Props, costumes and some extra foliage transform the Plaza into August 1995, when, at least in the film, Ashlanders gathered to mourn the death of Jerry Garcia. Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch

Things get 'Wild' on Ashland Plaza

Hundreds of spectators Tuesday milled about Ashland's Plaza to catch a glimpse of the filming of "Wild" and its star, Reese Witherspoon.

The downtown's retro-1995 makeover and Hollywood takeover closed several streets to public automobiles and limited foot traffic for most of the day while the scenes were filmed.

Some onlookers stood on their tiptoes to catch a glimpse of Witherspoon mid-scene, while other passers-by let out audible sighs as they were informed of detours around the set or asked to wait for the cameras to stop rolling.

Mariah Collins, 19, of Ashland, showed up at the Plaza at about 11 a.m. to catch a glimpse of Witherspoon, one of her favorite actresses. She was pleased that she got to watch the star mosey to and from the set and film one scene, she said.

"Originally, I was down here just to see Reese, but it's fun just standing down here and watching the process even when she is not here," Collins said.

Collins was watching the set from near the entrance to Lithia Park with her mom, Stacy Collins, 39. Together the pair operate Belle Union Bath Co. in Ashland, and they were determined to get Witherspoon a complimentary gift basket. According to Mariah's Facebook post, they were successful.

Aspiring filmmaker David Mehus, 18, of Medford, could have cared less about seeing the 37-year-old Witherspoon, he said.

"I am here to see the filmmaking process," he said, and shrugged before adding, "Sure, it'd be nice to catch a glimpse of Reese also."

Ashlanders Jae Brown, 21, and Kevin Cliame, 23, who played a window-shopping couple as extras for the film, showed up to the set at 4:30 a.m., they said.

The pair was contacted by filmmakers about two weeks ago to confirm their roles and their pay of $71 per eight hours worked, they said.

Awaiting their turn to stroll through the camera frame, Brown and Cliame and about five other window-shopping extras were queued up behind the corner of Mix Sweet Shop, which, like all of the downtown businesses founded post-1995, was transformed with a fictional storefront.

Mix became Third Eye Coffee, and a large "Ashland 1995" banner hung from the overpass above Water Street.

In the movie, Witherspoon visits the downtown Plaza, which crews transformed with artificial foliage and props to make it appear like mid-summer 1995. Dozens of candles, some empty wine bottles, 1995-and-earlier vehicles and a few tents and a guitar transformed the Plaza into a gypsy-hippie-style scene of locals mourning the death of Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead.

The movie, which is the largest-budget film ever shot in Ashland, is based on Cheryl Strayed's bestselling memoir "Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail." Film publicist Toni Atterbury said filmmakers acquired more than 120 extras for the scenes in Ashland, and brought a crew of about 60.

The crew spent about two weeks filming outside Bend on portions of the Pacific Crest Trail, Atterbury said, but she wouldn't disclose where in Oregon the movie was headed next.

"We're just thrilled to be here on such a gorgeous day, Ashland has just been so wonderful to film in," she said. "People are showing a lot of hospitality."

Local Andy Harris said Hollywood showing up to film in Ashland can only be a good thing.

"I think the benefits to the economy certainly outweigh any negatives, especially in a small town like we have," he said. "I'm just happy to see Ashland get some of the respect it deserves ... it's such a beautiful location to film, and it's great to see so many people down here to observe." Witherspoon would not offer a comment for this story, Atterbury said.

Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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