Hollywood breaks out at a hockey game

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If you're attending tomorrow night's Penguins game and security is summoned to remove an unruly spectator, don't be alarmed. It's part of a Hollywood script, most likely.

A crowd shot with hockey action in the background is part of the new movie "She's out of My League," being filmed at the Mellon Arena, where the executive producer once toiled as an usher in section D25 to earn money while he was a journalism student at Point Park University.

Yes, Jimmy Miller -- native of Castle Shannon, graduate of Keystone Oaks High School and alumnus of Point Park -- is coming home to make a romantic comedy set partly in a storied arena nearing the end of its historic run.

"This will definitely be the highlight of my career," said Miller, a partner in Mosaic Media Group of Los Angeles. "There's no place other than Castle Shannon that I feel more at home than at the arena. I have so many great memories of the place."

Not that he's exactly ever left his roots. Even though his business card has a Los Angeles address, Miller still has season tickets for Penguins and Pirates games. And he's on the board at Point Park, which is holding its annual Star Makers gala on April 12 at the Pittsburgh Hilton to benefit the school's Conservatory of Performing Arts.

Actually, he was introduced to hockey through his older brother Dennis, the acid-tongued comic and former announcer on "Monday Night Football" who now has a radio show and a game show on TV.

"Dennis took me to my first game, and I got bitten by the hockey bug," Miller said. "It's my favorite sport to see live."

The original script for "She's out of My League" had its hockey scene happening in Phoenix. But it seemed natural to tweak it and move it to Pittsburgh, where both the Penguins and city officials were quite receptive to movie-making at the arena.

"Obviously, I wanted to get it to Pittsburgh. And it's so attractive financially to shoot a movie there. The crew has already done a lot of preliminary work in and around the arena, and they've been blown away by what they've experienced. They just love the city," he said.

The movie tells the story of an average Joe who meets a girl described as a perfect 10, both of whom are hockey fans. Much to his surprise, she takes an interest in him.

It stars Alice Eve ("Starter for 10") and Jay Baruchel ("Knocked Up" and "Tropic Thunder"). Filming of the Dreamworks SKG feature, co-produced by Miller and David Householder, will run through May 24 in Pittsburgh, but no release date has been set. Some shots will be seen from the perspective of Mario Lemieux's private box while others will be from the seats right on the glass. After the crowd scenes are filmed, the cast will return to the arena to record the dialogue.

"It's one of the better scripts I've seen," said Miller. "It's a great cast, great director, great script and great crew. I'm really excited about it."

The arena, which opened in 1961 as the home of Civic Light Opera and later featured such performers as Elvis Presley, The Beatles and Frank Sinatra, is no stranger to the big screen. The 1995 movie "Sudden Death," starring Jean-Claude Van Damme, had a hockey scene with the roof opened even though the roof has always been closed for real hockey games. And "The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh," featuring basketball star Julius Erving and Harlem Globetrotter Meadowlark Lemon, was made there.

"I was around when 'The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh' was being shot in 1979. It was pretty wild," Miller said.

Mosaic Media Group is a talent management firm that represents Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell and the Wayans brothers. It has also produced such films as "Elf," "Breaking Up" and "Talladega Nights."

Miller once met Lemieux when he and Jim Carrey were honored by the Canadian Walk of Fame, but he has a stronger connection to the Penguins in that Tom McMillan, vice president of communications for the Penguins, matriculated at Point Park the same time he did.

"The student union was in the basement of a poorly ventilated room that had a pool table, a bowling alley and this new-fangled thing called air hockey," he said. "Tom and I were in the air hockey league, and I remember that guys were so into it that someone wore a goalie mask during games."

Miller's memories of the arena go back to 1973. With Keystone Oaks already eliminated, Joe Montana and Ringgold won a WPIAL basketball championship, although Ringgold's biggest basketball star at the time was Ulice Payne. He also remembers a Beach Boys concert when the stainless-steel roof was opened.

And, of course, there were all the events he attended as an usher.

"I had a reputation as being a wise [guy]" -- wonder where that came from? -- "and it became sort of a running joke that when they handed out the assignments, I always got the largest section, D25," Miller said, chuckling.

He also has fond memories of a couple of other sports venues that aren't there anymore -- Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium -- where he would sneak down into the high-priced seats behind third base just to get a better glimpse of Roberto Clemente. Those recollections are part of the reason he's so excited about filming the movie at the arena, which is slated for demolition when the new arena opens.

"Pittsburgh is still my favorite city in the world," said Mr. Miller.

Robert Dvorchak can be reached at bdvorchak@post-gazette.com .


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