School ties come in handy when you want to turn the Mellon Arena into a movie set and film during a real Penguins game, with a cameraman crouched at the actors' feet and the director a few seats away.
Pittsburgh native and producer Jimmy Miller called good buddy and Point Park college classmate Tom McMillan, who happens to be Penguins vice president. He told him he was thinking of coming to Pittsburgh to make "She's Out of My League," but the production also could go to North Carolina and feature the Hurricanes.
"That went a long way, the open door and help that we got from the Penguins. ... Clearly I wanted it to be in Pittsburgh, but it made a big difference when Tom McMillan talked to [Pens president] Dave Morehouse and Dave Morehouse was so cool about it," Mr. Miller said during a recent interview.
"I've had to go through NASCAR and the NBA on movies, and we always got it done, but it's usually a lot of layers to professional sports shooting, and David and Tommy took care of everything."
They trusted the hometown kid and his crew and made it easy.
As a result, the stars of "She's Out of My League" go to a real Pens game in Pens jerseys and sit in the primo seats right behind the Plexiglas near the ice. As a promotional tool for the team and city, it's priceless.
"There's going to be a lot of oohing and aahing from Pittsburghers when they see that movie," Mr. Miller predicted hours before an invite-only preview at the AMC-Loews at the Waterfront that would include 30 of his buddies.
In addition to Mellon Arena, the production shot at Pittsburgh International Airport, Century III Mall, Downtown's Regional Enterprise Tower and Nine on Nine restaurant, Lawrenceville's Thunderbird Cafe, Island Studios in McKees Rocks, Tall Timber Drive in Hampton and tourist haunts such as The Andy Warhol Museum and Mount Washington.
When making a movie with a roughly $20 million budget, the backdrop is more important than ever.
"You are really looking pretty high and low for the right location, the right tax breaks, and we were down to North Carolina and Pittsburgh," with Mr. Miller lobbying for his hometown.
"In Los Angeles, everyone knows Pittsburgh's one of the great locations in the country. If they could just keep this [tax] rebate thing going," that will drive more work to Western Pennsylvania. "It just offers so much, as far as topography and architecture and locations."
"She's Out of My League," an R-rated comedy, revolves around four longtime friends, including an average Joe who starts dating a beautiful blonde. Thus the title.
"I think there's something that comes in towns like this," Mr. Miller said of the pals. "You definitely get the sense they all have known each other forever and will stick by each other ... you just know each other from 7 years old until the day you move or die."
Jimmy Miller, brother of comedian Dennis Miller, moved to Los Angeles in 1985 but still has Pirates and Penguins season tickets and considers his very best friend a guy he has known since they were 7 years old -- 45 years ago. "I only see him a couple of times a year, but he's always going to be my best friend."
The movie opens across the country today, but it has been ready for almost a year.
"Paramount was smartly looking for the right release date," Mr. Miller said. The summer 2009 field was crowded with other R-rated romantic comedies such as "I Love You, Man."
"We always knew we had a heck of a movie," he said. "It played like a freight train from the first time we ever showed it to anybody," but without big stars it might have gotten lost in the summer crush.
In the end, Paramount picked the right release date, Mr. Miller suggests, and he calls this the perfect time of the year for it to come out.
As someone who has represented filmmaker and comedy king Judd Apatow, Mr. Miller knows the value and importance of R-rated, well-priced comedies with ascending stars.
"It's still the biggest appetite in Hollywood -- that movie, that genre, at the right price," said Mr. Miller. That is why Warner Bros. made so much money with "The Hangover," which earned more than $277 million last year at the box office.
Even though none of his siblings live in Pittsburgh any longer, the Castle Shannon native and graduate of Keystone Oaks High School and Point Park (where he is on the board of trustees) regularly returns.
And he tunes into KDKA-TV's news to catch Patrice King Brown, swings by his family's one-time apartment in Castle Shannon and makes a beeline for Danny's on Route 88 in Bethel Park for a baked Italian hoagie.
He and Dennis, who haven't been back at the same time in years, often drive directly to Danny's from the airport. Mr. Miller has taken friends from Boston, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago and elsewhere there.
"Eat this sandwich and tell me it's not the best sandwich," he orders, "and almost to a person, every one of them says, 'That's the best sandwich I've ever had.' "
Contact movie editor Barbara Vancheri at email@example.com or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog at post-gazette.com/movies. First Published March 12, 2010 5:00 AM