But with the help of smoke machines and some fancy camera work Tuesday, a film crew led by veteran Hollywood manager/producer Ken Kragen turned a cobblestone alley in the Old Port into a slice of that steel-making city, circa 1930.
The crew is filming the independent family film "The Twelve Dogs of Christmas" this month in Maine, mostly in the Bethel area. But Tuesday morning, a cast and crew of about 30 people were on Wharf Street to shoot a scene with the film's star, Jordan-Claire Green, as a young girl wandering alone in Depression-era Pittsburgh.
Green, a 12-year-old actress originally from San Antonio, played one of the grammar school groupies in the recent Jack Black comedy smash "School of Rock."
In "The Twelve Dogs of Christmas," Green's character, Emma, is sent from Pittsburgh by her out-of-work father to live with an aunt in a smal! l town. The filmmakers considered sites in Vermont, New Hampshire and Wisconsin, but when they saw Bethel in person, they decided it was perfect for their snowy small town of 70 years ago.
The trick then was finding a stand-in for Pittsburgh within a reasonable drive of Bethel.
"When the location people found Bethel, they said 'We don't have to look any further,' then we found this place, which is great," said Kragen, standing Tuesday on Wharf Street.
The cobblestoned street is basically an alley running behind Victorian brick buildings that front on Fore Street. The lack of glitzy signs and the back-alley feel made it a convincing Pittsburgh.
For the scenes there Tuesday, Green's character strolled past extras dressed as passersby and Christmas carolers while a vintage black jalopy drove over the cobblestones.
Later Tuesday, the crew filmed Green aboard an old train car at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad on Fore Street before heading back! to Bethel. The crew will be in Bethel for at least the next month, Kragen said.
The film is based on a children's book written seven years ago by Kragen's daughter, Emma, when she was just 7 years old. The book is basically a takeoff on the Christmas song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," but with poodles and Labradors instead of partridges and turtle doves.
For the film, the poem has been expanded into a story about a Depression-era orphanage for dogs located in the small town where Emma goes to live.
"My character tries to help them keep the dogs, because the town doesn't allow dogs," Green said during her lunch break Tuesday. "It's a very good family film."
Kragen, who managed singing stars Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie, produced the "We Are The World" album in 1984. He also has produced several network TV movies and specials, including "The Gambler," "Coward of The County" and "The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour 20th Reunion."
Kragen is shopping the film around, and hopes to have it in theaters or on TV by! Christmas. He is also planning to distribute DVDs through Wal-Mart.
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: firstname.lastname@example.org