Making a Movie With Spider-Man


(Note: Thanks and a tip of the fedora to TKZ’s Terry Odell, who noted that for some reason comments (as of 8:20A EST) cannot be posted. I am working on fixing that but having problems doing so. I’m sorry!)

(Update 12:28P EST: It appears to be a system problem as opposed to a PICNIC (Problem In Chair Not In Computer) problem. It will hopefully be fixed in time for Jim Bell’s post tomorrow. Thanks to everyone who is stopping by today. SJ)

(Update 12:46P EST: Comments are working. Thanks and a tip of the fedora to Lynne Reynolds, the Wizard behind the curtain! SJ)

The following occurred about a year and a half ago. I have had to remain uncharacteristically quiet about it until now due to an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) which blessedly expired on February 26. I left my home in central Ohio at 2:30A on November 27, 2019, and headed north toward Cleveland, a place where I misspent several of my formative years. I was to report, showered, shaved, and tap dancin’, at 6:00A to an address near Cleveland’s east side. 

I had been notified a few days previously that I had been selected for a (very, very small) part in a movie named Cherry. There was plenty of buzz about the project before it began, due to the presence of Tom Holland in the lead role and the involvement of Joe and Anthony Russo as directors and producers. Holland and the Russo Brothers had worked together before on such obscure cinematic projects as Avengers: Endgame and Avengers: Infinity War, with Holland appearing as Spider-Man and the Russos directing those films. Expectations for Cherry were high, my presence in the film notwithstanding. 

Shaker Heights, a somewhat tony Cleveland suburb, was my ultimate destination.  I misspent a good portion of my formative years in Cleveland. I had been to Shaker Heights only once, close to sixty years before, with my parents on a Sunday to go to a retail area named, by amazing coincidence, Shaker Square. I planned to take a look at the area while I was up there. Did I get to? Read on. 

I arrived on time at the appointed place. Despite being a little later in the morning it was somehow even darker and colder on Cleveland’s east side than Columbus had been three hours earlier. I parked and started following some hand-lettered signs through a parking lot, heading toward an unmarked building. A limousine pulled up next to me. Tom Holland got out, smiling, and yelled, “Joe! Joe Hartlaub! My man!” as he embraced me. Not really. Actually, a guy with an Eddie Murphy vibe exited the limo and asked me if this was the right place to be for Cherry. We had some introductory chit-chat during which he told me that he also had a very small part and lived about ten blocks away. I glanced at the limo. He said, “I was gonna ride my bike, but, like, how many times ya gonna be in a movie? Y’know?” I shrugged. He asked me how I had gotten there. “I coptered in from Columbus,” I answered, whirling my index finger around. I had him going for just a minute as he looked around us, perhaps hoping to see Jan-Michael Vincent lean out of a hovering whirlybird and wave. He was disappointed.

We walked into the building together and followed some more hand-lettered signs through a warren of what turned out to be dance rehearsal rooms that had been temporarily repurposed for storing movie equipment. We ultimately found a nice lady, complete with piercings, tattoos, and a clipboard, who checked us in and then directed us to a large room that had been set up like a cafeteria. Breakfast. It was a surprise. We were cautioned to use the serving line on the left and to sit in a specific area since the right line and the other tables were for the crew. Same food, no mingling. My fellow cast member looked at me and kind of smirked at the ironic separate but equal arrangement. We ate some breakfast, ate some more, and drank coffee. An hour passed before my new friend, a few other folks, and I were ushered through a different labyrinth of rooms to suddenly find ourselves outside and on Shaker Square, which looked both different and the same from how I remembered it.  We were given our assignments as the wind and sleet started up, and admonished that we were absolutely not to talk to Tom Holland if we encountered him since he would be working.  My acting assignment was to stand on the street in the wind while being peppered with ice pellets while reading a newspaper, all the while acting as if I were cold,  wet, and old. It stretched my abilities to the limit, let me tell you, but I am a true professional and got the job done, take after take. I was truly humbled by the applause I received every time I turned a page of the newspaper and the director yelled “Cut!”

We were all released at around 12:15 PM. I went into the diner to get some more coffee and saw my fellow actor. He was standing with a small group of folks and head-bopped me over. Tom Holland was standing next to him. Holland started talking to us after a couple of minutes about this and that.  Directives notwithstanding, it would have been rude not to have answered him. It turned out that he was/is a very personable guy. His younger brother was with him. Holland was much nicer to his brother than I would have been to mine under similar circumstances, but, then again, Holland’s brother wasn’t as irritating as mine was at that age. 

Photo by Joe Burdick. All rights reserved.

Things then became weird. I looked back across Shaker Square and recalled that, when I had been there on that long-ago Sunday, a drugstore had filled a storefront where a clothing boutique presently occupied. I had gone in there (probably to get away from my younger brother) and purchased some comic books with a dollar that I had saved from a week before (something I wrote about a few months ago). One of those comics was The Amazing Spider-Man #1.  My adult self kind of felt the earth and everything else shift for just a moment.  I didn’t have to wonder how eleven-year-old me would have reacted if he had been told that, in another sixty years or so, he would be standing across the street talking to the actor who played Spider-Man in a couple of movies while appearing in another movie “with” that actor. I would not have believed any of it.

