Whitehall-Coplay Press

Tuesday, October 22, 2019
CONTRIBUTED PHOTO“Billboard” in national theatrical movie release. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO“Billboard” in national theatrical movie release.

‘Billboard’ going national

Friday, April 12, 2019 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

A locally-produced film, inspired by a 1982 billboard-sitting contest in Whitehall Township, is getting its national release.

Forks Township filmmaker Zeke Zelker’s “Billboard,” more than 10 years in the making, opened April 5 at Frank Banko Cinemas, Steelstacks, Bethlehem, as part of the Greater Lehigh Valley Filmmaker Festival, where it’s scheduled to continue through April 11, and at Movie Tavern, Trexlertown, Upper Macungie Township, where it’s scheduled to continue through April 10.

“It’s a testament that hard work and perseverance pays off,” says Zelker, who wrote, directed and produced “Billboard.”

“Billboard,” a fictionalized account of the real-life contest held by a local radio station in which three men camped on a billboard to try to win a mobile home, was filmed in the Lehigh Valley with more than 2,000 working on the project.

“The film will be released in markets across the country until we exhaust the interest in it,” Zelker says.

A market-to-market distribution strategy is underway to save costs after the death in January of the film’s distributor Mark Urman, who founded Paladin Films of New York.

Zelker says “Billboard” also will be sold internationally at Cannes Film Festival in May with a digital release planned later in 2019.

Zelker also is releasing a 25-episode web series, “The Billboard Sitters,” that focuses on the four contestants in the billboard-sitting contest at billboardmovie.com.

The project, which Zelker started working on in 1998, was always envisioned as a multiplatform media project.

In 2011, Zelker launched WTYT960.com, a virtual radio station that has more than 1,000 bands on it from 49 states and 22 countries. WTYT 960 is also the radio station in the film.

“Billboard” the film centers around a struggling radio station that hosts a billboard-sitting contest in an effort to drive up ratings. Contestants set up tents on the billboard in hopes of winning $96,000 and a mobile home.

The story is inspired by radio station WSAN-AM’s 1982 contest in which three men tried to outlast each other through the winter on a billboard at MacArthur Road and Route 22 to win an $18,000 modular home. The contest ended up lasting nearly nine months and made national and international news as a symbol of the United State’s economic struggles.

The “Billboard” cast includes Eric Roberts, who starred in NBC-TV’s “Heroes”; Darlene Cates, who was in “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?” (1993) and Heather Matarazzo of “Welcome to the Dollhouse” (1995).

The movie also features Lehigh Valley-based actors, father and son, Michael and Oakes Fegley (“Pete’s Dragon,” 2016).

“Billboard” is the fourth film that Zelker has shot in the Lehigh Valley. His previous films include “Affairs,” “A.K.A.: It’s a Wiley World!,” and “InSearchOf.”

He also produced “Loggerheads,” “Southern Belles” and “Just Like the Son,” which screened at major film festivals.

Tickets: steelstacks.org/event/8057/billboard; movietavern.com/locations/trexlertown