Movie magic rolls in Pittsburgh 'like a military operation'

A fleet of vehicles in the city for the Russell Crowe movie just a portion of the overall traveling tech show

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On Wednesday morning -- Day 17 of a scheduled 37-day shoot for the movie "Fathers and Daughters" -- crews assembled as the sun peeked over the rooftops of million-dollar homes in Shadyside. They were there to film two scenes inside Mansions on Fifth Hotel.

Five large production trucks, five trailers and a "honeywagon" -- a nicer-than-generic port-a-potty mobile bathroom unit -- lined both sides of Westminster Place. Along Amberson Avenue, which runs perpendicular to Fifth Avenue, were four huge 18-wheelers, two smaller trucks and a variety of cars.

The "star trailer" for Russell Crowe, the film's biggest name, was parked next to Shadyside Presbyterian Church. He was in Pittsburgh several years ago to film 2010's "The Next Three Days" and had just arrived after a whirlwind press tour for his latest picture, "Noah."

Russell Crowe surfaces on set of movie filming in Pittsburgh

Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe made an appearance on the set of the movie "Fathers and Daughters," currently filming in Pittsburgh. (Video by Nate Guidry; 4/9/2014)

Co-stars Amanda Seyfried and Aaron Paul were involved earlier in the production of "Fathers and Daughters" but have since returned to Los Angeles.

Shooting a feature film on location requires coordination among the production company's transportation department, the city's public works office and often local community leaders. It also requires a fleet of vehicles bearing miles of cables, a forest of wood materials for construction and the all-important craft table supplies that supply cast and crew with lunch breaks at 4 a.m.

"The mobilization process, it's sort of like an intense planning and execution exercise, hourly and daily and by the moment," said David Haddad, president and CEO of the Pleasant Hills rental company his father began as an Amoco service station in 1954. "You have to be on the move and bring all of your own fluids, such as water and fuel. It's like a military operation."

The fleet of vehicles on set Wednesday represented just a portion of the overall traveling tech show. Some trucks had been left behind at what is called "home base," where the production company has established local offices.

In the case of "Fathers and Daughters," that would be 31st Street Studios in Strip District.

"We are only here for today, then we'll be all over Pittsburgh," said Richard Middleton, one of the film's executive producers. "We are going to be in Fox Chapel, we'll be Downtown, we're going to be back in Oakland at, I think -- what's the museums with the dinosaurs?

"We'll be back at the University of Pittsburgh and then shooting on stage [at the studios] for a couple of weeks."

That's a medium-length shoot by Pittsburgh standards. "Jack Reacher" with Tom Cruise did 65 days here in 2012, and "The Dark Knight Rises," 21 in 2011.

"Unstoppable," with Denzel Washington and Chris Pine, was the longest shoot in recent memory, at 83 days in 2009, according to Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office.

Despite the presence of stars on set, most productions are decidedly unglamorous. With the exception of a black, Cadillac SUV that shined as a crew member wiped it down with a chamois cloth, the vehicles were clean but plain as milk.

Haddad's Inc. is renting Voltage Pictures production company not just vehicles but also equipment such as lighting, cranes and scaffolding. It's one of the biggest such vendors on the East Coast, and among its clients in New York City was the production of "Noah."

"The trailer we have for Russell is also the one he had for 'Noah,' " Mr. Middleton said. "It's a very nice trailer."

Although Haddad's won't talk specifics, Mr. Crowe's trailer was similar to one listed on the website of "Hollywood Honeywagons and Production Vehicles."

That one -- a Pace Arrow with satellite television, full kitchen, bedroom and bath -- rents for $700 a day, $3,000 a week. Star Waggons Studio Rentals has a top-of-the-line model, the Single Slide Cast Trailer, which has 8-foot-high ceilings and sides that expand via hydraulics.

On the East Coast, it rents for $550 a day, and between $2,500 to $3,000 per week.

With the trucks occupying a big part of the streets, there were a few inconveniences. Residents had been forewarned by Voltage Pictures with a printed flier.

"Obviously, with movie-making you can't have zero impact, but you can have advance notice and treat them with respect," Mr. Middleton said.

"Let them know you appreciate being in their neighborhood, on their street. There are productions that do that and some that don't. The ones that don't are the ones that create a hostile atmosphere for the ones that come in after them."

Maria Sciullo:, 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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