LisaBeth Weber is a local artist, musician and political activist who is working at this year’s 25th annual Sundance Film Festival. She is blogging her experiences for NBCPhiladelphia.
I stopped into some of the publicists rooms, and when I walked into one and asked if they represented any films with Pennsylvania connections, a journalist from New York magazine and the publicist both looked at me quizzically, and without missing a beat and in complete unison said: "Funny you should ask!"
We all decided it was kismet when they told me that they were representing the film Big Fan, a film about the ongoing rivalry between Philadelphia Eagles fans and NY Giants fans. Imagine my luck and surprise (and further delight) when the filmmaker was there, and with a short wait would be available for an interview. The surprises and delight continued....as I was waiting my turn, I was reading the press package for the film, and lo and behold, the filmmaker and screenwriter, Robert Siegel, also wrote the screenplay for the acclaimed film The Wrestler. Further, he is originally from Long Island, (this writer's roots), and, to put the icing on the cake, he was also the editor in chief of The Onion for several years. One of the first things Siegel commented on when we sat down and spoke was my various Obama wear.
And onto the film....
Shot on location in various places in and around Philadelphia, Staten Island and environs, Siegel shared some stories about filming. They did some shots of Geno's and Pat's and also some scenes around Passayunk Avenue. But when they were shooting the final scene, they had to go elsewhere. The film climaxes at a South Philly bar, but because of budget, they used a sports bar in Staten Island and transformed it to look just like a South Philly bar. Siegel shared that the bar was covered in NY Giants memorabilia, and that they got quite the stares as they began to cover it with all things Philadelphia Eagles. It all worked out though, and Siegel remarked that Philadelphia was really good to them.
With regard to The Wrestler, Siegel said parts were also shot in Philly, and he was specific to mention the famed New Alhambra arena in South Philly as a Philadelphia icon. He mentioned that he loves Philly, but at the same time, seems to know and understand the unique reputation of the fans that completely immerse themselves in their sport, and has experienced their crazy and wild ways.
I asked him about any crazy stories that happened during the filming. He shared this one from a day in Staten Island...
They were using a house that belonged to the grandparents of the film's associate producer Nick. A lovely elderly Italian couple from Staten Island, Sevario and Maria agreed that they would allow their house to be used for one day. No big surprise that one day wasn't enough for their needs. On to Plan B, as Siegel tried everything to convince them to extend the time. First he tried to bribe them with Grappa, and though they all had a great time drinking together, the answer was still NO. Then Nick called to say they would be going to the track and that they would have a five hour window to sneak in. Of course, the door was locked, so Plan C involved a friend of Nick's (whose identity shall remain nameless, but let's just say it was a cool nickname). He boosted Siegel up to a little window on the second floor, Siegel entered and fell about 10 feet, but they were in! They shot the scene, and in true sitcom style, Saverio and Maria got home before the shoot was complete, and it was a comedy act trying to keep them from realizing what was happening!
On a closing note, I asked Siegel about the timing of Big Fan coming out as The Wrestler is garnering great acclaim. Not expecting or asking for sympathy, he shared that he had worked on both projects for four or five years, and that he did wish they had been a bit more spread out at this point. It was a very honest statement, but don't worry; Robert Siegel is very humble and appreciative of having not one, but two films out and being seen by fans, both of sport and film.
To learn more about LisaBeth, check out her site here.