PITTSBURGH HAS BEEN NAMED ONE OF MOVIEMAKER’S BEST PLACES TO LIVE AND WORK AS A MOVIEMAKER IN 2023!
Previously ranked No. 4 in Smaller Cities and Towns, Pittsburgh has joined the Big Cities list this year at No. 10!
The Pale Blue Eye, filmed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, one of MovieMaker Magazine‘s Best Places to Live and Work as a MovieMaker, 2023. Photo by Nate Patterson.
We used to list Pittsburgh as one of our best small towns, but it can hold its own against much bigger cities. Shockingly affordable, especially given its beautiful housing stock, it boasts architecture that begs to be filmed, rolling hills, countless bridges crossing its three rivers, and world-class museums, music and food. People who visit from elsewhere often wonder why no one’s ever told them how cool Pittsburgh is, so folks: We’re telling you now. Plenty of movie people get it, though. Last year Pittsburgh welcomed back Dark Knight Rises star Christian Bale for ThePale Blue Eye, one of many productions wisely seizing on the atmosphere and tax incentives that make the Steel City so inviting. Others include the new Tom Hanks drama The Man Called Otto and Season 2 of Mayor of Kingstown. The tax incentives are great: 25% percent for eligible projects, with an extra 5% if you use Pennsylvania-qualified production studios or post-production facilities. Of the $100 million available through the program, $5 million is carved out specifically for independent films.
Director Marc Forster, left, and Tom Hanks on the set of the Pittsburgh-shot film “A Man Called Otto.” (Niko Tavernise/Sony Pictures)
Marc Forster knew exactly what kind of city would provide the perfect backdrop for his new feature, “A Man Called Otto.”
“I didn’t feel it should be on either coast,” Forster told the Union Progress. “It felt like it should be in the middle of the country, but somewhere where there’s still a lot of culture.”
Naturally, those parameters led Forster to Pittsburgh. He and his production team spent parts of winter and spring 2022 shooting “A Man Called Otto” in Western Pennsylvania. The second film adaptation of Fredrik Backman’s 2012 novel, “A Man Called Ove,” about an old grump gaining a new lease in life, was finally released in Pittsburgh theaters last week.
The Union Progress recently caught up with Forster to discuss shooting “A Man Called Otto” in the Pittsburgh area, making a movie about neighborliness with the man who once played Mister Rogers, working with Schmagel the cat and more.
Forster is a Swiss filmmaker with an eclectic directorial filmography that includes 2001’s “Monster’s Ball,” 2004’s “Finding Neverland,” 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” and 2013’s “World War Z.” After reading Backman’s novel and watching its 2015 Swedish film adaptation, Forster realized this story would work in any language because “we’re all familiar with Ottos” and decided he wanted to direct a version for American audiences.
He had always wanted to make a movie in Pittsburgh thanks to friends who had done so and came back raving about the city’s film, food and art scenes. So, he decided to set up shop here for “A Man Called Otto,” which follows the titular Otto Anderson (Tom Hanks) as his attempts to commit suicide are continuously foiled by his oddball neighbors who slowly chip away at his crusty exterior and remind him that life is still worth living.
Production designer Barbara Ling stumbled upon the Bellevue cul-de-sac that served as the film’s primary setting on Google Earth, Forster said. The opening scene of “A Man Called Otto” takes place inside the Busy Beaver of Lawrenceville, and another prominent moment occurs at Stangl’s Bakery in Ambridge. Forster explained that a scene where Otto contemplates suicide by train was shot in Lawrenceville on artificially created tracks because the railway they wanted to use was closed for construction.
Forster had nothing but admiration for Pittsburgh as a city and place to shoot a Hollywood movie.
“I loved it,” he said of his time in Pittsburgh. “I would come back any day again. I thought the crew was terrific, the people were amazing. I loved the food. The whole experience was amazing.”
Toward the end of his Monday interview with the Union Progress, producer Renee Wolfe hopped on the line to share her equally glowing review of Pittsburgh. She appreciated the “kindness and sense of community” here, as shown by the neighbors who brought over housewarming gifts during her temporary stay in Shadyside.
“We’re all trying to figure out who we are in America,” Wolfe said. “As we move forward into the next chapter, there’s something about Pittsburgh that has all the right elements. It’s going to be one of the most important cities in the next dialogue we have as Americans.”
