DreamWorks film, "I Am Number Four," begins shooting here next month

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"I Am Number Four," the first movie in a DreamWorks franchise starring Alex Pettyfer, will start shooting in the Pittsburgh area May 17.

The studio confirmed Thursday the production will be here for 12 to 13 weeks. That means Mr. Pettyfer will be in Western Pennsylvania at the same time as "Twilight" star Taylor Lautner, headed here for a separate project called "Abduction."

"I Am Number Four" is about a group of nine Earthbound aliens who escaped their planet just before it was annihilated by a rival species. Hiding out on Earth, disguised as a human teenager, the title character discovers that he is being hunted by the enemy that destroyed his planet.

Mr. Pettyfer will play the lead, and the cast also will include Sharlto Copley from "District 9" as his guardian. Teresa Palmer, who will be seen this summer in "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" and appeared in "Bedtime Stories," also has landed a choice role, with more names expected in the next couple of weeks.

"I Am Number Four" is based on a sci-fi book of the same name by James Frey and Jobie Hughes scheduled for publication in late summer. The rights to the unpublished novel, the first in a planned series aimed at readers 14 years old and up, were bought in June.

D.J. Caruso ("Eagle Eye," "Disturbia") will direct, and the producers include Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg and David Valdes.

Steven Molen, president of physical production at DreamWorks Studios, said Thursday by phone, "It's a great story that's going to resonate with a wide demographic. It's a very relatable story for people of all ages, so that really makes the difference. You get a lot of material that comes in the door," but the keepers are relatable and exciting.

The studio is aiming for a PG-13 rating for the movie, set in the present day.

As for why DreamWorks opted to shoot here, Mr. Molen said, "We chose Pittsburgh because we've had a great filmmaking experience in Pennsylvania in the past." DreamWorks made the raunchy romantic comedy "She's Out of My League" here in 2008.

"The state is unbelievably supportive of our filmmaking efforts in Pennsylvania, so we looked at a list of candidates early on and set our sights on Pittsburgh ... with a determination to make it happen," the executive said.

"I Am Number Four" is designed to be the first in a series of films, although that decision often hinges on box-office response.

As for whether sequels would return here, he said, "It is possible that future movies could occur in Pennsylvania, but it's not knowable at this point.

"They still have to release book one, so until they flesh out the rest of the stories, it's hard to determine exactly where we'll be in the future, but our hope is that we'd be returning to Pittsburgh or Pennsylvania."

"I Am Number Four," which has opened an office here and is in the pre-production phase, is trying to capitalize on local crew, including repeat hires from Pittsburgh.

Although he declined to put a price on the budget, the movie will require multiple Western Pennsylvania locations, some large-scale visual effects, action scenes in keeping with the teens on the run story along with the use of a high school and need for extras (details still to come).

"We are happy that DreamWorks has returned to Pittsburgh with this project. The project means jobs for local residents," Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said Thursday.

"It is one more example of how important the Pennsylvania film tax credit program is to the continuation of a successful and vibrant film industry in Southwestern Pennsylvania."

On July 30, the 20-year-old Mr. Pettyfer will be seen in "Beastly," in which a spell turns a hot, popular rich kid into an unrecognizable and unattractive person. In 2006's "Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker," Mr. Pettyfer played Ewan McGregor's nephew and heir to his secret agent gig.

Contact movie editor Barbara Vancheri at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. Read her Mad About the Movies blog at post-gazette.com/movies.


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