Editor's note: Welcome to Detroit. You know about "8 Mile" -- the film starring Eminem inspired about the rapper's life growing up in the D -- but did you know some of the movie was shot in and around the city? Indeed, and many of the places are still around town. Don't lose yourself trying to check out all the movie's infamous sites -- use this MMX guide to locate the places that helped insipire the film and the hip-hopper's music.
The back story
When the decision was made that Detroit would actually get to play Detroit in "8 Mile," the search was on for locations within the 313 that would fit the script about a young white rapper named Jimmy (Eminem) busting into the black-dominated hip-hop scene in 1995.
"You have this menu of great locations to choose from in Detroit," says director Curtis Hanson. "Our goal with the locations was to find places that were built for one purpose but being used today for something else entirely. Because, when you think about it, that's what guys like Jimmy are doing with their music through sampling."
When sniffing out locations, Hanson also called upon local scouts, including Eric Jackson, a Detroit filmmaker and native. Jackson worked closely with Hanson and production director Philip Messina, whose credits include 1998's "Out of Sight," the last big Hollywood movie filmed partially in Detroit.
While city officials tried to persuade Hanson to film at places like the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Detroit Opera House, production headed toward the grittier parts of the city. "I wanted to stay truthful to the world these guys came from," Hanson says.
By the time filming began last October, stories were circulating about the grim way the city was being depicted. When the leaves didn't fall quickly enough, for instance, they were plucked from trees. Streets often were sprayed with water for a more downbeat, film-noir look. And if the sun shone during shooting, it was likely grayed out during post-production.
But Hanson says his view of the city is positive. "The problems that exist in Detroit are in every major city. They're just more dramatically visible in Detroit," he says. "What's also dramatic about Detroit is that when you get to know the people, you see a spirit, a human spirit and optimism that's very infectious and inspiring. This is the theme of the movie -- people sorting it out and doing the best they can."
The stamping plant
950 E. Milwaukee (at Hastings), Detroit
There was a lot of discussion about where Jimmy should work. The Detroit Yacht Club was considered before the production ended up at a Motor City stamping plant -- one of the first locations shot. Designed in the 1920s by Albert Kahn and operated by General Motors until 1989, New Center Stamping Inc. (called Detroit Stamping Plant in the film) reopened in 1991 as a producer of car replacement parts. "I basically sold them eight days of shifts, from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m.," says financial controller William O'Connor.
Eminem actually learned to work the heavy machines, many of them three stories tall. O'Connor believes the filmmakers "liked the place because it's not heavily automated, but very labor intensive." The scene with an impromptu rap competition at a lunch wagon outside the plant took nearly three days to shoot. Though the temperature changed dramatically day to day, the extras (most of them stamping plant employees) had to wear the same heavy jackets for continuity.
The stamping plant was also the site of the steamy scene where Jimmy and new girlfriend Alex (Brittany Murphy) engage in their own pressing among the machines. Could such a thing happen? "Sure it can," laughs plant employee (and extra) Eddie Ricketts, "but you have to find the right girl."
The trailer park
20785 Schultes, Warren
A neon sign added for the film calls it 8 Mile Mobile Court, but the place where Jimmy goes home to live with his mother (Kim Basinger) and little sister (Chloe Greenfield) is actually Continental Mobile Village, off 8 Mile between Ryan and Dequindre. Filming took place in the renters' section of the park off and on for nearly three months and caused controversy when set dressers added rusty cars, barrels and propane tanks and removed the skirting from the bottom of trailers. "This is where we live and we were worried that it was going to look like a slum," says Jerry Harper, a machinist who lives with his wife and 12-year-old son in a tidy blue-and-white trailer in the owners' section.
Harper's mother-in-law, who lives in the rental section, tripped on some equipment and has a suit pending against Universal Studios. Other residents were bothered by intrusive lighting because technicians rewired almost every streetlight in the park with high-intensity lamps. An exact replica of the trailer set was built in a Chene Street warehouse for interior night scenes, which greatly impressed 7-year-old Southfield actress Greenfield. She says they reproduced every detail, including a tree that could be seen from the window. On the side unseen by the camera, they painted a funny grandpa face with a big mustache, she says.
Interiors constructed: 240 Chene, Detroit
Exteriors constructed: 30 Clifford (at Shelby), Detroit
The film opens and closes with rap competitions at the Shelter, a real Detroit performance space in the basement of St. Andrew's Hall at 431 E. Congress, near Greektown. So why didn't they shoot there? "The movie is set in 1995 and a lot had changed since then," says location scout Eric Jackson. Instead, the filmmakers took over a warehouse to give the set more of a church basement feel.
The 10,000-square-foot space also was used by technicians to store equipment and construct sets, including the duplicate trailer. For exterior shots, they constructed a brick facade with an emphasis on crosses on a building downtown.
According to director Curtis Hanson, "Our idea was that this used to be a church, but like everything else, it's been reinvented, and now in a sense it's a church of hip-hop, where these kids go for the same thing that people go to church for -- a sense of community, spirituality, hope, all of that. In order to get that across, we needed a cross."
The scenes filmed there also are a nod to the Hip Hop Shop, the legendary 7 Mile storefront run by Maurice Mallone, who offered his space and clothing designs to young rappers back in the day. You'll see some of his clothes in these scenes. Jackson says they got the atmosphere right during the rap battles, but the real competition was usually two guys off in the corner doing their own freestyle.
The V-shaped alleys outside also worked well for the scene where Jimmy removes his trash bag full of clothes from behind a Dumpster.
