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Article published January 9, 2013
Mars basketball team appears in film
John Bojarski Butler Eagle
People going to see the movie “Promised Land” might catch a glimpse of a few familiar sites and faces. Members of the Mars High School boys basketball team appeared during a scene. “Promised Land,” directed by Gus Van Sant, features Matt Damon as a representative of a natural gas company that wants to drill on farms in rural Pennsylvania. The movie also stars John Krasinski, Frances McDormand and Hal Holbrook. Krasinski plays an environmentalist who challenges Damon’s beliefs of the safety of fracking for natural gas. It opened in limited release Dec. 28 and then in wide release Friday. The movie was filmed mostly in Armstrong and Westmoreland counties, in places such as Worthington, Avonmore, Slate Lick, Apollo and Vandergrift. Filming began in April and finished in June. The Mars team got involved after a player’s mother saw an advertisement for an open casting call last spring. She asked Mars coach Rob Carmody if he would mind if the team was involved. Because the season was over, Carmody said that he had no problem with it. “I said, absolutely not at all,” Carmody said. The team got school officials’ OK to work on the film because team members would miss three days of school. Additionally, members of the team who were younger than 18 years old had to have a parent present during filming. “It was a pretty concerted effort,” Carmody said. Senior guard Garrett Ashbaugh was to have a speaking part in the film, but it was cut. Don Claypoole of West Franklin Township, Armstrong County, also made an appearance. The movie’s crew filmed outside of a house on his Slate Lick Road property, but he also got a chance to appear in two of the movie’s scenes. John Adkins, who works at the Pittsburgh Film Office and was the location manager for the movie, visited Claypoole’s house last spring. Then he came back a second time and took photographs of the property, which is just south of Worthington off Roue 422. He told Claypoole that he would come back a third time with a few people. But the entire time, Adkins did not divulge much information about the project. “He just said it was a major picture,” Claypoole said. The next time Adkins came, he had several people, including Van Sant, who decided to use the property. Adkins said he does some preliminary scouting for locations, visiting sites and taking photographs. He discusses the locations with the film’s production designer. Then, he visits with the director. “He is the ultimate decision maker,” Adkins said. He said the crew appreciated the landscape that surrounded the property. “They have some pretty terrific views,” Adkins said. The crew filmed April 30 on Claypoole’s property. They also filmed at a few other locations on the same road. Claypoole said he got a chance to watch the crews set up cameras, wires and generators on his property. He also saw a helicopter film aerial shots of the property and surrounding area. He was impressed by the pilot’s skills, flying the helicopter close to the ground at times and swerving close to power lines. “It was amazing,” Claypoole said. Jokingly, Claypoole at one point asked Adkins if he could have a minor role in the film. “Is there any chance I get a part in this?” Claypoole asked. Adkins said he would see what he could do. Eventually, Claypoole attended an open casting session at Apollo High School. When he called back, they told him to go to Avonmore, which was the primary filming location for the movie. He worked as an extra on May 4, 21, 22 and 23. In Avonmore, he appeared in a scene in the audience at a Little League game. The scene is a part of the film’s trailer. When Claypoole called a second time, he was told to go to Apollo High School. In the scene, he is in the audience of a town-hall meeting after a basketball game. When the crew was filming in the Worthington area, Claypoole got to spend time with the cast and crew. All property owners whose properties were used in the film were invited. At one point, he sat at the same table as Damon, who, he said, was focused on his work. “He’s, all the time, working on something. He’s very intense as far as working on his project,” Claypoole said. In addition to the movie being filmed locally, the movie’s unit production manager, Rich Chapla, grew up in Center Township and graduated from Butler High School in 1986.