Sunday, June 28, 2009

Remembering Local Boy Billy Mays

He wasn't in the movies...but he was on TV. Man, was he on TV. And, he was another local kid made good in the entertainment field. So raise your bottle of Oxiclean (or, whatever) and offer a toast to Billy Mays.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Rennerdale...East of Hollywood but West of Pittsburgh...

Rennerdale is a tiny town just outside of Carnegie, PA, which is just outside of Pittsburgh. It's one of those "blink and you'll miss it" kind of places. I'd only gotten to know it at all when I moved out to the country a few years back and found it a handy detour around construction on the Parkway West.

If Pittsburgh has (slightly) become "Hollywood East" over the last two years, Rennerdale has become a common small-town location for filming in Western Pennsylvania.

A year ago last spring, some scenes for Shelter were shot on the Rennerdale section of the Panhandle Trail.

This spring, a wedding scene for the CBS pilot Three Rivers was shot at the Presbyterian Church.

Today, I took the back way to Pittsburgh and saw signs indicating Warrior was shooting in the area.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Report: Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit Hearing

Today, there was a hearing in Pittsburgh of the Pennsylvania House Tourism and Recreational Development on the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit. Since the film tax credit was passed in 2007, film production has exploded in Pennsylvania.

The meeting was chaired by Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland. The following members of the committee attended:

Pennsylvania House Tourism and Recreational Development

From left to right at the table:
Nick Kotik
Gary Haluska
Dan Moul
Frank Burns
Chris Sainato
Mark Longietti
Thaddeus Kirkland
Paul Costa
Dom Costa
Daniel Deasy
Susan Helm
Mario Scavello
Vanessa Lowery Brown
Don Walko (not at head table)

(The following House Tourism and Recreational Development members were not present: Stephen Barrar, Curtis Sonney, Brian Ellis, Keith Gillespie, John Pallone, Steve Samuelson, Scott Boyd, Rob Kauffman, John Payne, and Marguerite Quinn)

About 130 people attended, most of whom had connections to the film industry:

Hearing audience

The Pittsburgh Film Office worked with some local organizations to produce a T-shirt, designed by Beth Pedone, for audience members to wear. I didn't get a clean shot of the T-shirt at the rally, but here's what it looks like:

Save the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit T-Shirt

Representative Thaddeus Kirkland briefly opened the meeting, but before turning it over to Mickey Rowley, Deputy Director of Tourism for Pennsylvania, he made a point of putting on a "Save the PA Film Tax Credit" T-shirt.

Sean Fox gave a brief talk for Dan Onorato, and Bruce Kraus gave a brief talk for Doug Shields, promoting the film tax credit.

Mickey Rowley went on to present the highlights of an independent study on the economic impact of the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit. The report will be uploaded to the Film in PA Web site shortly. But the independent study indicated that not only does the film tax credit help create jobs and economic activity it more than pays for itself. The tax credit produces a very slight tax gain of about 4%. So, in short, if the Republicans are able to shoot down the Film Tax Credit, the state will lose a little tax revenue overall, in addition to the job, hotel room and rental loss.

Jane Saul of the Pennsylvania Film Office pointed out that we have to be able to compete with the tax credits being given out by other states. Almost every state now has a film tax credit for bringing film production to their states. Here is the testimony Jane Saul gave at a film tax credit hearing in Pennsylvania in early May.

Dawn Keezer of the Pittsburgh Film Office acknowledged the attendance of Russ Steiner, who was the producer of the Night of the Living Dead movies, some of the first movies shot in Pittsburgh in the late 60s. Keezer also reminded the audience that one of the very first film studios in the country was founded by Warner Brothers in Pittsburgh in the early 20th century. Since the founding the the Pittsburgh Film Office in 1990, 90 feature films and TV shows have been shot in Western Pennsylvania, generating over $325 million in economic development.

Dawn Keezer

Most of the people who presented testimony to the House Committee on tourism ran small businesses that film companies frequented. Local business who sent representatives to testify included Cherokee Helicopter Service, Haddad Rental, Peak Security, Cort Furniture Rental, Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and the Sheraton Station Square. All of these business have benefited from Pennsylvania moviemaking, and all support the film tax credit.

Alex Orlovsky, a producer for Blue Valentine, said the tax credit made it possible to film the movie in Scranton rather than film it in another state.

Union representatives from the Stage Engineers, Teamsters and AFTRA pointed out that their membership had grown and their members were making more money over the last two years.

Mary Jones, a Dean at DuBois Business College, pointed out they had recently added a filmmaking associates degree program to their curriculum. Finally, Jordan Lippert, a local college student, was hired to do carpentry work for several films in 2008 and now hopes to stay in the Pittsburgh area to work on future movies.

