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Pittsburgh Post-Gazette North

Aspiring filmmaker transfers
local urban legends to screen

by Jill Cueni-Cohen

Behind the lake in North Park, just off Babcock Boulevard, is a desolate unpaved road that extends deep into the swampy woods before eventually meeting Route 910.

Its official name is Irwin Road, but locals have dubbed the dark, foggy stretch of gravel and dirt "Blue Myst Road." It's been the site of many eerie tales, including the oft-told legend of the "Green Man."

Some say the Green Man committed suicide on Blue Myst Road and his face turned green in a grotesque death mask. Stories about the Green Man abound all over the area, with the creepy figure's color attributed to everything from electrocution to an industrial accident.

As a young boy growing up in Brighton Heights, John Fries sat around a bonfire with the neighborhood youngsters, listening to a friend's father tell spooky tales, a rendition of the Green Man among them.

The memory stayed with him, and when the same friend gave Fries a book about urban legends, it inspired him to write a movie script.

Fries said he initially wrote an article about urban legends three years ago while working in the public relations department at Passavant Hospital in McCandless. He was fascinated with the way such tales get told and passed along, changing with each storyteller to fit the surroundings.

That article prompted Fries to dig deeper and write the script that is now called "Blue Myst Road."

"In the film, a sleep-deprived graduate student is trying to complete a research project on Pittsburgh urban folklore when strange things start to happen," he said. Two of the three urban legends in the movie take place in the North Hills.

Fries collaborated with two friends - Mike Martin of Shaler and Chip Kelsch of Reserve - to produce "Blue Myst Road" as an independent film. At the same time, he was in the process of changing jobs, moving to a large public relations firm.

Fries had just started shooting the movie six weeks ago when he got "downsized" from the firm. Suddenly out of a job, he had lots of time to breathe life into "Blue Myst Road," which he expects to be 30 to 45 minutes long when complete.

Enlisting the aid of friends - some of them experienced actors, others first-timers - Fries has been able to keep costs at a minimum.

"The biggest investment has been buying refreshments on the set," he said with a laugh, explaining that no one working on the movie is being paid.

"It's almost like community theater. We're pooling our talent, our equipment and our time," he said. "These are people that I know and are friends of mine. I've told them, `Your name will be attached to the project everywhere it goes, and it's going a lot of places.' "

Local businesses, including Roma Restaurant and UPMC Passavant have been gracious about lending their facilites to the film. On location last week in Passavant's medical library, Fries was welcomed by his former co-workers, several of whom star in "Blue Myst Road."

Lee Ann McDowell, director of pharmacy at the hospital, said she was approached by Fries about acting in the film when they worked together. "Blue Myst Road" was little more than a concept at the time. "We were talking, and he said I might be good in the role of a pivotal character who ties the story line together," she said. "I've done minor modeling projects, but I've never acted," she said. "I never thought I'd do something so creative. Now I'm excited - the script tells a good story, and it's really been fun."

Another former colleague, PR specialist Jessica Weidensall, said she plays a "mysterious bookstore clerk who suggests a scary kind of book for a young guy who comes into the store." Also a novice at acting, Weidensall said she's intrigued by the movie's concept. "I was excited to try my hand at something new and different."

Tracey Taylor Perles, of Upper St. Clair, is a professional actress who's known Fries for years. "John and I are both board members of the Pittsburgh New Works Festival," she said after wrapping up her role as a librarian in the movie. Perles said she was most impressed with what her friend accomplished just in writing the script.

Fries plans to submit the movie to various film festivals in hopes it will get some recognition. He's been researching the various festivals in this country and elsewhere but hasn't yet decided where to send the finished movie.

"As we get closer to completing the final film, I'll start to decide which festivals I'm going to submit it to first," he said.

Fries, who once had a part in an "Unsolved Mysteries" episode and also acted in other projects, said he prefers being behind the camera directing and producing.

As "Blue Myst Road" nears completion, however, he's looking for his next day job. "I have no plans to leave Pittsburgh," he said. "I want to keep it on the filmmaking map. Pittsburgh has been a great place to have a career."

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