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Shopping And Shooting
Part of the reason Kevin James wanted to write and star in Paul Blart: Mall Cop is that it harks back in a way to his formative years, growing up in the malls of the east coast. "I'd be in Spencer Gifts and Sam Goody, checking out the albums, hanging out and meeting people,” he recalls. "The mall isn't just about the stores – it's like a town center, where you hang out and see a girl you like and how long are you going to follow her before you never make a move and go home?” he jokes. 

"The mall in this story is like another character in the movie,” says Russ T. Alsobrook, the film's director of photography. "It has its own personality.”

With such a unique setting, the filmmakers never considered trying to recreate the energy and buzz of a mall on a soundstage. They found their location at the Burlington Mall in Burlington, Massachusetts.

They could have shut down the mall, or closed sections of it, or even shot after-hours, when the mall is closed. Instead, the filmmakers opted to film during business hours, when the mall was teeming with shoppers.

"Because the moviemaking process has an air of mystery about it, you're going to get an audience anywhere you shoot – and that's especially true in a place, like a working mall in Massachusetts, that doesn't see people making movies every day,” explains Todd Garner. "It could have been a challenge, but the people were great and very respectful of what we were trying to do. I think that adds to the atmosphere of the movie.”

"When the mall is in full operation, it gets a little crazy,” Kevin James says with a chuckle. "But it's great to see the fans – the crowds get excited about the movie.”

"It's weird, but also cool, performing in front of so many people. It's like theater in the round,” Mays adds. "And when they don't need you in a scene, you're shopping all day.”

Which, as James points out, can have its drawbacks. "My per diem is wiped out for the next five movies,” James kids. 

Of course, the mall did need a bit of a Hollywood makeover. The story takes place on Black Friday – the day after Thanksgiving and the biggest shopping day of the year. The art department, headed by production designer Perry Andelin Blake, would be charged with dressing the mall for Christmas in the middle of April.

"When you walked by Gap or J Crew, all the mannequins in the window and all the pictures were of people in bathing suits and short pants. It was a very summery look,” Blake says. "So we had to work with the stores to take out their summer apparel and redress their mannequins in parkas and skis – just to make sure that there weren't things in the background to throw the audience off balance when watching the movie.”

There were other design elements, too, both subtle and obvious. The filmmakers began with the mall's holiday decorations. To give the mall feel a Christmastime feeling, Blake arranged with the management, Simon Property Group, to hang their oversize Christmas ornaments and lights. 

But there was one, big showpiece that would need to be added. "We wanted to have a Santa's Village,” Blake admits. "But Santa's Village always looks like a chalet in Switzerland, and I didn't want to recreate that kind of typical look. I started looking north, in the direction of the North Pole – Norway, Sweden, Russia, Finland… and we ended up basing the look on the old, wooden Russian Orthodox Churches of St. Petersburg, the ones with the onion domes. It's dressed up, but still nice and warm, like a little house that you might find out in the middle of the snowy arctic.”

Blake gave the same preparation to the mall's kiosks, which he felt should represent the characters that operated them. "Amy's Unbeweaveable kiosk had to be cute, so we used pinks and purples and cute little baubles and beads. It sp

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