Six Degrees of Pittsburgh
"Pittsburgh: The Place to Be an Indie Filmmaker”
Pittsburgh’s talent cup once again runneth over. This past weekend, the Pittsburgh-filmed and Pittsburgh-inspired film, Me, Earl, and The Dying Girl, based on the novel of Schenley grad Jesse Andrews who also wrote the screenplay based on a fictionalized version of his old high school where the film actually shot (as well as in Jesse’s actual childhood home), swept the Sundance Film Festival, winning both the Grand Jury and Audience Awards. Variety called the film which was bought by Fox Searchlight after a bidding war, “a touchstone that will endure for generations” and predicted it would connect with audience as much as the Pittsburgh-filmed Fault in Our Stars.
Winning the Grand Jury and Audience Award is an unusual feat, but even more remarkable, from a Pittsburgh perspective, is this is the second time in 3 years, a Pittsburgh-made film has won both prizes—as Blood Brother directed by Pittsburgher Steve Hoover and produced by Danny Yourd, both employees of the Pittsburgh-based Animal Media, won Sundance for their compelling documentary “Blood Brother” about their fellow AIU alum Rocky Braat who left Pittsburgh to work at an AIDS orphanage in India.
And all this comes as Moviemaker Magazine recently named Pittsburgh one of the top 5 small cities to be a filmmaker, stating that “the one time steel capital has transitioned to become a hotbed of entertainment production, with heavy emphasis on nurturing a crew base and creating opportunities for aspiring filmmakers.“
Perhaps that is why instead of choosing the traditional path of leaving for Hollywood, Steve and Danny have chosen to stay in Pittsburgh to make their next documentary, ”Crocodile Gennadiy” which is being produced again by Animal and legendary filmmaker Terrence Mallick. Animal is also collaborating with filmmaker Chris Preksta on a short film Echo Torch, which came out of the Steeltown Film Factory.
Preksta had the opportunity to make Echo Torch with a Hollywood partner, but chose to stay independent. He also shot a new webseries with his friend actor Curt Wooten using his Iphone, ”Pittsburgh Dad”, which has over 20 million views on You Tube. In a sign of the new media universe in which we live, just the ”Super Bowl” episode of Pittsburgh Dad alone garnered over one million views on its facebook page in its first 10 hours.
Preksta is an alum of Point Park University which produced The Chair, a Starz television show in which two directors make different movies from the same script. The critically acclaimed docuseries showcases Pittsburgh as a regional production center, and was brainchild of Good Will Hunting and American Pie producer Chris Moore who fell in love with Pittsburgh after serving as a judge for the Steeltown Film Factory, a local filmmaking competition, and produced Promised Land with Matt Damon, John Krysinski, and Crafton’s own Frances McDormand. Joining Moore as producing partners was Steeltown, WQED, and Before The Door Productions, a company formed by CMU alum Zach Quinto, Neal Dodsen,and Corey Moosa. Before The Door has produced the independent films Margin Call which was one of the first films to score on Video on Demand as well as A Most Violent Year which is just hitting theaters and was named ”Best Picture” the National Board of Review.
It is amidst this backdrop that the Steeltown Entertainment Project is announcing this Monday February 9th at the Melwood Screening Room the launch the pilot program of its Steeltown Indie program which will provide funding to independent films, TV shows, and digital media. Steeltown Indie is the next iteration of the Steeltown Film Factory, a filmmaking competition which has awarded over $150,000 in the past five years, nurtured over 20 short films, and helped create a growing community of filmmakers who work on each others movies.
Last year, after Jesse Andrews completed his second screenplay, his agent had recommended he meet with another novelist turned filmmaker, Steven Chbosky, the writer/director of Perks of A Wallflower, not realizing they were from the same hometown. When Steve came back home to speak at the Steeltown Spotlight Series last Fall, he spoke about how he had developed his writing and directing skills in Utah at Sundance labs which helped him hone his craft. For years, emerging talent has found themselves getting support and mentorship in places like Los Angeles, New York, and Utah. It is the hope of Steeltown Indie, which will match emerging talent with Steeltown's network of mentors from L.A., New York, and Pittsburgh, and that increasingly talent in Pittsburgh and those with SWPA roots, will find themselves with more reasons and resources which will compel them to stay or return to Pittsburgh to develop their projects and make their dreams come true. For we believe that Pittsburgh, the city which produced independent entertainment pioneers like George Romero and Fred Rogers, is on its way to becoming the best place in the world to make films, TV shows, and innovative digital media projects.