Category: Interviews

[Interview] Anna Biller Discusses ‘The Love Witch’

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Courtesy of Oscilloscope Laboratories

Filmmaker Anna Biller has created quite the buzz with her second feature The Love Witch, a horror-thriller about magic, madness, and murder. Described as a “tribute to 1960s Technicolor thrillers” that “explores female fantasy and the repercussions of pathological narcissism,” the film follows Elaine (Samantha Robinson), a modern-day witch who uses spells and potions to get men to fall in love with her. The work has garnered critical praise for its sumptuous throwback style and bold take on feminism, as well as for Robinson’s strong breakout performance.

It’s also been touted as a treat for cinema buffs that recalls the style of French filmmaker Jacques Demy, 1960s sexploitation films, and Hammer horror.

As The Love Witch prepares to make its Pittsburgh premiere at the Hollywood Theater, Biller talked to Steel Cinema about the film’s personal significance, her extremely varied cinema diet, and having total creative control.


What inspired you to make The Love Witch?

It was a lot of things. I always like to make films about interior female experience, and I thought the figure of the witch was a good vehicle for that since the witch is a figure of so much projection and hysteria. I also was going through a rough period in my personal life, and I wanted to put that feeling of personal heartbreak on the screen. I joke that the movie is an autobiography, but people who know me well know that that’s really not that much of a joke! It’s a film that combines many aspects of my personal life, and it’s very coded.

You said in an interview that you’re influenced by Pre-Code Hollywood films and exploitation films of the 1960s and 70s. What about their style and themes resonate with you?

Well, I don’t think that I said I was interested in exploitation films; that’s what everyone else says. I did look at one exploitation film in preparation for the film – Mantis in Lace – but that film deals with similar themes as The Love Witch and was shot by the great László Kovács. I do like some of the color of giallo films, but I wasn’t watching giallo films to prepare for this movie — I was watching Hollywood Technicolor films, especially [Alfred] Hitchcock.

The themes that interest me most are from Pre-Code and noir films, because they’re often about women getting by in a man’s world. I’m not interested in misogynistic films, even when they’re visually arresting. My brain just sort of shuts down when women are being grossly objectified and especially when they’re being senselessly murdered. So I’m not into Beyond the Valley of the Dolls for instance, which is a film people often insist I was influenced by. I’m much more influenced by a film like [Carl Theodor] Dreyer’s Gertrud, which has the same theme my film has of a woman being disappointed with the men in her life who fail to love her properly, or a film like John Brahm’s The Locket, which is about discovering the roots of a woman’s psychopathology.

Are there other films or filmmakers you’re influenced by?

My first loves in cinema were the old Hollywood musicals, noir films, Pre-Code films, dramas, and screwball comedies. Later I came to appreciate foreign cinema, especially European and Japanese cinema. My parents were cinephiles, so as a child I was taken to films in the theater such as Murder in the Cathedral or The Seven Samurai or Satyricon, as well as nitrate prints of films such as Dames and Gold Diggers of 1933. All of that had a huge influence on my later tastes.

How do you maintain your own style while still paying homage to a certain era of filmmaking?

What I would say is that using classic cinematography and design techniques is my style. I was bottle-fed on classic films and they’ve always been part of my DNA. I don’t set out to create a retro look actually, or to pay homage to the past. I’m always just trying to learn my craft better, and I learn it from the films I love best, which are mostly from a few decades ago.

You occupy a lot of roles in your films, including directing, producing, writing, editing, and scoring, right down to costuming. What do you find the most challenging?

I think composing music is the most challenging since I have the least experience in it. I sometimes wish I had more than one life so I could spend 100 percent of one of my lives just studying music. But design is always the most difficult in terms of just how insanely time consuming it is. I would say that on any given film, I spend 90 percent of the time designing and making things, and 10 percent on everything else. The most difficult thing technically is the writing.

It’s probably no coincidence that, given our current political and social climate, empowered or resilient female characters are becoming more prominent in film right now. Where do you think The Love Witch fits in this new wave?

Just within the past week, since the election, The Love Witch has suddenly become more relevant. I used to get reactions from people where they’d think gender was an irrelevant thing to talk about since we’ve already achieved gender equality. Now suddenly everyone sees the enormous significance of the gender issues in the film, and that they are not obsolete but extremely timely. I’ve been creating these types of female characters in films for years, but it’s only now that people are taking that seriously, which is fantastic.

