Before Super 8, most of us had never heard of Weirton, West Virginia. Since the movie’s opening a few weeks ago amidst “critical buzz that’s getting louder by the hour,” Weirton has been on the forefront of the film location radar. The small West Virginia town was made famous when it starred as the fictitious town of Lillian, Ohio, in J. J. Abrams’ latest sci-fi thriller. How famous? Weirton was recently named one of the top five summer movie location-destinations movie-lovers would most likely want to visit.
Weirton’s journey to the big screen started in February 2010 when a location manager first contacted the West Virginia Film Office about potential filming locations. Shortly thereafter, pre-production work began with numerous visits made to Weirton by various location scouts and eventually by J. J. Abrams himself.
Why Was Super 8 Filmed in Weirton?
On August 9, 2010, Paramount officially chose Weirton as the filming location for Super 8. In addition to the West Virginia’s film tax incentives, Weirton’s warm hospitality and willingness to let Paramount take over the town helped tilt the decision in its favor. Weirton exudes the retro charms of a 1970s steel town. Its unique skyline and sprawling, central steel mill made Weirton a perfect backdrop for Super 8.
Because Weirton is located on the Ohio River between Eastern Ohio and Pennsylvania and just 35 miles from Pittsburgh, Super 8 could recruit Pittsburgh-based film crew to help with the production. Paramount also hired 700 local residents to be extras in nearly every scene of the movie.
Filming for Super 8 began on September 20, 2010 and continued for 23 days through October 17. Paramount filmed at nearly 25 locations in Weirton. Some of them include Hancock County, Weirton Heights, Marland Heights, New Cumberland, New Manchester, Brooke County, Follansbee, and the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport. (Above photo below belongs to Paramount; below photo courtesy of Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center.)
“It really hasn’t changed much since the ‘70s,” says Jim Mahathey, assistant location manager forSuper 8. “It still had this old look. Right at the end of town, it has this old steel mill sitting there. As they scouted the neighborhoods, it was perfect for the storyline.” The old steel mill mentioned is the ArcelorMittal mill - one of the easiest Weirton landmarks to find in the movie. “It was mainly a backdrop in the background,” Mahathey shares. “The storyline opens up with the mother working in a mill.”
“Weirton is a part of the American steel belt, much like the town in our story,” explains production designer Martin Whist. “It was great because not only did it have the right feel of a once-strong steel town, but it still had all the bones for us to make it look like 1979.”
Weirton residents were thrilled to have the film folks in town. “They welcomed us like we were their best friend,” shares Mahathey. “Whatever we needed, they wanted to help us. I was dealing with tank-battle stuff in the (Weirton Heights) neighborhood. Neighbors were bringing me cannoli and homemade food like I was one of their kids. I even got a couple bottles of homemade wine.”
“I always liked the idea of setting the film in a small mill town,” says director Abrams. “My father grew up in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and I always remember visiting as a kid, before mill towns ran into heartbreaking times. It felt like Anywhere, USA. There’s a sense in these towns that everything is real and relatable.”
The town’s small population of under 20,000 was an added bonus for the cast and crew of Super 8. “It’s not often that you get a chance to step into one of those places where people are so willing to let you be part of their lives,” says Kyle Chandler. “I immediately hooked up with the local Chief of Police, and spent a day driving around with him meeting all the other deputies. They gave me a real sense of what it’s like to live in a small town.”
Super 8 became a labor of love for the residents of Weirton. Hundreds of people in the nearby neighborhoods participated in the film. Local children enjoyed their first Hollywood experience by playing extras at the school. Adults in town became a part of the movie’s military action scenes. Everyone pitched in to create one of the film’s most important turning points: the town hall meeting where Jackson Lamb addresses the townspeople on all the strange activities that have been happening in Lillian. Weirton residents were excited about the shoot. A few even offered to have their house blown up to create authentic effects. (Below photo courtesy of Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center.)
“The people in Weirton could not have been more wonderful,” Abrams comments. “They could not have been more supportive, patient or, frankly, better actors. In the town hall scene, the group we had was extraordinary. No one was playing too large. People got into it in a way that was a dream. It wasn’t just about shooting there because it looked good. It was about shooting there because the people were so wonderful.”
“So many times I heard people say ‘We haven’t all gotten together, hanging out on our porches as a group, like this in years.’ They were having fun coming together as a community,” recalls Abrams.
The Filming Locations
Weirton’s Main Street became the principal setting of the movie. One of the scenes filmed there was the car dealership scene where a car salesman is telling the Deputy that engine parts under the hood are missing in all of his cars.
One of the final scenes where the Deputy, Joe, Alice and her father are watching the phenomenon going on at the water tower was also filmed on Main Street. (Trying hard not to reveal any plot here in case you haven’t seen the movie yet!)
Whist also turned Weirton Electrical Supply (located at 3061 Main Street) into the Olson Camera Store, a dream hang-out for the young filmmakers in town. “Creating the camera store was fun,” Whist says. “The store is a pivotal point in the story, so it needed to have a real presence. We brought in the electronics layers that are so specific to the period: the record players, the 8-track players, and then of course the Super 8’s.”
Whist also found all the needed vintage equipment for the film locally. “My decorator, Fainche MacCarthy, found a guy with a camera store who still had all his stuff from 1979 stored,” he says. “He had also kept all the boxes, so we were able clean up the old ones to make them look like new. It was an amazing find.”
Actor Noah Emmerich loves the camera store created for Super 8. “Entering that set, I experienced the most amazing flashback moment to when I was about 8 years-old. Looking at the shelves of the store brought back such incredible memories — the Kodachrome, and the flashcubes, wow. All that technology seems almost Paleolithic now.”
