Thursday, December 30, 2010

My Top Ten Movies of 2010

1. The King's Speech
2. The Social Network
3. Winter's Bone
4. Inception
5. The Kids Are All Right
6. Fair Game
7. Easy A
8. The Ghost Writer
9. Love and Other Drugs
10. The Town

I would like to have been able to add more Pittsburgh-produced movies on this list. If I'd gone to "15 Top Movies," I probably would have added The Next Three Days as it was very good. She's Out of My League was fun, but not exactly best-of-the-year material.

Here's to some better movies made in Pittsburgh in 2011!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Unstoppable Review

This is the month when three movies shot in the Pittsburgh area last year are being released almost simultaneously. I try to go see most locally-made movies, unless they're just gorefests. I like to find locations I'm familiar with, and the work of people I know slightly who work in the industry.

The first of the three came out this weekend - Unstoppable, starring Denzel Washington and Chris Pine and directed by Tony Scott.

I'm not much for action adventure type movies, because they are mostly a mess of illogic. Unstoppable is no exception. I'm surprised that the reviews have been as positive as they have been. I'll admit it's a little exciting in places, but it really didn't hold my interest very much. The script has almost every action movie cliche and stock character you can imagine. Tiresome.

I'd like to say it was well-made, but the photography swings so much that it gets a little dizzying. I suppose that's part of the point - keep the audience off-balance so they can't think very much during the movie.

There are also stupid continuity problems. For whatever reason, while the movie is clearly set in Western Pennsylvania and a few scenes are actually set in Pittsburgh, the production decided to put in fake town names. I'm pretty sure the ending sequences were shot in Wheeling, West Virginia. So why not say the train was going to wind up in Wheeling? Why make up the name of another city that's larger than Pittsburgh but roughly in the Pittsburgh area?

Much of the movie was shot in small towns outside of Altoona, where train tracks parallel small country roads for a long time. One thing that was too bad is one of the most striking train vistas in the region is the Horseshoe Curve, which runs along a hill overlooking a valley. For whatever reason, they didn't/couldn't shoot from there.

At one point early in the movie, you see Channel 11 weather on in the background. It shows the highs in the 90s in southwestern Pennsylvania the day of the "train incident." At the end of the movie (which is either late in the day of train incident or maybe the next day), people are wearing mittens and scarves.

The acting was just tiresome. I've been a big fan of Denzel Washington, but he's done this upright/blue collar guy a lot over the last few years, and I know he can do better than this. Chris Pine is still so-so. The only performance that was at all interesting was Rosario Dawson who is stuck in a train control center for the entire movie. But she was the only person in this movie with any spark.

What made the movie kind of tolerable in places was comparing/contrasting corporate/government reaction in Unstoppable (which was shot in the fall 2009) and the BP oil disaster (which happened in mid-2010). You can almost see top-level corporate reaction in both being the same; that some of the people on the ground might have had a few clues but were generally ignored. The one "fed" in the flick initially seemed like he'd be part of the problem, but he wound up being useful.

So if you like a movie that basically screams "I'm a big video game," you might like Unstoppable. I saw this movie at noon in a suburban Pittsburgh theater that was about 2/3rds full (usually the first Saturday showing doesn't fill up like that, so that showed a fair amount local interest in the film).

Still looking very much to seeing Love and Other Drugs (every time I see the commercial, it makes me laugh) and The Next Three Days (which looks like it has striking Pittsburgh photography...and, heck, I might be in it as I was an extra in some of the airport scenes).

Monday, August 23, 2010

Abduction Extras Needed for 8/26 and 8/27

Abduction has been shooting in the area for about two months.
Their casting crew is looking for extras for late August, especially Thursday, August 26 and Friday, August 27.

To be considered for extra work, E-mail your photo to:,
along with your name, date of birth (need to be 18 to be considered) and your phone number.

Keep an eye on their Facebook page. Go to and search on "Abduction Extras" to find their extra casting calls.

If you've never been an extra before, while there's a lot of "hurry-up and wait," it's a fascinating experience if you want to watch the craft of movie-making. And, you get paid!

Surviving Your Days as an Extra

This is based on being an extra for 14 different films in the Pittsburgh market since 2008.  The bottom line is always pay attention to what the casting agent who contacts you to work and what the production assistants tell you on set, because some extra work requirements vary from place to place.  YMMV.

So you've just gotten a gig as an extra? Congrats! If you've never done it before, here are some things to remember.