Hollywood has banked on emerging indie filmmakers for a lot of projects lately. If you were ever approached for a big-budget film, do you think you’d accept? If so, what would you want to direct?

If someone wanted to hire me to direct a big budget film, I’d probably demand to write the script and to get final cut. But it’s a very abstract question, since without knowing the specifics of an offer I can’t really answer how I’d respond.

The main question for me is the question of control. No one wants to spend their time doing something when they’re not going to like the final result. So I’d have to have a lot of control to have it work for me or work with people with similar artistic goals.


The Love Witch opens on November 18 at the Hollywood Theater. Tickets are available for purchase online or at the door. Showtimes will continue through November 23.

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[Interview] CMU International Film Festival Celebrates Ten Years

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For ten years, the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival has brought new, thought-provoking, award-winning films to Pittsburgh. From March 17th through April 3rd, the festival will celebrate its landmark anniversary with 16 films from 15 countries, including Denmark, Mexico and Poland. This year’s theme, Faces of Conflict, will focus on topics ranging from terrorism and propaganda, to war and civil rights, and will spotlight many films making their US premieres.

In addition to the film screenings, CMUIFF will present numerous special events, including an opening night art show featuring posters from the festival’s archives, panel discussions, presentations and culinary displays relevant to the film’s themes, and a guest appearance by filmmaker Spike Lee. The festival will also introduce two new educational components, a Youth Outreach Program at the Pittsburgh School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA) and Pittsburgh’s Kentucky Avenue School, and an intensive weekend course for college students.

Steel Cinema discussed the festival’s origins, mission, and anniversary celebration with Jolanta Lion, director of the film festival and assistant director of the Humanities Center in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences, Quelcy Kogel, a CMU alumna who took the film festival’s course in its first year and now serves as its creative director, and Alex Heald, a Heinz College student and the festival’s logistics coordinator.

I read that the festival started out as a course.

Quelcy: I was interested in film and looking into any film class CMU had, and a friend recommended that course. She’s like, oh, it’s easy, you watch some films and write a paper, it’s fun. So then I signed up, and that was the first year that Jolanta was teaching that course. She arrived and was like, okay, we’re gonna make this massive film festival and it’s gonna be throughout the city, and it was a totally different direction. Really raised the bar infinitely. And there was no bar, so she introduced the bar and then raised it a bunch.

That first year, we watched films for class and we did write papers and review them and talk about them, but then simultaneously we’re planning this festival. We divided up into committees based on majors and interests, and that didn’t work out too well as a structure. Once you introduce event planning there’s so many logistics, and it’s so much more involved than most people think. Then it became part of the Humanities Center so then that gives it more flexibility. I then left the country – I graduated – and Jolanta still sent me films to screen. And then other jobs took me away. And then last year, she contacted me to do some food presentation stuff and pulled me back in and, fittingly, here I am for the 10th anniversary.

Jolanta: It’s a very strange structure that we have for the festival. Currently, we have students from all different departments and schools. Most of the students this year are graduating students from the Heinz School, the Tepper School, other schools, where they are working in work-study positions, meaning they are paid by their school, and the school’s contribution to the festival is giving me workers for the festival. I also offer an independent study festival course. People who sign up for that course are interviewed, so I select the five or six people who, in my opinion, will be a good fit. But everything is about planning and creating the film festival, so of course they are receiving a final grade and a final paper, but this is the only addition to other assignments that all members of the committee have.

So students are still very integrated into the festival?

J: Right.

Q: When I took the class, I was interested in film, but I didn’t want to be a filmmaker, and so that opened up this whole other world of I can still be involved in this industry and this method of storytelling without being the one making it. And combining all these different majors, you get different angles and skill sets, which is good.

What’s the process of programming the festival? How do you decide what films to bring in?

J: Over so many years, I developed relationships with major distributors in the world, and from the Polish film school. So I had always easier access to filmmakers and film distributors and film producers. So that helped a lot for working on the programming for Carnegie Mellon.

