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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 32.0° F  Overcast
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Columbus, Wisconsin picks up the pieces after Johnny Depp and Public Enemies
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What the movie did was get people out of their homes, and many looked at Columbus for the first time.
Credit:Rod Melotte

It's been over a year since Universal Studios shot Public Enemies in my little town of Columbus, Wisconsin. On the eve of the movie's July 1 premiere, I've been thinking about what a major motion picture does to a town of 5,000.

It's almost like watching the Packers win the Super Bowl. The buildup and the game are fantastic, but the next day you wake up, brush your teeth, let the dog out, go to work and find out not much in your life has really changed at all.

Columbus has mixed feelings about having a movie filmed in its backyard. One side looks only at "what it cost the city now," and the other side looks at "how will this help the city in the future."

People are grumbling about the bills that have not been reimbursed, the roads that crumbled during filming and various promises that were not kept.

Some shop owners are happy with the money they got from Universal to leave their stores during filming. Others were stubborn and refused to leave and thus lost a lot of money when their entrances were blocked. They are the ones complaining about how much money the movie cost them.

The lesson here is to get your money as soon as you can, because once the army moves on to another location, the infrastructure is so convoluted no one knows what the other guy is doing and you will never get paid.

What the movie did was get people out of their homes, and many looked at Columbus for the first time. All of a sudden something positive was happening, and people walking around with their heads held high. I talked to several business owners who for the first time in many years felt a certain pride about their town. New friendships were made, and city organizations lacking volunteers found new interest from residents.

So while the movie could actually cost Columbus some money, I feel that in the long run it did a tremendous amount of good. And who knows what the future will bring? So many people are visiting Columbus now that maybe a business owner from a large stressful city will see just how friendly and beautiful a little Midwest town is.

Already there are bus tours scheduled, and Columbus has been mentioned in major newspapers around the country. Just last week another indie film company had scouts roaming the town looking for location shots.

The Columbus Downtown Development Corporation is throwing a premiere party at Eastgate on the movie's opening night on July 1. The party will include a special screening at 7:15 p.m. in the theater's largest auditorium, period picture cars out front, and a post-movie reception at the Columbus Senior Center.

Tickets are almost sold out, with many of the people from around Madison who worked as extras on the Columbus shoot attending, excited to catch a glimpse of themselves on the big screen. Those that remain can be purchased at the Sharrow Drug Store on 100 S. Ludington St. and the West James Gallery on 116 W. James Street in downtown Columbus.

Only a few days later, the Columbus Fourth of July parade and celebration at Fireman's Park will feature many of the picture cars used in the movie, and on July 25 there will be a big Public Enemies celebration with more cars, a band, games and food.

Public Enemies did a world of good for Columbus, and if the city plays its cards right, we'll continue to reap the rewards.


Rod Melotte publishes the Public Enemies Columbus blog, and covered the studio's preparations in Columbus, the opening day of production, and a subsequent shoot in Oshkosh on The Daily Page.

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