By Crystal Bozek
ANDOVER — The film crews were busy setting up their tripods, wires and boom mikes, so no one noticed as Cindy McKallagat smuggled some photographs of her children behind the pharmacy counter.
The Letourneau's Pharmacy owner wanted to make sure her loved ones had a cameo in the latest film to hit the Merrimack Valley — "Don McKay".
The dark drama, starring Thomas Haden Church and Elisabeth Shue, is shooting in the area through mid-September.
They took over Letourneau's for two hours yesterday morning, drawing a small but steady flow of gawkers who had stopped by to grab coffee at the neighboring Dunkin' Donuts on Route 28.
"We have parts. We act like we're doing business, answering phones and dealing with computers," McKallagat said. "In real life, I'm e-mailing all my children saying I got to meet Elisabeth Shue. It's been fun."
Cindy and Shawn McKallagat aren't the only locals to see a piece of the $5 million film project.
The crew has been using a foreclosed house off of Route 114 in North Andover as their main backdrop, and also have shot scenes at Lawrence High School and Palmer's restaurant in Andover.
The movie is just the latest sign to many that the Merrimack Valley has turned into a Hollywood hotbed seemingly overnight.
Films like "The Surrogates," "This Side of the Truth," and "The Box" have filmed here, mostly at Osgood Landing on Route 125 in North Andover.
"Everyone has been great to us," "Don McKay" director Jake Goldberger said of shooting in the Andovers. "We hope we can keep this going and make a film everyone in town will be proud of. We're all excited."
The movie is about high school janitor Don McKay — played by Church — who is returning to his hometown after a tragedy forced him to leave 25 years ago.
He receives a letter from his long lost love, Elisabeth Shue's character, telling him she's dying from cancer and asking if he'll come back and rekindle the flame while she still has time.
But McKay ends up caught in a web of deceit, confusion and murder as he suspects her motives for summoning him are more nefarious than she's letting on.
Church is known for his recurring role as Lowell Mather on the 90s television show "Wings", and has since starred in hits like "Sideways" and "Spiderman 3". Shue starred in classics like "Karate Kid", "Back to the Future 2," and "Leaving Las Vegas."
"I thought Thomas would be perfect in this role," Goldberger said. "He accepted and we've been trying to get it together for the last couple years. And then Elisabeth signed on."
The crew moved to Letourneau's to shoot a scene where Church is with Shue picking up her medication when he first gets into town.
Church and Shue would come out to the parking lot in between takes but stay to themselves, making conversation in between two parked sports utility vehicles.
"I keep missing them," Daryl King said of the movie stars, stepping out of Dunkin' Donuts with his coffee and newspaper in hand. "I keep coming out for peeks."
The McKallagats were approached a few weeks back by a location scout and then didn't hear anything for a while, until he brought the assistant and directors to the shop.
"The first time, this guy was taking pictures of the store," McKallagat said. "He had no business card. I said, 'For all we know, you're here to case the joint.'"
McKallagat was flattered when Shue told her she liked the store, which has an apothecary feel.
Customers were just as excited, once they figured out what was going on at the pharmacy.
Ann Santos, of North Andover, had no clue what was happening when she pulled up to pick up her prescription with her daughter Gabriela.
"We were told we could go in but to shhh because they were making a movie," Santos said. "I thought they were filming some local cable show, and then I saw Elisabeth Shue. It's crazy. We just bumped into it."