Starstruck South Philadelphians might want to keep their eyes open for movie sets and celebrity sightings over the next couple months.
With two films, Jersey Girl and The Shore, and parts of the new CBS series Hack shooting in and around South Philly, the old place has never looked better.
Just ask Sharon Pinkenson, executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.
"Oh my God, it’s such a colorful location with all the different neighborhoods. South Philly gets used so often. We’re shooting there all the time," she says.
While director M. Night Shyamalan — who featured local neighborhoods in his surprise hit Sixth Sense — moved on to Bucks County for this summer’s Signs, other show-biz projects may soon return South Philly to the Walk of Fame.
Filming recently wrapped up at several area locations for Hack, which debuts Sept. 27. In the new CBS series, David Morse plays an ex-cop cab driver. Broad, Ellsworth and Federal streets all served as backdrops for some of Morse’s taxi excursions, Pinkenson notes. "Clearly your readers will be able to see their neighborhoods," she says.
Viewers who tune in to the series also might recognize St. Gabriel’s Church at 29th and Dickinson streets.
Gene Foschini, a bit actor from the 1700 block of Ritner Street, can be seen playing a taxi driver on the premiere of Hack. On the second episode of the series, the South Philly native says he will show up as a card player.
Foschini’s film credits include Oprah Winfrey’s Beloved and Jesus’ Son.
A couple months ago, he was featured as an extra on the smash HBO series Sex and the City. The actor says fans of the show would know the episode he appears in as the "Atlantic City episode."
Despite his ever-growing list of theater, film and television credits, Foschini has no intention of packing in his full-time job as a contractor for the lure of Hollywood — particularly since he can always find interesting roles right here in Philly.
"I always loved to entertain people. I really enjoy it," he says.
The turning point in Foschini’s interest in acting came 10 years ago, when he took a class at the Wilma Theater at Broad and Spruce streets. The class led to theater roles, including the Wilma’s When She Danced, which starred another South Philly actor, Freddie Ganno.
Last August, Foschini played Pauly Rossi in a homegrown independent film, Tira Misu, which was shot mostly on Ninth Street and in Pennsauken, N.J.
Just last week, the card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild landed a role as an extra in Jersey Girl, starring Hollywood’s hottest couple-of-the-moment, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez.
The film’s publicist, Cara Leibovitz, says Jersey Girl is about two people caught up in a whirlwind romance — not unlike the movie’s costars.
The $35-million Miramax production started filming Monday at the Navy Yard, adds Leibovitz. A Philly girl herself now living in Manhattan, the publicist says her father was born and raised at Eighth and Snyder.
That’s not the only local connection for the film. The man responsible for Jersey Girl is a Jersey Boy, Kevin Smith, the 32-year-old writer/director behind cult favorites Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma.
Aside from South Philly, portions of Jersey Girl will be shot in South Jersey and Center City, says Leibovitz.
Also set to begin shooting in South Jersey is The Shore, producer/writer/director Mark Ganci’s first feature film since his 1998 locally produced Altar Boy.
The 1992 graduate of St. John Neumann High recently moved to Los Angeles from the 2600 block of South 11th Street.
Ganci and his longtime friend Denis Zervos may have spent their childhood in South Philly, but like a lot of locals, they whiled away summers on the boardwalk and beaches of Wildwood.
The Jersey Shore supplied Zervos with the inspiration to write the script for The Shore. After the first draft was complete, Zervos showed Ganci the goods. The producer says he was instantly taken with his friend’s script because it transported him back to his childhood at the beach.
That week, Ganci embarked on what would be The Shore‘s two-year development phase.
On Sept. 24, the producer says, cameras will begin rolling in Wildwood.
Schellenger’s Restaurant will serve as the backdrop for the bulk of the action, with some filming at Maureen’s Martini Glass restaurant across the street and, of course, the boardwalk. The crew also will venture to North Wildwood to shoot at The Beach House nightclub. Time permitting, Ganci says, he’d like to incorporate the Italian Market into The Shore in some way.
Ben Gazarra and Anne Archer (best known for her role as Michael Douglas’ wife in Fatal Attraction) already have signed on to play the lead characters.
Amazingly, both stars approached Ganci, and not the other way around. The producer credits the pre-production buzz surrounding his film for his ability to lure high-caliber talent. This week, Ganci was fresh from the Munich Film Festival in Germany, where just the script and trailer of The Shore were screened and very well received, he says.
"We didn’t expect the windfall that has happened," he says of his Gazarra and Archer coup.
Ganci is casting the remainder of the principal roles, but would not elaborate except to say the actors will be household names.
"It’s a very exciting time for us. The one thing I have to say about this film and the whole journey we’ve been on is that hard work pays off," the producer says. "If you believe in something strong enough, and don’t steer away from your original objective, you can make it."