“A Man Called Otto” is an unapologetic tearjerker that had me in a glass case of emotions by the time its end credits began rolling. Most of the heavy lifting is done by Hanks, who made his triumphant return to Western Pennsylvania following his Oscar-nominated turn as Fred Rogers in 2019’s Pittsburgh-shot “A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood.” Forster credited Hanks for so vividly portraying “all the different shades of grumpiness in Otto.”
“When you work with an actor like this, I think it matters a lot that we both have very similar sensibilities of what we’re going after,” he said. “He has such great talent. As a director, it’s like talking to a great violinist. ‘Play a little faster, play a little slower.’ I gave him direction, and he just did it.”
Just as key to the cinematic alchemy of “A Man Called Otto” was the supporting cast, particularly Mariana Treviño’s Marisol, Otto’s new neighbor who refuses to let him languish in his misery. Forster said that he was blown away by Treviño’s audition tape, which she filmed herself from a hotel room in Spain while playing multiple characters. She was “so good and brilliant” that he no longer had any desire to see anyone else for that role.
Another critical piece of the puzzle was the stray cat that Otto reluctantly adopts. Though some of Otto’s furry companion was crafted via effects and dummies, Forster said that 90% of what viewers see on film was performed by Schmagel, a feline hailing from Columbia County in northeastern Pennsylvania.
“Sometimes he really performed and did things, and sometimes he didn’t,” Forster said. “I’m just relieved that the cat worked out so well.”
The film walks a tonal tightrope between Otto’s very real depression and lighthearted high jinks, a dichotomy Forster thought was important to display on screen “because that’s what life is often like.” He didn’t have Mister Rogers on his mind while shooting a movie about what it means to be a good neighbor in Pittsburgh, but the theme is still prevalent throughout “A Man Called Otto.”
“We live in a very divided world right now,” Forster said. “One of the things that I thought was interesting about this book was that it became so much more relevant in this day and age after the pandemic when loneliness became so much more acute. It’s about this man who has given up on life, and ultimately it becomes this life-affirming journey of this community coming together.”
His final message to the Western Pennsylvania community that helped him bring “A Man Called Otto” to life: “It was just an amazing time there. We’ll never forget it.”
Forged in steel, the Mon Valley may soon become a hub for the big screen.
A film studio housing sound stages is one of two flex buildings being developed at the historic Carrie Furnaces property as part of its long-awaited revival.
Officials gathered Thursday at the sprawling site bordering Swissvale, Braddock and Rankin for a groundbreaking in advance of construction, which could start on both buildings sometime next spring.
Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, said her goal is to turn the former brawny industrial site into a campus for the production of TV shows and movies. It has been dubbed the Film Furnace.
“We’re going to make this the center for the film industry,” she said.
The Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania is overseeing the transformation of the site, which features 55 acres of developable land.
It plans to start with the construction of a 60,000-square-foot tech flex building next year, to be followed shortly thereafter by the work of the film studio.
The projects represent the first tangible pieces of development on the property, with the imposing Carrie Furnaces serving as a dramatic backdrop of its past — and perhaps as a prop for its future.
“This truly is a phoenix rising from the ashes,” said state Sen. Camera Bartolotta, R-Monongahela, who is co-chair of the Senate’s Film Industry Caucus and a film office board member.
Ms. Keezer said the type of film village envisioned at Carrie Furnaces will help the region to compete more effectively with states like New Jersey, Georgia and New York, which are building their own facilities.
“Today’s really an amazing day. It’s been years in the making. And we’re thrilled to be able to tie the history of our past with where we’re going in the future,” she said.
The region, Ms. Keezer noted, is on a roll in terms of film production.
Last year brought 11 projects, with another 10 scheduled for this year. They represent about $300 million in investment and 10,000 jobs, she said.
The Pittsburgh Film Office has received $2.85 million in state redevelopment assistance capital grants and a $3 million federal grant to help with the construction.
Coupled with private investment, Ms. Keezer is confident the funding will be available by next spring to start work on the 60,000-square-foot film studio.
“We want it to be the go-to place for the film industry in southwestern Pennsylvania,” she said.
