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Hollywood invades Irwin restaurant

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By Patti Dobranski
Friday, May 23, 2008

Irwin restaurateur Fred Panza got a call three months ago from a Los Angeles movie location scout looking for a place to shoot some scenes for DreamWorks Pictures' new film, "She's Out of My League."

"Some photos were taken, so I thought it would be something they were going to do down the road. But I got a call Wednesday at 8 a.m. that they wanted to shoot the final scenes of the movie here on Sunday, and they were coming today," Panza said Thursday while sitting in the dining room of Pluma's Restaurant, which he co-owns with Mona Kinsey and her son, Thomas Kinsey Jr.

"It happened so fast, I'm still trying to comprehend it."

Alex Hamilton, assistant location manager for DreamWorks, said the Pittsburgh Penguins' advancement to the Stanley Cup finals eliminated the possibility of shooting bar scenes in the Igloo Club at Mellon Arena, so she decided to bring the shoot to the Irwin bistro.

"I had met Fred when we were filming 'Smart People' in Pittsburgh a year ago," said Hamilton, who is a Penn Hills native and Slippery Rock graduate. "When we started filming this movie, I took some pictures of Pluma's and had them in my database. After we learned we couldn't film at the Igloo Club because of the Stanley Cup finals, I showed the photos to the staff and they just loved it. I called Fred Wednesday morning and said, 'We're coming Thursday.' "

The movie is described as a "quirky romance" set in Pittsburgh that revolves around a couple from different backgrounds. Starring Jay Baruchel, the movie has been filming in the Pittsburgh region for the past few weeks and will wrap up this weekend at Pluma's.

In the second-level bar area behind Panza and Kinsey, drop cloths were draped over portions of the bar area where workers were painting some of the fixtures black late yesterday morning.

Panza watched the movie production process and marveled at the transformation of part of the restaurant into a sports arena bar. "It's kind of strange to have ice hockey ambiance inside our Caribbean-themed restaurant," he said.

'It is pretty good advertising for us," Kinsey said. "I was hoping to bring in my Chihuahua all decked out in a Penguins outfit so I could be in the movie."

The restaurant and the set will be closed Sunday for the shooting, but patrons can enjoy an evening in a temporary movie set Saturday night.

"It's just in time for the Penguins playoff game," Kinsey said.

Last month, North Huntingdon missed out on a chance at fame with an appearance in the same movie.

DreamWorks liked a house on Kimlyn Avenue, off Brownstown Road, because company officials were looking for a 1970s ranch-style house. But the township residence lost out to a similar house in Hampton, Allegheny County, that had a swimming pool.

Hamilton said the Creativity in Focus Film Tax Credit enacted by Gov. Ed Rendell and the state Legislature in July has made the Pittsburgh area a worthwhile place to do business.

Under the initiative, the state provides a 25 percent tax credit for film production expenses incurred locally. In order to qualify, 60 percent of the film's budget must be spent in the state.

"And you can't beat the friendliness and down-to-earth quality of Pittsburghers. Everywhere we shoot has been so accommodating. It's great to be able to come home and work here," Hamilton said.

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