  • Be on time.  If your call time is for 9am, get there a little before 9am. Call the casting office if you will be late or if something happened and you can't show up at all.  Follow the signs that say "Extra Parking" and "Extra Check-in" so you'll wind up in the right spot at the right time.  If the casting office tells you to call someone once you reach the extra holding area, don't forget to make that call when you arrive.
  • Bring a pen (or two), photo ID, something with your Social Security number and a government issued photo ID (driver's license/passport).   You will need to fill out paperwork once you get there.  If you have a small clipboard or even a piece of cardboard, that can help you do your paperwork since table space can be at a premium.
  • Part of the paperwork you will complete is a time sheet, which is typically a half-page 3-part form.  You will need to hold onto that form until you sign out at the end of the day, unless you are given a costume, and then the costume folks usually hold it for you.  You will not be paid unless you turn in a completed form at the end of the day, so always know where your time sheet is.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You may be standing around more than you realize. You may be walking much more than you anticipate.  However, if you have to wear uncomfortable shoes on set, be sure to have comfortable ones to wear once you leave the set.
  • Bring snacks. Yes, they will feed you, but sometimes having some fruit, hard candy and maybe even a sandwich can be very helpful. Also, a small bottle of water is a huge help because you can sneak that in a bag or a pocket and keep it with you.
  • If you may be outside, bring sunglasses, a cap and sunscreen. Sunglasses are a good idea in general as set lights can be murder.  Note that you may be told to remove the sunglasses and cap depending on what the director wants.
  • You will often be asked to bring extra clothes so the costumers can make decisions about what you will wear. Don't bring white or red, and don't bring items with logos.
  • Bring diversionary materials - books, eBooks, gaming devices, iPod, anything small. In most cases, a laptop or an iPad is too big. Another reason for bringing things like eBooks or small crafts - you might be asked to do something on set other than just sit. You might be asked to read or knit or play with a GameBoy, so it's handy if you have something like that on you that you can use.
  • A deck of cards can be a good way to make friends.
  • Listen to your production assistants (PA). Follow their instructions carefully. Don't lose track of them! PAs take a lot of flack, as they're wedged between the higher-level people making the movie and the extras, many of whom have never been on a set before. While some PAs could use a term in charm school, most of them are worth their weight in gold.
  • Don't bring a camera. Seriously. Almost nothing will get you thrown off a set faster than trying to take pictures.
  • Turn off your cell phone when you're called to a set.  Almost nothing is more embarrassing than a cell phone going off in a shot.  That, too, can get you booted off some sets.
  • Don't bring attitude. If you're a diva or a stalker, stay home. Remember, an extra is just a cooperative, mobile prop. Extras are often insurance so a director can use you in a scene when they're unsure whether to use extras or not.  You can wind up coming to set for days and never getting near a camera, but, remember, you're still being paid.  If you take yourself too seriously than that, you're going to have a rotten time. You have to look at extra work as if you're just being paid to read or chat with other people in extra holding, and if you do get to be on set, it's a bonus.
  • If you have screwed up and are told to leave the set, leave immediately.  Don't whine about it.  The more you whine, the more people will remember that you whined.
  • If they let you watch filming when you're not actually filming, stand out of the way and be very quiet.
  • Be polite to everyone.
  • Network - If you know about other extra jobs, share that information with extras who seem interested in other jobs.
Frankly, I could never be a "full-time" extra, but, a few days a year or a month, it's a ball!

Here's a similar survival guide more aimed at actors with lines than extras.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Pittsburgh Casting Call for I Am Number Four

Dreamworks Studios and Walt Disney Pictures are shooting I am Number Four in Pittsburgh this spring and summer. The extras casting director in Pittsburgh is seeking local people to work on the film as background actors. They are specifically looking for young men and women 18 years and older, looking younger to be able to portray high school students.

If interested please submit a color snapshot, age, weight, phone number, and location via email:

New Movie Organization In Pennsylvania - Pennsylvania Film Industry Association

There's a fairly new statewide organization, Pennsylvania Film Industry Association, that seems to serve two purposes - lobbying for the film industry and providing networking opportunities. They are planning an event for Pittsburgh in the not-too-distant future.

Movie-making is happening again in Western PA, after a few months of winter quiet. Could be another horror movie...

The early buzz on one of last year's local shoots, Love and Other Drugs, is very promising. I hope that turns out to be the case!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Steeltown Entertainment's Ready, Set, Produce

Steeltown Film Factory presented the culmination of its first-ever short film script competition by holding a workshop on production issues, evaluating the production information each of the script finalists had compiled. Previous workshops had included a seated reading of the 10 inital finalist scripts and a director's pitch workshop for the 5 semifinalists.

The judges could give the $25,00 film production pot to one finalist, or split it among multiple winners. The judges quizzed the finalists pretty closely, and clearly wanted as many specifics as they could glean.

