Starstruck In Great Neck

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With a major studio movie being filmed in Great Neck, the town is excitedly reclaiming its old nickname, “Hollywood East.”
Students and adults alike are eager to get a taste of the “Hollywood life.” On filming days, kids are lined outside North’s gates to catch a glimpse of their favorite stars on the set of The Outskirts: Victoria Justice (Victorious), Eden Sher (Weeds), Ashley Rickards (Awkward), Peyton List (Jessie), and Avan Jogia (Twisted).

Teen stars Victoria Justice and Ashley Rickards catch up with Brittany Namdar, Chelsea Namdar and Julia Hackman in Muddworks.
Teen stars Victoria Justice and Ashley Rickards catch up with Brittany Namdar, Chelsea Namdar and Julia Hackman in Muddworks.

“The cast is extremely nice about pictures and autographs. They give each fan their own moment and seem genuinely interested in our lives, too,” said Brian Attarian, a rising junior at Great Neck North. “I’ve seen Victoria Justice multiple times and, at this point, she remembers my name and past conversations.”
Surprisingly, Brian has had to question who is the bigger fan: he or his mother, Rita Khabbaza. “I was very excited to learn that Victoria Justice would be filming in Great Neck because I always joined the kids in watching her shows,” said Khabbaza. “I don’t know who was more excited to see her: me or my son.”

Peyton List poses with Brian Attarian after a workout.
Peyton List poses with Brian Attarian after a workout.

Students are often seen grinning anxiously by The Andrew Hotel, where some of the actors are staying. A team of middle schoolers is currently engaged in what they call “The Outskirts Challenge,” a competition to spot (and photograph, for evidence) the most stars. While some boys are lining up their pictures, others are running down Middle Neck Road frantically trying to find List at Bareburger or Justice in Gino’s.
“It is extremely cool having all these famous people staying in our town and having a movie filmed right at the high school. It brings a lot of excitement to Great Neck,” said Gabriela Carrasco, a student at North High.
Recently, Justice received a tweet suggesting, “Since you’re in Great Neck, I recommend you go to Café Kriza.” Sure enough, the pop idol visited the restaurant; there is a Facebook picture to prove it. Great Neck social media accounts are swamped with pictures and updates on production of the film.
Despite the blacked-out school windows, the film’s production company, BCDF, is harnessing the fan excitement. For weeks, emails circulated Great Neck asking for “background talent” submissions. Applicants were encouraged to come dressed as classic or modern high school stereotypes : “fantasy kids, skaters, K-pop, EMOs, Twihards, hipsters, techies, jocks, marching band, and popular kids.” The casting team reached out to North’s drama club, Junior Players, in the attempt to deliver an authentic high school feel. BCDF wants its fictitious “Richard Milhous Nixon High School” to come alive.

Gabriela Carrasco meets teen heartthrob  Avan Jogia.
Gabriela Carrasco meets teen heartthrob Avan Jogia.

The competition to be cast was fierce, and in the end, only five Great Neck residents were selected. Joshua Yaminian, a Great Neck North graduate who made the cut, had his eyes opened: “People, including myself before I was an extra, think acting is easy, but as I participated, I realized that acting is much harder than people think.” He was surprised to learn film work has many dull moments. “Most people do not realize that the hours can go up to and even surpass 13 hours a day,” he said. “This could be for five or six consecutive days.” Yaminian hinted at a cameo by Great Neck North’s Assistant Principal, Dr. Daniel Krauz.
“I was asked to be in two scenes. The actors were terrific, kind, and thoughtful. They could easily be students at North High,” said Krauz, confirming his evanescent role. “You will need to look fast to see me.” The assistant principal joked that although acting was a great experience, he will not be leaving his day job anytime soon.
It is not just actors getting in on the action; the film gives homeowners an opportunity to showcase their homes. In June, BCDF set its locations department loose on the North Shore. Many Great Neck homeowners were sent letters of potential interest from locations scout Greg Morrison. BCDF is offering a location fee as well as a certificate of insurance to selected homes.
Even those who won’t be in the film are enthralled with the chance to rub elbows with the famous. Celebrity stalking has become something of a local sport.
“It is so much fun to watch behind the scenes and bump into the cast while walking around town,” mentioned Korin Saghezi, a Great Neck resident eager to see the final movie.
As a whole, students are surprised to learn that their television heroes are just like them. “You see these figures on TV or listen to their music online, but seeing them in person proves how normal they are despite their abnormal lifestyle,” Attarian explained
This isn’t the first time Great Neck has served a production crew. Back in 2008, the district hosted the cast and crew of Harold and, more recently, Great Neck played the backdrop for This Is Where I Leave You and Affluenza. With major studio sets reappearing all over town, it was only a matter of time before Great Neck recovered its old, but fitting title.

Can’t wait for The Outskirts movie? Read more about the film here.