Members of the House Tourism committee were given the chance to comment. A number said how they enjoyed visiting Mogul Mind studio and the set of Warrior, currently being shot in Pittsburgh. They pointed out that Stephen Barrar, a member of the committee who was unable to come today, now favors the tax credit after reading the independent report mentioned earlier in the hearing. While the members of the committee at the hearing were overwhelmingly in favor of the tax credit, Dan Moul (Republican, Adams/Franklin) did not appear to be in favor, and Chris Sainato (Democrat, Beaver/Lawrence County) appeared to be somewhat on the fence. Mark Longietti (Democrat, Mercer County) asked "If the tax credit didn't work, why are so many other states pursuing it aggressively?" Vanessa Lowery Brown said that since our kids are consumers of entertainment products (movies/games), wouldn't it be nice if they could one day be producers of entertainment?

Committee members encouraged the audience to write to their state representatives and senators in support of retaining the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit.

The meeting was estimated to last about an hour, and ran about an hour and a half.

Audience leaving the hearing

Ironically, the same hallway of the Convention Center that saw the Film Tax Credit hearing today, was used as a TV show location for the Three Rivers pilot, for its view of the Allegheny River.

Allegheny River from the David Lawrence Convention Center, outside of Room 325

  • Post-Gazette on the hearing

  • Tribune-Review sent a photographer and perhaps a reporter to the hearing but haven't posted an article about the hearing at their Website

New Kid: Zachary Quinto

Remember nearly three years ago, when Heroes first season was terrific television? Hiro and Claire were two of the breakout character that first year, but Sylar provided more chills than most of the rest of the cast combined. Sylar was a mystery at first, but it turned out he was a young, eerie young man with a penchant for brains...eating them. Sylar could absorb other people's special powers in that way, which made him especially frightening and threatening.

Turned out, Sylar was played by a kid from Greentree named Zachary Quinto. He graduated from Central Catholic High School (about 15 years after its other famous alumnus Dan Marino) and from Carnegie Mellon University. While he was completely unknown to me, he'd been on a bunch of TV shows, and spent most of a season playing Adam Kaufman on 24.

I particularly enjoyed Quinto that first year of Heroes because he played dangerous so well. I didn't like Sylar since he seemed to have reformed at one point. I think that helped to suck the life out of the show.

When he was cast as Spock in Star Trek the reboot, it seemed like a good choice. I thought he played Spock perfectly. He really caught both the smarts and the usually inner angst of Spock. Leonard Nimoy, who knows Spock better than anyone, observed that Quinto brought a real intelligence to the part, that you knew something was always going on behind his eyes.

Quinto is one of those savvy young actors who is going to have a huge career.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Adventureland is a very good 20-something comedy with mildly serious overtones.

I don't tend to go to teen/20-something flicks these days, because most of them are gorefests or grossfests. And, let's face it, I'm in my 50s, and these movies generally are aimed at, well, teenagers. But a good teen/20-something flick is one that an broader audience should want to see anyway. American Graffiti. Say Anything. Clueless (heck, even Emma as a really-retro "teen flick"). I planned to see Adventureland as it was shot locally and I knew a handful of the extras (hi Ryan and Jojo) in the movie.

But, I also wanted to see Adventureland was because I worked at Kennywood for a few weeks in 1979. I made T-shirts and enjoyed that, but then the woman who'd been the T-shirt maker the previous year wanted her job back so I was kicked over to Skee-Ball. I lasted one shift in Skee-Ball and quit on the spot. No job is worth working in the noisy hell that is Skee-Ball. *oh the horror*

Adventureland was mostly shot at Kennywood. It was set in the faraway past of 1987, and reminds you how, well, timeless, large sections of amusement parks can be. I was unfamiliar with most of the actors in the movie, and all of them favorably impressed me, particularly the leads (Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart) and their slightly older friend Joel (Martin Starr). Eisenberg is a frustrated college grad who wants to go to grad school and Stewart is a disaffected college student who wants to get as far away from her father and step-mother as she can. There's the usual sex, drugs (mostly pot, some booze) and rock 'n' roll of many early-20-something flicks. But the kids did more than swear at each other or behave in disgusting ways. They reflected on where they were and where they hoped to be going...if they knew. They were all in the same boat - trapped in a sort of limbo between childhood and adulthood. And most of them wanted out.

I enjoyed Adventureland much more than I expected to. Greg Mottola, who both wrote and directed the movie, fairly accurately recreated those limbo jobs, which, once in a very great while, could change your life.

One of the funniest things I saw (and this probably only amused me, but what-the-hell) was that the Kennywood office hadn't changed at all since 1979. It still had a horrible rug and file cabinets that were always in the way. The movie ventured out of Kennywood, mostly to travel to dive bars, the kids' parents' houses, and provide a few nice shots of downtown Pittsburgh with the one of the bridges over the Allegheny framing the scene.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit Hearing in Pittsburgh, June 5

If you have any connection to or interest in local film making, come to this Friday's hearing, which will be at the David Lawrence Convention Center, room 325, beginning at 1pm.

The film tax credit has helped bring more film-related jobs to Pennsylvania, especially in the last two years. It helps generate higher revenues for hotels, restaurants and equipment rental companies. Come to help show your support for the Pennsylvania film tax credit. We encourage tax credit supporters to wear a T-shirt from a movie made in Pennsylvania.