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Lights, action, graffiti: Pittsburgh stands in for NYC in 'Southpaw'

| Friday, July 18, 2014, 8:57 p.m.
Justin Merriman | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Crews paint signs along Brownsville Road in Carrick in preparation for filming of “Southpaw” on Friday, July 18, 2014.

This week, shoppers on Brownsville Road in Carrick noticed that the street looked a lot shabbier than usual — suddenly, graffiti was all over the place.

Brian Stowell, owner of the Carrick video store/electronics shop Orphaned Media, heard the complaints.

“People were saying, ‘This town's getting horrible — they're tagging up everything,' ” said Stowell, 35, of West Newton, on July 18.

He remained unperturbed.

“My store's going to be in the movie,” he said.

One would think we'd be used to this by now. Yes, it's “movie magic” of the old-school variety. Pittsburgh is playing New York City in the boxing drama “Southpaw,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal as a junior-middleweight boxing contender who fights his way to the top, only to find his personal life collapsing around him. Gyllenhaal shot “Love & Other Drugs” here in 2009.

It's part of a rash of strange transformations in recent weeks, like a sign on the now-closed Saks Fifth Avenue, Downtown, that read “Madison Square Garden,” and police cruisers that read “NYPD.” All are “Southpaw”-related.

In Carrick, the sign for “Wills Gym” on the corner of Maytide Street and Brownsville Road is new, as is a small grocery next door and an open-air newsstand. The Melrose Professional Building is tagged up pretty heavily — even the windows have graffiti.

Stowell signed a contract for use of his store. The film crew promised to clean up the street afterwards, and even repaint the storefronts that they used.

“They're actually going to make the place look 1,000 times better afterwards,” Stowell said.

Business has remained steady. He has one of the last DVD-rental stores in the city, and it does well in this particular location.

“Even the cast and crew are coming in, and asking me to order things: iPads, iPods, replacement screens,” Stowell said.

“Yesterday was Forest Whitaker's big scene in the gym,” he said. “Today, he's going to be walking across the street to buy a paper at the newsstand across the street.”

“Southpaw” also stars Rachel McAdams (“Mean Girls,” “Midnight in Paris”) and Lupita Nyong'o, who recently won an Oscar for her role in “12 Years a Slave.” Rapper 50 Cent has joined the cast, as well.

Kyle Fisher, 37, of Lawrenceville, was busy painting some road signs — “CROSS BRONX EXPWY” — on the sidewalk on Friday morning.

“One of the guys on our team is a graffiti artist, a street artist,” said Fischer, who's working as a scenic artist on the “Southpaw” crew. “The director is really into graffiti.”

The director is Antoine Fuqua (“Training Day”), who grew up in the Hill District and Homewood.

Getting paid to put graffiti up is OK, but Fischer is really looking forward to the challenge of his next movie. “The Last Witch Hunter,” starring Vin Diesel, is expected to start shooting in Pittsburgh in August.

“We're doing 40-foot sculptures and altar pieces for that,” Fischer said.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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