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Friday, August 22, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 88.0° F  Partly Cloudy
The Daily
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Our Man in Columbus: Johnny Depp is in Wisconsin
The search for the actor playing John Dillinger
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Credit:Rod Melotte

The life of a paparazzi ain't all that it's cracked up to be.

On my blog Public Enemies -- Columbus there was a Google ad touting: "Movie Set Vacations -- make your next vacation on location". Wow, what a horrific idea. If you enjoy standing for hours with a tiny chance that you might see a scene from two to three blocks away, then go for it.

Living in Columbus, though, I had just that opportunity and it was only going to cost me a vacation day or two.

Having a place to stay right next to the Public Enemies production base camp was an added bonus. I had a chance to see the huge white Universal trucks arrive, and watched as a master parking craftsman solved the Rubik's Cube-like puzzle of fitting everything together.

Once everything was situated at the base camp, there was a calm before the storm started on Monday morning. Then the fun started.

At 4:00 a.m., I hear noise and, looking out the window, see spectators are already mingling about. What could they possibly be looking for at that time? They are snapping photos of security guards.

I'm out of the house by 5 a.m. and walking towards where I think there's a good shot at the action. I end up next to two women from Beaver Dam who have been in place for an hour, along with a couple of dozen of others.

At 6:30 we're all asked to move two blocks to the Columbus City Hall. We comply, only to find another 200 people. We're forced to the back row and, as I look at the scene, I realize that I'm not going to see anything at all from this spot.

After another half-hour of standing, a production assistant talks to the crowd and says, "I hate to say it but you guys are not going to see anything." So, I decide to return to the base camp, passing by my original spot, which has once again filled up with people. Five minutes later, everyone is made to move from there again.

I return to the base camp and wait for Johnny Depp. He actually arrives around 8:20 a.m., and as he exits his black SUV is met by director Michael Mann. Hand shakes and hugs are shared all around, and then Depp looks towards us and tips his hat, waves and smiles. Then he's whisked away to start the shoot.

And all is right with the world.

Shortly thereafter, Depp and Mann hop into a vintage car and drive up to the set, with Mann driving, to the crowd's surprise. They spend some time there, and then return for Johnny to hit his wardrobe trailer.

I decide to take a hike to see what is happening and walk three blocks to the city hall. Before I know it I'm standing next to the production cafeteria trailer, where there are all sorts of yummy food items, and a small breakdown in security. Now in the middle of all the things I'm not supposed to see, a big burly security dude spots me and my huge camera and tripod and asks, "Are you with the group?"

I run multiple scenarios through my head when out of reflex I respond, "Would you believe me if I said yes?" He says no and we enjoy the comical moment before I leave without incident.

Arriving at the city hall, I find there's a clear view of the action that's only two blocks away. People around me are cold and shivering, many snapping photos that will pretty much only show a dot on the horizon.

Then someone yells, "There's Johnny," and sure enough, that little dot on the horizon is Johnny Depp. I'm able to capture some photos with my 300mm lens but it's only a run through. Once the real shoot starts, there are large cars conveniently parked right in my way.

With that excitement finished, I walk around downton Columbus yet again and arrive at the production base camp a few minutes after Depp has cruised by, window open and waving. And it is at this point that I succumb to the crowd and become a paparazzi. I feel so low.

This is where true tedium begins. I'm stuck with people who are so bored they turn into security guard groupies. They cheer when a pick-up drives up, cheer when a security guard is brought coffee, and cheer when the ice-making truck has to back up. Tedium and cold make for crazy people.

All is not lost, though, as Johnny makes several more appearances, always opening his window for a wave. The first time he passes, a young woman says over and over, "OH MY GOD IT WAS JOHNNY DEPP!" She borrows my cell phone to call her mom and is sobbing while telling the story of just how close she was to the actor.

Four hours later, and with a number of good photos including one with my stepdaughter high-fiving Depp, I call it a night.

Mission accomplished, I think, after sixteen hours of standing outside in near-freezing temperatures. I'm not sure what I expected. I did get many good shots of the moviemaking and more than my fair share of Johnny Depp.

My body is cold, stiff, and hungry, but I'm content. I get home, make my first warm meal, sit down and fall asleep within minutes.

Would I do it again? In a heartbeat, but not tomorrow!

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