When is Franklin Field not Franklin Field? When it’s the Vet, of course. For three weeks this summer, Penn’s storied playing field stood in for the now demolished landmark as a Disney film crew shot scenes for the movie “Invincible,” due out next year.
Starring Mark Wahlberg and Penn alum Elizabeth Banks (Ericson Core is the director), the film tells the true story of Vince Papale, a Philly bartender who tried out for the beleaguered Eagles in the late 1970s and won a spot on the team.
Location managers scouted out the campus back in the spring. By early July, says Peggy Kowalski, associate director of athletic operations, the film crew began transforming historic Franklin Field into Veterans Stadium, circa 1976. On the field, where much of the action takes place, the crew busied itself removing the “P” from the center of the field and covering up the end zones with turf. Telltale bricks around the perimeter of the field were camouflaged with gray pads. In the locker rooms anything deemed “not period”—lighting fixtures, soap dispensers, towel rails, carpeting—was removed and replaced.
The first weekend of filming, in late July with temperatures stubbornly in the 90s, the crew was scheduled to shoot a frigid mid-winter night game. Actors and extras bundled up in heavy clothing as machines pumped fake snow across the field. That one scene took three days to wrap.
Kowalski and her colleagues grew used to the sight of dozens of football players sporting ’70s afros and sideburns limbering up on the field between takes. They also got accustomed to their cell phones constantly ringing with requests from production assistants—Can you get us a forklift? We need more ice! Could you stop the helicopters from landing on the roof of the hospital for an hour or so? That last request “didn’t get very far” says Dave Bryan, director of facilities and operations for the athletic department.
“One of us was always here from 5 or 6 in the morning to 10 at night,” says Noah Gustkey, associate director for athletic facilities, who, with facilities coordinator Scott Ward answered many of the crew’s requests. He’s quick to point out, though, that people throughout the University, from electricians to parking staff to grounds crew to plumbers, all helped the shoot run smoothly.
Wahlberg, who occupied three trailers—two filled with weight training and cardio equipment—in the parking lot adjacent to Franklin Field, caused a relatively minor stir. “Half the time,” says Kowalski, “he’d walk past people and they wouldn’t even recognize him.” The star, she says, was low-key and approachable, and when he wasn’t involved in a scene he would ride around on his scooter or sign autographs for extras.
Wahlberg’s character, Vince Papale, was also a frequent visitor to the set. Though he’s a St. Joe’s alum, he has a Penn connection, too. He’s married to former Penn gymnastics coach Janet Cantwell.
Originally published on September 8, 2005