A little piece of the Bronx has been dropped into Pittsburgh’s South Hills while film crews work on a new Jake Gyllenhall film.
Building facades and storefronts have been modified and re-decorated by director and Pittsburgh native Antoine Fuqua for his boxing-related film Southpaw.
Brownsville Road now includes a grocery store facade with advertisements in the store window for nonexistent fruit, and generic soap and vinegar. To make the transformation complete, artists slathered wallpaper paste and brown paper on brick walls before spray painting temporary graffiti tags on several buildings.
False metal doors and shutters were drilled onto the outside of a bar, adding to the gritty street aesthetic. The bus stop for the 51 Carrick route instead announced “51 Bronx” and a street sign directed non-existent motorists to “Bronx Park East.”
The shoot has drawn gawkers and wannabe actors. Debbie Spiegel, of Brentwood is hopeful that she — and her pets — could be extras.
“It’s like so close to our house,” Spiegel said. “We’ll walk around and if anybody needs an extra. I have a cute dog. And we have two chickens at home.”
Producers say the call for extras went out in May, and the roles have been filled. Spiegel would have to share the bad news with her chickens, named Crispy and Spicy.
Traffic through the neighborhood has been slow-going and some businesses in the area have been disrupted. Gary’s Restaurant is usually bustling on weekday mornings, but Monday it was dead quiet at breakfast time. The owner and a waitress alternatively used the word “crazy” and mild cursing to express their frustration.
But for others, shooting a film in Pittsburgh means more business.
Pittsburgh Film Office Director Dawn Keezer said the film business is a boon for the economy because producers hire local artists, rent equipment like copiers and buy food locally. She said businesses, like Gary’s Restaurant, that are negatively impacted can apply for reimbursement through her office.
Keezer and others think the only way to keep the films coming to Pittsburgh and the rest of the state is to expand the film production tax credit. The state offers a 25 percent tax credit to films that spend at least 60 percent of their total production budget in the commonwealth.
“Other states have stepped up," Keezer said. "The example I can give for you is Georgia, which has a 30 percent uncapped tax credit. They are right now today, shooting 27 projects on the ground in Atlanta and right outside of Atlanta, Georgia.”
Last month, state Sen. Wayne Fontana (D-Allegheny) 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.
Keezer sees the debate in a different 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.”
"Southpaw" is expected to continue filming around the city through the end of August.