Indie hotels shine in starring roles on TV, in film
Indie hotels shine in starring roles on TV, in film
22 JANUARY 2020 1:09 PM

When an independent hotel becomes a film or television set, hotel staff work diligently to accommodate camera crews and actors, as well as regular guests.

GLOBAL REPORT—It’s often said that a TV camera adds 10 pounds, but for the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, the cameras shed nearly 60 years when the hotel became a prominent set for the third season of Amazon Prime’s original series, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.”

The show follows a Jewish former housewife turned ribald stand-up comedienne, who as an opening act for a touring crooner during season three checks into the Fontainebleau hotel for a series of performances in 1960.

The luxury, independent Fontainebleau, opened in Miami Beach in 1954, has hosted countless legendary acts in its history—from Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra to Judy Garland and Lucille Ball—and starred itself in many movies, TV shows and specials.

Unique and boutique hotels in often-picturesque locations around the world have had more than their 15 minutes of fame on the silver screen, giving owners a prime marketing tool and guests a chance to step into some of their favorite stories.

“As a revered landmark since its opening in 1954, Fontainebleau represents the distinct atmosphere of Miami Beach, so it is no surprise that the hotel has been featured in so many projects,” Philip Goldfarb, president and COO, said in an email interview.

Those productions also include the James Bond film “Goldfinger,” the mob classic “Scarface,” Whitney Houston’s “The Bodyguard” and an episode of “The Sopranos,” he said.

Attention to the details
For its role in “Mrs. Maisel,” the Fontainebleau was remade in its early-1960s glory with set design for much of the lobby and lounges. Hotel staff was involved with making sure the set was historically accurate, Goldfarb said.

“Our team is always willing to work with production to provide historical information and images to bring a vision to life. There was a huge amount of research that went into recreating the early 1960s lobby for ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,’ and the production design team did an amazing job of bringing the set to life,” he said.

“The team made sure every single detail was accurate, including everything from the employee uniforms to the vintage bars to the brochures Midge (Maisel) is seen holding. We have a large collection of archives, and the set designers pored over old images of the hotel and lobby, as well as all of our vintage logos for use throughout the show.”

No such redesign (however temporary) was necessary at the Dolder Grand, a 175-room, independent luxury hotel in Zurich, Switzerland, when it served as a set piece for the 2011 thriller “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.” Managing Director Mark Jacob said, however, much care was taken to ensure the production was respectful of the hotel’s historic architecture and artifacts.

“We wanted and had to give the film as much artistic freedom as possible, but of course, we had to take care that no historical objects such as art or architecture from the founding of our hotel in 1899 were damaged or distorted,” Jacob said via email. “For some objects, we had to clarify artistic rights with the artists themselves. It was easy to clarify our condition for the protection of art and architecture in the hotel with the film crew.”

Ready for their close-up
Routines for hotel staff are lent some excitement as some employees fill in the backgrounds of the TV shows and films shot on-property.

Fontainebleau staff, dressed in 1960s-period clothing, can be seen working the lobby and assisting guests as extras on “Mrs. Maisel.”

The Dolder Grand’s chef concierge, Eliane Walter Schuller, has some screen time in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” Jacob said.

“We asked staff members, including Eliane … who was directly involved with the guests, if (they) wanted to be in the film. Of course, participation was voluntary. Only a few people (on staff) agreed to participate, but they managed it very well,” he said.

Both hotels also made every effort to ensure that the filming was not disruptive to their regular guests.

“It is an exciting challenge to accommodate both production and guest needs, as the lobby is an integral part of Fontainebleau Miami Beach,” Goldfarb said. “We run a 1,600-room property while filming, so we work closely with each production team to ensure that all of our guests can enjoy the property to its fullest.”

Hotel staff was mobilized to direct guest traffic during filming.

“At times, we were required to reroute some guest pathways when it came to walking through the lobby so as not to interrupt filming, but we made sure to have dedicated team members on hand at all times to make sure that guest needs were met just as they would be on any normal day,” Goldfarb said. “It was a very collaborative project between all our teams to make sure everything went off without a hitch, with several large meetings with the operations team so that everyone knew what to expect.”

Guests at the Dolder Grand were kept in the loop about filming, Jacob said.

“The privacy and discretion of our guests is always our top priority. This means that before filming begins, we have already discussed the filming locations with the film crew in the hotel,” he said.

“For filming ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,’ … as soon as we had agreed on the filming locations, we informed our guests about the film project in a personal letter and offered them to contact us at any time if they had any questions. We also assured them that their privacy would not be disturbed in any way.”

Marketable fame
Instead of being a distraction to guests, the hotels counted on exposure in film and TV to be an attraction to guests.

Once the film crews had packed up and left, the Dolder Grand and the Fontainebleau marketing teams created special packages for guests interested in experiencing some of the lingering limelight.

The Dolder Grand package highlighted filming locations on property, including the Masina Suite, which served as the guestroom for actress Rooney Mara’s character Lisbeth Salander in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

The Fontainebleau, for a limited time, invited guests to “Live Marvelously,” with programming, including dining, bar, spa and shopping packages themed to the “Mrs. Maisel” show.

A stately stairway off the hotel lobby also featured signage and photographs from the film production and show, and offered guests an Instagrammable spot to pose with staff dressed in period-appropriate fashions.

The hotel’s photography exhibit also “showcases a print gallery of pictures and stories recounting the history of the legendary hotel, as well as never-before-seen images of Frank Sinatra, who filmed beloved movies ‘A Hole in the Head,’ ‘Tony Rome’ and ‘Lady in Cement,’ as well as broadcast four episodes of his TV show, ‘The Frank Sinatra Timex Hour,’ on property,” Goldfarb said.

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