Why ‘Hollywood on the Mon’ Is Still Thriving

It’s not only the tax credits, number of local skilled crew workers, topography and architecture that draw movie companies here.
Mothman Sep22

PHOTO: SHUTTERSTOCK

Each month in our “On Location” page, Pittsburgh Magazine highlights locations around the Steel City where major movies have been filmed. This month, Sean Collier spotlights “The Mothman Prophecies,” the supernatural thriller released in 2002 that starred Richard Gere and Laura Linney.

Behind the scenes, these filming locations represent a lot more than just pop-culture references. The productions coming to “Hollywood on the Mon” have become an important economic engine for the region — and it’s an industry that keeps growing. State lawmakers this summer increased the state’s film production credit program in their 2022-23 budget from $70 million to $100 million a year, which gives filmmakers extra incentive to shoot here.

In pushing for the increase, Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, told the Pennsylvania Senate Finance Committee in April that more than 200 feature films and TV productions have been shot in southwestern Pennsylvania, generating nearly $2 billion in economic impact — and, at the time, another $500 million in productions were waiting in the wings.

It’s not only the tax credits, number of local skilled crew workers, topography and architecture that draw movie companies here.

“Filming in Pittsburgh was just a joy,” Christopher Nolan told the media in 2012 about his experiences directing “The Dark Knight Rises” (we featured Heinz Field in our July edition as the filming site for this Batman blockbuster). “It was fantastic to be able to shoot in that city, the people welcomed us and really let us do all kinds of incredible things here. It was a really, really good time.”

I experienced a small piece of this in 2016, when the ABC sitcom “Downward Dog” was filmed at my next-door neighbor’s house. The half-hour show followed the escapades of a philosophical mutt named Martin and his owner, Nan, played by Allison Tolman (critics called it “smart and clever,” but it was canceled after eight episodes).

The production company rented our garage for storage, our yard to accommodate all the electrical cables and our basement for makeup/prep work — and as a place for cast and crew to hang out between takes. Other neighbors provided similar support.

It was an enormous endeavor. Crew members would often arrive at 5:30 a.m. and continue production until 1 or 2 a.m. There were trucks parked all around the filming area and another dozen-plus nearby in an overflow parking lot by a shopping center. When filming ended, the crew praised the neighborhood for being so accommodating despite the disruption that lasted for weeks.

In “The Mothman Prophecies,” Gere played journalist John Klein, who was investigating freakish sightings of a manlike creature that led to a major bridge collapse; it was inspired by the real collapse of the Silver Bridge between Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Kanauga, Ohio, in 1967. I was an editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when “Mothman” was filmed in our newsroom (as a stand-in for a D.C. daily), and we were all encouraged to leave our desks as they were (the more clutter, the more authentic). The challenge was fitting production around a newsroom that operated 24/7.

The production company was thrilled to use a real newsroom, unlike the filming of “All the President’s Men” in 1975, when the Washington Post newsroom was recreated on two Burbank, California, sound stages.

Virginiathumb“Pittsburgh has a good reputation in Los Angeles as a friendly place to shoot. It has a very positive image,” Tom Rosenberg, founder of Lakeshore Entertainment, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when “Mothman” was filmed here. “The city went all out for us, and that was very important in our deciding to come here instead of shooting in Canada. The film office was great.”

Virginia Linn can be reached at vlinn@pittsburghmagazine.com.

Categories: Editor