Young Hollywood actors make Pittsburgh home for film projects


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In many American cities, transience in one's 20s and 30s is an accepted part of modern life, but Pittsburghers, unaccustomed to young people leaving town during the city's manufacturing heyday, continue to wring their hands over such departures. Take heart: The city's budding film industry -- thanks to state tax incentives -- has been drawing young people, albeit a few at a time and only temporarily.

Over the past year, a raft of who's who among young Hollywood has been coming to town for assorted film projects, including Ryan Reynolds ("Van Wilder"), Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig (both "Saturday Night Live"), and Martin Starr ("Knocked Up") in "Adventureland"; Seth Rogen ("Knocked Up"), Elizabeth Banks ("Scrubs") and Craig Robinson ("The Office") in "Zack & Miri Make a Porno"; and Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("The Tudors") and Nate Cordrry ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") in "Shelter." Just last week production began locally on "My Bloody Valentine 3-D," starring Jensen Ackles ("Supernatural").

In addition, the romantic comedy "She's Out of My League" continues production through Saturday. The film stars Jay Baruchel ("Knocked Up"), T.J. Miller ("Cloverfield"), Nate Torrence ("Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip") and Geoff Stults ("7th Heaven"). Late last week the production shot a party scene at The Andy Warhol Museum on the North Shore.

Baruchel stars as Kirk, a security screener at Pittsburgh International Airport who's also a huge Penguins fan. He falls for a woman, Molly (Alice Eve, "Starter for 10"), who may or may not be out of his league.

Thursday night, Baruchel and Torrence filmed Scene 12, walking along Sandusky Street in front of The Warhol with the Seventh Street Bridge in the background. Before the cameras roll, the tall, skinny Baruchel pounds his hands against his thighs, psyching himself up for the scene.

It's early in the film as Baruchel's Kirk attempts to return an iPhone Molly left at airport security. Torrence's Devon offers goofy encouragement, comparing Molly to Princess Jasmine and Kirk to Aladdin from the animated Disney film.

"Let's go on a magic carpet ride," Devon says before they enter the Warhol, where Molly, an event planner, is throwing a party.

"This is a classic kind of underdog story," Baruchel explained between takes, "a good old-fashioned Hollywood romantic comedy with the potential for a lot of funny situations."

Maybe not that old-fashioned. Executive producer George Gatins said "League," with Kirk and his buddies talking about dating and relationships, feels more natural and realistic if it aims for an R rating.

"It's a group of guys talking about what guys talk about," Gatins said. "The comedies that are coming out and performing [at the box office] are reality-based comedies that have their broad moments. This is an everyman story everyone can relate to."

Or, as Entertainment Weekly put it last week in an article titled "Movie Guys: The New Girls?": "GUY-CENTRIC + GIRL-FRIENDLY = $$$."

Even though writer/director/producer Judd Apatow ("Superbad," "Knocked Up," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin," "Forgetting Sarah Marshall") isn't involved in "League," the movie may bring to mind his films due to the style of comedy and the presence of Apatow repertory player Baruchel.

"When all is said and done, they'll be studying Judd Apatow's work in film school," Gatins said.

The "League" script was originally written to be set in Phoenix, with the production needing to film scenes at a hockey arena and at an airport. After scouting locations -- it eventually came down to North Carolina or Pennsylvania -- Pittsburgh won out thanks to its locations, tax incentives and possibly the participation of producer Jimmy Miller, a Pittsburgh native. The script was rewritten to change the setting to Pittsburgh.

"League" filmed for about two weeks at Pittsburgh International in the shuttered part of Concourse B and at the alternative security checkpoint. Scenes were also shot at Mellon Arena during a Penguins game, on Mount Washington, in front of the Alcoa Building (the Downtown structure plays the exterior of Alice's apartment building), in the bowling alley of the Pittsburgh Athletic Club in Oakland, in Market Square (the stage area was set up as an outdoor restaurant), at Century III Mall (the food court stands in as an airport food court) and on makeshift soundstages in the area.

Baruchel, an Ottawa native and hockey fan, said he kept his support of the Senators to himself when they were playing the Penguins in the playoffs.

"It was very easy for me to play a hockey fan," he said. "No acting was required. I just had to switch jerseys. That's pretty much it."

Baruchel will be seen later this summer in "Tropic Thunder" with Ben Stiller. He expects to re-team with his "Undeclared" and "Knocked Up" co-star, Rogen, for a project that will be announced soon. Once "League" wraps, he'll be going home to promote two Canadian films and perhaps star in a new Canadian movie.

"I'd be lying if I didn't say I feel some sort of cultural responsibility to do my part to perpetuate Canadian cinema," he said. "We only make eight films a year in English up there."

Recent films haven't just brought Hollywood stars to town. Pittsburgh natives are also trying to ride the tide of film production back home.

Mary Alex Hamilton, assistant location manager on "League," has lived in Los Angeles for about 20 years, but she's been back in Pittsburgh working on several recent films. The 1979 graduate of Penn Hills High School stays with her mom in Penn Hills while working in Pittsburgh.

"It's great to come home and work and take care of family," she said, adding that she's contemplating moving back permanently. "Everybody in the business who's from Pittsburgh wants to come home to work. It's a Pittsburgh thing. It never leaves you."

If filmmaking remains active in Pittsburgh, perhaps more young people will choose to stay, reducing the need for Los Angeles imports and giving Pittsburgh its own version of a Hollywood ending.


TV editor Rob Owen can be reached at rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1112. Ask TV questions at post-gazette.com/tv under TV Q&A.


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