Niagara Gazette

March 26, 2008

MOVIES: 'Natural' party opens film fest

By Paul Lane/lanep@gnnewspaper.com

BUFFALO — One of the best parts of filming “The Natural” for Craig Stonebraker was seeing the filmmakers play God for an afternoon.

The Niagara Falls resident worked in the wardrobe department during the movie’s filming in the Buffalo region 25 years ago. While on location at the Buffalo Terminal to shoot a scene one afternoon, the director wanted the sun to appear to shine in from a different direction to replicate the proper time of day.

So, using giant deflectors, the crew ricocheted sunlight coming in from one window off of several mirrors to make it appear to come in from a different window.

“It was really interesting to see ... the magic of the movies,” he said.

Such were the type of stories shared Monday night by more than 100 attendees of the kickoff party of the Buffalo Niagara Film Festival at the Adam’s Mark Hotel. The soiree doubled as an official reunion for the 25th anniversary of the filming of “The Natural” in the area.

Donning a New York Knights jacket — the fictional baseball team from the film — Jim Fox of East Aurora perused the memorabilia that had been collected from Western New Yorkers who were a part of the filming, including photos, newspaper clippings and vintage memorabilia.

An extra during most of the film’s baseball shots, Fox recalled taking part in the climactic final scene, in which Robert Redford shattered the stadium lights in hitting a game-winning home run.

“We waited until 3 a.m. for Redford to come out to start shooting,” he said. “He was always late for his scenes.”

Redford was not late in making an appearance Monday, albeit not in person. In a videotaped message shown during the evening, Redford recalled his time in Buffalo, which was chosen for the filming scene because the former War Memorial Stadium was the only ballpark they could find to meet the film’s needs.

“The impression was that Buffalo was not a happy place to be,” Redford said. “That could not have been more wrong ... Buffalo was a blast.”

Actor Robert Prosky (The Judge) could not make an appearance Monday, citing an accident he suffered in Washington, D.C. One cast member who was there was Robert Rich III, who played the main character’s teenage son, Ted Hobbs. Only 15 at the time, he still had an idea of the film’s eventual impact on the region.

“ ‘The Natural’ truly was the film that put Buffalo on the map in terms of showing the city could support this kind of project,” said Rich, whose family owns the Buffalo Bisons minor league baseball team. “It provided a spark for baseball in Buffalo.”

Festival organizers hope the second annual week-long event provides a similar spark for the region. The event continues with fantasy, science fiction and horror today at the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda; a series of screenings Friday at the Market Arcade in Buffalo and a concert by rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson at the Adam’s Mark; and a closing gala/awards ceremony Saturday at the Adam’s Mark.

“I think we’re hitting some new ground here for the area,” said festival founder Bill Cowell, who said that a day of screenings Tuesday at the Riv drew hundreds of viewers. “Everything’s smooth sailing. It’s been overwhelming.”

While the festival hopes to make new memories in the years to come, Monday’s opening event allowed local residents to relive past ones. That proved particularly fun for Stonebraker, who recalled Buffalo’s Masten Armory playing home to dozens of costume-filled racks and three sets for the film, including the team locker rooms.

“It was a crazy time,” he said. “For a job, it was probably the biggest blast you could have.”

Contact editor Paul Laneat 693-1000, ext. 116.