Topsfield house seen in film all yours for $1.5m
EXTERIOR HOUSE — MORNING
A secluded development in the Oregon woods. In progress, it encroaches on pine trees, silent and venerable in their age.
Enter Dan Sanders, business suit, business haircut, a doughy suburban look about him. Irritated.
Dan: Hey, go away!
INSERT: CURIOUS RACCOON
Looks up, sniffs, responds with a devious series of clicks and trills.
BACK TO DAN
Skulking toward the furry intruder, growling in retort.
INSERT: AUTOMATIC SPRINKLER Suddenly clicking on, it jets water all over Dan’s trousers.
But wait . . . pause the scene for a second. Where’s the close-up of the star?
No, no, not Brendan Fraser in a turn as doltish, bewildered dad Sanders — but, rather, the gabled, brick-inlaid house behind him.
Fraser and Brooke Shields might have been the credited headliners of the slapstick family comedy “Furry Vengeance,’’ but, as far as Topsfield locals are concerned, the real silver screen celebrity is nestled on a cul-de-sac off Route 97.
The 6,000-square-foot, 12-room, new-construction home there served as the setting for the film, a goofy overture on the impact of sprawl.
And if you happen to have a compunction to own a set piece in the annals of absurd comedy, you can get the quadruple-bedroom, six-bath house for a Hollywood price: It’s now on the market for $1,495,000
Hopefully, it’ll be more of a sellout than the film. “Vengeance,’’ released April 30, had brought in a humble $11.6 million as of last Sunday. That’s barely a third of its $35 million production budget.
Even so, “It’s certainly going to give us some publicity,’’ builder Stephen Gillis noted recently as he stood in the house’s enormous kitchen, granite countertops glossed with the light from a wall of windows.
As yet unlived in, though, it’s put in more time as a movie set than a home.
It was just barely completed when Gillis got a query about a possible casting last spring.
He didn’t give it much credence at first. “What are the odds of that happening?’’ said the Topsfield builder, who is credited in the film, and also has a signed picture of him and his wife with Fraser and Shields.
But ultimately it got the callback, after the filmmakers scouted several model homes from a list of roughly 85 subdivisions provided by the Massachusetts Film Office.
It’s all about location. The Arts and Crafts-style house is positioned on the edge of an unfinished, 24-lot development, beside a thick growth of woods.
“That allowed them to create Oregon,’’ Gillis said.
Which, if you didn’t show your Topsfield pride by going to see the movie yet, was a crucial plot point.
Fraser — transformed from a svelte, muscled bravado to a pudgy homebuilder — endures the farcical antics of outraged animals after relocating his family to the Beaver State to work on a massive, forest-bulldozing development project.
One of those incensed creatures fighting for its forest home: A 400-pound female grizzly.
She made an appearance on the Topsfield set on a moonlit night at 1 a.m. In her scenes, she roars and charges at Fraser, who takes refuge in a pit toilet that she then bats about. She also busts through the front door of a model home.
Meanwhile, raccoons, ferrets, skunks, squirrels and an insistent crow relentlessly torment the main character.
But even without this circus, Gillis recalled the filming as frantic and “a mad house.’’
For about four months last year, including much of the summer, the crews took over, shooting in the kitchen, deck, bedrooms, and basement, as well as outside. Prop wranglers and painters were set up in the three-car garage; decorators and fabric experts commandeered the study; audio equipment hummed in an unfinished, above-garage loft.
There was some creative tinkering, too: wall colors were changed, carpets added, and a hot tub installed (but sorry, prospective buyers — that left when Hollywood did).
Through all this, listing realtor Karen Evans was able to fit in showings — although, until recently, she was bound by confidentiality from mentioning the house’s star turn.
The Topsfield “Vengeance’’ set has been on the market since October, and the asking price has dropped from $1.77 million.
While it’s pivotal to the movie, it’s not the only local setting that can claim movie stardom.
Several scenes were also shot at Beverly Airport. But the airfield’s a bit of a grizzled screen actor by now: It also appeared in “The Perfect Storm,’’ as well as Sandra Bullock’s “The Proposal.’’
Evans, meanwhile, described seeing food in the fridge with explicit “movie set’’ labels warning off nibblers, and the former Calvin-Klein-wearing Shields knitting between takes. Also, the surrounding cul-de-sac doubled as a fairgrounds, arranged with a fake Ferris wheel, booths, and a stage.
Look closely at the crowds, and you’ll be able to pick out 13-year-old Mike Caputo.
“We were told to scream first, then scramble around, and run back and forth,’’ said the Topsfield teen, an extra in a carnival scene filmed last summer featuring the furious grizzly.
Jimmy Conlon, another extra, remembered the direction to “act shocked.’’ While on set, the Medford 14-year-old also described a friendly wave from a passing Shields.
“I thought it was the coolest thing; I thought I was the coolest person there,’’ Conlon said with a laugh.
In the end, whether stardom leads to a “Sold’’ sign, one thing’s obvious: “Vengeance’’ got a great turnout from Topsfield.
Gillis, for his part, took a group of roughly 90 for an opening weekend viewing. Conlon also planned to get a front-row seat for his celluloid debut.
Still, he said, “I would see it anyway, whether I was in it or not.’’