'West Side Story' movie set going up in Paterson ahead of filming

Jim Beckerman
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In Paterson, "West Side Story" is getting ready to rumble. 

But before the Jets and the Sharks, the rival street gangs in Steven Spielberg's "West Side Story," can fight it out, they need a "turf" to fight over. 

That's what's going up right now, in the City Hall district.

The backdrop of the movie, the slums of New York's West Side, can be seen taking shape in two repurposed parking lots on West and East Veterans Place in the city's downtown. The jagged ruin of a brownstone building, facing the street, may look authentic — there's a real, similar, ruin across the road — but it's pure Hollywood.

"That's why they liked that area," said Marcia Sotorrio, director of the city's division of cultural affairs. "Because if you look at the other side, there's also a building where the bricks are kind of coming down a little bit."

"West Side Story" set going up in Paterson

This is still the "prep" portion. The actual 10 days of Paterson filming are expected to begin in August ("West Side Story" has a 74-day shooting schedule, with other scenes being filmed in Harlem and other parts of Manhattan).

Paterson residents are not the only ones excited by this much-awaited remake of the classic 1957 Broadway musical and 1961 film about a tragic Romeo and Juliet romance on the city's mean streets. Local patriotism also has been stoked by the casting: Clifton's Rachel Zegler plays Maria.

"This is really exciting times," Sotorrio said. "They're getting closer and closer to starting filming. It's amazing what they're doing."

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The earlier, 1961 "West Side Story" was filmed in New York's now-demolished San Juan Hill district in the 60s, the city's original, pre-Harlem black neighborhood (Lincoln Center is there now).

The choice of Paterson for Spielberg's remake was inspired partly by the Garden State Film and Digital Media Jobs Act, signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2018, which provides a 30 percent to 35 percent tax credit for movie companies that film in this state. The previous rate was 20 percent. 

The new law has made cities like Newark ("The Many Saints of Newark"), Jersey City ("Joker") and Paterson ("The Plot Against America," "The Irishman") very attractive to filmmakers.

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"A few months ago, I had the opportunity to meet Steven Spielberg to express my profound gratitude for picking Paterson," said Mayor Andre Sayegh. "He loves the city. After the filming, we're probably going to declare him an honorary Patersonian. It really doesn't get any bigger or better than that."

Email: beckerman@northjersey.com; Twitter: @jimbeckerman1

More on the West Side Story remake

WHAT TO KNOW:13 things we know about Steven Spielberg's 'West Side Story' remake

FIRST LOOK:Clifton's Rachel Zegler as Maria on 'West Side Story' set

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