By Gabriella Levine
The Place Beyond the Pines, a major motion picture filmed in Schenectady, N.Y. during the spring and summer of 2011, is set to release this month on March 29.
The film, from the director of Blue Valentine, Derek Cianfrance, stars Eva Mendes, Ray Liotta, amd Academy Award nominees Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.
This past weekend, the Editors-in-Chief of the Concordiensis attended the official press junket in New York City with a film screening and private college press conference, during which Gosling, Mendes, Dane DeHaan, Emory Cohen and Cianfrance spoke candidly about their experiences filming the movie.
Pines features a three-part structural plot. Cianfrance notes that the movie “tells three linear stories: a motorcycle stunt rider turns to a life of crime to support his newborn son, an ambitious rookie cop takes on a corrupt police department rather than confront his own demons, and two troubled teenaged boys confront the mysteries of their past by battling each other.”
According to Gosling, the movie embodies the conventional components of an engaging storyline: “A heist film, a crime drama, a family drama, you’ve got all of those things,” Gosling said. “They’re constructed in a way where you can experience them differently,” he continued.
Pines has the true makings of a hit—an all-star cast, a Sundance Film Festival award-winning director and a suspenseful plot—but its setting in Schenectady brings an inimitable, realistic quality to the film. Rather than framing the film in a fictional setting, Cianfrance decided to shoot the movie in the Capital Region and have the story actually take place in Schenectady.
Cianfrance pointed out that Schenectady provided both an aesthetic setting to fit the plot of the film and a real-life backdrop for the actors. “We just decided that it was the right place to make a movie. The movie is all about legacy, and one thing about Schenectady is that it has a real past, a real history,” he explained. “It’s definitely in the midst of the economic struggle,” he added.
Both Cianfrance and the film’s co-writer, Ben Coccio, have personal ties to the city. Cianfrance’s wife is from the city, and Coccio is from Niskayuna. Cianfrance noted that Schenectady gave the film crew more flexibility to work with than other settings.
“It would be impossible to make this movie anyplace else other than Schenectady. The police allowed us to shoot in an active police station, we were shooting in active schools, active hospitals. There are certain scenes with Cooper’s introduction where he’s chasing Ryan on the motorcycle, and it took place over an entire neighborhood. We shut down entire neighborhoods. I mean I live in Brooklyn, and when you see a movie truck on the street it’s like so annoying, like you can’t park your car. In Schenectady, the town was so helpful,” he said.
Quite a few local places made it into the film, including Trustco Bank, Aumiller’s Pharmacy and Vale Cemetery in scenes shot on State Street, Ellis Hospital, the Schenectady Police Station, the Route 7 Diner, the Dairy Circus in Scotia, Shenanigans on Central Ave. in Albany, St. John the Evangelist Church on Union Street, Crest Motors in Scotia, and various residences scattered throughout Schenectady.
In fact, Eva Mendes not only filmed scenes as a waitress in the Route 7 Diner, but also picked up a few shifts at the diner to prepare for her role before filming began. “Derek had the idea of working at the diner that my character works at in the movie on my days off, to go be a waitress. I was like cool, yeah, and I went and I got to know the women that worked there, and I heard their stories, and they were born and raised in Schenectady,” she explained.Capturing the authenticity of the city and atmosphere was important to the cast members. DeHaan, who played Luke’s (Ryan Gosling) son, noted, “Just going around the town, seeing all of the kids around the town, one thing I really noticed is you know it’s a dangerous place, and if there’s one thing almost every single youth in Schenectady does is find some way to protect themselves, whether that be in the way they dress, or how they act, or how they walk, protection is key.” For Mendes, her personal experiences in Schenectady also assisted in the task of playing the role of Romina, a waitress and Luke’s former lover in the film.
Mendes also spent time at other local spots in Schenectady when she wasn’t filming, including the athletic facilities at Union.
“I ran on the track at Union. I loved running on the track, I’d go there and it was really peaceful. I’d sit on the little grassy knoll right by the track, I love that place. I also stayed in the Holiday Inn in Schenectady (woot woot) and I so I would just walk over and I would hang out in the campus a lot,” she said. Her playful “woot woot” resulted from our own previous quip that we’ve also spent time at the Holiday Inn and had quite the experience there for functions such as sorority formals.
Numerous Schenectady and Capital Region references made it into the film.
In a scene at Ellis Hospital, Schenectady police officers deliver a Civitello’s sausage and pepper sub to a wounded Avery Cross, a rookie Schenectady cop played by Cooper. Several news boxes for both The Daily Gazette and The Times Union were spotted in driveways of scenes filmed around local residences in the area.
Local media was utilized in the film, with depictions of newscasts and voiceovers from WNYT News Channel 13’s Elaine Houston and Jessica Layton. Additionally, aerial shots of Schenectady portrayed both the headquarters of General Electric and the Nott Memorial.
Lastly, the Concordiensis Sports Editor, Tommy Schaffer ‘13, made it into the film as an extra in a scene shot in the cafeteria at Schenectady High School.
Certain characters in the movie were named after officials in Schenectady, such as Bill Killcullen. Brian Kilcullen is Schenectady’s current police chief. New York State Senator Hugh T. Farley appeared as a State Senator. Schenectady police Lieutentant Mark McCracken played a drug busting cop in one of the scenes.
Given the large role that Schenectady played in the production of the film, locals who assisted with the making of the film are disappointed that there are no plans for a major premiere this spring at Proctors.
According to The Times Union, the filmmakers promised a premiere in Schenectady, but the film is most likely set to open in select cities such as Los Angeles and New York City.
Regardless of the location of the premiere, Schenectady still maintained an integral role in the production of the film. Cianfrance strongly values Schenectady’s contribution to the film as a central component of the plot—“I felt strongly that it could only be made in Schenectady,” Cianfrance stated, “The town made the movie, there would be no movie without Schenectady.”