One of the aspects that’s very important is the theme. Every year we have a different theme for the festival, so we went from Democracy, Mechanization, Realism, Globalization, Work, and this year we have Faces of Conflict. That narrows the search for films. The other very important criteria is to find films that are absolutely new, that are premieres, that are screening right now at IDFFA – the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam – or Cannes or Venice. So through the most prestigious festivals I’m searching for what film won an award or what is interesting this year. Of course we are talking about mostly independent films. And then discussing with the distributors to get permission to have it in Pittsburgh as a premiere, which is a very difficult process, because if you have a distributor in Europe and the film just won an award, they assume that they will have an American distributor who’d like to distribute in the US and in Pittsburgh. So if you want to distribute the film, the theater – when you are selling the film – wants to have a premiere. So it’s very difficult to convince distributors to let small film festivals screen films.

Another trick that I’m using is talking to the filmmakers and the producers to bring the person who is behind the film as a guest speaker. So then the path is a little bit different than through regular distribution.

This year, we have the amazing opening night film A War. It’s the Danish Oscar submission. I knew it was a great film. I had a sense. So I booked the film and we signed a contract that I need to have a premiere. But when the film got on the [Academy Awards Best Foreign Language Film] list, the distributor was asking, begging me to let me sell the film earlier to the theaters. Of course I said no. It will probably be the only screening in Pittsburgh.

Q: Jolanta does a lot of research on the films and has recommendations, but then we have a student committee, so we’ll screen everything and talk about it and talk about how marketing will work if we think it will get the right audience.

J: I pick about 100 films for the committee and the committee narrows it down.

Alex: It’s also cool because we’ve got students from all over. We have a Chinese film Coffin in the Mountain that one of our Chinese students brought over. And I brought a film that I had seen at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival called Magical Girl that I really loved. A lot of the work is Jolanta, but it’s cool that she lets us also bring stuff to the table and think about things we’ve seen or trends that we’re seeing. It feels collaborative and not just her dumping films in our laps.

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Magical Girl

Q: We have a film, Dreamcatcher, and it’s talking about human trafficking in America. Had you asked me about that before watching it, I would’ve said, yeah, I mean, there’s issues. But here’s this woman who was a prostitute and now she works with young girls turning their lives around. She does an afterschool program in Chicago, and one session into this, every girl says, when I was molested, when my uncle abused me. Every one of them. And you see it, and it’s incredibly eye opening. And you won’t see that in the media. And the media you see says, oh, prostitutes should go to jail or they’re committing a crime. And that’s where Faces comes in, because its humanizing these issues. And that’s what motivates me to work on this, is getting people to talk about these films and empathize and see that other point of view.

We did a screening of (T)error in the fall, which everyone should watch.

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Dreamcatcher

A: It was right after Paris and Beirut, and the same day as Mali.

Q: But right here in Hazelwood, a taxi driver was shot because the person thought he was a terrorist. And the film takes place here. But then during the Q&A, this Muslim woman spoke up and said, thank you so much for making this film and for allowing me to speak, because I’m scared and my voice isn’t being heard. People in the news are saying they want to kill me and I’m sending my kids into the world in veils, and I’m terrified, and no one tells my point of view. So that’s what the festival is to me – here are these voices that no one else is listening to or broadcasting.

What are you doing special for the 10th anniversary?

Q: One thing that we’re really working on this year is solidifying the brand, because a lot of people, when I talk about the festival, they say, oh, I think I heard of that or I think I went to one. Because we market each film individually, and because of the changing themes, it’s been difficult for people to recognize that as a continued effort. So we have an established logo now just in the past year. We’ve turned last year’s poster design into our logo. We’re working on a new website that will be more consistent. So those are some of the more detailed elements of what we’re doing and pushing the theme color throughout events. But also raising the bar on events a little bit, which is where my creative side comes in. So just really packaging the events better.

A: Make it a little more marketable.

Q: We market individually, so we market to a lot of ethnic and cultural groups. So for the older audience, it’s a good way for them to connect to their language and culture, which is a big reason why we have the over-40 crowd, because it’s a lot of the immigrant population. That being said, we want some fresh blood in the audience, so this year there was the youth component, partnering with CAPA and the Kentucky Avenue School.

J: We’ll be working also on creating short films by creating workshops in the school and bringing the artists who are coming to the festival and using them for the youth program. Hanna Polak will be here as a speaker for the film Something Better To Come, but because she’s coming from Poland, she can’t stay one day and go home. So we want to create other programs that will be beneficial both for her and for, in this case, high school and middle schools in Pittsburgh.

