Fox Chapel family gets a taste of the film world

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When a young man appeared at Debbie Meyers' door asking if she'd like to have her house appear in a coming-of-age story with the actress from "Forgetting Sarah Marshall," her first thought was, "How cool. How very cool. It's like your 15 minutes of fame."

Neighbors and friends warned Ms. Meyers and her husband, Paul, that the young man, who had taken pictures of the inside and outside of their Fox Chapel home, was probably a burglar.

For several weeks, they didn't hear back from anyone. They read in the newspaper that cast and crew of the indie film "The Lifeguard" were filming at a pool in Sewickley and thought, "Oh, well." Then, out of the blue, the young man, who turned out to be not a burglar but a site locator whose job it is to scout out filming locations, reappeared. OK, we like your house, and we are ready to start shooting, he said.

The film tells the story of a young New York reporter, played by Kristen Bell, who, supposedly bored with her life in the big city, returns to live at her family home in the suburbs of Connecticut. She trades in her tape recorder and note pad for a bathing suit and a whistle, resuming the lifeguard job she had in high school. The production team was looking for a house in the Connecticut Colonial style to film the scenes that take place in the parents' home.

"Our house is definitely Colonial: it's brick, it has pillars in the front, it's two-story, and it's white," said Ms. Meyers. She also joked, "But I never would have thought our house would be a Connecticut house. I don't even know what a Connecticut house looks like, as I've never been to one!"

She was also surprised that they chose her residence because she thinks of it as a very lived-in home. At one point it housed four generations, when she and her husband, her mother, two daughters and two stepsons, including one's wife and baby, all lived under the same roof. But the production team seemed to like that aspect.

"I think that the metaphor for the house [in the movie] is her safety, her landing spot when she's having this existential crisis," Ms. Meyers said.

So, on the first Friday in August 2012, a design crew from "The Lifeguard" moved in to 100 Chapel Ridge Place. A team led by Pittsburgh-based set decorator Tom Kelly, who worked as set dresser on such movies as "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," painted some walls, took out some furniture, put drapes over picture windows and rearranged the kitchen and living-dining space.

"It was so interesting to see what a professional designer would do to your house," said Ms. Meyers, who ended up liking the paint job so much she decided to keep it.

Still, she says that while she is glad she agreed to open her house up to the film crew, she probably would never do it again.

It wasn't the redecoration, although she wishes a few more of the nail holes in the walls had been filled. It also wasn't the crowd of 30 or 40 people milling about drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes outside, turning the place into what she described as an artsy version of a fraternity party.

Despite those things, Ms. Meyers is adamant: "I never had the feeling that they weren't respectful of my house. I always felt that they treated it well." Her daughter Merry, now 14, agrees, "They were all really nice and very friendly." Rather, Ms. Meyers says, "Here's the reality: It was a logistical pain."

The crew was going to film largely at night. And there were six busy people and five barking dogs in the household. So, they split up -- two of the kids went to friends' homes and everyone else (plus dogs) checked into the Clarion Hotel in New Kensington, which was nice, but then they just wanted to go back home.

The production paid for the hotel rooms and gave the family roughly $250 a day for use of the house.

They returned that Tuesday, a bit before the filming actually ended, and sat on the staircase to watch the filming surreptitiously, sneaking down step by step, testing how close they could get before someone would shoo them away. As it turned out, nobody shooed them away.

Ms. Meyers got to meet one of her favorite actresses, Amy Madigan.

"I kept thinking, 'These are celebrities, and they are standing here, in my house, and they know other celebrities,' which builds up a whole new perspective. It wasn't just that they were in my house. It's that I'm standing on my front porch talking to Amy Madigan, who referred to Ed Harris as her husband. I think that is when it hit me."

And teenage daughters Merry and Melody hung out with Kristen Bell on the couch in the living room for a bit.

"It was really cool, they were like 'All right everybody, quiet on the set.' And I was like 'Ah! this is a real movie. Maybe I'll get a chance to see her!' And then she walked in. It's really cool to see someone on TV, and then see them again in real life," Merry said. The girls managed to get Ms. Bell's autograph, and she thanked them for opening up their house to the film crew.

The family also got an inside look at the making of a 21st-century movie, like how to shoot scenes that are supposed to happen during the day at night or how to reduce the glare from the windows. She says she was surprised that everything is so compact and digital. "I guess we all have these pictures in our heads of the camera man standing behind big wheels of film," she said.

Ms. Meyers, a big movie fan, is very excited to see the film. It is available on video on demand and iTunes, and it will be in theaters by Aug. 30. No word on when or where it will play in Pittsburgh.

As she watches the trailer for the first time, Ms. Meyers says, "That's my house! Right there! Ah! Where they're eating dinner, that's my kitchen!"

But it will be a bittersweet experience, she expects, because the family is moving to Maryland for Ms. Meyers' new job, and the house she fell in love with at first sight, long before it was in any Kristen Bell movie, will be going up for sale.

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Maggie Neil:


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