An alien ticket to Paradise: Movie crew invades Franklin Regional
Franklin Regional High School, which is being called Paradise Regional High School in a movie being filmed there called "I Am Number Four."
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Three days after graduation, Zoey Simek was back at her high school bright and early, thrilled to have a summer job unlike those of most of her peers.
Miss Simek is an extra and a production assistant -- or "p.a." -- on the set of "I Am Number Four," the DreamWorks Studios motion picture being filmed at Franklin Regional through Aug. 1.
The movie will be distributed by Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
"I never thought I would come back to school the Monday after graduation with a smile on my face," Miss Simek said, beaming. "This is an amazing opportunity."
The science fiction action thriller, directed by D.J. Caruso, will feature nine alien teenagers who flee to Earth after their planet is destroyed. One extraordinary teen, played by Alex Pettyfer, hopes to elude deadly enemies by passing as a typical high school student.
Scenes also are being shot in Vandergrift because producers were attracted to the town's layout, which was created by Frederick Law Olmsted, the designer of New York's Central Park.
There also is a spring fair scene that was produced in Deer Lakes Park, and some scenes are being shot in Port Vue, said the movie's publicist, Amanda Brand.
"Basically, at the end of the day, the reason why we're here is because of tax incentives," she said.
Franklin Regional -- called Paradise Regional in the movie -- was one of 50 Pittsburgh area schools that were scouted by the film's production and location staff.
"A lot of the details that were in the script, this school has," said James Mahathey, assistant location manager, who will be on-site at the high school the entire time of the filming.
"It's got a nice, flat plan inside. We were able to have everything on one floor. And there's a nice stadium that is right in front of the school."
The film's producers also liked the hills that surround the school, a rural setting. The movie takes place in Paradise, Ohio.
Crews were on-site at 7 a.m. the day after graduation, morphing Franklin Regional into Paradise Regional.
The words "Franklin Regional," normally stretching along the top of the building, have come down and been replaced with the word "Paradise." Additional lettering with the school's new name has been mounted atop the entryway.
Parents also may have noticed that on the last day of school, their children disembarked buses whose names were changed to "Paradise Regional School District."
And because it's now a school on the flatter terrain of Ohio, there's a bike rack near the front door. Franklin Regional sits atop a steep hill off Old William Penn Highway, hardly conducive to bike riding.
Some of the film's action occurs in the stadium, where a new tunnel, made mostly of wood, was constructed in the center of the home stands. It's meant to be a team's entrance to the field, but in reality, it goes nowhere.
"That's the movie business," Mr. Mahathey said.
Although he couldn't reveal what happens in the stadium, he promised that plenty of action and special effects will occur there and throughout the rest of the school.
Filming will take place in the hallways and in three classrooms.
"I was in a scene where I sat right next to Alex Pettyfer in a Spanish classroom." said Miss Simek, relaxing for a moment at a long table in the school's auxiliary gym, which had been turned into a break room for the 200 extras.
"The teenage stars are so humble and gracious to all the fans," she added. "It's just unreal. They come up to you as if you're their friend."
Along with Mr. Pettyfer, the film stars Timothy Olyphant, Teresa Palmer, Dianna Agron, Kevin Durand and Callan McAuliffe.
On that same day, Miss Simek and the other extras got to experience a typical 12-hour day in which three or four scenes were shot from various angles. Each scene took about four hours to shoot.
"For some people, it could be monotonous, but for me, it was so exciting," said Miss Simek, who will be a freshman at Grove City College, majoring in entrepreneurship.
"It's been fantastic here, the school district has been amazing," Mr. Mahathey said. "Everything we've asked to do, we've been able to do."
Before filming began, he and Dennis Majewski, Franklin Regional's director of district services, met at length to discuss the logistics of making a motion picture while maintaining business as usual throughout the vacation months at the high school. Changes in priorities for the district's capital improvements were made to accommodate the production.
"Nothing was put on hold," Mr. Majewski said. "We have shifted contractors around to stay away from the high school."
Once filming is complete, maintenance crews will be back working on high school projects that include concrete sidewalks and relighting the gym.
For now, Mr. Majewski, or one of his staff, is on-site at all times while the movie is being filmed to ensure that the crew gets what it needs. The cost of having them there is being covered by DreamWorks.
"The school district is not incurring any financial liability for having our people here with them," he said.
First Published June 24, 2010 12:00 am