When movies film in Pittsburgh, experiences vary


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After reading the script of "Fathers & Daughters," location manager John Adkins knew he had a role for The Mansions on Fifth in Shadyside.

"We're looking for a certain kind of look, and I'm familiar with the space from being a Pittsburgher and visiting it before. They have four different rooms in addition to the great hall, and each 'reads' slightly differently," Mr. Adkins said.

Last month, the film crew spent three days shooting two scenes featuring Russell Crowe in the luxury hotel that was formerly a private mansion built in 1906 for Willis McCook, his wife and nine children. The mansion's dining room, which has a hand-plastered ceiling and large stained-glass windows, lent an air of old world grandeur to one scene. A ground-floor bathroom served as the location for a scene involving an argument.

During filming, the hotel's owners offered to lodge guests in alternative accommodations so they wouldn't be inconvenienced. A lone business traveler took them up on the offer, co-owner Mary Del Brady said, but the rest of the guests declined, saying they liked being there when the actors and crew were at work. Last September, The Mansions on Fifth was also used for filming scenes for "The Fault in Our Stars," in theaters June 6.

"On both occasions, [guests] have said, 'No, I think it's cool,' " said Ms. Brady.

Ms. Brady and her partners in the 22-suite hotel were compensated by Voltage Pictures, the production company. Theirs is one of many businesses that have benefited from the Pennsylvania tax credit offered to TV and movie crews that spend at least 60 percent of their production budget within the commonwealth. The film office estimates film and TV projects brought more than $40 million in new money into the region in 2013.

However, experiences have varied. Whether filming is good for a business depends on how intrusive filming is and whether customers can get to its door.

The ToonSeum at 945 Liberty Ave., Downtown, has had a number of films shoot around its building, especially in the alley behind its block, said Joe Wos, executive director. He found that each film creates a different situation for local businesses. "The Dark Knight Rises" set the bar high for other productions, Mr. Wos said, as he was made aware of each step of filming, and the film's director even went out of his way to stop in and say hello.

"Fathers & Daughters," which also filmed nearby, wasn't as communicative. When the museum wasn't informed about a shoot in the alley, it made taking in a shipment of deliveries difficult as there was nowhere to park. The crew's vehicles were also on Liberty Avenue, he said.

"We love having these films in Pittsburgh. We love that they bring something to not only the economy, but to the personality of the city," Mr. Wos said. "They've all been great to work with, but sometimes they have to make sure they communicate with the businesses in the city."

Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, acknowledged that films sometimes interrupt and inconvenience local businesses, but production companies "go out of their way to make sure the business is compensated." If a receipt is provided to show losses, production companies in most cases will compensate the business, she said.

"They don't come in to ruin someone else's business. If it's interrupting your ability to do business, all you have to do is prove that."

Eli Kazas, owner of Mahoney's Restaurant and Little E's Jazz Club, both on Liberty Avenue, said his business declined during the "Fathers & Daughters" shoot. The production uses its own caterer, which does not allow restaurants around filming sites to benefit directly from the film. With five semi-trucks including a fuel truck as well as a running generator in front of his restaurant, he said his businesses were affected significantly.

"It's hard for people to come by and patronize. If you can't see a place, you're not going to come in," he said.

Mr. Kazas submitted receipts to the production company showing his losses and received some compensation.

Elsewhere on Liberty, Hanlon's Cafe and Fernando's Cafe had varying responses to the "Fathers & Daughters" shoot. Fernando's manager Robyn Tuttle said she has noticed more business while Hanlon's early-morning business was not affected, according to line cook Kyle Williams.

As location manager, Mr. Adkins was in charge of notifying businesses and residents around the set of the filming as well as working to correct any inconveniences. He alerts businesses that filming is going to occur whether they will appear in the film or not, he said.

"It's really about communicating with people and trying to adapt our footprint to the rest of the world's needs. We have a big footprint because we have a lot of stuff," he said. "We don't want any businesses to suffer because of our business."

During the "Fathers & Daughters" shoot on Penn Avenue, sandwich boards were set up to notify customers that businesses were open despite all of the vehicles and equipment on the streets, Mr. Adkins said. When the crew was filming on Sixth Avenue, guests at the Omni William Penn Hotel were still able to travel to and from the hotel despite traffic being shut down, he said. Planning between the production company and hotel allowed the valet stand to operate uninterrupted during filming.

"It's essentially about reaching out and talking to people and letting them know what's going on, but I can tell you that doesn't work for everybody. There's going to be somebody that's going to be unhappy," Mr. Adkins said.

"We try to address every concern and complaint people may have about what we're doing. When you're filming movies on location, you need to be respectful of these locations. We try to endeavor to be better guests than most."


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