City sets the scene for sorority thriller
Actors and extras toss their mortarboards into the air while filming "Sorority Row" yesterday near the Cathedral of Learning in Oakland.
Actresses Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman and Leah Pipes are part of the cast.
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Yesterday was graduation day in Oakland -- not at the University of Pittsburgh or Carnegie Mellon, but for the fictional Rosman University, setting for the movie "Sorority Row."
The thriller, due in theaters Oct. 2, 2009, took over the lawn and steps in front of Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall for a graduation scene that included about 170 extras clad in black graduation gowns.
British actor Julian Morris, who has a recurring role this season as intern Dr. Andrew Wade on "ER," plays another Andy in "Sorority Row," boyfriend of Cassidy (Briana Evigan), the film's lead sorority sister. He stands on stage in front of the faux graduates, preparing to deliver remarks with an American accent. Before filming begins, Mr. Morris jokes to the extras about using "my friends" or "maverick" in his speech, a la Republican presidential nominee Sen. John McCain.
Yesterday marked the start of the fourth week of production on "Sorority Row," which shares some movie DNA with 1983's "The House on Sorority Row." The original was written, directed and produced by Mark Rosman, namesake of the college in the new film, for which he is an executive producer.
Producer Mike Karz acquired the rights to the original and hired writers Josh Stolberg and Pete Goldfinger to update it. As in the first film, this version is a morality tale about young women who make bad choices that come back to haunt them.
Director Stewart Hendler ("Whisper"), 29, described it as more thriller than torture-porn horror flick, such as "Hostel."
"I'm a big believer that less is more and less is often scarier," he said. The film, which is expected to be R-rated nonetheless, will also have some self-aware humor. "I pitched it as 'Mean Girls' meets 'Scream.'"
"Sorority Row," budgeted in the $15 million to $20 million range, is the first Pittsburgh-made film from Summit Entertainment, makers of the upcoming, much-anticipated vampire movie "Twilight." Although the setting is Anytown, USA, Mr. Karz said Summit specifically wanted to film in Pittsburgh to benefit from state tax credits and the local crew base.
"It's been smooth sailing," he said of the local production.
Filming has largely been at night in Homestead, one block over from the Carnegie Library branch. Mr. Karz said the exteriors of about 10 homes were made over to resemble a sorority row, including the Theta Pi house where most of the action takes place on graduation night, a year-and-a-half after a prank by sorority sisters goes wrong with deadly consequences.
"Some unknown person is trying to kill them one by one," Mr. Karz said.
For yesterday's scene in Oakland, a camera on a crane captured Mr. Morris' address to graduates. After several takes, the grads were told to toss their hats at the end of his short speech. But when it was time to re-set for another take, production assistants had to scurry to get some replacement caps.
Later, Ms. Evigan and actresses Rumer Willis, Jamie Chung, Margo Harshman and Leah Pipes arrived to sit among the other graduates for a few close-up reaction shots.
Production now moves inside, just in time to get out of the cold that kept the crew bundled in warm coats yesterday. Theta Pi interiors have been built in a warehouse near Crafton that once housed a videotape and film duplication center, Mr. Karz said. Presumably, the killing of sorority sisters will then begin in earnest.
First Published October 28, 2008 12:00 am