I had a bias for "Lightweight" even since the initial reading. Sadly, the judges chose two winners and "Lightweight" was not one of them. They gave $12,500 each to the writers of "Roll the Die" and "Anywhere But Here." My preferences aside, much as I found "Roll the Die" a very amusing script, I just don't see how it could be produced for the budget it has (even given the fact that most short film makers cut their budgets every way they can).

But, I do look forward do seeing these movies. The short films are due to be shot early this summer, and are due to premiere at the Pittsburgh Film Festival in November.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No Pittsburgh Accents in She's Out of My League?

I was in a forum lately where people were complaining about the lack of Pittsburgh accents in She's Out of My League.

The Pittsburgh accent is tricky. The only people on the "national stage" who have a strong Pittsburgh accent are Dan Marino and Bill Cowher (and anyone who doesn't follow sports probably has no idea who I'm talking about). It was, frankly, better that the professional actors didn't try, unless they were good with accents.

The script was originally set in Phoenix, and the screenwriters did a good job resetting locations in the script to show off Pittsburgh.

However, they never paid any attention to local slang, so none was included. Pittsburgh slang is kind of funny and it's usually easy to guess from context. Some could have been worked in, but it wasn't.

Example - at one point near the end of the Penguins hockey sequence, Molly (Alice Eve - the blonde) yelled at a hockey player "Fox, keep your stick up!" OK, that was in the script (more or less - Fox was also the last name of the assistant director). During filming, the director asked for people to ad-lib yelling at the hockey players at about that point.

Alice, being British, chose to ad-lib "You wanker!" at one of the hockey players.

After the director yelled "CUT," about half the extras yelled, "Have her say 'You jagoff!'" which is Pittsburghese for "You wanker!" Sadly, that didn't happen. Now that would have been funny.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Tale of Two Cities - SouthSide Works Cinema - March 19-25

My Tale of Two Cities is Carl Kurlander's charming Valentine to Pittsburgh. It's a project he worked on for years in the mid-00s, and while it played a few festivals and came out on DVD, it never had the release it deserved.

This week, you'll have the chance to see My Tale of Two Cities at the SouthSide Works Cinema from Friday, March 19-Thursday, March 26. It's a fun look at Pittsburgh, with excellent photography.

Friday, March 12, 2010

She's Out of My League Has Opened

During the "crazy time" in movie-making in Pittsburgh, winter-spring 2008, no fewer than three different movies were being made simultaneously:

She's Out of My League
The Road

I was looking for some work, had always wanted to be involved in a movie. After signing up with the various extra agencies, I was called into be an extra for She's Out of My League. It was a lot of standing around and hurry-up-and-wait, but I really enjoyed it. And, there's always the danger that despite your ability to follow directions and be in the right place at the right time, that you never show up in the movie.

Laurie Mann near the set of She's Out of My League I'm happy to say I did get my two seconds of fame when I showed up in the hockey crowd scene. It was filmed during my two days of shooting in the arena. I then shot another six days in the airport, in various crowd scenes. Or, to look at it another way, I made about $800 for 2 seconds of screen time. ;->

League is a fun, raunchy comedy. Jay Baruchel, who is better looking in person, plays the awkward Kirk. Alice Eve, an English actress with a perfect American accent, plays the woman who becomes interested in him. Alice Eve's parents in the movie are played by her real-life parents, both well-known English actors with equally flawless American accents.

One common feature of the movies shot in Pittsburgh - the better the photography is of Pittsburgh, the worse the movie is. Inspector Gadget - a horrible, horrible movie with some of the best Pittsburgh photography ever. Smart People - a surprisingly bad movie with very good Pittsburgh photography.

By contrast, The Wonder Boys - a terrific movie that celebrates Pittsburgh architecture, but you'd have no clue you were in Pittsburgh except that the characters talk about being in Pittsburgh. The Road - shot mostly outside of Pittsburgh, has one or two neighborhood shots that makes the city, very appropriately, look like a post-apocalyptic mess.

Oh, the one exception to this, up until now, has been Carl Kurlander's My Tale of Two Cities, a charming documentary about Pittsburgh with great photography of the city. This is finally getting a formal theatrical release in Pittsburgh at the end of March - go see it!

She's Out of My League has great Pittsburgh photography and some excellent shots of the city from Mt. Washington. And they managed to keep the homeless people and drug addicts out of Market Square for a couple of days. Market Square actually looks like a place where adults would want to hang out after dark, proof that you can Hollywoodize almost anything.

This is not a brilliant script, but it is funny enough, especially the first half. As is usual with such movies, the male characters are a little better drawn than the female characters, who are generally cyphers. Nate Torrance is a particular stand-out as the only married guy of the bunch. For most of the movie, the writers seemed to be writing about sexuality and attraction as very horny virgins, but the characters were supposed to be in their 20s and at least somewhat sexually experienced. I supposed that's because the target audience is clearly teenagers. So the angst level is ratcheted up beyond all reason in places.

