and they have to move on."

Once Ellen Burstyn and John Doyle were involved, an exciting cast was quickly assembled of actors yearning to work with both on a Horton Foote script. One of the first was British leading man, Colin Firth, who relished the idea of speaking with a Texan accent playing the enigmatic 'Gus Leroy'.

"I liked the idea that not only would I play a Texan, but a man whose life was so full of blanks I could fill in", said Colin Firth. "He has no mother, father or siblings, and he is divorced. He tends to stick to his sales pitch, which reveals very little about him. Also, I was quite interested that this was a Horton Foote piece even before I read it. He is responsible for some of my favorite plays and screenplays. Once Ellen was cast, it was somewhat irresistible."

The film's gentle plot intrigued Firth, devoid, in his mind, of so many of the cliches found in recent cinema. "It has a very powerful sense of mood and a strong sense of mystery," explained Firth. "People's lives are overturned by the arrival of this man from Texas. He is offering something that, on one hand, is very appealing to a town hungry for economic growth. He wants to breathe life back into their town. But he does that by bringing a form of death--hazardous waste--to them."

This dichotomy of life and death also attracted the participation of revered actress Patricia Clarkson, an Oscar nominee herself for Pieces of April. "I think it is about the loss of a town, the loss of innocence, the loss of love and yet, rebirth," said Patricia Clarkson. "It is a very topical subject today, with the foreclosures and the decay of towns everywhere in America. I think 'Gus' comes to represent a whole different world and life for my character, 'Willa'. She had a wonderful life at some point, but lost it all along the way. I think in him she sees hope and decency, as well as redemption."

Younger actors Orlando Bloom and Amber Tamblyn were the last to join the cast. Bloom, known for such blockbusters as Pirates of the Caribbean and Lord of the Rings, was smitten with not only working with his fellow actors but by playing, for the first time, a policeman.

"I liked the idea of playing a cop," said Orlando Bloom. "I liked doing the detailed kind of thinking about what a cop is and what he does in his daily life. I also enjoyed the craft of Horton Foote's screenplay. When I spoke with John Doyle about the role, he described the film as a poem about people. And I liked the idea of being involved in that poem."

Amber Tamblyn was the final piece of the casting puzzle. Very busy starring in her own television series, "The Unusuals," she carved out some free time to play 'Mary Saunders', a complex Durham girl whose dreams of a new life in a big city had led her to a disappointing job and tragic love life in nearby Raleigh.

"I saw 'Mary' as being a parallel to 'Georgiana'," explained Amber Tamblyn. "Both are facing changes in their lives, but one wants to stay and the other wants to leave. She is in a place in her life where she feels she can only be happy elsewhere. But she is still in love with a very decent hometown boy, 'Harris', who is convinced that he wants to stay and live his life in Durham. He is comfortable with who he is, and she has yet to really discover herself."

Experienced stage and film actors such as Andrew McCarthy, Margo Martindale, Victoria Clark, Tom Wopat and Isiah Whitlock Jr. were chosen for the film's smaller, but just as integral, roles.

But before the film could start shooting, Horton Foote died in his sleep on March 4, 2009, at the home of daughter Hallie Foote in Connecticut at the age of 92. "I am happy he was able to write until the end," said Hallie Foote. "He really loved writing. He never wanted to stop. I am also happy the last production he saw was a play he liked: "To Kill a Mockingbird," which I narrated. He died a week and a half later."

Although saddened, the cast and filmmakers resolved to create MAIN STREET as a homage to Horton Foote, breathing life into his story as they believed he would have wanted them to. "I would have loved to have met Horton," said Colin Firth. "It is sad to have come this close to having actually worked with him and to have missed at the last minute. This story needed to be kept alive, and it turned out to be a wonderful thing for us to do this final work of his with love and accuracy."

John Doyle also missed meeting Foote face to face when a dinner had to be re-scheduled at the last moment in New York City prior to the film's first cast rehearsals. "I did see his most recent play on Broadway ("Dividing the Estate") but did not really experience him until I read this new material," said John Doyle. "The humanity of this story was so extraordinary. He has thought through so eloquently how one character's journey affects the journey of another, yet they never meet. It is poetry, really."

Perhaps Doyle's biggest challenge was setting foot on a movie set for the first time in his career as a director. "I had actually been an extra when I was sixteen on a film shot in England by Billy Wilder," said John Doyle. "But I had no idea what to expect when we rolled camera for the first time. I felt like the only person who showed up with no clothes on, because they were all speaking a technical language I could not understand. Every day was a challenge, especially those spent outdoors. As a theatre director, I have always thought of mounting a play inside the theatre box on stage. Those exterior days were much more complex for me."

To aid the first time director in his day to day race to complete the film on time, a cadre of experienced hands was assembled: director of photography Donald M. McAlpine (Moulin Rouge!, Predator), Christopher Nowak (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, The Basketball Diaries), costume designer Gary Jones (Spider-Man 2, The Talented Mr. Ripley), editor Richard Francis-Bruce (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Shawshank Redemption), and composer Patrick Doyle (Thor, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire).

"John's innate authority with the actors made my job easy," said cinematographer Donald M. McAlpine. "He controlled them very firmly. You could see his stage experience shining through. I know the actors enjoyed his positive and direct approach to the material."

Colin Firth echoed the experiences of all of his fellow actors in working under John Doyle's expert hand. "He clearly understood the nature of storytelling, the nature of performance, the nature of using the text as a guide," said Colin Firth. "Plus his personality is positive and engaging. I fell as long as you have that and you understand the material, you can delegate well."

The film shot for five weeks in downtown Durham, exciting local fans with scenes that took place in the city's core: near the central town square; among its salmon-red brick warehouses; inside several residences -- all very close to one another. Although several films had been shot in Durham (including the beloved Bull Durham in 1987), very few had been written about the city itself.

"Durham has a great deal of character," said producer Spencer Silna. "It is a fascinating blend of natives and immigrants, with trademark buildings from its glorious past standing alongside the new structures of the Research Triangle. The city provided our production designer with a wonderful assortment of locations, which he did a fantastic job transforming into the iconic visions found in Mr. Foote's screenplay. 'Georgiana's house, for example, was a working residence that Christopher had to completely redress. The red brick warehouse was one of two still standing that had not been already turned into lofts or businesses by the people of Durham. We were able to bring back some of the grandeur of this town, from an era that is gone. We were able to address its history and put some of that on the screen for posterity."

Production designer Christopher Nowak found that the dilapidated Durham of Horton Foote's original screenplay had, in most cases, been already gentrified by the proud residents of the city since Foote first visited five years before.

"Horton was writing at a time when Durham had been more dangerous, and, in a way, falling apart. And those things are gone. This city is vital and growing again. It is somewhat like what happens in the film: the light grows brighter for the town and its people as the story progresses," said Christopher Nowak.

By the time filming was ended, the cast and crew had bonded closely with the city of Durham and its hundreds of fans who eagerly watched filming every day on location. For Ellen Burstyn, the finished film would hopefully echo this synergy.

"It is a movie about people and their relationships, how they affect one another," said the Oscar-winning actress. "I hope that its audience will be able to slow down, just sit and be with other people in the theatre, and truly experience the human exchange found in Horton Foote's story."

"It is about a small town in America," added director John Doyle. "It could be any small town in the western world, I suppose. I think it is about change, and whether or not any one of us can achieve it. It is a delicate film, something that is rare and beautiful -- and quite universal in subject thanks to today's global economy. This film isn't just about America. It is about what the world is facing as well.