West Oak Lane residents watch as their block becomes a movie set

It’s not every day that you see a film crew setting up shop on your West Oak Lane block.

While James and Virginia Bell were outside gardening earlier this week, though, they observed activities that spoke to a Hollywood element arriving in Northwest Philadelphia.

So, they stopped trimming hedges and watched as a large truck was emptied, with the film crew carrying props and equipment into a home on the 7100 block of Andrews Ave.

“I haven’t seen anything happen yet,” Virginia said Tuesday afternoon. “I don’t really know what’s going on. No one has told us anything.”

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This is what’s happening

Over the next four weeks, the block will be occupied by the cast and crew of the movie “1982.”

Writer/director Tommy Oliver grew up in the same house in which his film is set. In fact, he has relocated his mother, who still lives in the house, during filming.

The movie is based on his life while growing up in West Oak Lane at the start of the crack-cocaine epidemic.

If you didn’t know there was a movie being filmed, you’d think it was just another block.

However, residents had been instructed to remove their vehicles from the block from Monday to Saturday to accomodate filming. In their place, cars rented from owners who advertised on Craigslist are parked along Andrews at 72nd streets as time-accurate props.

Growing neighborhood interest

Despite reports about neighborhood concerns about inconveniences, West Oak Lane residents near the set did showed no signs of being upset.

“It can’t be any worse than it already is,” said James Bell about the lack of available parking spaces.

Most people moved their cars to the driveways behind their homes after receiving notice about the looming parking restrictions.

Olivia Peebles, the movie’s prop master, noted, “We’re here to work with the community. We want to make sure that everyone is happy and excited. It’s a personal story and we want it told the way it should be.”

Peebles said the crew posted flyers that invited neighborhood folks to appear as movie extras, as they will also be filming at a nearby school and playground.

Mary Randall and her son King said they are glad to see a movie being filmed in their neighborhood, something that onlookers vaguely recalled happening with a mini-series on Ogontz Avenue in the early 2000s.

“It’s pretty exciting,” said King. “I know it’s about the director and it’s a biography. He grew up on our block. It’s cool.”

Reflecting on a drug scourge

Mary Randall, who has lived in the neighborhood her entire life, recalled the 1980s as a bad time for drugs in the area.

“I think in the 80’s it was at its worst,” said Mary, “Now, there’s an Ogontz revitalization, it’s slowly getting better. Having this movie here, it brings excitement and pride.”

James Jones, who has lived in the area for 40 years, said that era was when “things started jumping off, in terms of freebasing. People found out that they could make cocaine. At the time, youth violence in the area started to increase as well.”

Jones agreed that he has seen a positive change over the years.

“This neighborhood isn’t just about drugs. I love my community,” said Jones. “There were vacant buildings all along Ogontz [Avenue] and now you can’t even find a parking spot. It’s thriving.”

Neighbors said they’ll be interested to see the final product once the cameras stop rolling, the Craigslist cars are returned and they can again park in front of their homes again.

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