Holland was called away to do more acting. I got my coffee and gave my new friend a ride home (a real come-down for him, I am sure, after his limo ride of the morning) and made the three-hour drive back home, thinking about life and how the choices we make and the chances we take often bring things back to where we start. 

Cherry was supposed to be released in July 2020 but…you know. That was changed to November 2020 and was delayed a second time. There was a limited (meaning not in Columbus) theatrical release on February 26, 2021, with a full release on Apple TV+ scheduled for March 12. I still don’t know if my scene made the final cut. I did, however, meet Spider-Man. If I could I would tell my eleven-year-old self, “Hang in there, Joey. It’ll be okay. Just don’t get involved with ________, __________, ____________, ______________, or __________. Oh, and you’ll get to hang with Spider-Man. Lastly, hang on to your comics.”

I don’t really believe in coincidence. Life stretched over many years just has too many moving parts. To paraphrase J.B.S. Haldane (and many have), life is not stranger than we imagine. It’s stranger than we can imagine. But we still try, don’t we? 

That is all I have today. I hope that I’ve been able to entertain you while you are waiting for your Coming 2 America feed to stop buffering. In the meanwhile, do you care to share a strange thing that has happened to you lately? 

This entry was posted in #writerslife by Joe Hartlaub. Bookmark the permalink.

About Joe Hartlaub

Joe Hartlaub is an attorney, author, actor and book and music reviewer. Joe is a Fox News contributor on book publishing industry and publishing law and has participated on several panels dealing with book, film, and music business law. He lives with his family in Westerville, Ohio.

22 thoughts on “Making a Movie With Spider-Man

  1. Joe, what an experience that must have been–such a fun story! Tom Holland is terrific as Peter Parker, how cool is it that you got to be in a Spider-man “adjacent” film, directed by the Russo Brothers? Pretty dang cool, I’d say.

    I haven’t had that sort of cinematic brush with greatness, though one of my oldest friends, also a writer, has been an extra in TV shows like “The Librarians” and “Grimm”, both filmed here in Portland. He played a street person, and a bouncer. His biggest claim to fame was playing a murdered street person in a David Tennant’s “Bad Samaritan.” Like you, he spent time out in the elements for an extended street scene or two. However, that ended up on the cutting room floor, leaving his only appearance in the film being in a photograph. Which is still cool.

    As for me, I’ve not had the opportunity, or the patience, to be an extra. That’s a special breed for sure!

    Congrats on your acting in “Cherry,” and hoping that your scene made the cut!

    Thanks for brightening our Saturday with such a fun story. I have to close, in honor of you, and Peter, with the classic, “Excelsior!”

    • Dale, thanks so much. I’ve seen “Bad Samaritan,” by the way, and will take another look at it to check out your friend’s star turn. It’s streaming on Amazon Prime right now, so everybody, when you’re done being disappointed by Coming 2 America (D’oh! Did I say that) you can check it out. And Dale, in honor of you, Peter, and your friend, “Face Front!”

  2. Great post, Joe. And hurray! The site is now working.

    Congratulations on your part in CHERRY. I hope your scene makes the cut. That’s pretty exciting, getting to meet Holland. Let us know when the movie is available.

    My only brush with celebrity (not strange or recent) was unexpectedly meeting a former (then current) Ohio governor, while I was in a professor’s office during medical school. The governor walked into the private office of the rheumatologist where I was waiting alone. I jumped to my feet in surprise and nearly fell over. The governor told me to sit and began shooting the breeze like a good politician.

    Have a great weekend. I look forward to seeing the movie when it’s out.

  3. Thanks for your comments, Steve, and for circling back. It still doesn’t look as if Cherry will be on screen in central Ohio. Apple TV+ will have it March 12 but I don’t get that. I’ll have to find another way to see it.

    The governor to whom you are referring and who we discussed elsewhere had a natural gift of gab. He was born in an impoverished part of Ohio and could talk to anyone. He actually, when he was embarking on his political career, had a meeting with Winston Churchill who told him, “You need to do something else! If you don’t smoke or drink you’ll never be a success in politics!”

    Have a great weekend, Steve. Thanks again.

  4. Joe, Gary Cooper got his big break with a very small bit in the World War I movie Wings. The camera loved him. I can see the same thing happening to you. Is your PR team in place?

    • You’re looking at it, Jim! My goal at this point is to not flood the market. Thanks.

  5. Great post, Joe! What a super bit of fun for you.

    So, the only celeb I’ve ever spoken to is…you! 🙂

    (Not counting all you other TKZ team members, of course. Just sayin’)

    • Deb, if I’m the best of the celebrities you’ve met so far you have a ways to go! As my younger daughter used to tell people when she was younger, “My dad is famous everywhere but here!” She of course could say that no matter what city we were in. Thanks for coming by.

