Steven Spielberg spent about four weeks here in Newport actually filming Amistad during March, 1997. In the process he was able to convert several parts of this city into a remarkably flexible set. Washington Square, the Colony House, Clarke Street, Saint John's Church, Narragansett Bay, Queen Anne Square and the Mansions are only minutes away from each other and provided much of the backdrops and scenery for the movie.
But Newport also provided support for the crew that ranged from ... using the Rotunda at First Beach as the makeup and costume center; the Marriot Hotel as the headquarters and administration center; the Visitor's Center parking lot as a trailer truck props and equipment warehouse lot; the Viking Hotel as the host for the West Coast catering firm and lunch hall for the extras and crew ... to using the Reebock shoe store as a night time break center for the night shooting at Queen Anne Square.
Of course the city abounded with sightings of Matthew McConaughey at all the popular Newport bars and band spots, much to the delight of the local college gals; and to sightings of Spielberg with family in tow, playing tourist on the Sundays they did not film.
All in all ... a good time was had by the film crew and extras, the sightseeing public, and the residents.
This site presents mostly a photojournalist's view of what was available to see during the filming, some before and after sequences in the set making, a look at some of the costumes and props, and some close ups of the extras and actors.
March 25-30, 1997 -- The crew, while headquartered here in Newport, spends most of its time on the road traveling to Mystic, Boston, and Providence. A few short scenes were finished here in Newport.
March 19-20, 1997 -- The crew moved to Queen Anne Square and spent two intensive days shooting both day and night scenes in front of the jail. From here Spielberg moves out of Newport to shoot various scenes in Mystic, CT; Boston; and Providence. They may return in a week to fill in some scenes here.
March 16-17, 1997 -- other than a few last scenes at the Colony House, action here is moving on to Queen Anne Square depending on the weather during this week.
March 8-15, 1997
-- most of the action now being shot inside the Colony House (Court
House) with the third floor used as two sets and the second floor used as two
sets. The first floor is a staging/dressing area. Not much new to see. Snow,
then rain, kept everything inside on March 10.
Saturday, March 15 was Saint Patrick's Day . The parade route detoured, but unfortunately not enough to keep the sound track clear. So filming was suspended during the morning. Spielberg did a handshaking exit at the end of the day and shook hands with a number of the spectators, including my wife.
March 7, 1997 -- Cold, but sunny and not so windy, today we saw a quarter of the extras and horses as we did yesterday. Basic filler sequences saw people walking in "Eisenhower Park." Spielberg continued inside sequences. Tomorrow, 2 to 4 inches of snow is the predicted weather.
March 6, 1997 -- In winds gusting up to 60 miles an hour the film crew moved outside to Washington Square in front of the Court House. It was cold and windy enough to give an unexpected touch of real weather to the scenes. No one had to act cold and wind blown ... they were. The line of slaves with only one layer of ragged clothes walked down Washington Square in chains, but were amply covered with blankets between takes. The men maintaining the sets were constantly repairing damage. The specially processed dirt spread on the ground felt like sandblasting on your face.
March 5, 1997 -- Steven Spielberg started filming Amistad today. Over the last month the film crew here has built and rebuilt sets; worked with history experts, moved trees; bought up loads of antiques as props; conducted local casting calls for people, horses, pigs, chickens, and goats; and spread tons of specially processed dirt on the roadways and sidewalks of the main square of our city.
Today, they started filming this story of a true account of an 1839 slave rebellion aboard a Spanish slave ship and the ensuing court trial held in New Haven, CT. Newport was ideal as a substitute New Haven site because of Newport's historical building inventory. Anthony Hopkins, Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey and Nigel Hawthorne are the stars.