On an unseasonably cold afternoon a few Fridays ago, I got a phone call that made me believe in the miraculous power of dumb luck.

My friend called to tell me that the famous Hollywood director Doug Liman (“Swingers,” “The Bourne Identity”) was shooting pick-ups with his lead actor Hayden Christensen (“Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith,” “Factory Girl”) for the upcoming film “Jumper” outside Ashley’s Restaurant and Pub on State Street, about seven blocks from my home on Packard Street and McKinley Avenue. Thousands of teenage girls have fantasized about the opportunity to meet Christensen, and with almost as much enthusiasm, countless film students like me have fantasized about seeing an A-lister like Liman at work on the set.

I ran my ass off.

When I got there, gasping for air and sweating from the uphill run, I was shamed to see the corner empty. Had I sprinted for nothing? I was considering dragging myself back home when I looked across the street and saw a four-person movie crew standing in front of Michigan Book and Supply. I casually walked over.

My friend and I introduced ourselves to the filmmakers and couldn’t help but stare at the crew’s new digital RED 1 camera, a point of pride for the film’s producer, Avram Ludwig. With the capacity to shoot at 4K resolution (an image with arguably better quality than film itself), we were as awed by the camera as we were by the celebrity status of the men.

After gawking for a while, my friend and I asked if we could tag along and watch the rest of the shoot. I expected a polite no, but was pleasantly surprised to hear the word sure instead.

The following hours were a blur. We followed them around between East William and East Liberty streets.

At first it was painfully clear that we were an unwanted entourage self-consciously following the crew up and down State Street. But then it happened – a pair of traffic cones gave us an opening. Liman asked us to move the orange cones so he could capture a special dolly shot involving four guys and a pair of rollerblades. We were in.

When the crew needed to watch their footage in Ashley’s basement, we might have been expected to leave. But Liman referred to my friend and me as “our guests” and allowed us to stay. Some time later, the director went off to shoot exteriors and I was left to have an hour-long conversation with Hayden Christensen.

I had thought it would be impossible to try to make small talk with someone like Christensen without being dumbfounded by his star power, but something about the fact that he had ordered and eaten a 8-incher from Jimmy John’s made it easier to strike up a conversation. I was pleasantly surprised to find the actor engaging, polite and respectful of the many fans who walked by begging for autographs.

I asked him, “Do you mind all this?”

“This is what I signed up for,” he replied. “I remember when I went to hockey games and asked for signatures; I liked the guys that gave them, didn’t like the ones that didn’t.”

Now that’s just classy.

And I will add, there’s no experience more humbling than standing next to an actor for an hour and having every girl who passes comment on how hot he looks.

What was amazing to me, though, was watching Liman, Christensen and their small crew of cameramen work. “Jumper” has a reputed budget of more than $100 million, its makers have produced enough work to garner the kind of publicity that could shut down New York City for a week. Yet they moved around Ann Arbor guerilla-style, without a pretentious pomp to mark the boundaries of their territory. In fact, all they needed was production manager Heather LaForge manning “Jumper” headquarters in front of Stairway to Heaven.

While watching Liman direct, a certain word kept coming to mind – economy. Economy of time usage, economy of movement, economy of space and technology. I heard that Liman had used this term when giving a specific direction to Matt Damon in “The Bourne Identity,” but I could see how it applied to the director’s own style. The point was to get a certain amount of shots done, and they simply did it. And for an aspiring filmmaker, it was incredible to watch men at the top of the Hollywood ladder still enjoying the footwork of movie-making. They made it seem so effortless. They reminded me it was fun.

After the shoot, I only said a few words to Liman, because I was embarrassed about how long we had overstayed our welcome (how do you go home when an idol is working half a mile away from your front door?). But even in the chilled night after a long day of shooting, the auteur found time to speak with some wannabe filmmakers – at least three of us – answering our questions and posing for pictures with awe-filled pedestrians.

I walked home that night deeply impressed by the filmmaker who seemed alarmingly grounded in reality and the larger-than-life actor who ordered a sub at Jimmy John’s. You can bet I’ll be at the front of the line when “Jumper” comes out this February. And when I see the shots of Ann Arbor on screen, I’ll remember a pretty terrific afternoon.

-Mitchell Askelrad is a Daily staff writer

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