NOGALES, Ariz. — Hollywood came calling last fall, and this border city answered. Nogales landed a starring role in "The Hangover Part III" - a movie that many predict will be one of the biggest box office draws of 2013.
"This movie should help us a lot in improving our image," says Mayor Arturo R. Garino. "If I could get a movie to come in once a year, that would be incredible."
The filming in October gave the city of 21,000 an estimated economic boost of $3 million, says Tucson Film Office Director Shelli Hall.
The producers spent $2 million in Nogales and surrounding towns by her estimates, which included hiring hundreds of extras from Nogales, Tucson, Marana and Phoenix and buying supplies to spruce up North Morley Avenue.
"We spent weeks with crews on cherry pickers and cranes, redressing signs and putting up lights for the night shoot," "Hangover" producer Daniel Goldberg says in a telephone interview from California.
"We really didn't disrupt much. In fact, we probably caused more people to come down to the center core and shop in the stores. And we bought a bunch of stuff. There were probably 150 people living there for two weeks," he says.
"Downtown was beautiful. Listen, it was Hollywood," says Bruce Bracker, whose family has operated Bracker's Department Store, 68 N. Morley Ave., since 1924.
"They brought in sets. They converted downtown Nogales into Tijuana. It was amazing," Bracker says.
"The way they did up the plaza was awesome. We've been kind of nudging the city about what to do with the park in the middle of town," he says. "When the crew came in, they said we need to have the tree line no more than 10 feet, and the next thing you know the trees were 10 feet. The City Council comes down and sees that and says, 'Wow, this is what downtown can be.' "
"What they did for the downtown area really brought a lot of excitement," adds Mayor Garino. "They gave us a lot of ideas of what to do with our downtown area."
The town was so inspired by the possibilities that for the first time in several years it hosted its annual binational Fiestas de Mayo and Cinco de Mayo celebration along North Morley Avenue in Nasib Karam Park. U.S. Customs left the border open until 8 p.m. - it normally closes at 6 - to allow Mexicans to cross for the celebration, the mayor says.
"Not many people came. They are so used to the border closing at 6," he says.
Garino and many downtown merchants wish that the border restrictions were eased, inviting Mexican shoppers to cross more easily. Since 9/11, when stricter controls were put in place at U.S. border crossings, Mexican shoppers have endured long waits. Many are so discouraged they avoid crossing altogether, or limit their visits, says Gregory Kory, whose family has owned La Cinderella on North Morley Avenue for 66 years.
"We used to throw out the welcome mat to Mexico to be welcome and come and shop," he says, looking around as a few customers milled about his sister store Kory's, a bridal and formal-wear shop. "Now we have a big stop sign: 'Who are you and why are you here?' That's the sad thing."
Kory's, set up in a sprawling building down the street from La Cinderella, has been around since 1968. Kory says there was a time pre-9/11 when his shop sold 50 wedding dresses a month at $400 to $600 each.
"We're lucky if we sell 20 a month now," he says. "I have 1,000 wedding gowns in the bridal salon."
"Mr. Kory's right," says Garino, who says some politicians in the state have painted Nogales, Ariz., with the same brush used to describe Nogales, Sonora. Garino says his city has had only one homicide in recent years, and it was not drug-related.
"We've lost a lot of business with that culture of fear that was created with the violence on the Mexican side," he says, sitting in his office at City Hall. "But those are going away little by little. I think this was not only an image builder for us but an awakening. ... Hollywood came down and gave us ideas what we could do."
Throughout the filming, crowds flocked downtown to get a glimpse of the "Hangover" stars - Bradley Cooper, Zach Galifianakis, Ed Helms and Ken Jeong.
"There were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of residents out while we were shooting. They just very pleasantly stayed behind the scenes where everyone asked them to and watched silently for hours and hours and hours," says Goldberg. "We were so appreciative, and the boys went over and said hi to them and took pictures. It was really fun for everyone, I thought."