The neighborhood on Avenue F in Weirton was the setting for Alice’s home. It was here that Joe went to see Alice, only to be confronted by Alice’s angry father. (Photo below belongs to Paramount.)
Weirton Heights was another main location in the film since it housed the homes of Joe and Charles. “What we love about the houses that Joe and Charles live in is that they feel quintessential of this town,” Whist says. “Joe’s house is a small, very working class home built in the 40s that really speaks to who he is and where he comes from. Charles’ house is more of a typical 70s home.” This neighborhood was also the setting for the action scenes involving armored military units.
Cathy’s Pies and Sandwiches, a local deli/restaurant at 3073 Main Street, had an important scene in the movie when it stood in for the diner where the kids shared a meal together. Cathy Adams, owner of Cathy’s Pies and Sandwiches said the interior of her store already has the 1970s look. Paramount repainted the exterior of the building and added extra booths for seating in the restaurant. “I am happy to be able to be a part of this,” said Adams. (Photo below belongs to Paramount.)
Another local business owner, Karen Kruger of Mystic Mountain Crafts, a local arts & crafts store at 3053 Main Street, also allowed her three storefronts to be altered for Super 8. The three storefronts are connected on the inside, but to create the 1979 setting Paramount made them look like three different stores (a women’s fashion store, pawn shop and a hobby shop). “The people from Paramount Pictures have been very easy to work with,” Kurger said. “They are so polite and helping the community by hiring some local workers.”
A few folks from the Weirton Area Ambulance and Rescue Squad, Inc. were also asked to be part of the production. Eric Zaney, medical operations supervisor, said that Paramount representatives contacted the local ambulance service to inquire about individuals with a military, paramedic and EMT look about them. “We are also letting them know our emergency services will be available to them on set if need be,” Zaney stated.
DeStefano’s Spaghetti House & Restaurant, 545 Main Street, Follansbee, played a small part at the beginning of the movie. It was in this restaurant that Joe and his father were discussing Joe attending summer camp instead of making zombie movies.
Paramount also bought a house from a Weirton resident so they could use it in the movie. “We said, ‘We’re thinking about ripping out the corner of it,’” Mahathey says. “We bought the house, shot the interior, and had a construction crew really rip the corner of the house out, so it looks like a (tank) shell went through the corner of the house. It was amazing. The owner— he was thrilled. He was taking a million pictures, and had all his friends down there. Ended up being a good deal.”
The night Super 8 filmed the big battle scene, visitors from all over the region came to watch. Weirton residents brought out their lawn chairs and picnic baskets to soak in all the behind-the-scene magic of movie-making. The film’s young stars also had the time of their life. “It was just amazing for us,” says Riley Griffiths. “We just had an incredible amount of fun.”
Filming Location Guide (Courtesy of The Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center)
If you’re planning a trip to West Virginia and would like to visit the filming locations of Super 8, The Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center has compiled a list of the film locations, complete with addresses to help you find them:
Some of the above locations are on private property and unavailable to the public. Please contact or visit the Top of WV Convention and Visitors Bureau to help arrange tours.
Much deserved, Weirton has become a celebrity in its own right. In response to its new-found fame, the former steel town celebrates and launches its own Super 8 movie location tour this summer.
Filming in West Virginia
For more information on filming in West Virginia and its film tax incentives, visit the West Virginia Film Office’s website. If you’re curious about the productions already filmed in West Virginia, here’s the list.
- Weirton Millsop Community Center, 3420 Main Street: holding site for extras and storage.
- 3000 Block of Main Street: numerous scenes near bus terminal, camera shop, diners, auto sales lot, and more, including battle scenes and fictional water tower. (Below photo courtesy of Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center.)
- Taylor Avenue, Orchard and Elm Streets: car crash and evacuation scenes.
- ArcelorMittal, Main Street: doubled for Lillian Steel Company as backdrop in various scenes.
- Weir Avenue, Mendel Street, and Sharp Street: montage of scenes, including boy searchingn for dog.
- Tri-State Church of God, 3519 West Street: exterior doubled for Lillian Town Hall.
- Salvation Army Church, 794 Cove Road: interior doubled for Lillian Town Hall.
- Marland Heights Community Church, 3900 Brightway Street: exterior doubled for Lillian Middle School, located next to ball field.
- Marland Heights Deli, 3815 Brightway Street: doubled for 7-Eleven convenience store.
- Weirton Heights neighborhood of South 17th, South 20th, Mineral Avenue, and South 22nd Street: house explosion, houses on fire, playground, evacuation and tank battle scenes. (Below photo courtesy of Weirton Area Museum and Cultural Center.)
- Weirton Heights neighborhood of South 22nd Street, and alley way between Wayne Street and Mineral Avenue: battle and evacuation scenes.
- Saint Paul’s Cemetery, South 24th and Greenbrier Streets.
- Neighborhood of Fernwood Avenue and Crystal Lane: Joe’s and Charles’ homes.
- Neighborhood of Avenue F: Alice’s home over-looking steel mill.
- Intersection of Shepard Valley Road and Murray Road near Tomlinson Run State Park, New Manchester region: hillside overlooking train crash site. (Below photo below - courtesy of Paramount.)
- Along Route 2, between Cabot Lane, 2 miles north of the Route 2 - Route 8 intersection, and Roadside Park, 4 miles north: evacuation sequence, including the Cowl Farm.
- Wylie Ridge Road, New Cumberland: town evacuation sequences.
- DeStefano’s Spaghetti House & Restaurant, 545 Main Street, Follansbee: scene with father and son conversation.
- Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, Rural Route 5 - Box 5 and Girty’s Point, Brooke County: doubled as military compound.