We have the Short Film Competition program. It’s like a festival under the festival and we offer awards. It’s open to all accredited institutions for students all over the world.

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Something Better To Come

Q: We’re tying all the separate years together so people understand this is the tenth year, they’ve had all these different themes. So on Instagram, we revisited all out past themes and highlighted three films from that year. And then for opening night we’ll display all our past posters. Artists at CMU, and some of the CAPA kids as well, are going to manipulate posters. So we’ll have the original and then the artist-rendered poster, and we’ll do a silent auction of those, and maybe some community artists as well. It’s a way of bringing in more of the arts and show that it is a broader community at play, and to celebrate that we’ve been around and that we’ve explored all these different themes.

A: I just think it’s the perfect storm of the youth component, the short film competition and, of course, having Spike Lee come. I’m only here for a year with my Masters program, so this is my one year to be with this festival and it feels like it’s congealing and it’s coming together into something that will have a legacy. Not that it doesn’t already, but it does feel like it’s all the elements from previous festivals, like the greatest hits or something. I mean, if the film doesn’t have conflict, what is it? Every film should have conflict, but it’s a good theme, and it just seems like a lot of puzzle pieces are falling into place really nicely.

Are you showing a Spike Lee film?

A: We’re screening Chiraq. [Lee] will be joining us for the day. We’re going to have an on-campus Q&A/discussion/lecture with Spike in addition to the festival’s. So we’ll have an afternoon lecture from Spike that people from the public and people from the campus will be at, then we’ll also have the screening, and then a more film-focused Q&A followed by some sort of reception. We’re just really blown away that we have filmmaker of his status. It’s a really strong opening weekend. We’ve got A War, we’ve got Spike Lee, we’ve got Karbala on Sunday, Friday night is Dreamcatcher with Brenda Myers-Powell. She’ll be here in Pittsburgh.

J: Karbala is a Polish film about the coalition forces from Europe, in this case Poland and Bulgaria. It will be the American premiere of a very interesting film. It’s very similar to our opening night film A War.

For Karbala, we’ll have a special guest, the Polish consulate in New York, to celebrate the festival. And they support us financially. The Polish consulate is not the only government organization that we worked with. Before it was Bulgarian, Czech, German consuls. And even the Dutch consulate sent me to IDFFA one year to select the films for the festival.

Do you have a favorite moment from past festivals? Is there a particular film, speaker or event that stands out to you?

Q: I think that Muslim woman speaking out. I was tearing up. I wish I had a camera right on her face because it was so timely and so sincere. That’s why I like this festival, and why I was so inspired as a student. I want to change the world. I want people to understand these issues, and film is such a unique way to tell that story. But you don’t want that message to just die in the theater. And after the screening, so many people came up and were physically touching her and saying, thank you so much, that was so inspiring. That to me is the face of all the themes.

There are so many directors who stick out in my mind, and that’s what so unique about this experience. I like to go into any kind of art without knowing the backstory, but then I like to know it after. So you figure out, what is my personal reaction to this? Do I get the concepts? Are the concepts successful?

J: What comes to mind from last year is a film that didn’t attract that many people. It was a weekday and there was a storm outside. It was Dangerous Act, a documentary Belorussian film about the underground, independent theater. We brought the actor who’s playing in the film, which is a theater performance. He doesn’t speak English at all, and before the film, it was like silent live performance explaining something that is already symbolic and also needs an explanation. So I loved the live performance that accompanied the screening.

Q: Bronx Obama was my happy memory. We all went to Pamela’s [Diner] with him, and he’s like Clark Kent-Superman. He definitely has his wardrobe pieces that he becomes President Obama and becomes just a dude from the Bronx. During breakfast he’s in this bright orange shirt, but then after we finished he put on this leather coat that has the Presidential seal on the back and he starts walking through the restaurant, and that’s when everyone starts to look. And we took a bunch of photos with the painting of Obama there. He was just such a performer. And the director was with him, and he was so down to earth and humble. That’s what’s nice to see too is that a lot of these directors, they’re very excited for their film to be screening and to interact with students. And I feel like all of them say, if you’re in New York, if you’re in LA, or wherever I am, let me know.

