Two weeks ago, this was a northern Michigan town on the frozen Lake Huron shore, average by Midwest standards.
Tuesday night, through the magic of Hollywood, Alpena and its tiny regional airport became an East Coast hub held by elite terrorists.
The transformation was fast.
Twentieth Century Fox didn’t decide to shoot major portions of its latest Bruce Willis thriller, “Die Hard II,” in this town of 12,000 until Feb. 23, after rain washed out the snow at Moses Lake, Wash.
Charter jets and semitrailers brought an entire production unit to town in days, filling every hotel room, exhausting the supply of rental cars and adding 400 local citizens to the casts as extras.
When the nine days of shooting ends, the film company will have pumped $1 million into the local economy, said Alpena Chamber of Commerce spokeswoman Karen Pettalia.
“It’s Hollywood comes to Alpena,” said Marcia Bolitin, a film publicist who flew in from Los Angeles. She has spent much of her time telling the media that they can’t even come close to the set.
Willis is staying in Alpena, though no one will reveal where. Pettalia said he and other movie VIPs have moved into the homes of a handful of Alpena residents, who in turn have moved out.
The movie, set for June release, parallels Willis’ “Die Hard” about a New York cop who single-handedly takes on a terrorist situation. This time it’s at an East Coast airport under siege.
The Michigan Film Commission is crowing about their cinematic windfall. “Usually we only get bit parts,” said commission Director Deryl Beasley.
Beasley said he was in Los Angeles the day producers called Lansing to say they were looking for an alternate shooting site.
“I was in their office in 20 minutes,” he said.
Beasley said he expects a good pay-back even though “Die Hard” viewers won’t realize it’s Alpena they’re watching.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “Films like ‘Die Hard II’ are good PR.”