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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On the Mount Washington set of 2009’s Bridge to Nowhere, which was produced in Pittsburgh.
Photo courtesy of Smithfield Street Productions
Those truck drivers are part of the next step in growing the local film industry. Movie fans know all about the glamorous work done by actors and directors, but the reality is that a movie gets made by an army of people. Drivers, electricians, carpenters, seamstresses and a huge variety of crew members are vital to the process.
Over time, the Pittsburgh region has developed a reputation for having world-class film crews—another major reason why a growing amount of production is happening here. Hollywood crews save money without sacrificing quality by hiring locally rather than bringing a crew here and housing them during the shoot. Not every region that offers tax incentives can make the same promise.
It was 1968’s Night of the Living Dead that first proved a movie made here with a local crew could capture enduring attention nationwide. It sparked the growth of training programs for technical staff that continues today, too.
The film’s co-producer Russ Streiner, who’s now chairman of the Pittsburgh Film Office, works closely with fellow Night of the Living Dead creator John Russo to train technical crew members at DuBois Business College in Clearfield County, Pa. And Tom Savini, the film’s makeup whiz, now supervises the Special Makeup Effects Program at Douglas Education Center in Monessen.
As training opportunities and experience have grown, the unions involved in film production in the Pittsburgh area have, too.
And this region has another secret weapon: Solid training programs provide a wide pool of talent. Don Wadsworth, professor of voice and speech at Carnegie Mellon University, worked closely with leading actors Joel Edgerton and Tom Hardy on the set of Warrior, which was shot here and is due out later this year. He coached these actors, one Australian and one British, to bring a Pennsylvania sound to their voices.
And he traveled to L.A. to take the California edge off Chris Pine’s voice for Unstoppable, also set and shot here.
CMU’s acting program has long had an impressive reputation. Blair Underwood, Holly Hunter, Zachary Quinto and Aaron Staton from “Mad Men” are among a long roster of its high-profile graduates.
When Hollywood filmmakers come to Pittsburgh to cast, “the directors are always impressed with what they see from the local actors,” says Pittsburgh-based theatrical agent Deb Docherty. “They’re pleasantly surprised.”
But here’s the rub: For the moment, those directors cast locally only for secondary roles and extras. Is it possible that will eventually change?