Movie crews take over Plum’s Pivik Elementary School
Plum is getting a taste of Hollywood this month, after Pivik Elementary School was transformed into a set for a Lifetime channel movie.
“It was God’s Plan” is based on Antoinette Tuff’s book “Prepared for a Purpose: The Inspiring True Story of How One Woman Saved an Atlanta School Under Siege.” The story is about Tuff, an Atlanta-area school bookkeeper who averted tragedy on Aug. 20, 2013, by when a gunman entered her workplace.
Singer and actress Toni Braxton stars as Tuff, and T.D. Jakes, a pastor whose teachings inspired Tuff, is an executive producer.
The Pivik school has become the Ronald E. McNair Discovery Learning Academy in Decatur, Ga., during the filming.
Tuff persuaded Michael Brandon Hill, 21, to surrender after entering the school with a rifle and nearly 500 rounds of ammunition and exchanging gunshots with police. He eventually was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
“I think one of the reasons we wanted to tell this story is because, unfortunately, we have seen these incidents unfold far too often,” said Judith Verno, also an executive producer.
“Most of the time there is not a positive outcome. What’s unique about our story is that through the actions of one woman, and the support of another woman on that phone line at the 911 call center, they were able to talk to this boy, connect on a human level and have an outcome that most of would only dream of.”
Crews were in the Pittsburgh area in May scouting locations. Pivik Elementary in the Plum School District was selected from 42 schools.
“We’re proud to host them,” Pivik Elementary Principal Kristen Gestrich said. “We have a beautiful building. We’re happy to have it showcased even if it’s going to be the subject of this incident.”
The financially strapped school district said the production company is paying $15,000 for the use of Pivik.
Sony Pictures Television hasn’t set a broadcast date for the movie.
“We saw a bunch of schools and decided on this school because it felt the most evocative of youth,” Verno said. “It’s one of the few schools that really caters to small children visually.
“That was very important to us because our school only goes through fifth grade. … Once we narrowed it down based on the geography of how things related to each other, the second step was what school had the personality that we liked.”
Verno said Plum students and parents will be able to recognize a lot of Pivik in the film, and its library was most impressive.
“The library we loved so much we wrote a scene just to be able to shoot the library,” she said. “It’s very sweet and sentimental. The school sometimes dictates the choreography of what we’re going to shoot.”
That scene features students gathered around teacher Virginia Preston, played by Kate Easton, as Tuff announces the intruder’s presence via school speakers.
Pittsburgh-based Nancy Mosser Casting selected more than 100 extras to be teachers, students, parents and other characters.
Plum resident Kweilin Nickles and her daughter, Leilani, 10, a Regency Park Elementary fifth-grader, were among them.
“It’s just amazing to see such a large-scale production happening in our town,” Nickles said. “I just feel fortunate she can have this life experience. I think it’s a story that needs to be told.”
Leilani said this was her first time being in a movie. “It’s exciting. We get to see what it’s like,” she said.
Penn Hills resident Deborah McKinzie said she was an extra in Will Smith’s “Ali,” and was cast to be in this film with her son, Evan, 11.
“I feel it’s an amazing experience not a lot of people have,” McKinzie said. “He’s excited. I think it will be good for kids to see and not to panic.”
Primo Jenkins was cast as a student with David Howard and Tyvon Johnson, all are 12 and from Monroeville.
He was an extra in the movie “Fathers & Daughters.”
“I love being in the workspace,” Primo said. “I’m fine with any part. I think this is what I’m good at.”
Tyvon’s mother, Kimberly Hart, said active school shooter situations have become an unfortunate part of life, and this movie will raise awareness of how to respond.
“If you know how to react that’s awesome,” Hart said. “I know this is real life. You never know what someone is going through. We need to pay more attention to our children.”
Crews are expected to film through June 30. They also had a staging area for police at the former hhgregg store on William Penn Highway in Monroeville.
Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said a film tax credit and previous work with Sony played into bringing the movie to Plum.
“We have a great relationship with Sony and Sony TV,” Keezer said. “They did two seasons with the ‘Outsiders’ and they liked us so much they brought us this movie.”
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, email@example.com or via Twitter .