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Old Delco jail brings movie stars to Delco

Category: Law Abiding Citizen News
Article Date: February 8, 2009 | Publication: The Delaware County Daily Times | Author: ALEX ROSE
Source: The Delaware County Daily Times

Posted by: admin

There was a shooting at the former county prison this weekend involving some fairly well-known celebrities.

No need to worry, though — it was only principle photography for the film “Law Abiding Citizen,” portions of which will be shot at the old Broadmeadows prison in Thornton throughout the week.

It is the latest endeavor for F. Gary Gray (“Be Cool,” “The Italian Job”) who directs Gerard Butler, (“300,” “RocknRolla,”) and Academy Award-winner Jamie Foxx (“Ray,” “The Kingdom”) in a story of a man taking revenge on the penal system — one district attorney at a time.

Scheduled for shooting Friday at the prison are Foxx and Butler. Also in the cast are Leslie Bibb, Colm Meaney, Regina Hall and Bruce McGill.

There might even be some local talent on celluloid, including Tom Del Conte of Kennett Square, a financial adviser in “real life” who got the call Thursday to be an extra.

Del Conte was also in “The Lovely Bones,” based on the best-selling book, which stars Mark Wahlberg and Susan Sarandon, and is expected to be released later this year.

That was when Del Conte said he caught “the bug,” and has since been in other productions and taken acting classes.

“You’re doing your regular job, but then you have this second career on the side and you’re just hoping to be called for something,” he said.

Del Conte said extra work is just like having a regular job with long hours and low pay, except that it only lasts one to three days. But at least it’s fun.

“It’s unbelievable fun,” he said. “I didn’t even really know that we could be in movies here. I always thought you had to move to New York or Los Angeles.”

According to the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, which officially serves the five-county region as a film commission, economic impact from movies since 1992 has exceeded $2 billion.

And in 2007, state lawmakers approved sweetening the deal for film companies looking to shoot in Pennsylvania with $75 million in annual tax incentives.

“Basically, feature films and TV shows and series may be eligible to apply for a 25 percent tax credit against their qualified Pennsylvania spending, so long as they spend a minimum of 60 percent of the entire budget for the show on the ground in Pennsylvania,” said Sharon Pinkenson, director of the Greater Philadelphia Film Office.

She added that productions in the state “shot up significantly” after that tax credit was instituted.

“There are about 33 states now that provide some sort of incentive or another, and the only way that filmmakers can afford to make films and TV shows right now in this extremely competitive marketplace is to do it in the place that makes the most sense economically,” she said. “If we didn’t have an incentive, no one would come here. They wouldn’t even consider coming here.”

When Pinkenson arrived at the GPFO in 1992, she said economic activity in the five-county region from filming came to about $2 million a year.

In the most recent economic impact report for the years 2004-2007, however, that figure came to $759 million, or about $190 million per year on average. During that period, said Pinkenson, there was about $7.1 million paid in local taxes, and about $400 million in wages and salaries, representing approximately 13,000 jobs.

While Pinkenson said the GPFO does not presume any project’s expected economic impact, “Law Abiding Citizen” could mean more than $50 million for the area when all aspects such as food, hardware, hotels, crew hires, car rentals and the like are factored in.

For its part, the county will get $100,000 from the production company for six days use of the old Broad Meadows facility.

George W. Hill Correctional Facility Superintendent John Reilly said the price was set based on costs at other locations. County Council Chairman Linda Cartisano said she expected that money would be used to offset costs at the county prison.

The county won’t be required to provide any extra security for the set, said Reilly, and nearly all prison personnel have been instructed to keep back at least 50 yards during filming.

He added the deal couldn’t have been made without the efforts of the county Board of Prison Inspectors, which gave the go-ahead for the project.

“One thing that always kind of makes you smile is when the people you work for are open-minded enough to say, ‘You know, let’s give it a shot,’” he said. “The board showed a lot of foresight.”

Reilly said there had been at least a dozen meetings with representatives of the film company since July to negotiate a contract for use of the old jail, which has not housed inmates since 1998.

A few modifications were necessary, but Reilly said the contract stipulated the facility would be left essentially as it was found. Some doors had been removed from cells in C Block, wooden window trim had been re-stained and some storage had been moved around in anticipation of the shoot, but nothing had substantially changed inside the mothballed prison by Wednesday.

“When they first came here and of course were discussing the jail and possible uses, I understood that the movie required an old-fashioned jail setting and that’s precisely what the movie company saw in our facility,” said Reilly.

“It’s scary in there, and it’s good to have scary,” according to location scout Dan Gorman. “I think that’s one of the things they want to project on the screen.”

Gorman, who grew up in Upper Darby, said he remembers driving by Broad Meadows as a kid and thinking, “Wow, that looks like a prison.”

He said the George W. Hill facility doesn’t convey that same sense – which is nice, because it’s always easier to work in a building not currently in use anyway – but the old Broad Meadows building, built in 1930, has a classic “you-are-in-trouble” look.

“When you watch a movie, the exterior of a building is only on (screen) for a moment, so it’s got to say, ‘This is a prison’ right away,” said Gorman. “It’s got stone, it’s got fencing, it’s got a great look for what they want to do. The director loved it.”

Veteran sound mixer Bruce Litecky, of Media, said the location provides for some unique challenges all around, but he at least has some idea what he’s up against in the cavernous prison setting, having done documentary work about death row inmates and sound work for the HBO series “Oz.”

“What I think is so interesting about the prison we’re going to is the look of it is so unbelievable,” said Litecky. “It would be hard to recreate the look of that, as realistic as it is. A lot of actors like this full-immersion sort of environment, and by going to this real prison, we definitely get that.”

With digital signal processing, it’s easier to create a little more space to work in, said Litecky, but it’s still difficult to improve the sound if there is too much echo to begin with.

Litecky said there are some tools he can use to ensure the dialogue is clear, such as sound-absorbing foam, but the important thing is being able to use locations like the prison to provide a sense of realism.

“They create an environment for our film and a sense of space that you can’t get otherwise,” he said. “It puts everybody in the right mood. If you just have a two-sided set people are working in front of – that works for a sitcom, but it doesn’t work for drama.”

Liticky, who also worked on projects like “The Sentinel” and “Shooter,” both partially filmed in Philadelphia, said it was a nice change to work entirely in this area.

Many film projects come out of Canada, he said, so the production company will hire local crew members for some on-location shots, but finish the product back up north.

All of “Law Abiding Citizen’s” approximately 50 days of shooting will take place in the Philadelphia area.

“I really enjoy being able to be part of the whole project here from beginning to end in Philadelphia,” said Leticky. “And Delaware County, of course.”

Litecky said he never moved to Los Angeles or New York because he was perfectly placed in Media to get to any film project he needed to get to.

And with the efforts of Pinkenson and the GPFO, Leticky said the state and region are really beginning to open up as viable shooting locations.

“I’m really proud and excited to be a part of all that,” he said.

Cartisano said the county would be willing to discuss further use of the former prison with other film companies, but she did not expect an influx of movie developers in county buildings. This one in particular has a pretty limited range, she noted.

“It looks like a prison,” she said. “I think it’s a beautiful building and it’s a façade that can be used, but it is a prison. I just think it’s a unique site.”


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