Northside Documentarian Captures Pittsburgh’s Quiet Moments

Friday, 10 April 2020 11:01 AM Written by 


Willy James is your friendly neighborhood filmmaker, a storyteller who got started by making Pittsburgh culture-focused documentaries and vlogs. Many of his videos feature life in Northside, the neighborhood he calls home. 


“I got into creating videos by being curious about the community around me and trying my best to learn about all the great culture Pittsburgh has to offer. One of my favorite activities is connecting with others and I think creating videos has served me well, providing opportunities to work on projects around the city and beyond.”


Currently, James is working on the Pittsburgh Sleep podcast, where listeners can fall asleep to the sounds of the city. “It's like people watching, but for your ears,” James explains.  His goal is to expand an auditory experience, to “help to facilitate more events around the city where people learn about mindfulness meditation, how to get a restful sleep, and maybe even learn more about cognitive behavioral therapy.” He’s open to collaborators and partners and encourages anyone interested to reach out through the Pittsburgh Sleep website.


When he’s not creating, in a pre-quarantined world, you could find Willy James in the Strip District or breaking a sweat at 3rd Ave. Boxing or StoutPGH.

Headshot of Willy James

How has your practice changed over time?

Since the very beginning, my practice has been tied to my social life. It's impossible to overstate how much our community has helped me to become a better person. At the beginning, I had plenty of social anxiety, didn't know anyone in Pittsburgh, and I thought you put the camera on the tripod by placing it on top and spinning it. Pittsburgh has given me opportunities like helping to direct a commercial for the Pittsburgh International Airport, do photography for the Warhol Museum, collaborate with PWSA to highlight problems and solutions in our parks, and much more. I still consider myself a beginner, there's so much to learn.

What is your dream project?

I'm fortunate to have collaborated with Rick Sebak, the Pittsburgh legend himself.  Spending part of the day having lunch and filming with him to make a surprise announcement during my Film Kitchen theater showing cross-collaboration with Nick Childers was a real pleasure. Doing more projects with him would be a treat. I actually keep Rick's business card with me in my camera bag on every video I shoot.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given?

David Fincher told me when you look around at 3 a.m., your crew is looking exhausted, and you see them working hard... that's your crew. Not the people who left when it was their scheduled time to go. He also said I shouldn't get a tattoo and I ended up getting a big dragon.

How has COVID-19 impacted your practice?

COVID-19 has thrown everything out of whack for me but I feel determined to keep pushing forward. The quarantine has given me a lot of time to be introspective, plan, and prioritize. I now have to be resourceful with what I have in my immediate surroundings. I'm also using this as an opportunity to connect with the people I've been wanting to but haven't gotten around to. The biggest challenge I'm facing is probably not losing sight of the bigger picture, which talking with my friends has really helped with.

To keep up with Willy James’ projects and plans, check out Pittsburgh Sleep, or connect with him on Instagram and Facebook.


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