With its collection of souped-up motor bikes and omnipresent smell of oil, M & S Cycles seems no more a set for a major motion picture than its gruff owner does an actor.
The shop set back off of Freeman's Bridge Road is a real garage with a genuine mechanic, one who never holds back on what he's thinking. There's no pretense with Steve Ritzko —not for customers and certainly not for a Hollywood film crew encroaching on his space.
Perhaps that's what caught the attention of Derek Cianfrance, a director know for injecting a healthy dose of realism in his films. When several crew members from "The Place Beyond The Pines" stopped by to scout the location in July 2011, Ritzko was his typical self.
One woman asked to borrow some of the dated pictures hanging in his storeroom to use in the movie and he bluntly told her no. They tried to negotiate a price to lease the shop and he haggled down to the last dime.
"I was a bit of a pain in the ass," Ritzko acknowledged, cracking a smile.
His attitude must have left an impression. Enough that Cianfrance decided to use both the gritty shop and its owner for his film.
"They called the next day and said we want Steve in the picture," recalled his wife, Debbie.
Sure enough, Ritzko scored a role as a mechanic who sells Luke Glanton —played by actor Ryan Gosling —a dirt bike he later uses to knock off banks throughout the Schenectady area. The entire scene at the garage was shot in less than half a day and left Ritzko with enough frustration that he initially rued the day he grudgingly agreed to let them film there.
"Every time I turned around, someone was in my way," he said.
But his initial coarse demeanor has long since warmed.
Now, Ritzko gets a chuckle from the memories he has of the film shoot that came on the heels of a swap meet he attended in Ohio the weekend prior.
Like when the film crew asked his son to don a white tank top instead of his usual uniform. No self-respecting mechanic would wear that, he said.
Or when Gosling strutted into the shop wearing a nice leather jacket and Skidz. Ritko laughed.
"He says, 'I'm supposed to be a bad-ass with a death wish,' " he recalled. "I was kind of laughing under my breath."
Then there was the matter of Gosling's dirt bike. As the crew was preparing to start filming, they couldn't seem to get the bike started.
"I stood back and said 'do you have any gas in that?' he said. "Sure enough, it was empty."
Respect for director
Among the hustle of the scene, though, Ritzko gained a respect for Cianfrance. Out of the crew of dozens inundating his shop, the director seemed like the one who was most down to earth.
"He was like one of the guys," he said.
Now, nearly two years after the scene was filmed, the Ritzkos are eagerly anticipating the finished product. Their daughter Kate and son Stephen both were given roles as extras, while copies of the faded biker photos hanging in the shop were used on other sets.
Meanwhile, Ritzko has his own image to live up to now. And friends at an area diner he frequents don't let him forget about his legacy with the film.
"His new name now is ‘Hollywood,’ " his wife quipped.