As I write this column, my wife and I are in beautiful Mendocino, Calif., for the city’s annual film festival. Mendocino has been the location for some beautiful and memorable movies such as The Summer Of 1942, Racing with the Moon, and Same Time, Next Year.
Being here and experiencing the lasting effect that filmmaking has had on this magical beach community in Northern California has transported me back to that summer, almost 30 years ago, when we brought a film crew for the first time to shoot an entire film on Mackinac Island, Mich.
The setting for the novel on which Somewhere In Time was based was actually The Del Coronado Hotel in Coronado, Calif., near San Diego. When we looked at "the Del," however, it was surrounded by so much of the modern world that we could never make the 1912 sequences of our film look believable. So, our search began for a hotel and a location at which we could shoot the entire film. (We also didn’t want to be anywhere near Hollywood where the studio would be looking over our shoulders every minute.)
One day, I was shown photographs of The Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and it looked perfect for us, except for one small detail: they had never allowed a film crew to shoot a whole film there because trucks and cars were permanently banned from the island. All transportation was accomplished by horse-drawn carriages and bicycles. That made the Island perfect for our 1912 sequences in that there were no parking meters, etc., but how to solve the problem of our trucks?
Fortunately, the hotel was not owned by some faceless corporation, but by one man named Dan Musser. I sent a copy of our script to him, with a note saying that his magnificent hotel would be a major character in the film. He quickly responded and invited us to take a tour of his hotel and the Island.
So off we went, in February, to Northern Michigan.
We arrived by small plane and were greeted by Mr. Musser and a couple of beautiful horse-drawn carriages. Cold? Below-zero freezing! As a California guy, I was naively so excited as we pulled up to the hotel. We were finally going to go inside and get warm, right? Uh, no. The hotel was, of course, not heated during the winter months when it was closed to the public so it was actually colder inside than it was outside. (As I exhaled icy breath in the hotel, I actually felt a bit like Jack Nicholson in The Shining). The dead of winter could not, however, mask the incredible grace and beauty of The Grand and its surroundings. After being shown more photos of the Grand in summertime, we were taken around the Island by horse-drawn carriage and then by snowmobile (allowed in the winter months). Even covered in ice and snow, we could tell that we had found the perfect location for our film.
Mr. Musser worked his magic with the local authorities and, in May, we arrived to make our film. By then, the island was in its full flowering glory and we spent a magical six weeks of filming there.
When the film was edited, we premiered it on the Island at the Grand Hotel itself. I’ll never forget that night, sitting next to Dan Musser as he saw his magnificent Grand immortalized on film. When the film was over, and he saw the closing credits in which we thanked him for "the gracious use of his magnificent Hotel," he turned to me with tears in his eyes and told me that he knew, in that instant, that people would be coming to the Grand for decades to come to see where the film had been made.
And he was so right. To this day, thousands of people go to Mackinac every summer to find the locations where we filmed and to experience the ageless grace of the Grand. The fan club of the film (INSITE: International Network of Somewhere in Time Enthusiasts) hosts a weekend every October during which the entire hotel is taken over by fans of the film, capped by a 1912 Costume Ball. Locations do indeed hold the energy of the films that were made there, so don’t be surprised if you sense the spirit of an incredibly courageous man who traded in his cape for a 1912 suit in that summer of 1979.
"Is it you?" Indeed.