Seeing Stars – Hollywood Filmmakers Put SBH on the Big Screen - SBH Health System
Image of Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig

The next time you’re riding up the elevator or racing down the hall and see someone who looks like a movie star, guess what, you might not be mistaken.
For several years, St. Barnabas Hospital has been a prime location for major motion pictures, independent films, television shows, and commercials. In recent years, 61 projects were shot at the hospital. In the last six years, they brought a total of $680,657 into the hospital’s coffers. In 2016 alone, more than $150,000 was generated and used for funding projects such as the Sycamore Grove pathway and benches.

Image of movie star John DiGirolomo
John DiGirolomo makes a cameo in a Jake Gyllenhaal movie.

The actors who have filmed projects here is a roster of Hollywood A-listers and up-and-comers: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jessica Chastain, Sarah Jessica Parker, Glenn Close, Seth Rogen, Louis CK, James Spader, James McAvoy, Jim Gaffigan, Lizzie Caplan, Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anthony Mackie and Jonah Hill.

The man behind this money making machine is John DiGirolomo, senior vice president for facilities and real estate. While John displays photos in his office of many of the actors who have filmed at St. Barnabas, he’s a bit more circumspect when it comes to telling the stories behind them.

“Some of the actors have been great,” he acknowledges. “When they shot their film here (The Night Before), Seth Rogen, Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Anthony Mackie were pulling people out of the elevators to take pictures with them. We’ve also had some big names who say ‘I’m too busy to take a picture,’” he says, rolling his eyes and adding, “Method actors.”

Along with James Andino, deputy director of security, John personally supervises most of the shoots. This has meant constantly chasing after one well-known actor to put out his cigarettes and making sure others keep from walking into areas they don’t belong. And, not surprisingly, some actors need extra hand-holding.

“One time, late at night, I got a phone call from a security guard. ‘We need an extra room,’ he said. ‘What do you mean? What for?’ I asked. He said, ‘[Actress’s name] is so upset she needs to lie down.’ She had just shot a scene that involved a mass killing and her assistant needed to calm her down. I said ‘Tell her it’s television. They are not really dead!’ ”

Sometimes, he gets last minute requests from crews. “Once the location director asked if I had a CT scan machine available,” he says. “I asked when he needed it and he said ‘tomorrow,’ which of course meant something had fallen through somewhere else. Anyway, I called radiology and as luck would have it they had a machine that needed parts and wasn’t being used.”

The hospital, according to John, has become a favorite location for two reasons: First of all, St. Barnabas is known throughout the industry as a “film friendly” site (and so has quickly gone to the top of the list for location scouts looking to film hospital scenes.) The only caveat is that the shooting must not disrupt patient care in any way. Second, the hospital’s de-commissioned operating room on the fifth floor, not used for years, has become a favorite of location scouts because of its availability and viewing gallery. Other areas in the hospital have also proven popular. The Center for Comprehensive Care, for example, works perfectly as doctors’ offices –not surprising, as many are – and the Braker Boardroom makes for an excellent Cabinet room (as it’s been used for TV’s Madame Secretary).

John negotiates the cost for each shoot, charging separately for prep (when crews come in to dress the set), shooting, and wrap days (when they tear the set down). He adds separate costs to cover such expenses as security.

“They can do some pretty elaborate things with a set,” he says. For the TV show Damages with Glenn Close, they built walls and created a waiting room in the hallway complete with wallpaper and pictures. Dr. (Scott) Cooper happened to walk by and said, ‘John, why can’t you renovate like that?’ ”

Craft services (aka the food truck), as John and Jim have learned, is another big part of the entertainment culture. For one movie, the parking lot (now used as the site for the new health and wellness project), was turned into what could easily be mistaken as an emergency disaster site. Trailers were parked for the actors and tents were pitched, under which chefs’ prepared elaborate meals. “They were standing on Third Avenue in the Bronx eating omelets and smoked salmon,” John remembers.

Every now and then John gets to play a different role. “They were filming the independent movie The Skeleton Twins with Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig. It was late at night and they didn’t have any more actors so they said, ‘John, would you walk across the hallway?’ Anyway, months later, I went with my wife to see the movie. I looked down for a second when my wife elbowed me and said, ‘You just missed it. ” Fortunately, he made up for it with a longer scene in the movie Demolition alongside (so to speak) Jake Gyllenhaal.