Interiors constructed: The Book-Cadillac, Washington at Griswold
The lobby: The Penobscot building, 633-645 Griswold
Director Curtis Hanson says that the use of of radio station WJLB-FM (97.9) was key to the film. "It's this thing that these guys aspire to -- getting their tunes played on 'JLB. It's like a beacon, the Wizard of Oz," he says.
Shooting in the real studios proved impossible because so much has changed in the way recordings are played in the last seven years. Hanson used the lobby of the Penobscot Building (where the actual station is housed) and constructed fake studios in the Book-Cadillac. The scene shows an interview taking place in one studio, the participants oblivious to the fight Jimmy (Eminem) is
engaged in next door.
2121 Cass, Detroit
Twenty years ago, Marvin Chin turned the key at his Polynesian-themed Chin Tiki restaurant and lounge and hasn't reopened since. The building, a couple of blocks behind the Fox Theatre, has become a Detroit time capsule. Meal orders still hang in the kitchen while bottles of half-opened liquor sit behind the bar. So when the script called for Jimmy and his friends to go to a Chinese restaurant late one night, Chin Tiki was the spot filmed both inside and out. "They used my upstairs banquet room," says Chin. "They moved the 5-foot tikis, anything of an art nature up there." Viewers hoping to see the tiki-tacky furnishings on screen will be disappointed.
For local rigging electrician Spike Simms, lighting the place proved a challenge because electrical wires had to snake through crumbling vents and ceilings. Chin, who first opened Chin Tiki in 1967 and still plans to reopen someday, says he was paid $20,000 for the use of the building over two weeks.
Now he is seeking additional money because stainless steel kitchen fixtures disappeared from his alley. "Anything removed from the building was supposed to be stored in a trailer," Chin contends, "but then the guard said someone from the city hauled it all away."
The parking structure
220 Bagley, Detroit
Director Curtis Hanson had seen it in a magazine of urban architectural photography -- a modern parking structure jammed into the gutted remains of one of Detroit's famed movie palaces, the Michigan Theater. For Hanson and production designer Philip Messina, this was the key example of the movie's urban recycling theme. Viewers will see it doubling for the parking area outside Chin Tiki, where Jimmy (Eminem) almost gets into a fight with rival rappers.
Owner Tony Pieroni says that when the 1926 structure was turned into a parking garage in 1977, its historical flourishes -- like fancy plaster work and red satin curtains -- were left intact more to save money than for historic preservation. Today, the place gets pilgrimages from photographers and groups like Preservation Wayne. While it's usually open only to tenants of the adjoining office building, you can park in the lower level during Lions games.
The burning house
122 Beresford, Highland Park
In a key scene in the film, Jimmy (Eminem) and his friends torch the house where a little girl was molested. A photograph he finds of a previous resident shows Jimmy how transient life and happiness can be. The idea came from a casual conversation director Curtis Hanson had with the owners of another location about a half-burned house across the street. "It was a nuisance house in the neighborhood, a drug house," remembers Hanson. "They said they had already torched it twice because the rule of thumb was that if a house caught
fire three times, the city would come and tear it down."
When Detroit declined to have the scene shot within its limits, the filmmakers went next door to cash-strapped Highland Park, offering not only to pay for the demolition of the house to be filmed, but another in the neighborhood as well.
Universal paid the neighbors most inconvenienced, even relocating some to nearby hotels for the night. But then, according to Hanson, some came back, wanting a better deal -- a typical location nightmare. Meanwhile, activists from the neighborhood and elsewhere said the filming was bad for the image of Highland Park and that the filmmakers were discriminating because residents at the trailer park location, which is predominately white, got paid more.
From a technical standpoint, the scene was trickier than simply setting the place ablaze and letting the cameras roll. Says production designer Philip Messina: "We had to build this metal skin inside so that they could light it on fire for the interior scenes. When it was actually burned, it went down in something like 12 minutes, and we just kept the cameras rolling." On this last major scene of the production, four crew members sustained first-degree burns.
The east side
Locations on the east side of Detroit were used for several shots. Jimmy (Eminem) boards a bus on 8 Mile, but the blight he sees while staring blankly out the window is near Chene and East Jefferson. When he and his friends get in a car and shoot paint balls at buildings and cars, they are shooting on East Jefferson and Mack. When they nail that big cow head on Mack location scout Eric Jackson swears a special effect must have been used in post-production.
"The owner is very protective of that head," he says. "He's been offered thousands for it, but leaves it up. It's a landmark." When Jimmy's car stalls out immediately afterwards, he is at the corner of East Jefferson and Newport, next to what's left of the old Vanity Ballroom.
Jimmy's friends Cheddar Bob (Evan Jones) and Wink (Eugene Byrd) live on the east side. Jackson says Cheddar Bob's home (1250 McClellan) proved one of the biggest problems of the "8 Mile" shoot. Though paid for the inconvenience the crew would cause, a neighbor wanted more money and tried to sabotage the project, blaring music and making it nearly impossible to shoot. Jackson says they simply had to work around it.
- Jimmy looks from the street at old girlfriend Janeane (Taryn Manning) in the window of her blond brick apartment building near Wayne State.
- Jimmy and his crew hop on rival rappers outside a party store on West Grand River.
- The scene where Jimmy's girlfriend is dropped off for a photo shoot, off of Gratiot near Eastern Market, has special significance for location scout Eric Jackson and the local music community because techno logends like Derrick May had their studios nearby.