Garner, Gervais and Lowe Film at Andover Inn

Phillips Academy students equipped with camera phones flocked around the Andover Inn, hoping to catch a glimpse of Hollywood actors Jennifer Garner and Rob Lowe. On Tuesday, Garner and Lowe filmed a single scene at the Andover Inn for an upcoming Warner Bros. romantic comedy titled “This Side of the Truth.” The film is set in an alternate world in which lies do not exist, until one character invents lying for the very first time. Emmy award-winning British comedian Ricky Gervais, creator of the original, British version of “The Office,” co-directed and co-wrote the film, along with newcomer Matthew Robinson. “This Side of the Truth” will be the directorial debut for Gervais in a full-length film. “[The film company] suggested I direct it, and I said no at first, because I’m more scared of everything than I am ambitious,” said Gervais in an interview with The Phillipian. “Then I started thinking, no, I can do this,” said Gervais. “I’m one of those people who thinks, ‘What’s the worst that can happen? It’s only a film.’ I’ve directed TV and I know where I stand with comedy or romantic comedy.” Producer Lynda Obst, whose major projects include “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and “Sleepless in Seattle,” said that she and the other film executives selected the Inn as a location because it was the most upscale restaurant they could find in the region. “We were looking for the most expensive restaurant for Rob [Lowe] to take Jen [Garner] to, because Ricky Gervais, who is trying to win her from Rob, takes her to what he thinks is a fancy restaurant, but it’s really sort of a loser restaurant. So, Rob has to take her to a more fancy restaurant. And the most beautiful place we could find in the area was the Andover Inn,” said Obst. She continued, “This is the scene where her perfect genetic match, the man she’s supposed to marry, is sort of wooing her with his best shot, even though in her heart of hearts, the guy she has real feelings for isn’t the ‘perfect match’ for her.” The film company began scouting locations for this particular scene in February and chose the Andover Inn in March. Location scout Alison McCormack, who moved to Massachusetts after having lived in Los Angeles for eight years, began searching for filming sites after producers contacted her about their intent to film in Massachusetts. “When I was looking for fancy restaurants, I just started asking around,” said McCormack. “It just led to someone who said to me, ‘Oh, they have a really nice dining room at the Andover Inn on the Phillips Academy campus.” The film crew arrived at the inn at five in the morning to prepare the set, according to Andover Inn manager Alison Sudalter-Morello. After transforming the Inn into an unrecognizable room with heavy film equipment and extra actors, they began shooting the scene at 11 a.m. and finished shortly after 2 p.m. The three hours of shooting and the entire day of preparation will amount to approximately four minutes of screen time, according to Obst. Sudalter-Morello said, “The most interesting part was seeing what goes into making a big movie, how much work it is, how many people are involved, and what the process is for just making a quick scene.” During breaks between shots, Lowe and Garner left the Inn and approached the crowd of students waiting outside. Hannah Hall ’10 staked out in front of the Inn for hours with a magic marker in hand, to have Garner sign a boxed DVD set of “Alias,” the television show for which Garner won a Golden Globe. “Jennifer Garner gave [an autograph] to me, and she was so nice about it. I love her now. I loved her before but now I love her more,” said Hall. “She also told us that her college boyfriend went here, and she said, ‘Oh, so this is what Andover kids are like!’” The filming location for “This Side of the Truth” is based in Lowell, Massachusetts, but the crew has also filmed in surrounding towns in the Merrimack Valley, such as North Andover and Haverhill. “Our movie was written for generic America, or Springfield,” said Obst. “What we wanted was a town that looked like America had endured many, many winters, and really had the feeling of lived-in America.” She continued, “All of the things that lying brings, which is collaboration and façade and fashion and style—that doesn’t exist in our world. So Lowell, with its plainness and its simplicity, worked kind of beautifully for us.” Gervais said that New England reminded him of the “home counties of England, like Sussex or Dorset.” Recent laws passed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts have made the state more receptive to the movie industry through tax incentives for filming in Massachusetts. Obst said, “[Filming here is] 100 percent made easier by the cost of filming. Your governor, Deval [Patrick], has done an incredibly smart thing by creating these rebates, and that’s why there are so many movies in Massachusetts right now.” Robinson said, “It’s a great place to shoot. As long as they keep the tax rebate there, and as long as they keep the towns as gracious as they’ve been, I think people would be crazy to shoot anywhere else.” McCormack is surprised at the booming film business in Massachusetts. She said, “[Massachusetts] is trying to give incentives to make commercials, not just filming…They’re doing a lot of things to bring it here and keep it here.” When asked if she would consider hosting another film at the Andover Inn, Sudalter-Morello said, “I would do it again in a second. I don’t know about the school itself, but they seemed to be very happy with how things went. It was overall a very great experience for us and for them.” The concept behind “This Side of the Truth” originated from Matthew Robinson years ago. After turning the idea into a script, Obst introduced it to Gervais, who shortly thereafter signed on to the project as co-director and co-writer. “I was the biggest Ricky Gervais fan…so just the fact that he read it was amazing to me, but then the fact that he wanted to get involved in it was a dream come true,” said Robinson. “[The actors] signed on because these people love Ricky. Sure they like the script, but they wanted to be in Ricky’s first American film that he’s directing,” continued Robinson. Oly Obst, son of Lynda Obst and also a film producer, said, “It’s one of those great Hollywood stories where you go from being a dude with a dream to directing a movie with Ricky Gervais and Jenn Garner and all these amazing people.” Gervais said he was attracted to the script because it resonated with his comedic styles. “The sort of comedy I do is the minutia of human behavior — and even though it sounds like a high concept film on the face of it, it’s about real people and real emotions and hopefully being funny,” said Gervais. He continued, “Just shoot what’s funny and I think that should be enough if you’ve got a good story and good actors, which I think we have. We have about the best comedy ensemble of the decade.” “This Side of Truth” wraps up filming on June 2. Afterward, Robinson and Gervais will head to London for three months of editing. The movie is expected to be released between May and September of 2009.