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Hollywood Comes To Middle Neck Road

The new sign on the front of 43 Middle Neck Road last week read “Altman Sporting Goods, established in 1951,” but if you can’t remember ever shopping there, even if you’ve lived or worked in Great Neck for many years, your memory’s not playing tricks on you. You’re just the “victim” of some Hollywood movie “magic.”


An electronic sign posted on South Middle Neck Road at the corner of Northern Boulevard during the previous week warned incoming visitors to the Plaza that Middle Neck Road would be closed to traffic this past Saturday from 4 p.m. to mid-night, from Cutter Mill Road to Maple Drive. An identical sign was stationed on Middle Neck at Cedar Drive. But few residents had any idea as to why.


The answer began to emerge on Wednesday morning as a crew from the Warner Bros. Pictures upcoming film This Is Where I Leave You, began covering Norman Lee’s Sportset/Tennis Junction storefront sign and overlaying the Altman sign so that scenes could be shot for the movie on Saturday. Exterior scenes were shot in the late afternoon and early evening, hence the necessity for closing Middle Neck Road for periods of time. Traffic was not severely impacted. One scene, involving lead actor Jason Bateman, had him driving a Jeep SUV from in front of Gino’s, stopping in front of 16 Handles, getting out of the car and crossing Middle Neck Road.


Earlier segments involving Bateman were shot inside the store. Other cast members who came to Great Neck on Saturday were Timothy Olyphant and Rose Byrne.  Tina Fey and Jane Fonda are also in the cast but were not part of the day’s filming.  All production requirements, permits and accommodations were done with the cooperation and approval of Plaza officials.


Plaza Mayor Jean Celender was an observer of the filming. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for this town to be in a major motion picture even if it’s just for 30 seconds,” she said. “The production company has been very professional and they’ve been great in coordinating with us.” The project finished ahead of schedule, with almost all of the crew and equipment gone by 8 p.m.


The lot behind the stores on the west side of Middle Neck was closed all day on Saturday to facilitate parking of the production’s trucks, trailers and mobile homes used for the acting crew.  Catering trucks were also parked in front of The Inn at Great Neck to provide meals for the cast and crew, many of who were staying at the Inn.


Bateman is starring in the adaptation of a Jonathan Tropper novel about a dysfunctional family whose patriarch’s last request is that the family spend seven days together living under the same roof while sitting Shiva for him.


At times the preparation crew numbered as many as 40 and trucks and equipment lined a good part of the block.  The size of the crew had increased to about 150 by Saturday morning.


 While the signs were being switched on the outside, workers also removed much of the merchandise and fixtures on the inside. Lee, who with his wife Rachel recently marked their 39th year as owners of the store, kept the store open through Friday afternoon. He re-opened on Monday as Warner Bros. workers began to put his store back together. “We did a lot of business anyway,” he said, regarding the disruptions caused by the movie crew. . “We tried to take care of our customers as best as we could. Of course, some merchandise that our customers wanted wasn’t available because it had been put on one of the trucks or stored in the basement.”


“The book is about a mom-and-pop sporting goods store and there aren’t too many of those around Long Island anymore, “ said Lee, when asked how Warner came to select his store for the movie. Several weeks earlier the Warner crew had shot residential scenes in Manhasset.


Regular customers were somewhat confused when they came in and saw the radical changes in merchandise.  The producers had brought in a full line of bicycles and other sporting goods equipment not normally found in the store to satisfy script requirements. Did anyone mistakenly attempt to buy a bicycle? “Oh, yes!” Lee cheerfully responded.