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Seeing 'Transformers 3' up close

transformersfilmingA.jpgLooking down Third Street toward Pennsylvania Tuesday night. (Michael D. Bolden/The Washington Post)

This just in: Congress to exile Autobots

I am a "Transformers" fan. I don't collect action figures or watch the cartoons, but I was enthralled by the first movie. I've seen it countless times. I've found myself 30 minutes into watching it on HBO Latino before realizing it was dubbed in Spanish, which I do not speak. Let's chalk it up to a fascination I've long had with sports cars and heavy equipment (one day I will own an articulated dump truck!).

So, armed with my curiosity and this appreciation, I headed down to the set about 7:45 Tuesday night to assess the situation for myself. There are parking restrictions and road closures all around the Mall. And traffic seemed light. I parked on Sixth Street SW in front of the Holiday Inn and walked to the Mall.

It becomes apparently quickly that this isn't normal Washington. Across from Air and Space catering tents were set up to feed an army, and I could see workers inside arranging a meal. Down Independence, I saw more police lights and lots of activity. But where was the filming?

That's when I saw what looked like daylight in the distance. I headed north on Fourth Street toward the National Gallery of Art, following giant circles that were illuminating the sky. At Madison, there was a police barricade. I could see over to Constitution where there was a bustle of activity, with fire trucks, police cruisers and assorted other vehicles flashing lights and moving to and fro.

There were hundreds of people lined up against the police tape hoping for a glimpse of some action or somebody famous. At one point, a thin, dark-suited young man emerged from a trailer in front of the East Gallery and walked up Fourth toward the action. Cries of "Shia!" rang out, but we weren't close enough to see for sure; it sure looked like him, though.

The closest we came to real action was when a squadron of men in what appeared to be SWAT gear (NEST members, perhaps?) strolled past the police barricade and marched up to Constitution toward the Canadian Embassy. Later they could be seen darting behind cars and bushes, in what was either rehearsal or filming.

I later changed my vantage point and walked to Third and Pennsylvania. There were probably a couple thousand people in the area around here and more lights suspended in the sky. The array of trucks, cranes and generators all looked like they could be Transformers themselves. Even the art outside the East Gallery seemed to be in on what was happening, resembling Decepticons and Autobots that might unfold at any moment and roll into the Capitol Reflecting Pool in a furious battle over humanity.

As I headed back to my car, I assessed how completely Third Street was shut down. There were Paramount Pictures trucks everywhere, performing functions I could barely guess. Backstage action was also intense around the National Museum of the American Indian, where I spotted Bumblebee and Optimus Prime parked on Maryland Avenue SW.

When I finally got back to my car, I was able to hop in and head for 295 without any trouble.

If you decide to venture to the Mall, you should park well away from the street closures and walk over, or take Metro to L'Enfant Plaza or Smithsonian. You will be able to tell where the most intense filming is going on by following the bright lights - they really look like moons that have fallen from the night sky.

The crowds seemed to be ever-shifting, with people leaving and coming, so if you're patient, you should be able to get a decent view of some of the filming. Be aware crowds are being kept hundreds of feet back, though, so you won't be in the middle of the action. The closest I came was probably 500 feet. And you will spend long stretches where nothing seems to happen. The crews also are filming late into the night - pyrotechnics came in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, so you may not even see the most thrilling parts.

But whatever happens, here's your chance for a brush with Hollywood. You can share your photos with us here, and send us e-mails if you have advice on navigating the area or spot a Decepticon hiding in your neighborhood.

-- Michael D. Bolden

Road closures and parking restrictions

Share your photos

From the archives:
-- Bumblebee
collides with a D.C. police SUV

-- Bumblebee (or his understudy) lives

Battle of the 'Transformers' starts before the opening credits

Let Autobots transform the Mall

By Michael Bolden  | October 13, 2010; 8:58 AM ET
Categories:  District, Events  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Delayed? Blame the Decepticons
Next: 12th St. Tunnel to close today


Federal Center SW would be about 8 blocks closer than the Smithsonian stop.

Posted by: bayma1 | October 13, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

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