By ANGELA GREGORY - Chief reporter
UNLESS you're a girl under the age of 17, or a parent, it's entirely possible you had no idea who Zac Efron or what High School Musical was until the past couple of weeks. Despite many in the film world's views to the contrary, life doesn't revolve around teen stars for most of us mere mortals.
And in the Isle of Man we appear to pride ourselves on simply ignoring the famous faces who turn up once in a while to make a film.
So the screams of delight and pain which have been heard echoing across Douglas promenades as crowds of youngsters wait for a glimpse of their idol outside the Gaiety Theatre — where Efron has been filming Me and Orson Welles for the last couple of weeks — has been an unusual phenomenon for the Isle of Man.
When Isle of Man Newspapers was invited to an official press conference on Sunday it was not without a certain amount of curiosity that we turned up, hoping to see what all the Efron fuss was about.
Not to mention the fact that Oscar-nominated director Richard Linklater (School of Rock, Dazed and Confused) would be there.
Me and Orson Welles is based on the novel by Robert Kaplow and is a coming-of-age story covering a week in the life of a teenage wannabe actor (Efron) who happens upon Orson Welles and his fledgling Mercury Theatre Company in 1937 Manhattan.
The plot is loosely based on real-life events and the Gaiety Theatre is doubling for the famous Mercury, which later went on to play host to perhaps the most famous radio broadcast in history, War of the Worlds.
The production will see the Island's biggest extras call to date at the weekend, with 570 people signed up to play the audience at the Mercury.
Efron, 20, is just one part of a large cast featuring Claire Danes (Romeo and Juliet, My So Called Life), James Tupper (Men In Trees), Ben Chaplin (The Truth About Cats and Dogs, The Thin Red Line), Eddie Marsan (Miami Vice, The Illusionist), Kelly Reilly (The Libertine, Mrs Henderson Presents) and relative newcomer Christian McKay as Orson Welles.
The production, which will also shoot in New York and at Pinewood Studios, is being produced entirely in-house by CinemaNX, the Island's new production and financing entity.
Efron, who stars as Troy Bolton in High School Musical, arguably one of Disney's most successful products, made a brief appearance at Sunday's press conference, to have his photograph taken. Dressed simply in jeans and a white T-shirt, he seemed pleasant enough but he didn't stop to chat and was gone in the blink of an eye.
Linklater and producers Ann Carli (Fast Food Nation, Festival Express) and Marc Samuelson (Stormbreaker, Keeping Mum), however, stayed for a little longer.
The trio seemed pleased with the way things were going at the Gaiety, with Linklater saying the venue was 'pretty close' to the look of the Mercury.
Samuelson explained the story behind the film's eventual arrival in Douglas: 'The job of NX is to come and make movies here and I think, I hope, we are off to a flying start, certainly having the theatre is just incredible.
'We said to Rick (Linklater]: "Look, we think we can make this movie half on the Isle of Man — I know it's Manhattan 1937 but don't worry about that and let us show you how." And he arrived with a slight look of "OK, so show me how this is going to work?" We walked into the Gaiety and I mean in seconds we just knew: "Wow, OK, it's so beautiful and so brilliantly preserved".'
Carli added: 'We thought there would be a lot of challenges (in using such an old theatre] because it's so beautiful and it's been so beautifully restored.
'The theatre managers have been incredibly co-operative and our art department has gone in. When I went in the first time to see what they'd done I was like "uh-oh, did we peel that paint?". But we put on little appliques to make it look like it was peeling and there's like a layer of fake dust and it looks amazing.'
The concern, said Samuelson, was whether the production crew could look after the Frank Matcham-built venue properly.
'Everyone's really respectful and realises it's a very important building and they have actually got to be really careful. It's not made of wood an inch thick or half an inch thick, it's a real place.'
To make room for Me and Orson Welles, some organisations had to move their productions elsewhere.
'We are very aware that we have had a bit of an impact, there were a lot of people who have been enormously helpful with rearranging dates and rearranging venues,' said Samuelson.
'Huge thanks to them because we just would not have been able to get the movie in here and make all of this happen if that hadn't been possible.'
Of the story itself, Linklater said: 'It's the week before the curtain goes up on a play so you get this escalated pace and feeling the pressure is rising on the production.'
He added: 'It's a wonderful story, even though it takes place in 1937 — it's really contemporary, I feel.'
Linklater was also full of praise for his young star: 'I'm sure a million films want Zac to be in their movie but he liked the character. It's a good story and I think it's probably one of the last high school-age people he'll play.'
And the effects of the screaming Efron fans waiting outside the Gaiety?
'It hasn't been a problem, it doesn't slow down the filming,' he said. 'Zac has to deal with it but I think he's used to that.'
Samuelson added: 'It's only been a shame that we aren't able to do more for them. But the problem is what can we do? We are working all hours and I mean really all hours — you are talking about a day, for Zac in particular, that's from 6.30am to 7-8pm. That's just a huge day and he's very, very focused on getting the work done, as is everybody.
'It's a shame not to be able to do more but they have been really good natured and really nice — actually the girls have been fantastic.'