- Kristin Finan American-Statesman Staff
Ever since I got around to watching 2013’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” a fantasy/drama/rom-com starring Ben Stiller, I’ve been dreaming of Iceland.
In the movie, which is a remake and received mixed reviews from critics — Rotten Tomatoes ranks it at 50 percent on its Tomatometer, just a few percentage points higher than “Waterworld” — but which I adored, Mitty (Stiller) plays an office drone who becomes inspired to replace his vibrant daydreams with a real-life journey around the world.
The Iceland scenes, with their jagged green peaks and cotton-wisp clouds and lonely standalone cottages, captivated me. I have to go.
This isn’t the first time a movie’s filming location has inspired or shaped my travel plans.
On our honeymoon in 2007, my husband and I traipsed around Paris in search of Shakespeare and Company, arguably the world’s most famous independent bookstore. We had fallen in love with the idea of visiting while watching Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunset,” which features the store in the film, when we were dating. When we finally found ourselves there, lost inside rooms covered floor to ceiling in literature, it felt as if we were starring in our own fairy tale.
And then there was Vancouver, where 30-something me paid $169 to take a tour of “Twilight” filming locations with a bunch of giddy tweens — for reporting purposes only, of course. You haven’t really experienced the depth of “Twilight” fandom until you’ve trekked through the dark, foggy woods of North Vancouver’s Capilano River Regional Park to find the exact location where Edward dumped Bella in 2009’s “New Moon.” But even more than offering insight into the Twihard brain and solidifying my place as a member of Team Jacob, that tour gave me a newfound love for Vancouver and its majestic landscapes.
I got to wondering: Who picks these locations that inspire us, as viewers, to hop on planes and see them in person?
I called Daniel Pollack, whom I found on IMDB.com listed as a location scout for “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and dozens of other movies and TV shows.
Pollack’s job is to scout spots to be featured on big and small screens. He recently finished work on a Woody Allen movie, and his other projects have included “The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Sex and the City 2,” “Eat Pray Love,” “Men in Black 3,” “American Hustle” and the TV show “Elementary.” Most scouts specialize in a particular city or area; Pollack works primarily in New York City.
“You’re out and about and you see every aspect of the city, from high-end apartments to warehouse spaces, restaurants to high-end offices,” said Pollack, who has been scouting for 12 years. “It’s a real mix of pounding the pavement and knocking on doors, and pulling stuff you might have access to from files you’ve shot before. … I like just exploring the city and meeting a variety of people.”
Typically scouts work with a location manager and production designer in the weeks leading up to filming to find specific spots — such as a park, a hotel or a subway station — that would work well within a certain film. Last week, Pollack was on the hunt for a loft space “with masculine qualities” and a hospital for an upcoming feature film. After gaining permission to access a location he thinks could fit the bill, he takes pictures and sends them to the production designer and the director.
But not everyone is excited to let him scout their spaces.
“Some people have been so inundated with filming that they might shut the door in your face,” Pollack said. “It’s always good if you’re working on a film with a big cast that you can pitch as you’re knocking on someone’s door. I’m always surprised when people just let me in.”
Pollack said he enjoys being a location scout because he can see his work reflected in a film’s finished version.
“Scouts really do have a much bigger impact on films than people think,” he said. “A lot of what we find are the actual locations. Visually, it’s definitely a big part of the film.”
I’ll continue to live vicariously through the places that Pollack and other location scouts help bring to the screen, but I’m also working on that ticket to Iceland. That country, which has been a hot destination in travel circles for the past few years, is also surprisingly affordable to visit. I set up low-fare alerts on airfarewatchdog.com and have been seeing round-trip fares from Boston to Reykjavik on budget airline WOW Air for as low as $258 — not including charges for checked baggage and some other extras. Grab a flight to and from Boston on a low-cost carrier such as JetBlue and you could potentially have your airfare covered for less than $500.
To me, $500 for the opportunity to see in person a place that so inspired me on screen is money well-spent.
As Mitty says in the movie: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.”