April 04, 2002
David Morse was in town for the shooting of 'Hack'
Cresson St. made a TV set
By Saranne Miller
Last Wednesday reporters and residents, citywide, knew that Philadelphia was going to be the backdrop for the filming of a CBS pilot, "Hack." News reporters wrote about who and what, but no one knew where the film crew was going to be shooting. No one, that is, except The Review.
Thanks to a telephone call from a local resident, and the kindness of the pilot's producer, Nan Bernstein, The Review was able to capture the transformation of Cresson St. from a quiet, residential street, into a television set including stage lights, crew members, props, and, yes, movie stars.
Starring David Morse (The Green Mile, Proof of Life), Andre' Braugher (Homicide: Life on the Street), and George Dzundza (Law and Order, Deer Hunter), the CBS pilot is based on the story of a fallen police officer, played by Morse, who has turned to driving a cab for a living. Morse's character spends time helping people and unofficially solving crimes.
The one-hour pilot is to be filmed entirely in Philadelphia over a 14-day period, according to the show's producer, Bernstein (Big Apple, Falcone). Written by David Koepp (Jurassic Park, Panic Room) and directed by Thomas Carter (Save the Last Dance), the script is one of the best Bernstein said she has read.
"This is especially tight writing," said Bernstein who thinks that "Hack" has a good chance of being picked up by the network.
Wednesday morning, crew members started arriving on Cresson St. at 4 a.m. Cast members were requested to be there by 6:30 a.m. On Tuesday, the Philadelphia Police Department posted warning signs stating that parking or stopping vehicles would not be permitted along Cresson St.
Philadelphia Traffic Police provided roadblocks and crowd control along Cresson St. throughout the day and into Wednesday night.
Wednesday afternoon, production managers wearing headsets stood outside the doors of the East End Tavern, dubbed Bernie's Tap with a temporary sign hanging over the door on the corner of Cresson and East Sts. The managers called out, "Rolling!" - a cue for silence on the street. Crew members stood still, location managers stopped chattering on phones. Minutes passed, "Stop rolling!" the managers called out, and people hurried in and out of the bar with scripts in hand or props that needed added or removed.
Inside, Morse and Dzundza, who plays a priest and long-time friend of Morse's character, sat on bar stools at the horseshoe-shaped bar and said their lines. According to bar owners and siblings, John and Mikki Vaccarelli, this is not the first time their establishment has been used for television.
Years ago, the production staff for a sitcom called "Mr. Rhodes" used a panoramic view of the outside of the East End Tavern for a scene transition in the weekly television series.
Currently, the East End Tavern is featured in the "Greater Philadelphia Film and Video Guide," a publication offered to film and video makers by the Greater Philadelphia Film Office. The book illustrates and promotes the Philadelphia region as a place for film and video producers to work, and includes photographs of the East End Tavern.
"[The producers] were looking for a horseshoe-shaped bar," said Mikki. "When [film makers] where shooting 'Rocky,' they came out here and took 15 rolls of film in our bar."
Although the East End Tavern was never used in "Rocky," if the "Hack" pilot is picked up by CBS, the bar will be used regularly for the filming of the weekly series.
"If the pilot is picked up, it will be Philly-based," said Bernstein, who said that a majority of scenes for the pilot are being filmed on location, rather than in a studio.
Bernstein, who resides in Massachusetts, and has an apartment in New York City, was born and raised in York, Pennsylvania. She left York to attend college in Boston where she received her master's degree in social work.
From social work to film production?
"I always liked business and entertainment," said Bernstein who was never employed as a social worker. She laughed and revealed that she has no formal training or education in film and video production.
Bernstein said that she made her way into the film industry through small jobs here and there on sets for commercials, television and film. From there, she worked her way into the business and has been in the production business for more than 25 years.
Bernstein said that Manayunk serves as a unique backdrop for "Hack." "The topography creates interesting visuals," Bernstein said of the rolling hills that are signature of Manayunk.
Up until six weeks ago, when Morse was cast for the show, New York City was slated for filming on location. "They asked me if I was interested in a series," said Morse Wednesday evening in Manayunk, "And I asked them how they felt about filming in Philadelphia."
Morse said that he and the producers talked about the idea and worked it out so that both parties were comfortable with the outcome.
At that point, according to Bernstein, it was decided to assemble the production staff and cast in Philadelphia for the 14-day shoot.
After the initial bar scene was wrapped, Morse and Dzunza exited the bar and the cast and crew broke for lunch at the Pilgrim Church on Terrace St. where food was provided by a catering service.
After lunch, Morse strolled up East St., admiring the old stone homes and taking in what he called, "historic Manayunk."
"I like Manayunk," Morse said, returning to Cresson St. after his walk and ready for the second half of his day.
The afternoon mission was to film a scene with Morse driving his character's taxicab. A taxi, connected to a custom designed truck, was fitted for a camera on the hood and black screens over the side windows of the vehicle. Although filming took place in broad daylight, the magic of film and expertise of the production crew would create a night scene for the finished product.
Before getting into the taxi, Morse found time to sign autographs for neighborhood children who found their way onto the set.
After more than 13 hours of filming the cast and crew were beat. Dzundza said that he was exhausted as he walked from the bar to his trailer parked along Cresson St. He explained that he had a long day and that he wanted to be able to relax before they started up again the next day.
Manayunk is not new on the film and video scene. In 1998, "Fallen" was filmed in Manayunk at Dobson Elementary School. "Fallen" starred Denzel Washington, Elias Koteas, James Gandolfini, and John Goodman. Directed by Gregory Hoblit and produced by Dawn Steel, "Fallen" depicted a powerful scene that was filmed in the Dobson School.
Also in 1998, Oprah Winfrey paid a visit to various streets of Manayunk, and according to Wissahickon resident, Chip Roller, Oprah ate lunch at T. Hogan's on Rochelle Ave.
Winfrey was in Manayunk for the filming of "Beloved," directed by Jonathan Demme and produced by Demme, Winfrey and Gary Goetzman. The film, which used scenes from a mill on Shurs La., also starred Danny Glover and Thandie Newton.
Bernstein was attracted to Manayunk for the sense of community she feels in the neighborhood.
Morse feels the same.
"This is a real community here," said Morse Wednesday night as the crew packed stage lights and electrical cables into trailers. Morse said that Main St. is nice, but what attracts him to Manayunk is the neighborhood where he feels people have close ties.
"Manayunk is a nice place to walk around," added Morse before leaving the Cresson St. set for the night.
Neither Bernstein, nor Morse's assistant would reveal future set locations.
If CBS decides to run "Hack" as a weekly one-hour series for the fall 2002 television season, the production of the series would benefit the future of the Philadelphia film industry as well as create jobs for Philadelphia-based, freelance production technicians and managers.
©The Review 2002