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“Hocus Pocus 2” changes filming locations under new director

During gusty fall nights, residents of Providence’s East Side might be feeling especially spooked. This could be because of the colder weather and darker nights, or perhaps it is because witches Winifred, Sarah and Mary Sanderson, have been spending an extended amount of time in Rhode Island. A sequel to Disney’s film “Hocus Pocus” is currently being filmed in locations across the Ocean State. 

The original “Hocus Pocus” was released in the United States in 1993. In recent years, the film has become a cult classic among Americans born in the 1980s and ’90s due to its annual airings on Disney Channel and Freeform throughout the Halloween season.

The original film follows the Sandersons: Winifred (Bette Midler), Sarah (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Mary (Kathy Najimy), three witches in 1693 who are resurrected three centuries later by teen Max Dennison, his younger sister Dani and his crush Allison.

“Hocus Pocus 2” features the original Sanderson sisters and takes place 29 years after the events of the first movie, where three high school students must work together to stop the witch sisters who have returned to present-day Salem. The film will be released on streaming service Disney+ in 2022.

The movie was originally scheduled to begin filming this past summer in Salem, Mass., the real life location of the film. But after a change in directors, the location managers opted to film in Rhode Island instead, according to cinematographer Elliot Davis. The film began shooting Oct. 18 in Providence under the direction of Anne Fletcher, who is known for films such as “27 Dresses,” “Step Up” and “The Proposal.” 

Filming has taken place around the greater Providence area, including at La Salle Academy, the Moses Brown School, Benevolent Street and Cooke Street, all on the East Side. Sets have also been built at Chase Farms, located in Lincoln, and in Newport. 

The colonial style of Providence buildings has been a central focus in filming, as the crew has worked to create a quintessential “New England environment,” Davis said. Providence was an ideal location, he added, because “the director loves Providence, she shot here a couple times …  and Disney loves the city.”

Filming in the Ocean State has just begun, Davis said, so most of the shoot’s challenges have yet to come. Among the more involved set pieces in the film are a concert set-up in Newport and an artificial forest.

Since “Hocus Pocus 2” is filming so close to campus, many students have come across the set while walking the streets of Providence.

Victoria Rose ’23 lives near Benevolent and Cook streets, where filming took place. She told The Herald that street signs around the area of the set were changed to Crucible Street and Goody Street. She interacted with the film crew because some of their equipment was blocking Fulton Hall where the Brown Band, of which she is the vice president, was supposed to load their bus in preparation for a trip.

“I was put in touch with the location manager and they sent us one of their police details to direct traffic,” Rose said, “so (that) we didn’t have to park in the street and to make it safer for us to load up.” 

While working a 9 to 11 p.m. shift with Safewalk, a program where students walk peers home at night, Mahira Khan ’23 and her walking partner came across the “Hocus Pocus 2” set Oct. 21. They were walking their usual routes when they came across the crew filming in a building behind Barus and Holley.

Stumbling upon the set made her more interested in seeing the film once it’s released, Khan said. “I would want to see if I could recognize the places where it’s filming and stuff like that… I would for sure see it,” she said.

Naveen Abraham ’23 noticed many police cars blocking off access to Hope Street while walking with a friend to Barbour Hall the same night. He noticed mist and spotlights around the area as well as a white screen and numerous cameramen.

Abraham’s view of Providence has been changed after his encounter with the set.

“It was pretty unforgettable (with) all the lights ... and the fog and mist. I feel like I can’t go back to Cooke Street without thinking about the one time it was a movie set and was actually super magical,” Abraham said. “So I feel like Cooke Street has been changed for me permanently, in a good way.”

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