She ultimately hopes to create up to six sound stages on the property and attract other film-related offshoots like props, costumes, casting and special effects as well as restaurants, coffee shops and the like to serve the people working there.
“We see it as a real catalyst for the building and all the positive changes happening down here in this area,” she said.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald envisions the Carrie Furnaces complementing Hazelwood Green and other former mill sites in McKeesport and Duquesne that are being redeveloped.
Those facilities that “used to be such a production haven for steels and metals way back when are now going to be a haven for technology and film and IT and life sciences and all of the things Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region is becoming,” he said.
Before work can begin on either of the first two buildings, the RIDC will be installing roads, utilities and other infrastructure, President Don Smith said.
Including those costs, the first flex building development is expected to total about $20 million, he said. The film studio will cost “in the teens of millions.”
Mr. Smith doesn’t anticipate a problem attracting interest in the first building, which is being started without a signed tenant.
“I think there’s a lot of possibilities. We’re actually seeing probably some of the strongest industrial demand that we’ve seen certainly in my 14 years in the business. It ranges everywhere from R&D to light assembly to manufacturing.” he said.
U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, said the redevelopment of the site has been “a long time coming.” He said his grandfather worked at the Carrie Furnaces for 40 years.
In addition to helping with the $3 million in funding for the film studio, Mr. Doyle was instrumental in securing a federal grant to build a flyover ramp into the site that was crucial for its redevelopment.
“Like many of us here in the region, it’s made a lot of us sad to see this site sitting empty and being an economic burden on the surrounding communities when its redevelopment could bring new businesses and jobs to the area,” he said.
“So I’m very pleased that today we’re breaking ground on the first phase of this very important project.”
The RIDC believes the 55 acres of developable land could accommodate as much as 600,000 square feet of new construction. Another 11 acres are available west of the site for a potential future phase.
RIDC officials have an option to purchase land from the county’s redevelopment authority, which is the owner of the property.
The Carrie Furnaces tower 92 feet over the Monongahela River and were once part of the U.S. Steel Homestead Works. The site, which dates back to 1884, has been designated as a National Historic Landmark.
A slate of federal, state, and local officials gathered Thursday to break ground for a 60,000-square-foot tech space near the historic Carrie Blast Furnaces in Rankin. All said they expect development on the site, which once churned out iron to feed the region’s storied steelmaking industry, to forge new possibilities for the Mon Valley.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said Congressman Mike Doyle, whose grandfather, Mike Doyle, worked at the Carrie Furnaces after emigrating from Ireland. Doyle, the U.S. representative, helped to secure funding for the site over many years.
“There’s been a steady stream of investment and focus on bringing this site back to life,” said Donald Smith, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, or RIDC. The site, he predicted, will soon host “great jobs that will sustain families across our region, and contribute to the economic prosperity of these three important towns that this site touches: Swissvale, Rankin, and Braddock.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said that what was once a haven for metals production is now going to be “a haven for technology, and film, and IT, and life sciences and all the things that Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh region is becoming.”
RIDC aims to attract new companies with a pair of 60,000-square-foot buildings that can be converted to a variety of uses, as well as by further building out the infrastructure on the 55-acre site with new roads, bike lanes, and sidewalks. RIDC is also working with the Pittsburgh Film Office to create “The Film Furnace,” a film studio with a sound stage and other facilities to attract television and movie productions.
A purpose-built soundstage is “really needed by our clients,” said Dawn Keezer, who directs the Pittsburgh Film Office. In 2021 and 2022, more than 20 projects were shot in Pittsburgh, bringing more than $300 million and 10,000 jobs to the area, she said. The sound stage is expected to only increase the region’s draw.
While RIDC is acting as the developer on the site, the land is owned by Allegheny County. In September, county officials announced a multimillion dollar effort to build a non-motorized connection between the Carrie Furnaces and the Great Allegheny Passage. On Thursday, officials said that investment allows the site to piggyback on the investment all along the GAP, from Downtown through Hazelwood and Hazelwood Green.
The Carrie Blast Furnaces were part of U.S. Steel’s Homestead Works, and employed thousands of people before they closed in 1982. Nonprofit Rivers of Steel has worked to preserve the furnaces as well as open them to the public.
Smith thanked Rivers of Steel for their work in preserving and sharing the story of the furnaces, “so that our kids can understand what this region was all about back in the day, while we’re busy creating what this region’s going to be about in the future.”
