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Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni create a movie starring award-winning actor Paul Giamatti — and New Providence itself.

Article on Patch.com, By Michelle Colandrea | February 18, 2011

Win Win movie trailer features numerous references to New Providence High School. The film will be out in limited release on March 18. Courtesy of You Tube.

If you aren’t already wearing your favorite New Providence logo high school sweatshirt, it’s time to dig yours out of the closet because this town and its landmark high school are about to be famous.

By now, you’ve probably heard the buzz about Win Win, a new film that features acclaimed actor Paul Giamatti in a hooded green-and-gold New Providence Pioneers sweatshirt and numerous scenes from an eerily familiar high-school gymnasium.

No matter how many times you’ve confirmed the March 18 release date for the movie, it’s hard to believe that our tiny town really is coming to a theater near you. Even for the New Providence natives who co-wrote and directed the film.

The film’s director and writer Tom McCarthy graduated from NP High more than 25 years ago and went on to receive acclaim as writer and director of The Visitor (2007) and The Station Agent (2003), and is one of the writers behind the story for the animated film Up for which he received an Academy Award nomination in 2010 for Best Original Screenplay.

Joe Tiboni, who worked with his childhood friend McCarthy to write the story for Win Win, was also an NP Pioneer before graduating in 1984. Tiboni remains a New Providence resident and businessman, and is founder of the Law Offices of Tiboni & Tiboni where he works as a lawyer with his wife, Jane.

The South Street law practice deals with, among other matters, Elder Care and Guardianship.

Tiboni said of this connection to the Win Win plot line, “It’s not biographical,” but the co-writer did confirm that inspiration for the film’s main character came from Tiboni’s real life experiences in New Providence.

Moviegoers will find numerous similarities between Tiboni’s life and that of Giamatti’s character in the upcoming film. Both live in New Providence where they also work at Elder Law practices. Both have two daughters and both have wives of good, moral character, Tiboni said.

The film centers around New Providence Elder Law attorney Mike Flaherty (played by Giamatti), who is struggling to keep his law practice afloat during difficult financial times. He is appointed by the court to represent an elderly man named Leo Poplar (Burt Young), to whom he ends up acting as legal guardian. Flaherty commits Poplar to a nursing home, against his wishes, in order to turn a profit on the deal and help him attempt to save his business.

At the same time, Flaherty also coaches the New Providence High School wrestling team. Following the recent events at the lawyer’s practice, Poplar’s grandson Kyle Timmons (played by Alex Shaffer, a real-life Hunterdon Central Regional High School student and wrestler) unexpectedly arrives in town looking for a place to stay and is taken in by the Flaherty family. Timmons’ arrival is initially seen as an interference with Flaherty’s plans until he discovers that the boy is a champion wrestler.

The New Providence High School grads behind the project are quick to ensure that there are certainly big differences between the lives of the onscreen character Mike Flaherty and the real-life New Providence resident who protects the rights of the elderly.

“Paul Giamatti smokes in the movie; I don’t smoke,” Tiboni said. “He puts people in nursing homes against their will; I don’t. My practice is doing well, thank God.”

Tiboni has lived in New Providence for all but about eight years of his life and has been friends with writer/director McCarthy since they were 10 years old. He’s practiced law in town for the past 17 years, but said he always liked to write “for the fun of it.”

One day, Tiboni decided to send a writing sample to his screenwriter friend. Two weeks passed before McCarthy finally responded. It was worth the wait; McCarthy loved the piece.

“[McCarthy] calls me up and he asks me, ‘What was the last great wrestling movie?’” recalled Tiboni of a conversation the two had shortly after McCarthy had read Tiboni’s writing. “He said, ‘Well, I’m thinking something like The Bad News Bears with wrestling. Do you want to do it with me?’”

Two years later, Fox Searchlight has picked up the idea and Win Win was earning positive reviews at The Sundance Film Festival.

It’s obvious to see where the director and co-writer found inspiration for the film’s events and setting as they were both wrestlers at NPHS, but Tiboni said that they had to “jump through hoops” to be able to use our beloved town’s name and high school logo in the movie.

So what made them decide to stick with the real thing when they could have easily fabricated a fictional town name or high school mascot?

“They asked that at the Sundance Film Festival and I answered, ‘New Providence is the center of the universe,’” Tiboni says. “Tom [McCarthy] quickly took the mic and said, ‘Do you have a problem with that?’”

So there you have it. You’ve known it for a while now, but our town has just been publicly declared the center of the universe.

