The city of Bethlehem will be not just the backdrop, but play a prominent role in a “coming of age” feature film that will be produced by and star Corbin Bernsen of "L.A. Law" fame, Mayor John Callahan announced on Thursday.
The film will be called, appropriately enough, “Bethlehem,” and much, if not all, of the shooting for the movie will be done on city streets and landmarks during the fall or early winter, according to screenwriter Jordan Ross, who joined the mayor via Skype from Los Angeles for a news conference.
Other actors who have joined the project include Ian Harding, known for his role in “Pretty Little Liars;” Taylor Spreitler, who currently stars in “Melissa & Joey;” and Christine Lakin, who starred in the network sitcom “Step By Step” in the 1990s and currently has a recurring voiceover role in “Family Guy.”
Bernsen, Ross, Spreitler and film director Matthew McInnis are planning to visit the city this weekend to scout possible film locations with the mayor and members of his staff.
The story’s plot will be built around high school football, the closing of Bethlehem Steel and the difficulties that many families endured as a result, Ross said. Family will be a strong theme of the movie along with the notion that “some things are stronger than steel,” Ross said.
Ross compared this project to two “coming of age” films he said he admires—“Stand By Me,” which was based on a Stephen King short story, and “Friday Night Lights,” which was based on a non-fiction book about a Texas high school football team on a run to a state championship in 1988.
“Bethlehem” will be set in 2008—a deliberate choice because that was the last year the Liberty Hurricanes won the PIAA Quad-A state championship, Ross said.
Ross said he was excited to write a film set in Pennsylvania in part because he is a native of Holland in Bucks County. “I know about the people of Pennsylvania and the sense of pride we have in the city that we are from,” he said.
The timing of filming won’t be nailed down until after the weekend visit, but the filmmakers are targeting October through January and a release date of fall 2014, Ross said.
When the film is released, however, it is unlikely to be seen in movie theaters. Bernsen’s production company, Home Theater Films, specializes in producing films for families to view in their own home theaters through “on demand video.”
The production company’s Website says:
“Virtually every television set sold today is capable of creating a ‘Home Theater Experience.’ It is our mission to create content specifically for that—The Home Theater. Our films are meant to be viewed as a Family Experience for all ages and more often than not, generate exploration and discussion through their themes.”
Bernsen will play the coach of the Liberty Hurricanes in the film. He is known best for his starring roles in the TV series “LA Law,” and currently “Psych.” On the big screen, he also starred in the “Major League” movies.
Callahan said that since Bernsen plans to spend the majority of his film budget in the city, the economic impact on Bethlehem could be about $1 million. However, he predicted that a larger impact will be felt after a film that star’s the city itself is released.
Bethlehem has served as a backdrop for filmmakers before—most notably in 2008 when Michael Bay filmed the opening sequence of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” around the Bethlehem Steel blast furnaces, which were set up to look like a Chinese industrial zone for the purposes of the blockbuster sequel.
“While not the best movie in the world, the first eight minutes were pretty good,” Callahan joked. “For this project, Bethlehem will be a lot more than just great scenery.”