Local spots serve as setting for Kevin Smith film
Kevin Smith and Seth Rogen at the Bean-N-Gone coffee shop in Monroeville.
The closed Gladstone Middle School at 327 Hazelwood Ave. in Hazelwood was used as a location in the movie "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."
The West End Cafe at 408 S. Main St. in the West End was used as a location in the movie "Zack and Miri Make a Porno."
Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks at McKeesport Little Theater
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Pittsburghers will be excused, just this once, for talking during a movie.
Come Friday, they may find themselves nudging their neighbors and whispering, "Hey, that's Hazelwood ... or the West End ... and that is absolutely Monroeville Mall, although I don't remember that store."
All of those locations factor into Kevin Smith's raunchy, very R-rated romcom, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," starring Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks and shot here earlier this year. It opens Friday although a special sold-out sneak preview was scheduled for last night at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont.
Rogen and Banks play platonic roommates who, desperate for money and out of options and dignity, decide to make a porno. It's all Pittsburgh, all the time, although some of the locations are illusions courtesy of movie magic and location manager James Mahathey and his staff, including assistant Stephen Hough.
For instance, don't go looking for a latte from the Bean-N-Gone Coffee Shop in Monroeville, where Rogen's character, Zack, works. It was a glorified set in a formerly empty storefront that now is occupied by a real business, the Honeymoon Chinese Restaurant.
That stretch at 2525 Monroeville Blvd., which also houses Tolerico's restaurant, was festooned with Christmas decorations well into March to accommodate the movie's holiday timetable.
Mahathey, a Mount Washington resident now working on the new Coen brothers movie in Minnesota, found the location by happenstance.
"I grew up in Penn Hills and I knew that area, and, of course, Kevin liked Monroeville from what he remembered when he was here doing 'Dogma.' I knew there was a little strip mall up there and I didn't expect that anything would be empty in it. I drove past it one day, actually coming from the mall, and I looked over and this end unit was empty," he said.
He pulled in, took photos through the window and then contacted the owner. The space, which had housed an ice cream shop, was gutted and reconfigured by crew members.
They built the outdoor signs and decorated the interior in such a detailed, cozy, realistic way that it looks as if you could smell freshly ground beans or hear the milk being turned into a frothy foam for a cappuccino. The shop's back room, the setting for some of the more delicate scenes, was built on a soundstage at Tech One Park in Monroeville.
Pittsburghers will know there is no such thing as Monroeville High School, Zack and Miri's alma mater, which is hosting a reunion the night before Thanksgiving. It's played by a pair of shuttered schools: Gladstone Middle School in Hazelwood served as the exterior and Prospect Middle School on Mount Washington provided the interior.
Mahathey started by talking to the Pittsburgh Public Schools and scoping out some of their closed buildings because he assumed no operating school could or would accommodate a film crew, especially one with "porno" in the title.
"I had originally thought of Hazelwood because I had shot it a few years ago for a movie that never came about," and he took pictures of the school, nearby houses and streets. It was just what Smith had in mind.
However, the gym inside the Hazelwood school is on the fourth floor, and there are no elevators. "To get all the equipment up there would have been a backbreaking situation for our crew," Mahathey said, which is where Prospect came in.
It's not unusual to marry an exterior in one location with an interior in another or on a soundstage. That's what happened with Zack and Miri's apartment, located on Hazelwood Avenue.
"That was all Kevin. We walked up and down that street, and he just looked at every single house and he kept coming back to that one," so Mahathey approached the owner.
The filmmaker "liked where it sat in relationship to the school, and also there was a little yard, which we turned into a driveway," and provided a better angle and view of the house. "Our construction [crew] actually built the back exit and the staircase on the side of the house."
That is how Hazelwood became what Smith called "the ol' cold neighborhood," in deference to the winter setting in his script.
Pittsburgh purists will be happy to know Monroeville Mall plays itself, both outside and inside, after the production considered and rejected using the Washington Mall. The mall is where Miri works and where Zack's co-worker Delaney (Craig Robinson, Darryl on "The Office") is looking for a flat-screen television in an empty storefront dressed as a Panasonic shop.
The mall was never shut down, although the movie did bring in extras and relied on regular shoppers to populate the background. "The scene when they're actually walking in the main portion of the mall, that was all filmed while they were open," which was always risky, in case someone stared into the camera or ruined the shot in some other way.
Delaney's on-screen house, by the way, was on Washington Pike in Bridgeville. It was for sale at the time, and the production brought in some of its own furnishings for the shoot.
The McKeesport Little Theater doubles as a playhouse where Zack and Miri interview performers, and Club Erotica in McKees Rocks plays a strip club. The Rostraver Ice Garden gets some screen time, as does the West End Cafe at 408 S. Main St., where a dejected Zack and Miri retreat after their utilities have been shut off and they tiptoe toward the idea of making a porno.
William Penn Highway, in the vicinity of Ralph's Army Surplus, turns up early in the movie, and Smith also dropped into Lightspeed Grip & Lighting LLC, Jay Verno Studios, and the Hohmann's Plaza Laundromat on James Street in Monroeville.
The outside of Mellon Arena pops up, the city gets its "money shot" of the skyline, and, for a touch of verisimilitude, Smith even features a Steelers fan who asks the coffee shop clerks if they saw the game and gets to slur, "Go Steelers."
One Pittsburgh fixture you won't find in the movie is Eat'n Park.
When scouting, Mahathey sometimes heard, "We don't want anything to do with a porno." It's a comedy about making a porno, he would be quick to say. "Once I explained what it was all about, they're like, oh, OK, they would let me scout. ... We were looking at Eat'n Park in Monroeville, and Kevin just loved the look of it and they were excited about it."
That's when everyone was just calling the movie "Zack and Miri," but when the chain heard the back half of the title, it balked and said it couldn't be associated with the movie. The location manager understood. "With the title, you can't complain when someone says no."
This was the first Smith movie Mahathey worked on, although he found a desanctified church for "Dogma," filmed here in spring 1998. By the time Smith was ready to proceed, though, Mahathey had been hired by the Tim Burton "Superman" that never got off the ground.
He's since worked on everything from the Cleveland scenes for the upcoming "The Soloist" to Pittsburgh-shot projects such as "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh," "The Kill Point," "The Mothman Prophecies" and "Wonder Boys."
To be a good location manager, you have to try to get inside the heads of the director and of the production designer. "You read the script and you have that outline of what the location should be, but then you've got to really get to know them and figure out what exactly they're seeing in their mind's eye and go out and find that."
With or without porno in the title.
First Published October 26, 2008 12:00 am