Lots of people come to Nogales. Almost nobody leaves like these guys did.
Not only did the film stars board a Gulfstream jet in the dead of night to scoot off to their next adventure, but they left behind droves of enthralled fans and a business community scratching its head about the money tornado that just blew through town.
The cast of “The Hangover III,” namely stars Bradley Cooper, Zack Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Ken Jeong, left an undeniable mark on the hearts of many Nogalians. The town apparently made an impression on them as well.
“We had a wonderful time, it was a very warm welcome,” Helms told the NI as he, Cooper and Jeong boarded a private jet late Tuesday at the Nogales International Airport.
The production crew who accompanied the stars made a mark of their own at local hotels, restaurants and hardware stores.
One of the more glamorous impacts of the movie came in the form of hundreds of people, from Nogales and elsewhere, who were hired as extras for the film shoot.
Kamila Buelna is an 18-year-old senior at Nogales High School, but for three days she was a tourist shopper in Tijuana. Unlike most shoppers, she was paid $65 a day.
“I was an extra so I just walked behind the bench they (the actors) were talking on. What I did was shop for sombreros, and then I started walking, and then I had to cross the street. That’s what I did,” she said.
In addition to the money she was paid, Buelna also came away with some Hollywood stories, gleaned from the downtime she spent with the actors in between the more than 20 takes it took to nail her scene.
“I talked to Alan and Chow, and the director. They were really, really funny and the director is pretty normal and cool,” she said, referring to Galifianakis’ and Jeong’s characters in the movie, and director Todd Phillips.
“Chow was standing right next to me when he had to walk and he said he felt really bedazzled because of his beads,” Buelna said with a giggle.
As for the economic benefits, they came in a lopsided fashion, with businesses on Morley Avenue taking a hit, while restaurants and hotels located far from the action reaped the windfall that came during their off-season.
“Did it help our individual businesses during filming? Not really,” said Bruce Bracker, president of the Downtown Merchants Association.
Business owners on Morley Avenue, where much of the filming took place, suffered the costs of traffic disruption and a general interruption of their normal business day.
They received a “nominal fee paid for business interruption” and the studio covered the cost of keeping their stores open into the night, Bracker said. “I know people are running around talking about $5,000 a day. No. It was not $5,000 a day,” he said.
Chris Park, whose La Familia store was turned into a souvenir shop, tourist agency and bar for the shoot, said the new facades had cost him some business. Still, he said while sending text updates on the situation to his children in Los Angeles on Friday, it was worth it for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Downtown eateries also had a hard time reaping the benefits of having a 200-strong influx of potential customers.
“When they film, they have their own catering,” said Akram Ghannam, owner of New York Café on the first block of Morley Avenue.
“But they’ve been coming in before that and they’re going to come in after that, too,” he said, adding that Philly cheesesteaks and carne asada burritos were among the crew’s favorites.
Crewmembers also bought supplies for props and sets on Morley Avenue, but the studio’s semi-trailers parked down by Court Street took care of much of the crew’s needs.
“It was mostly little items that they needed right on the spot. Like painter’s tape, duct tape, light bulbs,” said Jim Capin, owner of Robinson’s True Value on Morley Avenue.
“I wouldn’t call it significant, but I would say any business we can get right now is helpful,” Capin said, noting that September and October are slow for his business.
That feeling was echoed by Michael Crevelone, owner of Mr. C’s Restaurant. “It couldn’t have come at a better time,” he said, calling September and October a “drought” for his business.
He attributes the yearly downturn to the fact that the local produce industry hits its nadir in the late summer, leaving many Nogalians with little disposable income to eat at restaurants.
But all that changed with the arrival of the film crew, which Crevelone said made up more than 50 percent of his business during the past two weeks.
Hotels also made some extra cash during the film shoot. The Arizona crew of about three dozen people stayed at the Motel 6 and El Dorado, while the much larger Los Angeles crew stayed at the Candlewood and Holiday Inn, said Roy Zarow, business agent with the Motion Picture Studio Mechanics union Local 485.
The movie shoot may have had a much deeper impact on the local economy than just a few days of brisk business.
“Initially, people were surprised at the amount of business interruption that was happening, but once they realized all the other benefits, everybody kind of settled down,” Bracker said.
“This was a really good thing for Nogales, Ariz.,” said Crevelone.
“They appreciated what we had to offer,” he said. The crew saw his restaurant as a “diamond in the rough,” especially for the seafood, he said.
“What was exciting was the fact that it really brought people downtown who probably hadn’t been downtown in a while,” Bracker said. “It excited the entire community, from Sahuarita to the border, including people from Magdalena (Sonora).”
“When you have an opportunity to create that much interest in what’s going on in your business district, you almost have to say ‘yes,’” Bracker said.
The film crew also left an impression on a town that suddenly saw its downtown in a new light.
Lights were strung up across the avenue, a colorful mural was painted on the side of La Cinderella, and the park was full of colorful food and clothing “for sale.”
“I think the city should keep it like that because it looks better and more people would come and stay there to look at the local shops. It looked prettier,” Buelna said.
“The park has never looked better,” Bracker said. “It also gives us a visual training of what we could do downtown.”
“They threw a lot of extra light downtown. More lighting makes it a much happier, friendlier place,” Bracker said. “Maybe we can do that and we can stay open for business a little bit later.”
“They gave us so many ideas on signage, what we can do to our storefronts, not that Bracker’s is going to turn into a casa de cambio,” he said with a smile, in reference to the role his business played in the film.
The changes made by the film crew will be a topic of discussion at the next meeting of the Downtown Merchants Association, Bracker said.