The Stardust Motel in Rapid City — with its iconic red and yellow sign with a star on top — will play a part in an upcoming Hollywood movie that was shot in and around the Black Hills.
The film shoot last week also included scenes at Mount Rushmore and on a highway near Black Hawk, and drew several stars to the area.
Among them were Laura Dern of "Jurassic Park," her father Bruce Dern, star of many motion pictures and nominated for an Academy Award for his performance in “Coming Home.” Will Forte, best known for his comic work in the series “30 Rock”, “Saturday Night Live”, “How I Met Your Mother,” was also in the scenes shot locally.
The movie, "Nebraska," is being directed by Alexander Payne, who scored a recent hit with the comedy “Sideways,” which was regaled by critics. He also directed “The Descendants,” which won one Oscar and was nominated for four others, including Best Picture.
Written by Robert W. Nelson, "Nebraska" was not based on Payne's own personal experiences, although he grew up in Nebraska. Described as a “comedy with undertones,” production manager Mads Hansen said the movie is about a father-son road trip.
Payne was on site at the Stardust Motel at 520 East North St. in Rapid City on Wednesday night. Production crew members rearranged letters on the large neon sign, adjusted lighting, and milled around the set while the director watched clips of the film, which is being shot in black and white.
Later, as the crew prepared the next scene, Payne said, “This is the first time I am directing a feature film that I did not originate at the script level.”
According to Payne, the crew was in South Dakota for a two-day shoot that included only Mount Rushmore and the Stardust Motel. He said he enjoyed the time in South Dakota, adding that “everyone has been as nice as pie.” The cast and crew stayed at the Hotel Alex Johnson during the shoot.
In early October, John Latenser, film location manager, walked into the office of the Stardust Motel and knew he had found the perfect place to film a scene.
John Ashley, owner of the Stardust since 2001, was sitting in his office watching television when Latenser walked in. “He said the place has character. He told me he was from Paramount Pictures and I didn’t believe him,” Ashley said. "Then the director came in and said he would call George Clooney, who starred in 'The Descendants,' on the spot."
Laughing, Latenser said, “I don’t think he really believed this was for real until we pulled up here today.”
Ashley smiled and said, “I kept asking them who put them up to this. I thought someone was punking me. But I believed it when I got the contract in the mail.”
The crew redecorated the room with new furnishings and carpeting, which will remain after the crew leaves. The motel sign, which glowed a brilliant orange against the evening sky, had been updated by the film company through Sign Service & Supply, also of Rapid City. “They did a good job,” Ashley said.
Other filming locations have included Nebraska, Montana and Wyoming. The production crew of 100 has been traveling by bus from location to location. Production manager Hansen said that Wednesday was the final major shooting day for the upcoming film, which is expected to open in late 2013.