“We wanted to really do something that was fun for the area,” Tiboni later said. “We wanted to keep it as real as possible because this is the world we both know best—New Jersey.”

Due to limitations caused by New Jersey state taxes, Tiboni explained that they were unable to actually film the movie in New Providence or at New Providence High School. The New Jersey locale was recreated on a set in New York, but the writer said that they did their best to make it look as close to the real thing as possible. 

While you may not recognize the houses from Win Win’s New Providence as your real-life next door neighbors’, Tiboni said that many of the street shots were filmed here in town. Residents will be happy to know that views of the Springfield Avenue intersection at the New Providence Presbyterian Church will make an appearance in the movie, as will South Street.

For the interior shots of the duplicated school, the actual New Providence High School donated wrestling mats, singlets, banners and varsity warm-ups to the project so that the school sets and actors would closely mimic their real-life counterparts. 

New Providence High School wrestling coach Gary Bremer said that when the singlets were returned after they had been used for the movie, the production team also gave the school an extra 14 singlets that had been specially made for Win Win.

“I’ve used those with the kids,” Bremer said. “The varsity kids get those if they’re on varsity and we use them as a tournament singlet. So the younger kids have worn them a lot this year. They think they’re pretty cool.”

Bremer and New Providence High School principal Paul Casarico said McCarthy and Tiboni were frequent visitors at the high school as they wrote and prepared for the movie.

“We walked around the high school so they could remember what the school was like,” said Casarico, who just so happened to grow up three doors down from the Tiboni family and attended high school with McCarthy’s younger sister in New Providence.

Bremer said the celebrity writers stopped in to watch wrestling matches and practices, and to take notes. On one such visit, Giamatti also joined them.

“I think that it was great that they were able to include a lot of the New Providence traditions,” said New Providence Superintendent of Schools Dr. David Miceli, who said he was told that the film stays true to many of the specific traditions of the era when the writers attended NPHS.

Additionally, Casarico said that he answered questions and provided the writers with inside information about how a typical high school is run.

But the school wasn’t the only New Providence venue that contributed to the re-creation of New Providence on the big screen. Tiboni cited the New Providence Police Department and McGrath’s Hardware as among those who helped with the effort, saying that he worked with friends and town residents he’s known for a long time.

So what was it like for Tiboni to be back in (what looked like) his high school gymnasium, witnessing the filming of a major motion picture, starring several prominent actors?

“You have to picture your friend you’ve known since you were 10 years old directing a movie, standing next to you, and it’s about your high school. It’s almost surreal in that regard—we would just start laughing,” said the writer.

Tiboni said that while he and McCarthy both wrestled as high school students, neither were very good.

“I lost more than I won. Tom ultimately quit. So for us, it was kind of funny reliving that because it was a really hard time when you’re a kid,” said the former NPHS athlete. ”Now, it’s funny.”

Coach Bremer, who took over the position as NPHS wrestling coach in 1987, said of the sport, “It’s a hard process. It looks glamorous, but it’s not. It’s a lot of hard work.”

He said that he thinks the sport will be portrayed favorably in the upcoming film in regard to how it can be a positive influence on kids’ lives.

When asked if he thought wrestling might become more popular in New Providence once the film is released, Bremer said, “When we win, wrestling is popular. When we don’t win, wrestling’s not as popular. I think it will be popular for a little bit, but it will probably die down before wrestling season hits next year.”

Whether or not you’re a wrestling fan, Win Win is sure to be one of the most anticipated films in New Providence history.

“I’m as excited as everyone else to see the movie!” said Principal Casarico. Bremer made a similar statement.

“It’s becoming very real now that the trailer is out,” said Miceli, who is surprised at how often our town’s high school is represented in the preview.

“It’s a really funny movie, but there’s also drama too,” Tiboni said.

Speaking on behalf of his partner McCarthy, he continued, “We both hope people will enjoy it and have a good time — especially people from here. Who knows, maybe there’ll be a new demand for New Providence Pioneer sweatshirts after the movie.”

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“Win Win” Trailer
About the Movie
Win Win is based on the story by Tom McCarthy and Joe Tiboni. When a disheartened attorney moonlighting as a high school wrestling coach stumbles across a star athlete, things seem to be looking up. That is, until the boy's mother shows up fresh from rehab and flat broke, threatening to derail everything. Cast: Paul Giamatti, Amy Ryan, Bobby Cannavale, Jeffrey Tambor.
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Tiboni & Tiboni, LLP
166 South Street
New Providence, NJ 07974
Ph: 908-286-1136
Fax: 908-286-1605