The first is being marketed as a tech flex space and the other will be a film sound stage and production facility.
Roads and other infrastructure for the 55-acre site are starting construction this year. Carrie Blast Furnaces is a preserved brownfield site that was part of the Homestead Steel Works.
The site is being developed by the Regional Industrial Development Corp. Its president, Don Smith, said at a news conference the film building will be the first purpose-built soundstage in the Pittsburgh area. He said the two buildings are part of eight total plots that RIDC expects will eventually bring hundreds of jobs to Carrie Furnaces.
“This site represents economic progress for our region,” Smith said. “A site for jobs that will sustain families.”
Smith recognized U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, for helping to secure millions of dollars in funding for the site, including the initial federal dollars for a flyover bridge that made the site accessible.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Doyle, who added that his grandfather worked at Carrie Blast Furnace after immigrating from Ireland. “We have been working hard to put abandoned properties like this back into use again.”
The initial tech-flex building and its infrastructure will cost nearly $20 million, which includes a combination of federal budget appropriations and private grants and loans and equity provided by RIDC.
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald called the site “hallowed ground” because of the steel industry’s’ role in building the country and winning wars.
“As the Mon Valley used to be used for the production of steel, now it will be for the growth of tech, life sciences and other industries,” Fitzgerald said.
He said the site is situated well for access, as it is located near the East Busway and will soon be getting a bike-and-pedestrian trail extension thanks to a $9.2 million allocation from Allegheny County.
Pittsburgh Film Office Director Dawn Keezer said the development would be a boon for the local film industry. She said film clients really needed a new space.
Smith also expects the buildings will help boost the film industry, as two repurposed sound stages in the area have recently been taken offline.
“This will tie the history of our past with where we are going into the future,” Keezer said.
Ryan Deto is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Ryan by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .
Photo courtesy of Ron Baraff / Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area.
Carrie Furnace breaks ground on tech/flex space with a film studio in the works
The monolithic steel-era ruins of the Carrie Furnace have long been a popular backdrop for film and video — from the Christian Bale crime thriller “Out of the Furnace” to “American Ninja Warrior” to Wiz Khalifa’s music videos. Now, the massive site along the Monongahela River is getting its own movie studio.
“This will be the first purpose-built sound stage facility in the region,” says Dawn Keezer, director the Pittsburgh Film Office. “It’s really needed by our clients. We had 11 projects shoot in 2021. We’ll have 10 projects shoot this year. They’ll be bringing with it about $200 million in new money to the economy, and we’re talking about 10,000 jobs.”
While funding and the final design for the studio are pending, Carrie Furnace is getting its first new building, a 60,000-square-foot tech/flex space designed to attract the kinds of companies that are fueling Pittsburgh’s economy. Officials from the city, state and neighborhoods helped break ground for the project on Thursday morning.
Carrie Furnace. Photo courtesy of the RIDC.
“This Carrie Furnace site was the economic epicenter of this region and created family-sustaining jobs for so many,” says Don Smith, president of the Regional Industrial Development Corporation (RIDC) which is developing the site.
“And we all know about the difficulties that happened with the deindustrialization of the United States; it certainly hit Pittsburgh harder than most. But thanks to the efforts of so many folks, there’s been a steady stream of focus and investment in bringing this site back to life.”
The building and infrastructure will cost $20 million coming from a combination of public and private grants and loans and equity provided by RIDC.
The Carrie Furnace property has 55 acres of developable land, with 11 more acres available west of the site for future development.
Rivers of Steel will continue to preserve the remaining Carrie Furnace steel mill as a national historic site, showcasing the region’s industrial heritage.
Groundbreaking event at the Carrie Furnace. Photo by Mike Machosky.
“When my grandfather immigrated from Ireland and landed in Swissvale, he got a job at Carrie Furnace,” says Congressman Mike Doyle. “And he worked there for 40 years. And his son, Mike Doyle, worked a few miles down at the Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock for 30 years. And his son worked two summers at J&L (Steel) and said, ‘I don’t want to be a steelworker.’”
Doyle notes that he helped secure $3 million in the House’s 2023 spending bill for the film production facility.
