On Oscar Sunday Feb. 24th at noon, Steeltown and the Heinz History Center will be hosting a Pittsburgh Teen Oscar party at the Heinz History Center, celebrating the Pittsburgh/Hollywood connection with a Pittsburgh/Hollywood trivia game and special filmmaking workshop, giving young people tips on how they can make their own movies and make their dreams come true in the film business. But judging from the three years Steeltown has done their “Take A Shot At Changing The World” contest giving out over $10,000 in cash to students and their schools, it could be the students giving us tips. For they have come of age in a digital world, and we have been humbled by their talent.
Growing up here, I had little sense of the film business. I didn’t really even know that people made movies. I guess that is until my own mother, who had worked as an actress at the White Barn Theater was cast in a George Romero movie, and I was sitting watching dailies—takes of the film-- when she told me to go buy her a pack of cigarretes—because apparently there was something inappropriate in it. (The movie was called “Hungry Wives” and I have yet to see it for fear of…. Well, you get the idea.)
But other than that freak encounter, I really had zero idea of how movies were made, that being in the film business was something you could aspire to -- until I accidentally ended up going out to Hollywood because of a freak scholarship I had won by writing a short story called “St. Elmo’s Fire” about a girl from Pittsburgh who was a waitress at the St. Elmo Hotel where I was a bellhop while being pre-med at Duke University. Had I not seridipitously won the short-lived scholarshlp MCA-Universal Scholar Award, I would probably have become a gastroenterologist like my father and step-father. (My first joke was my mother never got divorced -- she just got referred to another husband. Ba dump bump.)
This year, while the many films which have shot in Pittsburgh have escaped nominations, it is still an exciting time to celebrate Pittsburgh and the movies with the South Side’s own Steve Chbosky just winning best “First Feature” at the Spirit Awards for “Perks of Being A Wall Flower” (pictured above) and “Blood Brothers” made by two Pittsburgh former Art Institute students about their friend Rocky Braat who went to help AIDS orphans in India, which won Sundance, just won “Best Documentary” at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. These days, it seems simply that Pittsburgh talent knows no bounds.
But the big goal of Steeltown is that talent does not have to leave Pittsburgh to have their dreams come true. And in some ways, that dream seems closer than ever. For just look at Steve Chbosky who wrote the novel “Perks of a Wallflower” inspired by his own adolescence growing up in Pittsburgh’s South Side, and waited 13 years to make the movie just the way that he wanted—writing and directing the movie for which he just won the Spirit Award for First Feature. And cannot imagine a more inspiration tale than that of the two former Pittsburgh art Institute Students, Steve Hoover and Danny Yourd, who followed their friend Rocky Braat to India where he was working with AIDS orphans which resulted in the film “Blood Brother” which they made downtown at media firm called ANIMAL which just one the Best Documentary from Big Sky having previously won the Grand Jury and Audience Awards from Sundance.
I cannot wait to see what Pittsburgh talent does next … And if you want to see what the next generation is up to, please join us at noon at the Heinz History Center for the Teen Oscar Party. There will be free pizza and prizes and a showing of Pittsburgh: Hollywood’s Best Kept Secret featuring folks like Academy Award winners like Shirley Jones and Rob Marshall, and even some special clips from Matt Damon and friends who were here last year inspiring a new generation to make movies and make a difference. See www.takeshotcontest.org for complete details.
(Top image: Steve Chbosky. Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)