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'West Wing' to film here

Wednesday, July 31, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

The president and his staff are coming to Western Pennsylvania. Yes, George W. Bush will be here next week for a Mike Fisher fund-raiser, but we're talking about the television president -- Josiah Bartlet (Martin Sheen) and his staff on "The West Wing."

NBC's hit political drama will film a quarter of its two-hour season premiere in the region, which doubles as Indiana, including two days on a farm.

Producer Neal Ahern Jr. has already set up a production office in a Downtown hotel for the shoot, which will last from Aug. 20 to 27.

In "The West Wing's" two-hour season opener, Bartlett will make a speech at a soybean farm about alternative energy sources. Press secretary C.J. Cregg (Allison Janney) will be there, too.

"We'll be out in farm country," said Ahern. "We found several options. It might be in an area of Mercer County."

In the episode, communications director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff), deputy chief of staff Josh Lyman (Bradley Whitford) and his assistant Donna Moss (Janel Moloney) get left behind and spend much of the episode trying to catch up with the president's motorcade.

Other locations find the trio on country roads, at a remote gas station, a diner and a train station.

"The West Wing" shoot will be the first extensive Hollywood production in the region since "The Mothman Prophecies" filmed here in early 2001. Ahern said he and his crew scouted locations in Indiana; Austin, Texas; Wilmington, N.C., and Maryland, but the work of the Pittsburgh Film Office and a recent visit sold producers on Pennsylvania.

Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, which represents Allegheny and the 10 counties that make up Southwestern Pennsylvania, said discussion began with "West Wing" producers about four weeks ago. Keezer was in Los Angeles on business, heard they were looking for locations and met with them to tout the benefits of filming in Western Pennsylvania.

"We were the only film office that was able to take our photos [of locations] and present them in person, which is real important because this business is a relationship business," Keezer said. "People buy from people they know."

After that meeting, Keezer followed up with additional pictures and a box filled with two pounds of soybeans "so they wouldn't forget. It was a fun little marketing thing and it did get their attention, which is half the battle with these things."

She drove producers through Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Armstrong, Lawrence and Mercer counties on their scouting trip -- 400 miles in a single day.

"Dawn Keezer, who's incredible, convinced us to come out here," Ahern said. "I scouted [locations] with [executive producer] Tommy Schlamme on July 19 and he said, 'Neal, we're staying here.'"

Ahern said Western Pennsylvania appealed to him over Maryland because the farms were older.

"These people owned these farms in their family for 150 years, which was a great turn-on for us," Ahern said. "That's what it's all about, the center of America, and that's what Tommy was looking for."

Another bonus: Ahern said Pittsburgh has the infrastructure -- talent, crews, equipment -- to support the "West Wing" shoot.

"Pittsburgh has a great pool of people," he said. "It's just been incredibly friendly here and helpful."

Nancy Mosser Casting is looking to hire 300 extras, stand-ins and photo doubles for the week-long shoot. Anyone interested should visit www.mossercasting.com for a registration form and send that with their photo to Mosser at 239 Fourth Avenue, Suite 1217, Pittsburgh, 15222. Call 412-434-1666 for more information.

After filming in Pennsylvania, some of "The West Wing" crew will continue on to Washington for a few additional days of shooting before returning to the show's home base on Warner Bros. sound stages in Burbank, Calif.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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