Fan-friendly actors take time for photos, say hello
By Brian C. Rittmeyer
Published: Tuesday, May 22, 2012, 11:22 p.m.
Kim Petrilla Franciscus saw him walking down the street and shouted out, "Hey, Matt!"
Next thing you know, she's chatting with movie star Matt Damon on the street in Apollo.
"He was real nice," she said Tuesday of her encounter the day before. "He was walking down the street. I just said to him, 'Hey, Matt!' and he turned around. I asked if he'd mind if I got a photo, and he said no problem."
Franciscus, of Allegheny Township, was among a small group of folks - mostly women - who were quietly hanging around Tuesday outside the former Apollo High School, where Damon and a few hundred others were working on scenes for the movie "Promised Land."
The movie crew was in its second day of work in Apollo on Tuesday and was planning to wrap up there Wednesday, said John Adkins, a location manager.
Apollo is the latest Alle-Kiski Valley community to be used for the filming, which has included Avonmore, Kiski Township, Salem Township and Worthington.
Most were hoping to see Damon, or his co-star, John Krasinski, who wrote "Promised Land" with Damon and is known for his role as Jim Halpert on the television series "The Office."
For those for whom Damon doesn't register, another star of the film is stage and screen veteran Hal Holbrook, who Franciscus also got to chat with on the street.
"I shook his hand. He was very nice," she said. "I asked him if he was enjoying his time in Pittsburgh. He said yes. That was that."
The waiting paid off Tuesday when Damon took a few minutes from his work in the early evening to sign autographs and have pictures taken outside the former school, now home to Tiger Gym, on North Pennsylvania Avenue.
"We got it!" Erika Anderson of Lower Burrell said after getting pictures of her son, Brendan, 9, and daughter, Alexis, 7, with Damon and autographs for them.
Damon didn't have enough time to attend to everyone, even in the rather small crowd that encircled him, but Anderson made sure she got what she was after.
"I shoved them right up there," she said, then told her kids, "You'll be the only ones in school who can say you touched Matt Damon."
Anderson works across the street from the old school at her family's business, Orion Land Services. She had snapped a picture of Damon earlier in the day when she caught him walking to lunch.
"He's very nice. He's polite," she said. "They've all been very fan friendly."
The production began filming in town on Monday, and is finishing Wednesday, a day ahead of schedule, Adkins said.
"It's been absolutely fantastic here," said Adkins. "The community has been very welcoming."
Numerous trucks containing film equipment, some marked with "Universal City Studios," lined streets around and near the former school. A large tent for extras was set up outside, across the street from Tammy Boland's Armstrong Avenue home.
Boland, who said she went to middle school in the former school, said she hadn't seen much.
"A neighbor lady told me she got to shake Matt Damon's hand. I was surprised to hear that," she said. "I never dreamed there'd be a movie made right beside my house. It's exciting."
All of the filming was taking place inside the former school, which Adkins said was chosen for its gymnasium.
Between 200 and 250 extras were brought in for scenes there.
"It has a tremendous, old school feel," he said. "That gym can tell stories."
"Promised Land" is being filmed entirely in and around Pittsburgh, with most of the crew being local.
Filming will wrap in early June, Adkins said.
Adkins said actors were being gracious with fans, taking time for photos and to say hello.
"The priority is to get the work done. When they've had a minute, they come out," Adkins said. "We're guests here. It's important to treat the community with respect."
Franciscus said she's been to Beverly Hills, where she said people are a lot more aggressive about getting actors' attention. She described it as "merciless."
But it was nothing like that in Apollo, where she said people being considerate and nice probably played a big part in their being able to get up close and personal with Damon and the others.
"That's probably why he walks down the street and doesn't mind stopping," she said.
Lesa Mastermonico of Bell Township works at the Apollo Post Office. She was waiting outside the school with her daughter, Gia, 10, who likes Damon for his part in the movie, "We Bought a Zoo."
Gia was hoping to get Damon to sign her arm with permanent marker, which she said he did for a friend in Avonmore.
"He's a good actor," she said.
"I have never seen anything like this," Mastermonico said. "I think it's a pretty exciting for a small town."
Shauna Penska of Leechburg came by with her daughter, Presley, 3, after friends of hers had posted pictures on Facebook.
"My friend's mom has a picture of her and Matt Damon," she said. "They seem really nice. They don't seem standoffish at all."
Anderson's mother, Cindy Brient of Gilpin, said she was surprised there weren't more onlookers.
"It's kind of exciting," Brient said. "The crew and everybody out here has been really nice. We've spent a good share of the day out here.
"I'm anxious to see the movie now."
About "Promised Land"
"Promised Land," the movie being shot in Apollo and other Alle-Kiski Valley locations, is a joint project of Focus Features and Participant Media.
It's a drama from an original screenplay written by John Krasinski of the TV series "The Office" and Matt Damon, both of whom star in the film.
Krasinski has family ties to the Valley, as his grandparents, the late Leo and Regina Krasinski, were residents of Natrona Heights, Harrison, and other relatives still live here.
The story is about Damon's character, Steve Butler, a corporate salesman who arrives in a rural town with his partner, Sue Thomason (Frances McDormand). The two believe local citizens likely will accept their company's offer to buy drilling rights to their properties since the town has been hit hard by the economic decline of recent years.
Their seemingly easy task runs into an obstacle: opposition from a respected school teacher (Hal Holbrook) with support from a grass-roots campaign led by Krasinski's character. It leads to Butler questioning the choices he's made and experiencing some life-changing events.
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