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Illinois Country Living

Matt Damon and fans

Hollywood in Illinois

by: Niki Howlett

Above photo by: VWC Photography

Hollywood has come to non-Chicagoland, Illinois! Matt Damon’s latest movie was filmed in Decatur and Springfield giving locals a chance to make their big breaks or at least get a quick snapshot with a movie star.

The Informant, directed by Steven Soderbergh, is in theaters Sept. 18, 2009, over a year after shooting in Macon County. The movie is based on a true story and the book written by Kurt Eichenwald. In the 1990s, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), a Decatur based food processing company, was under investigation for lysine price fixing. Mark Whitaker, played by Matt Damon, was a high-ranking executive that went to the FBI with information about the illegal act of price-fixing.

Oddly enough, the movie is somewhat of a comedy. Comedic supporting actors include Joel McHale of E!’s “The Soup,” Patton Oswalt of “The King of Queens” fame, and Mike O’Malley from “Yes, Dear.”

Many jokes have been made about Matt Damon’s look in this film. It’s a far cry from his role as stealthy Jason Bourne. He gained 30 pounds, a funky mustache and some early 90’s glasses, making him look like a real live Ned Flanders rather than People magazine’s Sexiest Man Alive. He went from just plain hunky to chunky monkey to look more like Mark Whitaker.

Many Damon fans, movie fans and pretty much anyone in the area flocked to Decatur in early May 2008 to get a real behind the scenes look at movie magic.

“It’s amazing how much work and preparation is involved in even the simplest of scenes. It actually inspired me to buy a video camera and start playing around with it,” Decatur resident and on-looker, Ross Keefer says. Hundreds of people watched as crews spent hours setting up to shoot a scene for about 40 minutes.

Mall Retrofits

The Informant production crew built 90s-looking versions of Radio Shack and Waldenbooks in the Hickory Point Mall even though the stores were already in the mall. Radio Shack was built and stocked in about four days.

The Hickory Point Mall was decorated for Christmas in the middle of May.

Photos by: Tim O’Bryan

One of the Midwest sets that the production company used was Hickory Point Mall in Forsyth. Crews spent about two weeks building replicas of early 90’s Radio Shack and Waldenbooks as well as decorating part of the mall for Christmas in May. Shooting at the mall took place over the course of a day.

“There were four or five Starwagon trailers set up in the Kohl’s parking lot,” Keefer says. Starwagon trailers could be seen in every location where the cast was filming.

During the downtime, the celebrities showed Decatur residents their appreciation by signing autographs and taking pictures. Valerie Wallace-Camp, a Decatur photographer, was one of the lucky ones to meet Matt Damon.

“He was incredibly generous with his time, spending about an hour trying to shake hands and take pictures with every single person waiting,” she says. “He was drawn to the children and babies waiting, asking them to come across a special blocked-off area so he could have more time with them. He showed himself as a family man with a heart full of kindness and appreciation for all his fans.”

Joel McHale also greeted fans and signed autographs with a bit more humor than Damon. Wallace-Camp says McHale made everyone laugh non-stop until he had to return to the set to shoot another scene.

Some bystanders weren’t there to mingle with the stars. “There were others there who were way more interested in that than I was. I understood that they were there to get work done, and I wanted to save the fan hype for someone who had it as a life aspiration,” Decatur resident, Tim O’Bryan says. “I was there to see how the movie was shot, how production crews interacted, and to possibly get an idea of how the film would make Decatur look.”

O’Bryan brought his camera along to the filming and took pictures of the sets and even got a short video of Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh at work, pretending that 200 people weren’t watching them. Keefer also took some great behind the scenes videos of the sets and the stars signing autographs. In one of his videos, Keefer captured Damon rehearsing a scene with co-star Scott Bakula. Damon is seen with a script in his hand and pointing dramatically as if he is yelling. He’s too far from the camera to hear what he’s saying, but it probably isn’t anything nice. As with most of the scenes shot in Decatur, Damon is wearing a funky tan overcoat. All of these videos can be found on YouTube.

Movie stills1A. Director Steven Soderbergh, at left, and producer Gregory Jacobs discuss Informant details. 2A. Director Steven Soderbergh, at left, and producer Gregory Jacobs pose with Decatur resident and photographer Valerie Wallace-Camp. 3A. Starwagon trailers made makeshift dressing rooms and makeup departments.

Photos by: VWC Photography

Fans even got a chance to make it to the big screen or at least end up on the cutting room floor. Casting director, Rich King, posted an announcement on Craigslist asking for anyone who was interested to bring a photo of themselves to the Millikin Bank building in Decatur. Hundreds of eager locals lined up around the block. Springfield hopefuls were told to show up at the Route 66 hotel. Springfield resident, Jonathan Leonard was at the casting call hoping to use his pre-1994 car and was asked if he owned golf clubs. Leonard was asked to play a golfer and gladly accepted. He was given a phone number and a time to call to find out when he was needed on set.

The extras were told to bring a variety of outfits to chose from on shooting day at Illini Country Club in Springfield. Once wardrobe was finished with the extras, the infamous waiting ensued. The main downfall of being an extra in any movie is waiting around for hours before being told to stand somewhere and pretend to talk to someone. Once things got going, Leonard and three other gentlemen were asked to load up a golf cart and mingle outside the window.

“They were shooting a scene in the club house restaurant and we were to be in the background outside. I’m not even convinced we could be seen through that window, though,” Leonard says. After lunch, shooting continued as Leonard and the other extras waited again for additional scenes. “After they were finished with all the important shots they needed, they let us do some basic golfing type actions and took some wide shots in case they needed filler. Stuff that will undoubtedly never get used, but neat to be able to do anyway.”

“Slow, long, tedious and kind of boring. But somehow, it really is magical just to be around. It really is great fun!” Leonard says.

Movies Filmed in Illinois

  • The Blues Brothers
  • Risky Business
  • National Lampoon’s Vacation
  • 16 Candles
  • The Breakfast Club
  • Weird Science
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Planes, Trains and Automobiles
  • Child’s Play
  • Field of Dreams
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Uncle Buck
  • Home Alone
  • A League of Their Own
  • Wayne’s World


  • Meet the Parents
  • Groundhog Day
  • Dennis the Menace
  • Baby’s Day Out
  • Miracle on 34th Street (1994)
  • While You Were Sleeping
  • My Best Friend’s Wedding
  • US Marshals
  • Hope Floats
  • The Negotiator
  • Blues Brothers 2000
  • Three to Tango
  • Return to Me
  • Save the Last Dance
  • Ocean’s Eleven
  • Road to Perdition
  • Barbershop
  • Legally Blonde 2: Red, White
  • and Blonde
  • I, Robot
  • Ocean’s Twelve
  • Batman Begins
  • Stranger Than Fiction
  • Eagle Eye
  • Wanted
  • Witless Protection
  • The Dark Knight
  • The Informant


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