Two movies headed to Pittsburgh to film

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A pair of prominent movie projects are headed to Pittsburgh: A film version of "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" starring Logan Lerman and Emma Watson and "Still I Rise," an inspirational drama about education from the director of "Beastly."

Upper St. Clair native Stephen Chbosky, who wrote the best-selling novel "Perks ..." along with the "Rent" screenplay, will adapt his book and direct the film for Summit Entertainment, the studio behind the "Twilight" blockbusters.

Production is expected to start this summer on the coming-of-age story about a 15-year-old coping with first love, the suicide of his best friend and his own mental health.

Mr. Lerman, who will be seen as D'Artagnan in a "Three Musketeers" reboot, starred in "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" and delivered an impressive turn as rancher Christian Bale's son in "3:10 to Yuma."

Ms. Watson needs no introduction for "Harry Potter" fans who know her as Hermione Granger in the series that will end this summer. She recently announced she would be taking a leave from Brown University to complete the franchise and pursue other projects.

Erik Feig, Summit's president of production, said in a statement, "Every so often you read a book that reminds you what life was really like at a particular age in all its wonderful and terrible details, or if you're lucky enough to read it at the right time in your life, it can change the course you're on and make you think things are actually going to be OK."

" 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower' is that book and we are thrilled for the opportunity to turn it into that kind of movie as well."

Lianne Halfon and Russell Smith will produce it via their Mr. Mudd productions banner, and John Malkovich will executive produce. Contrary to recent reports, a spokeswoman for Oprah Winfrey said Monday she would not be part of the cast.

"Still I Rise" is an original story about two strong women, both mothers, who channel their frustration into action and join forces to transform an inner-city school. They want to make a difference in education and the lives of their children.

The leads have yet to be cast, but production is expected to start May 2 or May 9, Walden Media executive Mylan Stepanovich said Monday.

Daniel Barnz, whose directing credits include "Beastly," starring Vanessa Hudgens and Alex Pettyfer, and "Phoebe in Wonderland," with Elle Fanning, will direct and write the screenplay. Veteran producer Mark Johnson also is on board.

"We're obviously very excited to come there, we haven't shot there before," Mr. Stepanovich, a native of McKeesport, said by phone. "Our director really responded to the city and what he thought the city could deliver to the look of the film."

However, when the commonwealth's film tax credit seemed in doubt, the production also scouted six or seven other locations.

"We were waiting, fingers crossed for a few weeks and some nervous days, but with the governor approving the tax credit, it all worked out so we're very happy," said Mr. Stepanovich, senior vice president of physical production. The credit was vital, he said, given the movie's budget, unspecified but less than a modest $20 million.

Walden, a film production and publishing company best known for family entertainment such as "The Chronicles of Narnia," aims to have the film ready for possible release by mid-December.

"We are starting prep today, so we'll start photography seven to nine weeks from now. Daniel's doing a little bit of a rewrite, so we're accommodating that part of his schedule, but we hope to be shooting either May 2 or May 9."

Pittsburgh's Donna Belajac Casting has been hired to cast some speaking roles although no one has been charged yet with finding extras. (The Post-Gazette will publish that information once it is available.)

At the moment, the location is described as a Rust Belt city, but Mr. Stepanovich said, "We are not going to shy away from shooting Pittsburgh for Pittsburgh. We came in on a location scout about a month ago, and Daniel just really responded to the city."

The story focuses on two women, one from a lower socioeconomic world and the other from an upper-class one. Together, they make a difference in education and the lives of their children -- at this writing, a boy and a girl, 9 years old.

"No locations have been finalized yet, but we did look at 10 to 12 schools when we were there as options for one of the schools. He really felt like he saw enough pictures for the upper-middle-class school to know that he could get what he needed," said Mr. Stepanovich, a graduate of McKeesport High School and Princeton University who has worked for Walden since late 2005.

Asked if the production planned to hire many local residents, Mr. Stepanovich said, "As many as possible." That includes lots of chances for extras needed to fill large auditoriums and populate other scenes. "In the current script, we have thousands of extras."

Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said Monday that both projects will benefit from tax credit funds remaining for 2010-11 and "unfrozen" last week.

"That allowed them to sign the applications, which is bringing new work to Southwestern Pennsylvania now, in the form of 'Still I Rise' and 'Perks of Being a Wallflower.' " Together, they represent roughly $40 million.

Still to come are movies that will benefit from the tax credit in the 2011-12 budget, once approved.

"We were thrilled that Gov. Corbett signaled to the industry and to the commonwealth his belief in the program and his belief in the ability for the film industry to create jobs for Pennsylvanians," she said.

Ms. Keezer said she was happy to welcome Mr. Stepanovich and Mr. Chbosky back to Pittsburgh. "It's nice to have two Pittsburgh-connected films."

No word yet on "The Dark Knight Rises," the next installment in the Batman series starring newly crowned Oscar winner Bale.


Movie editor Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog.


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