“You Are My Friend,” a feature film project starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers, will begin shooting in Pittsburgh this fall.
The screenplay’s narrative is based on the close relationship between Mr. Rogers, the iconic creator and host of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” and journalist Tom Junod, who described his research as the beginning of the friendship in a 1998 Esquire magazine story titled “Can You Say … Hero?”
Sony’s TriStar Pictures is helming the project; Real Heaven Inc. is the production company that secured the tax credits. Marielle Heller (“Diary of a Teenage Girl”) is scheduled to direct, with a projected release date late in 2019.
The shoot was made possible after Real Heaven Inc. received a Pennsylvania film tax credit approval of $10,198,805. “You Are My Friend” must commit to spending at least 60 percent of its budget in Pennsylvania to qualify for the tax credit.
“We are excited that ‘You Are My Friend’ has decided to film in the Pittsburgh region,” said Dawn Keezer, Pittsburgh Film Office director. “This is a wonderful project that will put hundreds of our local crew and talent to work, and we cannot wait for them to begin filming.”
Deb Acklin, president and CEO of WQED Multimedia, acknowledged Oakland’s WQED had hosted a “show-and-tell” for the production company.
“They wanted to see the actual location [of where ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ was produced], and they were interested in Fred’s office …. And they wanted to meet some of the people who worked on the production.”
Ms. Acklin added, “As you can imagine, we would love — put that as underscored, capital letters, whatever — we would love to have Tom Hanks in our studio. That would be loads of fun.
“And not just having him there but having the production would be full circle. I’ve taken to calling this the ‘Year of Fred’ because there have been so many fantastic events and conversations and social media messages [about] Fred.”
The 50th anniversary of “Mister Rogers Neighborhood” was in February, sparking tributes across the globe, as well as films, TV specials, opinion pieces and online features.
Morgan Neville’s critically acclaimed documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” is currently in theaters; Mr. Junod appears in the film.
WQED produced two earlier docs, “Our Neighbor, Fred Rogers” (1988) and “Fred Rogers: America’s Favorite Neighbor” (2004). The public television station is working on another documentary that will feature the people who worked with Mr. Rogers — who also was the station’s first programming director in 1954.
In addition, PBS filmed part of a 2018 documentary, “Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like,” in Pittsburgh last fall.
Mr. Rogers died in 2003. Not only did he promote kindness and understanding for more than three decades with “Neighborhood,” but he had other shows as well, including his first at WQED, “Children’s Corner.”
As for Mr. Hanks, he has worked before in a stand-in version of Pittsburgh with 1996’s “That Thing You Do!” Set in 1964 Erie and the Steel City, it followed a one-hit-wonder rock band and starred the writer/director as well as Thomas Scott Everett, Liv Tyler and Steve Zahn.
But except for an enigmatic reference to McKees Rocks on IMDB.com, it appears the movie was shot almost exclusively in California.
Maria Sciullo: [email protected] or @MariaSciulloPG