Filmmakers compensated many of the merchants along North Morley Avenue for any inconveniences. Bracker says for some of those merchants, the payoff was a windfall. But restaurateur Mauricio Felix, whose Rancho Grande Mexican Restaurant in Grand Court Plaza is outside the filming area, says "The Hangover III" hurt his business. He estimates he lost as much as $5,000 in revenues over the two weeks because no one could park in his lot; it was filled with vehicles associated with the project, he says. He also says the road was closed at the north end of Morley near Rancho Grande. Mayor Garino denies that the road was closed.
"This is a big thing for a small town," says Nogales native Ernest Legleu, who was eating lunch with his wife, Isabel, at Rancho Grande last week. "We want to feel a part of it."
Legleu says his only complaint with the filming was that the studio's security was tight during the first day and residents were restricted from going into areas downtown.
On Friday, Nogales will pull out the red carpet to celebrate "The Hangover Part III," which opens nationwide today. The celebration was pushed to Friday because the area's two high schools are holding graduation tonight, says Susan Clarke Morales, general manager of the nine-screen Oasis Cinemas.
This is a first for the cinema, which opened in 2006 - Nogales' first movie theater in more than 40 years, says Morales. She hopes that residents who were extras in the movie will turn out for an evening that includes a wine and cheese reception and an awards ceremony for categories that include best performance in the role of an extra.
"We're not taking ourselves seriously," she says. "I just think the community really enjoyed working on that film, and we're just thrilled that they came down and did it."
"Everybody just wants to see if they can see themselves," adds the mayor, who with his wife, Cathy, was cast as an extra, portraying a lawyer in the jailhouse scene.
"Hopefully my part didn't get cut," he says.
• What: Nogales red carpet premiere of "The Hangover Part III."
• Where: Oasis Cinema, 240 W. Roper Road, near Walmart on West White Park Drive.
• When: 7 p.m. Friday. Organizers can't do it today, when the movie opens, because the two area high schools are holding graduation ceremonies tonight.
• Cost: $12, which includes the screening and a wine and cheese reception.
• Details: 1-520-377-9279 or oasistheaters.com
By the numbers
Number of days spent filming in Nogales.
Number of paid University of Arizona interns hired.
Number of local crew members hired for the filming.
Number of hotel rooms rented for six nights for a total of nearly 1,000 hotel room-nights.
Number of L.A.- based crew members in town for the filming.
N umber of extras from Nogales, Tucson, Marana and Phoenix hired for the filming.
Number of people fed three times a day by the film's caterers.
Amount directly spent during filming.
Estimated economic impact of the filming.
Source: Tucson Film Office
Scenes of Nogales
• La Cinderella, 85 N. Morley Ave.: On a bench outside the store, Mr. Chow (Ken Jeong) tells Alan (Zach Galifianakis), "Hey fat stuff, quick, give me some sugar," and Alan kisses him on the cheek.
• Nogales Post Office, 300 N. Morley Ave.: Stands in as a Mexican jail. Nogales Mayor Arturo Garino and his wife, Cathy, play lawyers talking with their client on the jailhouse steps as the Wolf Pack plots its strategy.
• North Morley Avenue: An arch with "Tijuana: the Most Visited City in the World" was erected on the north end of the city's main shopping district across from the north end of Nasib Karam Park. There are also several street shots, but most of the businesses were renamed for the movie.
• Arizona 82: A limousine carrying the Wolf Pack into Nogales cruises along the highway, between Nogales and Nogales International Airport.
Santa Cruz County on the Silver screen
Nogales and surrounding cities in Santa Cruz County have been the setting for a number of films in recent years including:
• "Tin Cup," with Kevin Costner and Rene Russo, 1996. (Partly filmed in Tubac and Rio Rico.)
• "The Postman," with Kevin Costner and Will Patton 1997.
• "Perdita Durango," with Rosie Perez and Javier Bardem, 1997.
• "Wild Wild West," with Will Smith and Kevin Kline, 1999.
• "Price of Glory," with Jimmy Smits, 2000.
• "Traffic," with Benicio del Toro and Catherine Zeta-Jones, 2001.
• "Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind," with Sam Rockwell and Drew Barrymore, 2002.
• "El Cártel," with José Luis Franco and Freddy Douglas, 2009.
• "The Passing," with Crystal Day and Elizabeth Ann Bennett, 2011.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com or 573-4642.