South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By Jennifer Szweda Jordan
Contributing Writer 

Carrick substitutes for the Bronx in new Gyllenhall movie


Last updated 7/21/2014 at 7:16pm

Jennifer Szweda Jordan

A member of the crew for "Southpaw" applies graffiti to a building on Brownsville Road in Carrick to transform the Pittsburgh neighborhood in New York's Bronx neighborhood.

Bringing Hollywood magic to the border of Carrick and Brentwood, local artists quickly transformed Brownsville Road at Maytide Street into New York's Bronx last week, setting the stage for the filming of the boxing movie "Southpaw," starring Jake Gyllenhall.

Using wallpaper paste and brown wrapping paper, the artists applied temporary graffiti tags to the building housing Carrick Boxing Academy, the epicenter of the shoot, and surrounding structures. False temporary metal doors and shutters were drilled onto the brick outside the Melrose bar, adding to the gritty street aesthetic. The boxing academy received a new identity and bright yellow signage as "Will's Gym."

"That's kind of neat-it's actually an improvement," onlooker Fran Sekula said.

But the signage didn't remain cheery for long. The next day, one of the Will's Gym signs had morphed again through Hollywood-style magic, revealing a weathered look. More graffiti was pasted over the previously applied gym signs. A grocery store façade was also added next door, featuring window signs advertising prices per pound for nonexistent fruit.

Dozens of residents gathered for several nights to catch a glimpse of the action. They stood across the street from the makeshift set for a chance to see Mr. Gyllenhall, Rachel McAdams, rapper 50 Cent, Lupita Nyong'o and other big name stars, and maybe get discovered themselves.

On Tuesday, Debbie Spiegel, of Brentwood, and her family and neighbors walked around hopeful the film might need extras.

"It's like so close to our house," Ms. Spiegel said. "We'll walk around and if anybody needs an extra, I have a cute dog, and we have two chickens at home."

Alas, the call for extras went out in May, and the roles were filled. Ms. Spiegel would have to share the bad news with the chickens named Crispy and Spicy.

Not everyone in the community embraced the changes the movie brought to their neck of the woods. Commuters complained about traffic along Brownsville, which remained congested even after a Pittsburgh police officer was manually controlling traffic lights and directing traffic the old fashioned way--with a whistle.

And Gary's Restaurant, usually bustling on weekday mornings, was dead quiet at breakfast time. The owner and a waitress alternatively used the words "crazy" and terms unprintable in a family newspaper to express their dissatisfaction.

Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, had good news for businesses that lost regular income due to the filming. She said they can fill out paperwork available through her office to apply to be "made whole" financially by the producer.

Ms. Keezer said Southpaw is one of four movies being filmed in Pittsburgh right now. And while that may sound impressive, she said states that have more generous tax credits for the film industry fare better, and local businesses see that income. She said filmmakers buy bottled water from Tyler Mountain, purchase set construction materials from a Lawrenceville lumber company, and rent copy machines locally, for example.

Because of the tax credits in Pennsylvania and 40 other states, Hollywood proper has significantly lost its luster for filmmakers in recent years. In 1997, most big budget features were produced in California, according to industry analysts FilmL.A. Research. But by last year, the majority of large projects were filmed in other U.S. states, FilmL.A. Research reported.

But Ms. Keezer said Pennsylvania's film credits are starting to slip away, too, because other states offer more generous incentives.

"Other states have stepped up," she said. "The example I can give for you is Georgia, which has a 30 percent uncapped tax credit. They are now, right now today, shooting 27 projects on the ground in Atlanta and right outside of Atlanta, Georgia."

In an attempt to catch up, last month, State Sen. Wayne Fontana, (D) Brookline, introduced legislation in Harrisburg to increase Pennsylvania's film tax credit, now capped at $60 million.

The tax credits are a controversial issue across the country. In New York this year, the state budget included film tax credits but left out a tax credit for those who donate to private schools, upsetting Catholic school leaders.

Pittsburgh Film Office director Keezer sees the tension this way.

"It's vitally important that we educate the people," she said. "What's nice about our program is we actually generate revenue. We're bringing revenue in that pays for all those other services."

Ms. Keezer said Southpaw is expected to continue filming around the city through the end of August. It's being directed by Antoine Fuqua, a 48-year-old Pittsburgh native. The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) describes Southpaw as a film about a boxer who "fights his way to the top, only to find his life falling apart around him."


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