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Wednesday, April 25 Opinion

In the Suburbs: 'And So It Goes' ... when filmmakers come to town

A few weeks ago, my wife and I went to see the new Diane Keaton and Michael Douglas film "And So It Goes," and we found ourselves as intrigued with the places in Fairfield, Black Rock and Greenwich (we learned later) as we were with the story.

We quietly high-fived each time we recognized a place or it looked familiar.

By the end of the movie, we had zeroed in on a real estate office in Southport village, a wonderful scene at Captain's Cove in Black Rock, an apartment complex my wife thought she recognized from her days working at a Bridgeport health center, and a low-income complex called Marina Village near the University of Bridgeport.

But we couldn't get an accurate read on the charming four-plex apartment that Michael Douglas called "Little Shangri La" somewhere in Black Rock. We knew there was an incredible view of Captain's Cove, but couldn't place the street.

We also noticed that the Fairfield Citizen was read and displayed prominently.

My wife went back to see the movie again with friends the following week, still trying to figure out where in Black Rock that four-plex apartment was. Then, just like magic, after the movie ended, she met the woman who owns the apartment.

Her name is Frances Riganese, and she was at the theater with friends when my wife met her. The next thing I knew I was on the phone with Frances, who grew up in Fairfield, now lives in Trumbull and is saving the Black Rock apartment for retirement.

The next Saturday, Fran hosted her own Hollywood post-film party -- complete with red carpet, memorabilia, scripts from the film and great food. She invited us, and we learned the real story about how Little Shangri La was born. By that time, we'd driven to Black Rock with friends and had seen for ourselves how the apartment complex looked. It was beautiful.

From what Fran explained, Castle Rock Entertainment, the filmmakers, had been searching for more than a year for two duplexes on the water with unobstructed views. Initially, Fran's husband had ripped up a letter from the film company, but after persistent phone calls and messages, they all got together on a deal.

Once the deal with the Riganeses came together, the film crew moved very quickly to complete the major reconstruction needed to transform her simple, unpretentious four-plex into Little Shangri La in less than two months. It required relocating the building's tenants for the period of the shoot, and Castle Rock handled all of that, Fran said.

The company used a lot of local and area contractors from around Fairfield and Bridgeport for the high-end redecorating, according to Fran. They installed a dock, which was removed after the shoot, and they tried to be sensitive to the horseshoe crabs and ducks who make their homes in that section of Black Rock.

Fran's husband was on the set almost every day, along with the film's six investors. She added with a chuckle that it was incredible to see how much time and money goes into putting a film like this together.

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She and her husband and some friends were used as extras in the film. In one scene at a bistro, they sat right behind Michael Douglas. We recalled the scene and decided to see the film again to see if we could pick Fran out. We haven't gone yet.

At her post-film open house, Fran brought albums showing the before and after looks of Little Shangri La, views on the set and the new decor of some of the rooms. She recalled that Diane Keaton had hugged her toward the end of the shooting and was a really nice person, as was Michael Douglas.

Director Rob Reiner was a little more stand-offish, she said, but he warmed considerably by the end of the shoot.

Looking regal in her black evening dress at the open house, Fran shared that she will always have fond memories ... and plenty of stories to tell of her brief encounter with Hollywood.

Steven Gaynes' "In the Suburbs" column appears each Friday. He can be reached at: stevengaynes44@gmail.com.