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Brownsville becomes San Diego for Mel Gibson film

Brownsville has played the part of a small Mexican town in NBC’s television series, “Friday Night Lights.” It was transformed into Cuba for the short film, “Death of an Ally.” And in the last two days, it has served as the Pacific Coast city — 1,000-plus miles away — of San Diego.

Academy Award winner Mel Gibson has been in the area this week filming scenes for his upcoming action motion picture, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation,” which stars Gibson and is directed by Adrian Grunberg.

Crew members scouted out production sites all along the nation’s southern border, from the southern tip of Texas to the western edge of California — and Brownsville made the cut. Strong ties with its sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande poised the area as an attractive location, said Peter Goodman, film commissioner for the Brownsville Border Film Commission.

“What set us apart from other border cities was our great relationship with Matamoros,” said Goodman, who collaborated with officials and consulates on both sides of the border to make crossings to film scenes in the cities smoother.

The film, set to be released next year, features Gibson as Driver, who makes a living out of crime and is thrust into a tough prison by Mexican authorities, where he learns to survive with the help of a 10-year-old boy. The crew spent some time filming in Mexico City and Veracruz, Mexico, before coming to the border.

Crowds of spectators formed downtown Wednesday morning, many in hopes of catching a glimpse of Gibson, as crew and cast members wrapped up the last day of shooting along 11th and Levee streets. Some fans were disappointed to learn Brownsville was actually being portrayed as San Diego.

But while the city’s name will not be voiced on the big screen, the movie’s production in Brownsville still translates into good business for the area, city leaders said.

The making of the film brought a mini crew of more than 70 people to the area, who booked an entire hotel for a week for the 2-day shoot. They spent hundreds on food, entertainment and travel not only in Brownsville, but Port Isabel, South Padre Island and Matamoros, Goodman said.

It will take some weeks before the Brownsville Film Commission can compile figures on the exact economic impact on the city. But film production is expected to generate high revenue. The first film to be shot in Brownsville in 2001, Beto Gómez’s “Puños Rosas,” generated about $178,000 for the city in five days, according to the film commission.

The Brownsville Visitor’s Convention and Business Bureau projects the film’s entourage produced between $70,000 to $80,000 in room, board and gasoline expenses alone.

“That does not even include shopping sales,” said the bureau’s president and CEO, Mariano “Bean” Ayala. The making of the film in the area “is a two-fold positive scenario, firstly because of the exposure Brownsville will receive in the film industry and secondly because of the economic impact the film crew is leaving behind.”

Gibson’s film team first considered Brownsville as a production site, when the Mexican Film Commission in Mexico City referred crew representatives to Goodman and the Brownsville Border Film Commission. Crew members searched from San Diego to Brownsville and later from Brownsville to Corpus Christi for locations to shoot, before settling on the city, which was the only place in Texas chosen, Goodman said.

Representatives from Gibson’s team have traveled down to the area at least six times since March to make final arrangements and secure locations. Interviews with crew and cast members was not possible as it was close set, said Mel Gibson’s publicist, Blaise Noto. But Goodman said the crew was excited to be in the city and found the area to be a welcoming place, which could spread a good word for Brownsville among Hollywood’s small film community.

“They know they are taken care of down here,” Goodman said. “We hope to see more producers coming down.”

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Movie synopsis

It’s been a bad day for Driver (Mel Gibson) and it’s not getting any better. He just made a big haul of millions that would give him a nice summer vacation on easy street. A good idea that went south – literally.

During a high-speed car chase with the U.S. Border Patrol and a bleeding body in his back seat, Driver flips his car smashing through the border wall, tumbling violently, coming to stop … in Mexico. Apprehended by the Mexican authorities, he is sent to a hard-core prison where he enters the strange and dangerous world of “El Pueblito.” Not an easy place for an outsider such as Driver to survive, unless it’s with the help of someone who knows the ropes — a 10 year-old kid.

Filmed in Mexico, the multi-lingual film stars Mel Gibson, Daniel Gimenez Cacho, Jesus Ochoa, Roberto Sosa, Dolores Heredia, Kevin Hernandez, Fernando Becerril, Mayra Serbullo, Mario Zaragoza, Gerardo Taracena, Tenoch Huerta and Peter Gerety.

Source: Blaise Noto, publicist for Mel Gibson


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