“All of us who grew up here are proud of the legacy our fathers and grandfathers left us,” says Doyle. “They did hard, dangerous work here at Carrie Furnace, and they did it to support their families … that’s why it’s been a labor of love for me to work to preserve Carrie Furnace.”
Dear Zoe is a powerful coming-of-age story of resilience in which teenage Tess enlists the support of her biological father – a lovable slacker – and the charming juvenile delinquent next door in the aftermath of the death of her little sister, Zoe.
The movie is based on the novel by Pittsburgh author, Philip Beard, and the screenplay adaptation was written by Pittsburgher Melissa Martin, and Pittsburgh native, Marc Lhormer. Marc and his wife, Brenda, produced the film under their shingle Zin Haze Productions. The movie was shot entirely in Pittsburgh, PA in the fall of 2019. Key locations included Braddock, Kennywood, Squirrel Hill, downtown Pittsburgh. This movie is truly a love letter to our beautiful city!
Directed by Gren Wells (The Road Within), Dear Zoe stars Sadie Sink (Stranger Things), Theo Rossi (Sons of Anarchy), Jessica Capshaw (Grey’s Anatomy), Vivien Lyra Blair (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Justin Bartha (National Treasure) and newcomer Kweku Collins.
Dear Zoe can be seen in select Pittsburgh theaters and will be available to rent or buy on multiple video on demand platforms as of Friday, November 4!.
Don’t Miss A Chance to Attend the Red Carpet Premiere of Dear Zoe on Wednesday, November 2!
5:00PM Red Carpet Arrivals and Hosted Reception, August Wilson African American Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Avenue
6:15PM Opening Remarks
6:30PM Dear Zoe Screening
8:00PM Q&A with Cast
$95 tickets go on sale September 24th at the August Wilson African American Cultural Center. A share of net proceeds will go to Pittsburgh’s The Caring Place, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that supports grieving children and their families.
Most Hollywood movies and shows that film on location don’t leave much behind once production wraps. Anyone stepping foot on the Community College of Allegheny County’s Boyce Park campus, though, will have direct access to a piece of impending television history for as long as it remains standing.
Last year, Amazon Studios and Sony Pictures Television built a brand-new baseball complex over the old CCAC Boyce field to serve as the home stadium for the Rockford Peaches in “A League of Their Own,” the TV adaptation of the 1992 Penny Marshall movie about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. The eight-episode first season that filmed throughout Western Pennsylvania last summer and fall is set to debut Aug. 12 on Amazon Prime Video.
The stadium was built to look at home both in World War II-era Rockford, Ill., and modern Western Pennsylvania so it could be used by the community in perpetuity. CCAC has already taken full advantage of the stadium’s presence on its Monroeville branch campus as both a home field for its newly rejuvenated baseball team and as an invaluable recruitment tool.
“We really appreciate the exposure we’re receiving,” Bob Keslar, CCAC’s athletic director, told the Post-Gazette. “The show isn’t even out yet and people are talking about it. It’s been a great relationship, and we’re really grateful for this opportunity to showcase our facilities and our athletes.” Joshua AxelrodAmazon drops first trailer for locally filmed ‘A League of Their Own’ series“A League of Their Own” producer James Dodson during construction of the Rockford Peaches’ home stadium on the campus of CCAC Boyce in June 2021.(Eric Dilucente)
‘Walking back in time’
Bill Spina recently completed his first year as CCAC’s head baseball coach after spending four years as an assistant. The Plum native grew up playing ball at the old CCAC Boyce field and said that it was a pretty nice ballpark “until the upkeep was neglected.”
That’s the state the field had fallen into when “A League of Their Own” location manager Eric Dilucente came across it in spring 2021.
“There wasn’t a stadium,” Dilucente said. “What they had was two dugouts and some wooden bleachers.”
The Forest Hills native with 30-plus years of entertainment industry experience had been scouring the East Coast for weeks to find a park suitable for the Peaches’ home stadium since filming of “A League of Their Own” was suddenly moved from California to Western Pennsylvania. The production also secured Aliquippa’s Morrell Field to film Peaches away games and built a smaller field on an industrial site in Ambridge for another important storyline.