  6. Congrats on your role. Sounds like fun!

    On an unrelated note, I think it’s funny that this week has brought an inordinantly high number of references to superheroes out of the blue in the most off-hand of ways, even at work.

    I haven’t thought about Spiderman since watching Nicholas Hammond play the title role in the TV series back in the 70’s or early 80’s! I loved his eyes.

    • Thank you, BK! I think that Tom Holland’s appearance in a non-superhero role has people talking about Marvel Comics in general this week, comparing and contrasting. We’ll see how things go.

  7. How exciting, Joe! I’ve never watched Apple TV+, but I do have Apple devices. Do you know if it’s subscription-based? Super congrats for your role! I’m sure you were the best cold & wet newspaper reader on set.

    • Thanks, Sue! I must say with all modesty that yes, I probably was the best, but in truth I was the only one.

      Apple TV+ is subscription-based at $4.99 per month. It’s also included if you have the Apple One service. Apparently if you buy an Apple device now you get a one-year subscription free. There is also a seven day free trial which I may sign up for next week and invite both of my friends over to watch. If you and your hubster are in central Ohio stop on by!

  8. I can’t remember where I was browsing, but it was at a site where they recommended books–Kobo, I think–and Cherry was recommended. Had it not been for this post, I wouldn’t have given it a second look. I think that’s related to the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon.
    I’ll sneak in a Mom ‘brag.’ My daughter was an extra in Game of Thrones (which I’ve never watched, but if I mention she was in it, people seem to be impressed.)

  9. Speaking only for myself, Terry, I’m impressed. That’s pretty cool. GoT is a thing, for sure.

    I think you’re right about the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon, which I was just talking about with someone in another context that might be the topic of my next blog.

    Thanks again for the assist this morning, Terry!

  10. Before North Carolina stopped its incentives for movies, there were lots of calls locally for extras, but I never applied. The niece worked at a high-end restaurant and texted her mom, “I’m serving George Clooney! He’s really nice.” A few minutes later, “But he’s not as good looking as Dad.” Several hours later, “He is a great tipper, but he’s still not as good looking as Dad.” Smart kid. Plus, her dad looks like Tom Selleck and is a great dad.

    • Marilynn, your niece sounds as if she has things in perspective. Thanks for sharing. I know a woman who several  years ago posted to her Facebook account, “I was Johnny Depp’s waitress!” with a picture of Depp and herself. She took it down recently. You never know…

  11. Wow, Joe. This is impressive. You’re definitely the most famous actor I’ve ever known, and I’m going to see if I can find the movie Cherry.

    One interesting person my husband and I met some years ago was Dave Wottle, the winner of the 1972 Olympic 800-meter race in one of the most (maybe THE most) incredible comeback runs ever. He gave a talk and showed a video of the race. Definitely worth watching.

    • Thank you, Kay! Three things: 1) I am in another film, that being LA-308: Assassin Redemption, where I actually have a speaking part and show up in the trailer at 1:49 ; 2) our own James Scott Bell has done some commercial acting as well!: and 3) I looked up Dave Wottle…now HE’S impressive! Thanks for sharing, Kaye.

      • I watched the trailer. Now I know a real movie star!

        Btw, our son acts in Austin’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society productions. He always plays the roles like Major General Stanley because he can do the songs like “I am the very model of a modern major general.” We love to see him perform. (Where did he get singing talent? Must have skipped a generation or two.)

        Thanks for all the good info. I’ll be looking for Cherry.

        • Kay…your son is a REAL actor. No, takes, no reshoots, no second chances to make a first impression. Good going!

  12. Hi Joe – The system wouldn’t let me post a comment yesterday, so I’m back today because I wanted to share this. BTW, good on you to have the part! Here’s the C&P from yesterday:

    “Great story, Joe. Quite the web you wove. Nothing strange happened to me today, so far. But I will share something strange that happened two weeks ago. I do a blog post every two weeks. The last one was titled “The Surprisingly Simple Secret To Stephen King’s Success” in which I went on and on about how great King’s craft guide book “On Writing” is. My paperback copy is hacked to death with red underlines, yellow highlights, and black notations. It’s been worked over like a Cleveland alley meeting gone bad, I can tell ya.

    Well, I posted that piece on Saturday morning, and the next day I went into a used bookstore I’d never been in before. I poked about and picked a few and was about to pay & leave when a little voice said, “Hey, come back here. I got something for you.” I turned and went to a little cubby in the back. There was an entire shelf of Stephen King’s works and, to one side, there it was. A first edition hardcover of “On Writing” in pristine condition. Even the dust jacket was perfect – not a mark or a fade. The only thing missing was his autograph. It was like the Horror Man gave me a thanks for the blog post. True story, even though I write fiction!”

  13. Thanks, Garry, for the kind words and the great story. Used bookstores are great for literary encounters like that. May you have many, many more!

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