What are you hoping will take away from this festival?

Q: This goes back to the empathy thing for me. There’s this idea, especially in politics with the campaign right now, there’s Democrat, there’s Republican, there’s black, there’s white, there’s for guns, there’s against guns, and the whole festival, in my mind, explores this whole grey area of conflict. With Cartel Land, it’s we need a fence, we don’t need a fence. You have two vigilantes on either side of the fence that are fighting the same fight, but if you asked either of them, they probably wouldn’t think they had an ally on the other side. But really exploring that conflict in a way goes so much deeper than we can imagine, but that also means there are better ways to solve it.

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Cartel Land

J: To me, it may change the path of someone’s life. I’m hoping that people are influenced by talking to a director, having a conversation, or maybe something in the film.

Just a few days ago, I was thinking, I’m working so hard, and it’s just an event, it’s here and it’s gone. That doesn’t make sense. I’m killing myself, working day and night, and then what? And then I thought, I’m working with 25 people, without counting supporters, sponsors, and others, and believe me, these lives won’t be the same after being on the team for almost one year. I see they are changing, working on different committees, seeing their colleagues or peers, seeing the films. I got so many letters from previous years. My assistant from two years ago – she’s a graduate student, an amazing intellectual right now – but she said that was the best thing that happened to her in life, to be able to be a part of the festival. And the same with another student from Pitt, because we also accept interns.

Q: It’s a good learning experience for students, because there’s not a lot of time to establish hierarchy in the festival planning, so we throw out assignments, and you see they’re trying to take initiative and feel more ownership that they have a responsibility to this particular film. It’s interesting for me to come back for this 10th anniversary because I think about how I worked on it as a student, and my concept of Pittsburgh was so different, and CMU was such a bubble. Now I think, we need to bring in this florist and we need to bring in this restaurant, and I have such a stronger tie to the community. We can’t just reach out to Craig Street and Forbes. And pushing the students and helping them make those connections and broaden the festival’s reach a little more.

The Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival will opening on March 17th with A War at 7 p.m. in CMU’s McConomy Auditorium. The festival will close at 3 p.m. on April 3rd with Requiem for the American Dream in McConomy Auditorium. General admission tickets to the film and reception on opening night are $15 ($10 for seniors and students). General admission tickets for all other screenings are $10 ($5 for seniors and students). A full-access festival pass can be purchased for $50 ($25 for seniors and students). All tickets are available for purchase at the festival website.

The CMU International Film Festival is organized by The Humanities Center at Carnegie Mellon, and is dedicated to and inspired by the life and work of the late Paul Goodman, a world-renowned filmmaker, psychologist, and Carnegie Mellon professor.

Faces of Conflict is supported in part by a generous sponsorship from TeleTracking Technologies, Inc. 

[Interview] ‘Fursonas’ Director Talks Furries And Filmmaking

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In 2012, Point Park University student Dominic Rodriguez and his team launched an Indiegogo campaign for what would become Fursonas, a documentary exploring the often misunderstood world of furries, a group broadly characterized by its love of anthropomorphic animals. After four years in production, the film – which was was produced by Danny Yourd (Blood Brother) and his Pittsburgh-based company, Animal Films – premiered at the 2016 Slamdance Film Festival, where it won the Spirit of Slamdance award and was scooped up for distribution by Gravitas Ventures.

On March 10th, Fursonas will make its Pittsburgh premiere at the Regent Square Theater. Steel Cinema spoke with Rodriguez about directing his first documentary, his big Slamdance win, and his own connection with the furry community.

What inspired you to pursue this documentary in the first place?

It started out as my senior thesis film at Point Park. So I was working with Olivia [Vaughn], who was the producer. We worked together before, and she had wanted to do a documentary, and she asked me if I would direct a documentary with her. I’d never done one before, but it sounded interesting. We were going to do a different project at first, something to do with mental health or something, but that didn’t really go anywhere, and then when we were trying to find a new idea for a project, this was right around the time that Anthrocon was going on in July. I’ve been interested in this stuff for a long time, and I’ve identified as a furry for about 10 years, but it was something that I looked at from a distance. And so I used it as an excuse to get closer to that world and learn more about it. And then over the course of making this film, I’ve gotten way more involved in that scene.

