Filming of 'The Road' leads to Pittsburgh


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Apocalypse, here we come.

Pittsburgh has landed "The Road," a big-screen adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy best-seller of the same name that will star Viggo Mortensen, Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce and a young Australian actor named Kodi Smit-McPhee.

2929 Entertainment, which is producing the movie, and the Pittsburgh Film Office yesterday confirmed rumors "The Road" will shoot in Southwestern Pennsylvania for eight weeks starting in late February to take advantage of the cold and snow. The film also will spend a week in Louisiana and a week in Oregon.

The movie is budgeted at under $30 million and will feature 15 or so speaking roles along with background players. It is set to arrive in theaters at the end of the year.

Marc Butan, president of 2929 Productions, said yesterday that the film will follow the book closely, opening in a post-apocalyptic world and using flashbacks to illuminate the characters.

He said the production looked at states with tax incentive programs and the director did a tour of Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Oregon and Connecticut -- "all the places that have the really aggressive incentive programs."

"What we found was Pennsylvania, and the Pittsburgh area in particular, offered the most diverse set of looks," Butan said. It's a road movie, with characters walking for days on end, and filming will take place in suburban areas along with coal mines, forests and an unused freeway a couple of hours away.

"We're going to be working in and around the city. We're able to accomplish a lot of different looks."

"The Road" was given the stamp of approval by both the Pulitzer Prize selection committee and Oprah Winfrey, who made it a book club selection. It's from the novelist whose "No Country for Old Men" has been turned into one of the most acclaimed films of 2007.

By most accounts, it's a depressing but haunting story of a father and son in a post-apocalyptic America. A catastrophe has ruined the land, killed millions and left the survivors to scavenge for food and shelter, cope with a steady fall of ash and -- more alarmingly -- try to avoid cannibals.

Mortensen will play the unnamed father, young Smit-McPhee ("Romulus, My Father") his son and Theron his late wife. Pearce will factor into scenes near the end of the movie.

Mortensen is a possible Best Actor Oscar contender for his tattooed turn as a Russian mobster in "Eastern Promises," while Academy Award winner Theron ("Monster") recently played a beleaguered detective and single mother in Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah." She helps a grieving father learn the ugly truth about his dead soldier son.

"The Road" will reunite Pearce with Australian John Hillcoat, who directed him in "The Proposition." Joe Penhall will adapt the novel.

"Hillcoat is going to be one of the great ones," Butan said, with an ability to create tension, extract great performances and make the most of minimalist landscapes.

Dimension Films will distribute the movie in the United States. 2929 is co-owned by Todd Wagner and Mt. Lebanon native Mark Cuban.

Asked if Cuban steered the movie to his hometown, Butan said, "Anytime there's a chance of doing something in Pittsburgh, he's all for it. He loves Pittsburgh."

The movie will crown a busy winter in Pittsburgh, with "Homecoming" starring Mischa Barton, Kevin Smith's "Zack and Miri Make a Porno" and Bob Tinnell's "Feast of the Seven Fishes" all finishing or starting production.

A production office for "The Road" is expected to open later this week, and the Pittsburgh Film Office's hotline will provide hiring information, once it's available.

"We have been working with them since late last year," Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said yesterday of the production. She credited incentives new and old for luring the movie to the region.

"The governor and our legislators put into place one of the most lucrative film incentive programs in the country in Pennsylvania in July," she said yesterday of the expanded film tax credits.

That started filmmakers looking at Pennsylvania, and Pittsburgh stands out because of its excellent crew base, diversity of locations and the fact it's more economical than its competition, including Philadelphia.

Keezer said this is the beginning, not the end, of work for 2008. "There's a lot more to come. Prior to June, we will be seeing a huge influx of film work in the region."

Production everywhere is bending to strikes or threats of strikes, as the writers' walkout may be followed by work stoppages involving directors and actors this year.


Post-Gazette movie editor Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.


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