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Water for Elephants Baraboo Benefit Gala Premiere


newspaper recap

Baraboo Goes Hollywood

by Ed Zagorski

After reading the best seller “Water for Elephants,” Erin Wilson didn’t waste any time getting to the Al. Ringling Theatre on Friday to see the movie version premiere in Baraboo.

“It is pretty amazing to know that a part of your city is featured in a movie,” said Wilson, 20. “I think it is really cool that they used a lot of the Circus World Museum wagons and other props to create this movie.”

“The craftsmanship of these wagons is so beautiful that it will be great to see them on the big screen,” said Wilson's friend, Mara Doughty. “It’s just great to bring this type of atmosphere back to Baraboo.”

The circus atmosphere was definitely in full swing Friday as droves of folks packed the Circus World grounds to see some of the wagons and other items used in the film. The party then moved to downtown Baraboo, where people listened to a circus band while looking over antique cars from the era in which “Water for Elephants” is set.

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” said Betsy McCaulley, who was waiting to get inside the theater. “This is all pretty moving to take in.”

McCaulley, who is originally from Baraboo and is currently moving back to her hometown, said seeing the decorative wagons outside the theater brought back childhood memories.

“I grew up here, so I remember walking the Circus World Museum grounds and seeing these wagons,” she said. “It’s great that the Circus World Museum was able to share the wagons with those in Hollywood making this movie. It shows the strong connection Baraboo has with the circus world.”

McCaulley’s husband, Clayton, said the movie also puts a spotlight on the history involved with the different artifacts and props Circus World added to the movie.

“It shows how important these wagons are to the city and to the history of the circus itself,” he said.

That’s what Steve Freese spoke about before the lights in the theater went down and the movie began.

Freese, Circus World’s executive director, told the 600-plus in attendance that 15 wagons were loaded onto flatbed trucks and taken to California.

He said a lot of the items appearing in “Water for Elephants” were brought from Circus World.

Freese said he supplied numerous photographs and archival film footage to film producers to help them provide moviegoers with solid period realism of a circus in the 1930s.

“The details were taken from photographs we had,” he said. “The film takes place in 1931, so we had to have the wagons look a little rough, because not only was the circus in trouble at the time, but it was also the time of the Great Depression.”

Freese said he and Harold “Heavy” Burdick, also of Circus World, made the trek to California to protect the precious pieces of circus history - and to see how they would be used.

“There were 52 days of filming - both day and night - and at the height of it, there were 800 extras on set who were paid $30 an hour,” Freese said. “You could see what that would’ve done for the local economy if the governor didn’t do away with the tax credit program for those in the movie business.”

Freese was referring to Gov. Jim Doyle’s decision in 2009 to eliminate a state-funded tax credit program for movies shot in Wisconsin.

“Rather than having our rolling hills in many of the movie scenes, the mountains of Southern California were erased during the movie’s production process and then digitally replaced with a backdrop that looks like Wisconsin instead,” Freese said to the groan of the audience.

Freese admitted the time he spent in California was a “wonderful” experience.

“We were able to help them with the details of the time this movie is set in and also assist them with creating a film that circus lovers are sure to enjoy,” he said. “It was special opportunity for Circus World Museum.”

Date of Publication: 5-23-2011
(copyright 2011 Baraboo News Republic)

Standing room only at Al. Ringling Water for Elephants Premiere

Circus World Ringmaster David SaLoutos