On an inconveniently sunny Monday afternoon in May, a small film crew loitered around Westlake Park in downtown Seattle, waiting for clouds.
“We can’t film yet!” one of the crew members shouted as he hurried toward Dog in the Park, Westlake’s hot dog stand. “Too sunny!”
The film: “Kimi,” directed by Steve Soderbergh, starring Zoe Kravitz as an agoraphobic tech worker who finds evidence of a crime. The scene to be filmed: a political demonstration, common enough at the old downtown plaza. But weather that would have been perfect for a real protest at Westlake Park was now foiling efforts to film a fake protest at Westlake Park.
Paradoxically, the yellow signs at the edge of the block, with arrows pointing to the set, said “Amygdala.” No “Kimi” anywhere.
A few industrial-strength carts on rollers, holding cameras, tripods, and other equipment gleamed idly in the sun while a saxophone player under a Seattle Parks and Recreation-branded tent serenaded the scene with soft jazz of a mid-’80s vintage.
The film crew, wearing color-coded lanyards (some red, some green), sat at plastic picnic tables, eating, chatting, looking at their phones. Non-film-crew Seattleites sat at separate tables, also eating and chatting, though some were playing chess and at least two people were sleeping.
Interior scenes for the movie were shot in Los Angeles earlier this spring, but the crew is in Seattle all week filming exteriors. Press contacts for the movie have been circumspect about their planned filming locations — but with permits, notices and over 1,000 extras, the information is impossible to fully control.
James Sido of the Downtown Seattle Association confirmed Monday afternoon that merchants were sent notification of filming at Westlake Park and on Pine Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. A memo sent by the Downtown Seattle Association/Metropolitan Improvement District said the scene will feature more than 1,500 extras and will resemble a protest event, but noted: “Rest assured this is not a real demonstration and filming will be contained to the permitted area.”
A request for clarification on the street closures sent to the Seattle Department of Transportation was referred to a spokesperson in the Office of Economic Development, who said: “We do not share information about active or upcoming film productions working in Seattle.”
On this sunny afternoon, a media liaison for the film stood calmly at the edge of the plaza, her hair in a ponytail and her arms folded. Her central remit seemed to consist of gently but firmly explaining to reporters that she “can’t answer any questions, can’t give you any interviews… we’re just waiting.” Soderbergh, she explained, is the kind of director who doesn’t like stray details leaking out to the public. She would allow that extras cast as protesters were waiting “in a location” for the weather to change. How long would the crew wait before calling it a day? She shook her head.
A very young man, wearing a baseball cap, approached one of the reporters. “Hey, hey, buddy,” he said. “I only ask this because I’m a film student, but what are you all working on here?”
“I’m not part of this,” the reporter answered, explaining that he — like the film crew — was on the clock, getting paid to sit around watching other people get paid to sit around. “But it’s a feature film by Steven Soderbergh.”
The young man squinted in un-recognition. “Steven… Soda-blerg?” he tried.
“Soderbergh,” the reporter said. “Steven Soderbergh.”
“Oh, OK, thanks,” the young man said and walked away.
A few minutes later, one of the older members of the film crew, who had an air of being in charge, made a twirling “round ’em up” gesture with his hand. A few people followed him out of the park, while others covered cameras with plastic ponchos.
Were they finally calling it a day? No, the liaison said. It was just lunchtime.
A reporter noted that a few high, wispy clouds had materialized.
“Not enough,” the liaison said. “We’re still waiting.”
The wait ended a couple of hours later. The clouds thickened slightly, a large tank truck sprayed water to achieve a rainy-city-streets effect, extras were corralled and the cameras rolled. A little after 4 p.m., Westlake Park looked as if nothing had happened.
“It was just a drone shot,” one of the last lingering crew members said as he crossed the plaza. “It didn’t take long.”
Seattle Times reporter Moira Macdonald also contributed to this report.