On location: Marley & Me & the Tim Bondy Family
When 20th Century Fox movie execs found the perfect home for the setting of their next blockbuster film, Tim Bondy was cross-country skiing in the Bay View woods. His brother, Scott, called him on his cell phone with the news: The Fox folks wanted to use their family vacation home in Hollywood, Fla., for a project they were starting in production, called “Marley & Me.”
The movie, starring Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson alongside the “world’s worst dog,” Marley, turned out to be, of course, the film that posted the all-time best Christmas Day opening ($14 million) in 2008, and continues to keep giving.
For the Bondys, Tim, Lizette and their children, of Petoskey, the chance to have their home selected as a movie set has been a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“We’ve let a lot of people stay there” Tim said, “and many of them say, ‘I watched the movie while I was in the ‘Marley & Me’ house, and it was so cool!’”
It’s a fetching story, to be sure.
Perhaps you might be thinking the home chosen for the John and Jenny Grogan residence (the story’s main characters, played by Wilson and Aniston) would be mansion-esque. Big stars, big budget, big house?
Not so much. After all, in the film John Grogan is (ahem) a journalist from Michigan who moves to Florida with his wife to work for a larger paper and start a family. Fittingly, then, the Bondys’ Florida home, where much of the movie takes place, is located in a transitional neighborhood just off busy Highway 1, about three miles from Ft. Lauderdale.
It’s roughly 900 square feet, with two bedrooms, one bath and a one-car garage.
Bondy said the house and its small lot have been in his family since the 1940s, used mainly as a retirement home for his parents before they passed away in 2005 and 2006. Since then, the Bondys (Tim, sister Michelle Hodder and brother Scott) had it remodeled and use it regularly, allowing friends and family to stay there as well.
In December 2007, a 20th Century Fox location director was scouting for the right fit and feel to match the Grogans’ first home when he drove down the Bondys’ street, a somewhat downtrodden swath of small homes with easy highway access.
“They said, ‘We’ve been through 15 communities and when we drove down your street, we said, ‘We like it, it’s the right spot,’” Tim recalls. “It had that right feeling, on the edge of the community.”
While the actual filming at the house took just seven days, in March 2008, the tie to the movie and its excitement has had a lasting effect.
“I think it unified the neighborhood,” Tim says. “There’s something left behind after such a unique experience. And it makes me look at movies in a whole different way.”
Setting the set
The Bondys provided HomeLife with some behind-the-scenes photos and notes from the movie-making experience. Here’s a glimpse into what happens if a Hollywood film crew takes over your house:
— Lots of upgrades. 20th Century Fox painted the roof in a terra cotta Spanish style, along with interior and exterior painting.
They removed all the furniture from the home and brought in their own. The renovations took several weeks prior to shooting. Said Tim: “It was incredible how long it took and how perfect it all looked.”
Bondy estimates at least $100,000 was invested into upgrades, inside and out.
— Landscaping: Among the features the Bondys were able to keep after wrap were mango, lemon, orange and grapefruit trees, the fence and an upgraded sprinkler system.
— Many items brought in for the set were removed, like the aqua-blue screen door Marley famously bursts through with a bra in his mouth; a temporary deck; and all the windows that had been initially removed and replaced for filming were re-installed.
— A second “home” — an exact replica of the Bondys’, without the roof — was built inside an expo center in Coconut Grove, near Miami. The set allowed for more room for camera action, though both the real home and the model were used in filming. Photos of the Hollywood home’s neighborhood were taken and enlarged and hung in huge sections around the model home to help set the scene. (The Bondys said they can tell which scenes were shot inside the actual house and which were shot in the model.)
— Extras on the set (those who are just walking by in a scene) make about $100 for 10 to 12 hours of work.
— One scene was cut that surprised the Bondys, who were on-site for the week of filming: One evening, a neighbor is stabbed and is found by John Grogan in her car. What was cut: Marley chasing down and cornering the perpetrator.
— Movie stars come with heavy-duty body guards, particularly Aniston and Wilson; this was Wilson’s first movie after his highly publicized attempted suicide.
— The dog that played Marley is actually named Clyde.
— Of the two mega-watt stars, Wilson was the most friendly, signing autographs and posing for photos with the Bondys and other fans. Aniston didn’t interact with fans, Tim said, and is even more petite than she appears in magazines and movies. HL
The Bondys organized a fundraiser for the Little Traverse Bay Humane Society on Dec. 27, 2008, two days after the film was released on Christmas Day. The Petoskey Cinema donated a theater for showing the film, and the Bondys presented some of their backstage photographs while collecting donations for the local humane society.
They would like the generosity to continue to the animal shelter; anyone interested in donating can contact the LTBHS at www.ltbhs.com; (231) 347-2396.
Haven’t seen the movie yet?
And get extra boxes of tissues. It doesn’t matter how many times you see it or if you can guess what happens, you will cry.
The movie is based on the 2005 book by journalist John Grogan, “Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog.” The New York Times bestseller is an autobiographical tale told in first-person, portraying Grogan and his family’s life during the 13 years they lived with their dog, Marley.
Marley, a yellow Labrador retriever, is described as a highly strung, boisterous, and somewhat uncontrolled dog. He is strong, endlessly hungry, eager to be active, and often destructive of their property (but completely without malice).
His acts and behaviors are forgiven, however, since it is clear that he has a heart of gold and is merely living within his nature. Rated: PG.