SALISBURY — Hollywood could pay a visit to Salisbury Beach Center by the beginning of September, if negotiations go well between town officials and Columbia Pictures, which is interested in filming a scene for an upcoming movie there.
Selectmen on Monday gave their approval to Town Manager Neil Harrington to continue talks with the film company that is hoping to shoot a scene at the beach for the movie “The Equalizer,” starring Academy Award winner Denzel Washington. Although not giving the final OK yet, selectmen seemed pleased that Hollywood is interested in using Salisbury Beach as a backdrop.
According to Columbia Pictures location manager Mark Fitzgerald, the movie is loosely based on a 1980s television series by the same name.
It starred the late British actor Edward Woodward, who won the 1986 Golden Globe for Best Actor. Woodward played middle-aged, retired, CIA-type Robert McCall, who sought redemption for his past sins as a covert agent by taking on the role of a vigilante investigator.
His goal was protecting society’s underdogs and getting them out of bad situations for free. In the series, McCall placed classified ads that read: “Got a problem? Odds against you? Call the Equalizer.”
The film version, which is set to be released next year, cast Washington in the role of McCall. According to published reports, in the movie, McCall defends a teenage prostitute, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, from a Russian mafia arch villain, played by New Zealand actor Marton Csokas.
The movie pairs Washington again with movie director Antoine Fugua. The pair worked together on the movie “Training Day,” for which Washington won a Best Actor Academy Award, after being nominated for similar awards twice for his work in “Malcolm X” and “The Hurricane.”
The movie is expected to start production soon at a facility in Haverhill.
As for Salisbury’s role in the “Equalizer,” Fitzgerald told selectmen that the current schedule calls for one night of shooting starting at 4 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 6, and continuing until 4 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 7.
The location would be along the eastern tip of the Broadway mall adjacent to Joe’s Play Land.
Construction of the Salisbury set would begin on Tuesday, Sept. 3, Fitzgerald said, and would include placing a Ferris wheel at the site, since the backdrop for the scene is an amusement park.
Fitzgerald said longtime Salisbury businessman and Fiesta Shows amusement ride provider Gene Dean will supply the ride.
Selectman Freeman Condon, himself a retailer, said the movie is a good opportunity for Salisbury, but said precautions must be taken.
“In concept, I support this completely, but it can’t be totally disruptive,” Condon said. “It can’t stop business completely.”
Fitzgerald assured board members that won’t be the case. The only time traffic would be stopped around the site would be during the actual 12-hour filming of the movie scene, which will occur mainly during overnight hours.
“If you’ve ever seen a movie being shot, it’s like watching paint dry,” Fitzgerald said. “It takes a long time.”
He said the company will work closely with local businesses and town officials to ensure all needs are met. Plus, he added, the company pays for all of the associated costs, including the setup, police details and overtime for town workers. The film crews will also restore whatever is altered at the location during filming.
Once all the factors are resolved, Fitzgerald said, a contract will be drawn up for selectmen to review and sign. He said town coffers could get a boost through rental fees for town land the movie company uses, like the memorial parking lot. Also, the 100-member movie crew will give a considerable boost to local businesses, as could the 200 extras being hired to provide background players, and the spectators who come to watch the filming.
Darlene Sweeney, owner of Salisbury’s WSM Talent Agency, said hiring the extras has gone to Boston Casting. Extras do get paid, she said, “but not a lot.”
“Extras usually get paid about minimum wage, but movie companies do pay for overtime when it kicks in,” Sweeney said.
Selectman Fred Knowles asked Fitzgerald if he were looking at other locations, should Salisbury not work out for them.
“No, I don’t have a plan B, though we could come up with something if we had to,” said Fitzgerald, an 18-year veteran location manager. “(Salisbury) has been the director’s favorite from the get-go.”