Eventually, Dilucente, who took classes at CCAC before getting a degree at the University of Pittsburgh, narrowed down his choices for the Peaches’ home stadium to a field in Erie, Pullman Park in Butler and CCAC Boyce. CCAC’s spring baseball season was canceled in 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so their field wasn’t in use at the time. The crew ultimately opted to build over CCAC Boyce’s field in an effort to acquire “a permanent structure” they could use again for any subsequent seasons, Dilucente said.
Construction took place from May to July 2021. The entirely local crews did everything from pouring 120 yards of concrete for the base paths and foundation to obtaining specialty steel despite supply-chain issues. Anyone who appreciates the stadium’s 1940s aesthetic on “A League of Their Own” can thank the likes of Harmony-based contractor Modany Falcone and Downtown-based Atlantic Engineering Services for bringing the stadium to life.
“Our construction crews and our team were unbelievable,” Dilucente said. “When they build something, you feel like it was always there. You feel like you’re walking back into time.”CCAC catcher Derek Colon takes a swing during the district championship series against North Carolina’s Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute on May 13, 2022, on CCAC’s Boyce Park campus.(CCAC)
That stadium feel
Bob Kelley had only been CCAC’s assistant general counsel for about a month when the notion of building a stadium for “A League of Their Own” came to his attention. Since there was a lot of turnover happening at CCAC during that period, Kelley wound up being Dilucente’s primary point person and became a de facto “project advocate” trying to convince his colleagues that the new stadium could be “a showpiece for the college.”
When Kelley visited the construction site, he expected to find a “very nice skeleton of a ballpark.” Instead, he said “it was like stepping into a time capsule.” The stadium’s partially peeling paint and slightly rusted light fixtures made it feel like it had been there for many years.
“It took a while to get everything teed up from a contractual perspective,” Kelley said. “It overshot everyone’s expectations.”
Since “A League of Their Own” vacated the stadium, it has hosted a few youth teams, some local high school squads and served as the primary home field for CCAC’s baseball team. Keslar said some small adjustments were made to comply with current requirements. For example, since protective screens behind home plate didn’t exist in the 1940s, one had to be temporarily installed.
CCAC baseball enjoyed a terrific spring 2022 season that included winning both its conference and region. The new stadium was the site of a May district championship series in which CCAC ended up falling to North Carolina’s Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. Keslar said that about 100 fans lined the grandstands for those contests, which Spina thinks is the “most attention we’ve had from the college probably ever as a baseball program.”
“The atmosphere is fantastic,” he said. “The sound from the audience really echoes and permeates. It gives you that really good stadium feel. … It gives you extra motivation as a player once you hear the roar from a crowd.”Abbi Jacobson, left, and Chanté Adams in the Pittsburgh-shot Amazon Prime Video series “A League of Their Own.” (Amazon Prime Video)
Pittsburgh Film Office director Dawn Keezer sees the CCAC Boyce stadium as physical evidence of the “far-reaching impacts” production work can have on local communities. In her estimation, the Western Pennsylvania crews who built it more or less from scratch “knocked it out of the park with a fabulous baseball stadium that I can’t wait to see on screen.”
As someone who had some connection to CCAC, Dilucente loved doing something for the school “that carries on and pays it forward to the community.” He hopes the stadium inspires fans to visit the Boyce campus once audiences see it in action on “A League of Their Own.”
“People don’t see the tourist value or advertisement value of filming,” he said. “Every neighborhood we go into, we spend tens of thousands of dollars and pump that into the local community. … That money is directly felt in all these communities. There are so many places where that makes a huge difference.”
One of those places is CCAC’s baseball program. Spina said that he has 13 returning players and 28 new recruits coming in this year. He believes the facilities Amazon and Sony created “played a large role” in convincing those players to give CCAC a shot.
If all goes well, the stadium will be open for public use “in a meaningful way” by next spring, Kelley said. Vlad St. Surin, CCAC’s dean of students for engagements, plans to hold a formal ribbon-cutting ceremony to commemorate the occasion.
“Everyone to some degree has an opportunity to make money, but very few have the opportunity to make history,” St. Surin said. “Because of the stadium being built, we have an opportunity to make history, build on it and serve our students.”
Classes at CCAC resume Aug. 22, and Spina plans to give his players a brief reprieve before fall-season practices start Aug. 29. He knows they’re excited to see their ballpark on “A League of Their Own” and said he’ll hold a viewing party for them once everyone is back on campus.
