I was reading an interview with Teri Garr about how random her film roles have been through the years and how she suffers from multiple sclerosis. I do the math and realize that she’s 68 now. It doesn’t seem that long ago that she was walking around selling panties in a commercial. The 21st century aughts have just wizzed right on by.
While discussing Close Encounters she said, “Steven [Spielberg] had just come off doing Jaws, so anything he said was fine with Universal. We were staying in this little motel in Mobile, Alabama, and he had this big blimp hangar. He wanted the biggest soundstage in the world, so that's why we were in Mobile. That's where he did all the outer-space scenes.”
“Most of the filming, however, was in Alabama, where dirigible hangars, larger than any Hollywood soundstage, were found to house the enormous sets. Consequently, the whole production moved to the South. The landing site was the biggest indoor set ever built, constructed at the former air force base, now an industrial complex in Mobile.
The hangars are numbers 5 and 6, Building 17 of the Brookley Field Industrial Complex, Old Bay Street, Mobile. Other sets built in the hangars include the road bend where the cop cars attempt to follow the alien craft into space, and the interior of the Neary home. The mountainside scenes used artificial boulders – with only twelve basic shapes carefully placed at differing angles to prevent patterns becoming obvious.
The house of Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss) is 1613 Carlisle Drive East, off Howells Ferry Road in Colonial Heights, to the west of Mobile, while Jillian’s mother’s house is in Baldwin County to the east of the city.
The big evacuation scene filmed at Bay Minette over the Mobile and Tensaw Rivers, 30 miles northeast of Mobile on Route 31.”
I found this amazing video that revisits the locations used in the movie and shows film footage spliced with footage from what the locations look like today. The house where the little boy is abducted is just down the road from me. Of course it makes sense to film in this area as the Gulf Coast and more precisely Gulf Breeze is known as the UFO capital of the world. Apparently Spielberg did not want to do any location shooting because of his negative experience on Jaws and wanted to shoot Close Encounters entirely on sound stages.
I guess Spielberg enjoyed the area so much he came right back and filmed most of Jaws2 a year later in Navarre Beach, which is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and next door to my personal beach. They lodged and filmed scenes in the Holiday Inn "Holidome" that was later destroyed by a hurricane and also filmed scenes where the teenagers hang out and play pinball at the Hog’s Breath Saloon. Which of course was destroyed by a hurricane.