PSA: A wormhole has not opened up between Downtown Pittsburgh and New York City, we’re sorry to report.
The disorienting experience you may have had this week rounding the corner of Ninth Street and Penn Avenue in Pittsburgh only to find a very realistic looking NYC subway station planted there is thanks to a different kind of interstellar phenomenon: the merging of two screen icons, Tom Hanks and Mister Rogers.
Hanks is in town filming the Rogers movie “You are my friend,” in which he stars as the late, beloved children’s TV host. The NYC set, The Incline has learned, is part of that film shoot. It includes a very life-like subway entrance — a replica of the Broadway and Lafayette stop’s facade in SoHo — though a closer examination reveals no actual subterranean stairs.
There are also traffic signs hanging nearby directing motorists to the outbound Holland Tunnel and Brooklyn-Queens Expressway — 400 miles away.
“My infamous quote is that I’ve said we do New York better than New York,” Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said by phone from Paris. “And by that I meant that we have similar looking architecture, but it’s easier to shoot on the street here. In New York, you’re not allowed to stop traffic … In Pittsburgh, we can put detours in because we’re a smaller city.” (These kinds of detours are in place Downtown this week.)
Keezer said she has not seen the set in question but confirmed the Rogers film, a Sony production, is filming here now and will be filming in the area for eight to 10 weeks in total. The mayor’s office and members of the crew on scene confirmed to The Incline that the NYC set is part of the Rogers film shoot. (We did not see Tom Hanks there, however. ☹️)
The film is based around a 1998 profile of Rogers in Esquire magazine by the journalist Tom Junod who interviewed Rogers in New York City. The film is to be set in both Pittsburgh and New York, Keezer explained.
Keezer said the NYC set was built by members of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Studio Mechanics Local 489.
“People come to shoot here [in Pittsburgh] because our crews are so excellent,” Keezer added.
A call and text to a representative with the IATSE Local was not immediately returned on Thursday.
Keezer said the film office does not publicize locations for film shoots because they “want to keep disruptions to a minimum.”
Keezer added, “We don’t ever give out locations, it’s something we’ve never done. We want to make sure they can get their work done. I mean, people come across them and see them but we don’t send out a press release saying ‘Come to the corner of Liberty today.’ They’re here to work. We had a lot of audience for the shooting of the Batman movie [“The Dark Knight Rises,” 2012] Downtown and that was a bit of a challenge for the crews.”
Of course, Pittsburgh is no stranger to shoots like these — CNN once called it the Tinseltown of the east. There are three shoots taking place in the city or in the Pittsburgh area currently: “You are my friend,” CBS’s “One Dollar,” and Netflix’s “Mindhunter.”
Keezer said all three productions were in the City of Pittsburgh at various points this week. The Pittsburgh Film Office covers 10 counties in southwestern Pennsylvania.
As for Hanks, the Post-Gazette reports he worked in a stand-in version of Pittsburgh for 1996’s “That Thing You Do!” That film was set in Erie and the Steel City.
But he’s here for real now, having been recently spotted at a Starbucks in Greensburg. Hanks is also set to headline a voter registration event at the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall and Museum on Sept. 25.