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Is Pittsburgh The New Hollywood?

Pittsburgh is on track to become a major player in the entertainment industry, generating jobs and revenue. But there are challenges to realizing this dream.

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next three days

In The Next Three Days, John and Lara Brennan run from the old Children’s Hospital in Oakland to catch the T.

Photo by Phil Caruso/Lionsgate


Location, location, location

“Find me a blue house next to a red barn.” That’s the kind of request Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer hears from producers who are considering shooting in the Pittsburgh area. For many years, physical locations were the deciding factor in bringing film production to our area. The nonprofit film office, founded in 1990 and supported mainly by its annual “Lights! Glamour! Action!” fundraiser, keeps detailed files of places that are available to use as shooting locations. And they use those files to help achieve their mission: To motivate filmmakers to shoot here. The folks at the film office also help filmmakers working in this area find all the resources and manpower they need to produce their films, which sweetens the deal.

Although tax incentives are now the biggest factor (more on that later), our locations remain a truly potent draw. The rivers here are looking better than ever; some of the small towns around western Pennsylvania remain idyllic, and Pittsburgh city neighborhoods offer distinctive storefronts and houses. We do history with ease: In the 1984 release Mrs. Soffel, which starred Diane Keaton and Mel Gibson, the clocks were wound back to 1901 here in Pittsburgh. Last year, Eric Roberts came to shoot the gangster flick A New York Heartbeat, set in 1957 and due out in late 2011.

For the record, it’s possible to turn the clock ahead as well: For Robocop and The Road, we provided the future (though not exactly a cheerful one).

And consider: Downtown (where the spires atop PPG Place became the glittering lair of an evil genius in Inspector Gadget) is just 40 miles from the quiet back roads of Kittanning, Pa., which served as rural Kentucky for the FX network’s “Justified.” In between, you’ll find locations that can double for anything from San Francisco (Desperate Measures) to Ukraine (The Oksana Baiul Story).

Over time, Keezer says, producers have concluded that “we do New York better than New York does”—even for a movie about something as iconic as Rockefeller Center’s Christmas tree. To fake that, she says they used Mellon Square Park across from the Omni William Penn Hotel, and it worked like a charm for Sally Field’s directorial debut, the 1996 TV-movie The Christmas Tree.

Pittsburgh also excels at playing its present-day self in such movies as Smart People, Wonder Boys, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh and She’s Out of My League. The producers of Abduction opted to use the suburban beauty of Hampton Township, partly because the high school has panoramic windows in its art room and spacious cafeteria.

Paul Haggis shot extensively around the city while directing The Next Three Days, taking full advantage of the textured beauty of areas like the North Side.

As filming progressed, even the film’s star, Russell Crowe, found himself “enthralled with the city and its architecture,” says WTAE-TV anchor Sally Wiggin, who talked to Crowe during his stay in 2009. She recalled that as she taped an interview with him, “he even maneuvered us so that one of the beautiful old churches in Sharpsburg was over his shoulder as a backdrop.”

But these days, gorgeous locations are only the first step. Producers also expect us to show them the money.

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