If the series does return to the area for more filming, he has no problems sharing his home field — as long as they can work around his team’s schedule.
“We thank them and hope the series is a success,” he said before adding with a chuckle: “We’re excited to get our field back 100%.”
Just last week, hometown hero Billy Porter’s made-in-Pittsburgh directorial debut, the coming-of-age romantic comedy “Anything’s Possible” hit Amazon Prime — but it’s far from the region’s only connection to Hollywood.
The Pittsburgh Film Office estimates that Western Pennsylvania saw about $330 million in economic impact from film and TV productions in 2021, though those numbers haven’t been finalized yet. For comparison, the annual average was about $150 million before 2021.
And 2022 looks like another blockbuster year.
Still from the “Anything’s Possible” trailer.
The local industry is growing, but so is the need for infrastructure.
Enter Carrie Furnace stage left.
“We’ve done well, using our repurposed warehouses,” says Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office. “31st Street Studio in the Strip has been amazing. We’ve got the former American Eagle distribution warehouse in Warrendale. We’ve got two former Westinghouse facilities that are being used as stages; we had a closed JCPenney as a stage out on Route 28 (for “Cha Cha Real Smooth”).
“What we’re building is something that can be used today, and for the filmmakers of the future. … This is important because the clients coming in expect to find this kind of facility … and we’d like to centralize the industry in one place.”
The state has awarded $7.6 million in grants and loans to the site’s owner, Regional Industrial Development Corporation. The bulk of that is for site preparation, infrastructure, roads, parking, and utility work needed to construct a 50,000-square-foot building hosting multiple sound stages.
“Pittsburgh is definitely a hot city for filming,” says Jesse Cute, vice president for Allied Global Marketing in Philadelphia, which promotes much of the film industry in the state. “Our film commissioner in Philly gets Pittsburgh-envy sometimes.”
Billy Porter mural featured in a still from “Anything’s Possible” on Amazon Prime.
So, Burbank by Braddock — that’s the plan?
“Ideally, we’ll have six more stages down there, plus the outbuildings that you need to make the industry happen, like production offices,” says Keezer. “And then, the longer-term plan is to have some businesses relocate down there to service the industry — what we’re calling the Pittsburgh Film Furnace.”
State tax credits end up influencing where a lot of film and TV projects end up. Pennsylvania boosted its film tax credit program to $100 million, a 30% increase, notes Keezer, but there are still more productions interested than there are tax credits available.
The areas in pink are envisioned as the most imminently developable parts of the Carrie Furnace site, spanning Swissvale and Rankin. The eastern end of the site (to the right) is expected to be developed first. Photo courtesy of the Allegheny County Department of Development.
This is a notoriously mobile business, and the film industry is growing outside of California in places such as Atlanta, New Orleans and Vancouver.
But Pittsburgh has a few built-in advantages. Unless you’re looking for beaches or deserts or a few other particular things, you can find just about any kind of “look” here, from Manhattan-like skyscrapers to the densely wooded wilderness — all just minutes apart, instead of hours. There are well-preserved buildings from many eras, from the 1900s to the 1990s. Crime drama “Mayor of Kingstown” was lured back to Pennsylvania for its next season from Canada, because it can use Erie for waterfront scenes. Also, there’s one thing you can find here that you won’t find in many other places: gigantic factories, like the former steel mill at Carrie Furnace.
“If we need a steel mill (for a scene), well it’s hard to use a working steel mill,” notes Keezer.
Local film crews are well known for their hard work and competence.
“We have some of the best crew in the industry that live in Southwestern Pennsylvania,” says Keezer. “In the old days, when we were lucky to get one project a year, they would travel to work all over the country and all over the world. But we’re so busy now because they can stay home.”
Acreage west of the furnaces. Photo courtesy of Allegheny County.
If this industry grows further locally, it will need more workers, which opens up opportunities for struggling neighborhoods like Rankin, Braddock and Swissvale.
“It’s surrounded by communities that need an industry,” says Keezer. “We’ve created this workforce training program in partnership with the IATSE union. It’s the first place outside of New York where it’s happening. We start that on Aug. 6, and we need more people to work, and there are jobs available in this industry. These are good paying family-sustaining jobs that you don’t need a college degree.”