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Expect more Pittsburgh cameos in upcoming releases

By Ed Blank
Sunday, March 3, 2002

It's never enough, of course.

Pittsburgh actors and craftspeople involved in filmmaking here can't keep busy enough.

They'd love to have a "Silence of the Lambs," "Hoffa," "Inspector Gadget," "Lorenzo's Oil" or "The Deer Hunter" shooting here every month — preferably two or three at a clip.

But the efforts of some film folks, as well as western Pennsylvania's structures, skylines and topography, have been turning up with greater regularity than normal for the past six months. A few films shot during 1999 and 2000 surfaced during 2001 — three in September alone:

"Rock Star" with Mark Wahlberg, which did nine days of location filming here when the picture still was being called "Metal God," opened everywhere Labor Day weekend.

"Reversal," a surprisingly potent father-and-son domestic drama shot in Washington County, had a strong two-week test engagement in mid-Sember at Crown Center in Washington County, where it was made. It was written by its star, Oil City native Jimi Petulla.

"Out of the Black," made mostly in the Tarentum area with a cast including Tom Atkins and Dee Wallace Stone, premiered with a single showing in September at the Byham, Downtown.

Local playwright-director Melissa Martin's superb "The Bread, My Sweet" sold out its Three Rivers Film Festival premiere at Regent Square in November and opened to boffo business when it had its first regular engagement at the theater starting Jan. 18.

"The Mothman Prophecies," with Richard Gere, the highest-profile film to shoot here in recent years, opened wide locally and nationwide Jan. 25.

More projects are in pre-production, post-production or heading for theaters or video.

John Mouganis, whose "Archilles' Love" was one of the most sensitive movies to be filmed and run here theatrically, is hoping to have it in video stores by spring. He's coordinating deals with major retailers for the video and DVD release in addition to marketing them already through Greek-American magazines and an 800 number on the film's Internet site.

Mouganis is polishing a screenplay he calls "70 Times 7."

Writer-director Jack Russo is working on a distribution deal for "Saloonatics," a picture he shot in the fall in such communities as the South Side and Glassport. "The Living Dead," which he made earlier, is on home video in the United States and is going into theaters abroad.

Russo is developing financing for his next two projects, "Escape of the Living Dead" and "Club Fighter."

Writer-director John Fries is completing "Blue Myst Road," which he's co-producing with video producer Mike Martin and graphic artist-cartoonist Chip Kelsch. Fries, a Duquesne University graduate from Brighton Heights, has a background in marketing and public relations. His film concerns an apocryphal Green Man, whose skin discolored when he was electrocuted and is said to have been spotted in the area.

"It's about a female grad school student who's working on a project on urban mythology," Fries said. "Reality and fantasy begin to blur. He may not have existed. The question is: Is she imagining him?"

Tracey Taylor Perles, Sean Healy and Tera Psomas star in the long short, which is expected to run 30 to 45 minutes.

"I want to get it into film festivals and cable TV — the Independent Film Channel and the Sundance Channel, and we want to show it (publicly) here, too," Fries said.

Fox Chapel-based Scott Kerschbaumer, a co-producer of "Saloonatics," is marketing the "Decade of Champions" Steelers videos that director George A. Romero ("Night of the Living Dead," "Knightriders") made here in the 1970s with director of photography Bill Hinzman ("Saloonatics").

Kerschbaumer is just completing post-production on "Railed" with writer-director Ryan Fox. Six actors on a train trip from Los Angeles to New York interact with "real passengers" who don't know the actors. "The camera is a fly on the wall capturing what happened," he said.

Kerschbaumer and Fox could begin the Pittsburgh-set "Deja Vu" as early as spring.

In between he's producing a film called "The Lube" for writer Jeremy White and director Jonathan Dayton.

Kerschbaumer calls it "a 'Catcher in the Rye' kind of thing set in Bloomfield. The tuition of a kid at a prep school is being paid by a wealthy surrogate family. Cut to early adulthood. The matriarch has died and left him her estate. The title 'The Lube' refers to money being a social lubricant."

Chris McIntyre, a Pittsburgh native based in Los Angeles, has sold for international distribution his "Hammerlock," which he wrote, produced, directed and edited with a cast headed by Demond Wilson and Pat Morita.

It was shot here, in West Virginia and in California. Although most markets, including Pittsburgh, will get it on a direct-to-video basis during the second quarter of 2002, it will open in April in Magic Johnson Theatres in Los Angeles and possibly Dallas, Atlanta and Long Island, N.Y. The Johnson multiplex locations favor films with "urban action," he said.

McIntyre begins a western called "Ambush" in March but will return here in August for "Night Kill," a screenplay by Fred Stone, "about a female sheriff investigating killings which turn out to be by a werewolf."

"Brannen's Deal" also may be done here in the fall, but he has postponed his long-planned "Dick and Traci" indefinitely "because it's about terrorism in D.C."

Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office since October 1994, says no major-budget picture is on the horizon here.

"The industry is dead throughout the country," she said.

"We have enough money to get us through June — $100,000 to $150,000. We're looking forward to another Oscar night (March 24) at Loews Waterfront. We netted $100,000 from the one last year. If we can do that again, it would take us through the end of the year. We have $125,000, which we had requested through the State Film Office and which we'll get through the Department of Commerce within the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania."

Toward the end of 2001 the local film office received a grant of $50,000, lobbied through the Department of Community and Economic Development by state Rep. John Maher, an Allegheny County Republican. Four other Democratic state representatives — Brentwood's Ralph Kaiser, Ross Township's David J. Mayernik, Carrick's Harry A. Readshaw and Monroeville's Joe Markosek — have lobbied for an additional $40,000.

Everyone is in agreement, Kaiser said, that the Pittsburgh Film Office more than pays its way with the revenue it attracts and the good will that the district generates when filmmakers and stars work here.

The difficulty is in keeping the film office sufficiently funded (about $350,000 a year) and in attracting feature film production here.

"It's very hard for (American) cities to give the incentives Canada offers," Kaiser said. "It's hard to match them. We can offer almost anything they're looking for except desert, but so many of them go to Canada, especially Vancouver, because money talks."



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