The trailers arrived before 5 a.m. and as Bell Boulevard came to life a few hours later – with restaurants and nail salons rolling up their security gates for the day – the bustling mid-morning scene looked like something out of a movie.
And that’s just what it was.
On Monday, June 29, Papazzio Restaurant and Catering became the eatery of choice for the lead characters played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart in “Rabbit Hole,” an independent film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play of the same name.
For Eddy Collyns, the film’s location manager, shooting in Bayside was a natural decision.
“It’s got many different looks: the small homes, the big homes, the parks,” said Collyns, who, having worked as the location manager for the television series “Rescue Me,” has worked in the community on numerous other occasions and called it accessible and “a nice place to film.”
Collyns said that 90 percent of the filming for “Rabbit Hole” has been in Queens, with three days of shooting in Bayside kicking off with the morning at Papazzio, located at 39-38 Bell Boulevard.
Producer Leslie Urdang, a native of Forest Hills now living in Los Angeles, was happy to be back in Queens for production of the film whose plot is actually set in the borough.
“We think this is a charming village and a charming restaurant. It looks great and will be very cinematic,” Urdang said of the Papazzio scene, at which Kidman and Eckhart’s characters discuss whether to continue with group therapy. In the stage drama, a married couple struggles to cope with the automobile-accident death of their only child.
Urdang said the crew looked at Italian restaurants across the borough and ended up renting the Bell Boulevard destination because of “a combination of the artistic look and feel of the place and the logistics of it,” like its proximity to other production locations.
Papazzio owner Dominick Bruccoleri said the exposure was not only beneficial for his restaurant but for all of Bayside.
“You’ve got a high-rated picture that’s being filmed here and it brings good attention to our community, both on a business level and on a community level,” said Bruccoleri, who will appear in the film as the kitchen chef in the background. “It’s not just for Papazzio – It’s for Bayside and Bayside Village.”
However, while some residents craned their necks to get a look at the superstar cast, others shook their heads at the parking problems the shoot created.
One woman, observing the tickets on two crewmembers’ cars, remarked that she did not mind the filming but said the city should have posted more signs notifying people of the parking disruptions.
“Believe me, if they ticket me there will be a scene,” she said, opening up an orange ticket envelope on a stranger’s car and examining its contents. “Where is a traffic agent when you need one? There are thousands when you don’t need one.”
Meanwhile, Eugene Giannola, a Queens resident of 80 years, stood on the sidewalk, surveying the scene with a smile on his face.
“I’m just watching,” Giannola admitted, adding that the action would help put Bell Boulevard – “a very important street” – on the map.
Ted Apodiacos, the owner of Pete’s Pizzeria and Restaurant, just down the block from Papazzio, agreed with Giannola, but said a little extra business from the crew would not hurt either.
“Everybody’s hoping for something, you know,” he said, smiling.
“Rabbit Hole” has, in fact, contributed to the local economy. In addition to the Northern Boulevard Starbucks that Collyns said the crew patronized en masse, the production also rented Bayside United Methodist Church as a “holding area” and a neighboring home for use as a crew bathroom.
And, three weeks ago, the entire “Rabbit Hole” crew had lunch at Papazzio, in an effort to get accustomed to the space.
“They wanted a nice, warm Tuscany-type restaurant,” Bruccoleri explained. “And they said, ‘You’re the perfect fit.’ They loved the ambience, the décor, the feel of us.”
Overall, Bruccoleri said that his restaurant’s morning in the limelight was a great experience, with little impact on the neighbors. He would gladly offer it up for the cameras again someday, he said.
“For a star-rated movie and a world class actor and actresses to come here,” Bruccoleri said, “it puts Bayside right on top.”