Where do filmmakers Joel and Ethan Coen go when they're making a movie about growing up in St. Louis Park in the 1960s? Twenty-first century Bloomington, of course.
The filmmakers are expected to shoot exteriors for their film "A Serious Man" on 4th Avenue South between E. 84th and E. 86th Streets sometime between Sept. 8 and Sept. 23. It's an exciting thing for residents, who just last week received fliers at their homes saying the Coens were interested in using the neighborhood as a location. Earlier this week, the Bloomington City Council issued a permit allowing filming in the area. The hot topic at the block's Avenue's National Night Out block party was whose house might end up in the movie.
Ruth Renz, who has lived in her 4th Avenue rambler for 52 years -- longer than one of the Coen brothers has been alive -- said it was hard to imagine moviemakers on her quiet block.
"I'm 87 years old and I've never had any opportunity to see this sort of thing," she said. "I wrote a letter [to the city] saying I support it."
The two-block stretch of 4th Avenue South looks like a generic 1950s suburban street, with vintage ramblers set back on lawns that slope down to a wide, curbless street. What distinguishes this stretch of road is the aftermath of 1998 straight-line winds. The wind felled mature trees in some yards, which are now replanted with small trees that make the street look much like it might have in 1967, when the movie is set.
Anne Healy, assistant location manager for the film, told the Bloomington City Council during the permit hearing that a mid-1960s look was not easy to find.
"It makes the whole movie; you can see the back yards," she said. "Our cinematographer said he loves the roof lines ... I drove around for five weeks and there were only four blocks in the metro area like that."
Film draws on memories
The Coens have described "A Serious Man" as springing from their memories of growing up in St. Louis Park. One of the main characters is a university professor -- as is the Coens' father, retired University of Minnesota economics Prof. Edward Coen -- but the story and characters are made up, the Coens told the Star Tribune last fall. Healy told the City Council that the new movie will be very different from the Coens' last film, the Oscar-winning "No Country for Old Men."
"It's a lovely story and no one dies," she said. "There is no blood."
In an interview, Healy said she has found most residents to be receptive to filming. Some homes may need the equivalent of makeup to make them look "a little more traditional," she said. The look in the film will be of "a brand-new suburb in a cornfield," she said.
Filming in the Twin Cities is expected to begin Sept. 8 and last until mid-November, said executive producer Bob Graf. Filmmakers expect to also seek a permit to film in Edina, and Graf said other locations, including Golden Valley and St. Louis Park, are still being scouted.
"You can almost draw a circle around a radius and you're hitting the sweet spot for the right locations with housing and buildings built in the early 1950s and 1960s," Graf said. "One criteria we're using is not a lot of mature tree cover. That's been a hard thing."
Healy has assured 4th Avenue residents that they will be issued car identification cards so they can get in and out of the area while security keeps gawkers out.
"I think residents will feel like they're part of the crew," she said.
On 4th Avenue, Brian Espy and his family live in a home that likely will not be filmed but lies within the shooting perimeter. A fan of the Coens' movies, he is excited.
"I see it as good for the neighborhood," he said. "People know [the Coens are] from here, and they're trying to make an investment back in the community. I think that's great."
Ole Strand and his wife, Pat, live closer to where filming likely will take place. While the 78-year-old said he hasn't seen any of the Coens' movies, he's heard about them. The Strands have lived in their house, which he described as "a common rambler," for 37 years.
"They're interested in using my driveway for parking cars," he said. "I'll never see anything like this again in my life. I think it's wonderful."
'Ramblers are cool'
The crew will film at Normandale Community College and perhaps at other Bloomington locations, said Larry Lee, the city's director of community development. "This is one of those very fun things that just fall in your lap," he said.
Lee has another reason for loving that the Coens want to film in Bloomington. Filled with thousands of post-World War II ramblers, the city has been marketing them as adaptable both for today's families and for single-story senior living.
"Ramblers are cool," Lee said. "We think the movie will play right into that."
Longtime 4th Avenue resident Renz said the last movie she saw was a religious film about Martin Luther. She thinks she may have caught a snippet of "Fargo" on television.
While there's no chair in front of her picture window now, she said, in September "there will be. ... I have a ringside seat."
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380