Still, even if you're not generally fan of the 20-something sex comedy or of movies that make Pittsburgh look like a great place to live (which, of course it is but people outside of town often don't know that), there might be enough silly jokes in this movie to make it a worthwhile diversion.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Steeltown Film Factory: The Director's Pitch

I wrote three weeks ago about how much I enjoyed going to the table reading of the 10 short film scripts judged qualifiers for the next round of the Steeltown Film Factory's script contest. Today, I went to the Director's Pitch seminar, which brought back the script finalists. Two of scripts I thought were particularly good were among the five finalists:

"Lightweight" and "Roll the Dice"

The other three finalists were "The Losing End," "Making Arrangements" and "Anywhere but Here."

Each of the finalists had 20 minutes to pitch their projects to Pittsburgh natives active in the film/TV business: Jamie Widdoes (director 2 1/2 Men), Heide Waldbaum (technical production for Spiderman 2/3, Avatar) and Lisa Smith (The People Speak, Project Greenlight). These industry professionals would then evaluate the project and the pitch and choose three semi-finalists for the next part of the competition.

Going into the pitch, Carl Kurlander, who moderated the event, stressed the importance of using the pitch to sell yourself and your passion for the project as much as the project itself. This turned out to be very true: of the five presentations, the two strongest "sellers" became finalists. However, I have to add that the two strongest sellers also had the best scripts. Some of the other finalists seemed to wander a bit.

After the pitches and some initial feedback by the evaluators, they retired to discuss the projects in more detail, and returned later to name the winners:

"Anywhere But Here," "Lightweight" and "Roll the Dice"

At the end of March, there will be a third "competition" among these scripts, and Steeltown will select whether to help fund one, two or all three projects.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

A Report on the Steeltown Film Factory Script Contest and Reading

I went to Steeltown Film Factory's Script Contest and Reading today. I think Carl, Jodi, Kris and the rest of the Steeltown team have done many interesting things related to promoting filmmaking in Pittsburgh over the last few years. While I did not have anything entered in the contest, I was curious to hear other people's short scripts be read and evaluated. The contest, which ran in November and December of last year, attracted 110 entries and announced 10 semi-finalists. Based on today's judging, there will be five finalists who'll be given a week to revise their scripts based on judges' comments (and, one hopes, the audience's reactions).

Drama students from CMU table-read the scripts. Final script judges were Asher Garfinkel, President of Readers Unlimited, Author, Screenplay Analysis: The Art and the Business, Bernie Goldman, Producer, 300, Land of the Dead, Minette Seate, Senior Producer, WQED Multimedia, and Laura Harkcon who co-wrote The Lost Room. It was very interesting to hear the judge's reactions to the scripts.

I wasn't a judge, and I liked all 10 of the semi-finalist scripts presented. But, in my opinion, these were the four best scripts of the day:

  • "N'At" by Adriana Ramires. The strongest script of the semifinalists, with the riskiest theme - when is a rape a rape? And how does the rapist deal with it? Very good characterizations, good sense of place.
  • "Jed the Humanoid" by Nate Minier. A fantasy about a robot who lands in 1996 and tries to adjust. Very funny; think of it as The Terminator turned inside out. The two stoners Jed winds up with were right out of "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." You can even friend Jed on Facebook!
  • "Roll the Dice" by Lawrence Phillips, Dave Fedor, Joe Wincgryk, II and John Freightner (AKA the comedy team Hustlebot). A script by four guys submitted to a contest about four guys who won a script contest and took their winnings to a casino to try to win more...Hysterical in places, and self-referential in a Charlie Kaufman kind of way.
  • "Lightweight" by Randy Kovitz & Deborah Hosking. A young woman returns to Pittsburgh after her father dies, and sees the clash between classic Yinzers and the rest of the world. Nice touch of magical realism, many good jokes about South Siders.

The contest judges will select five finalists, and I'll link to the list when they're announced.

I plan to go to the next Steeltown reading, which will be February 20th at Pitt, and see to how the five finalists revised their scripts. Steeltown will have information on that upcoming event soon!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Trailer for She's Out of My League Is Out - Movie Due Out 3/12/10

The trailer for She's Out of My League, that was shot here in Pittsburgh in spring 2008, has been released.

League trailer.

The trailer looks reasonably sharp, and Pittsburgh looks great!

However, IMDB also had an early poster up, and, sorry to say it, the poster looks awful.

Were you one of the thousands of extras to work on League? Want to have a premiere party when the movie's out? Leave a comment on this post, let's see what we can work out.