90.5 WESA | By Zoe Fuller
Published March 16, 2023 at 5:30 AM EDT
On a recent February Friday, in the warm GRW Theater of Point Park’s University Center, sit a couple dozen undergraduate filmmakers. One by one, they pitch their project to the room, scouting for crew, talent and funding.
This is Pitch-Burgh, a networking event for film students in the Pittsburgh area where attendees pitch film projects and seek collaboration from peers.
Aditi Sridhar is an undergraduate film student at the University of Pittsburgh, and preparing to pitch her own upcoming short film “Aloo Poori.” It’s her senior thesis project, a film she will have to write, fundraise for, direct, edit, and submit by the end of the semester.
Sridhar said she hopes Pitch-Burgh might be where she casts the remaining roles in her films, and where she can start some buzz about her project.
“I’m just worried about, you know, keeping people engaged and keeping under the time limit and also not really being able to bring people into the world of the script to engage them,” said Sridhar.
Pitch-Burgh is attended by 11 local universities, from the larger state-related schools like Pitt and Community College of Allegheny County, to smaller private colleges like Chatham University and recent addition Westminster College. The event was put on by the Pittsburgh Film Office, and is the brainchild of director Dawn Keezer.
“It was probably three or four years ago [when] I met with some of the heads of the film departments at various universities and had found that they all didn’t know each other,” Keezer said. “There was no way for them to all be able to collaborate and communicate effectively.”
Events like this, Keezer hopes, can help to build the local film industry and accommodate those entering into the workforce. Pittsburgh has become an increasingly popular location for filmmakers, especially with recent productions including “A Man Called Otto” and “American Rust: Season Two.”
Online magazine MovieMaker ranked Pittsburgh in the top 10 cities to live and work in as a filmmaker for 2023, competing against institutions like Chicago, Il. and Montreal, Quebec. Pennsylvania’s 25% tax credit on projects primarily shot in the state is drawing productions nationwide, and Keezer hopes to see the incentives grow so the state can stay competitive.
“Gov. [Josh] Shapiro has already signaled that he’s going to support this industry. He’s planning on dramatically increasing the film tax credit program,” Keezer said. ”We’re currently at $100 million. Any increase is welcome because the program is always oversubscribed and under-funded at this moment in time, because we always have more work than we have credits.”
As production increases in Pittsburgh, education in film and media is finding itself in high-demand. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the number of Bachelor’s degrees awarded in visual and performing arts have risen 50% since 2010. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists a Bachelor’s degree as the typically entry-level education for producers and directors.
In 2018, media arts center Pittsburgh Filmmakers closed their filmmaking classes that helped to supplement local colleges like Pitt and La Roche University in McCandless. Since then, these universities have been developing their own programs to meet the growing film industry. La Roche has expanded their program by adding a filmmaker-in-residence position and internship positions for students at local production studios.
Carnegie Mellon University began offering a bachelor’s degree in film and visual media in 2019. Programs are even beginning at the high school level, with WQED Film Academy and Point Park’s Camp Hollywood teaching teenagers filmmaking basics.
Teachers like Associate Professor Helena Vanhala of Robert Morris University are seeing the changes both in and out of the school halls, and how the film climate might be opening up new doors.
“I think Pittsburgh is a film city. Filmmakers come here because there are so many commercial films coming to town,” Vanhala said. “So there’s a big industry here, both for those who are commercially interested, but those who are also independent filmmakers. So this is a film city.”
Now more than ever, film students like Sridhar say they feel like they have a reason to live and work in Pittsburgh.
“Pittsburgh in general as a city is just such a small town energy with kind and caring people who want to help and not receive anything in return, which I think is rare to find when you enter the entertainment industry in bigger cities like Los Angeles or New York. So I do like that’s what excites me about possibly being in a place like Pittsburgh post-graduation, is that that community is a given.”
Come this April, the projects Sridhar and her peers pitched will be completed and submitted before graduation. Come next fall, Pitch-Burgh and the Pittsburgh Film Office will screen a selection of these works where interested audiences can see what kind of stories the next generation of filmmakers are telling.