So this became a personal journey for you as well?

That was something that, early on, I didn’t tell my crew for two years. I was a total liar about it, because I wanted to be a filmmaker first and I wanted to approach it as a filmmaker from the outside and to not have any of my biases get in the way. But that was obviously impossible to do. And so, the more we worked on it, the more comfortable I became, and I thought, well, if I’m going to do something that’s real, I can’t ignore the fact that I’m a part of this. And so I’m in the movie as well. I don’t want people to think that this is my story in the fandom because it’s really not, it’s really their story. But I’m certainly a part of it.

How is Pittsburgh’s relationship with Anthrocon portrayed in the film? I’m sure a lot of people outside the city don’t know that it’s a big deal here.

They definitely bring a lot of money into Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh has been very receptive to the furries. I think that it’s one of the friendlier cities. Some conventions that I’ve been to, they stay more in the convention space, whereas in Pittsburgh, you’ll see fursuiters out on the street and they’ll kind of invade Pittsburgh for the weekend. I know that this year they did the parade outside, and they hadn’t done that in previous years, so it’s becoming more integrated in Pittsburgh culture. But usually anybody in Pittsburgh has heard of it.

I understand that you interviewed people from all over the country. I’m just wondering how you managed to get so many different perspectives in the film.

In the beginning, we didn’t have a ton of resources, and so I started out interviewing people within driving distance. Most of them were in the Pennsylvania, Ohio area. There are lists of fursuiters online, so that’s an easy way to start just doing research. And I messaged hundreds of people, and it really was just about who would get back to me. We were also trying to get some kind of diversity. We have a mother, there’s a kid who’s in school, there’s a guy who’s retired. And then it sort of branched out from there. One of [the subjects] moved a year later, and when we got a grant from the Sprout Fund, we had enough money that we could go to Arizona and actually see what his life was like a year later. And then we went to Seattle because there were known furries I really wanted to talk to who were in the media. There was somebody that had been on The Tyra Banks Show who was in Seattle, and I really wanted to talk to her.

And then the criteria was just… you don’t have to have a suit to be a furry, and that’s probably something I’m going to get some flak for, because I only talk to people who have the costumes, usually. But to me, it was just a good visual element that showed somebody’s dedication to this community. To me, it shows that you’re going that extra mile and that it’s a part of your life. That was really fascinating to me.

Did you experience people being hesitant to talk to you for the film?

Absolutely. That was a huge challenge, because furries feel that the way they’ve been portrayed in the media is usually negatively. Everybody who was in the film, I’m super appreciative that they opened up their lives to me. It takes a lot to open up your life for several years to a stranger. But on the whole, I think there’s a lot of defensiveness, there’s a lot of skepticism of the media, so it took time to break through and get people’s trust.

That’s interesting, because there is definitely a stigma connected with the community. The way I was introduced to it years ago was as a sexual perversion – I of course found out later that is not the case. But how do you think the film will inform or re-inform people about this community as a whole?

I had been interested in the community, but I didn’t know furries personally. I didn’t know much about the social scene, I had never been to conventions and stuff. So when I started out thinking about it, I assumed we’re probably going to subvert some stereotypes. But then also probably confirm some stereotypes, too. Originally, I didn’t care what ended up being proven, I just wanted it to be real. So I didn’t purposely choose subjects that I thought were going to portray the fandom in a good light or a bad light, I just wanted them to be furries.

And then I thought if I talked to enough of them, it would be more on the side of this is a story about people, and it’s supportive of their rights to do what they want to do with their lives. But I think people will be surprised by the fact that, when they get into the film, especially if you’re not a furry – which is sort of the perspective I try to take when I’m watching it – it might seem kind of strange and hard to relate to at first, but then the more you spend time with these people, the more universal the views are.

A description of the film states that it “begins as a series of humanistic portraits”
and “evolves into an exploration of the complicated question concerning community representation in the fandom.” Could you expand on that a bit?

Other furry documentaries, or any other thing I’ve seen on this group, makes a big effort to explain it away. I mean, if you go to Anthrocon’s website, what it’ll say is “a furry is someone who’s interested in anthropomorphic animals, so anybody can be a furry,” which I think is true, but I also think there’s more to it than that, and I think that for some people it’s a huge part of their lives.

The issue is you have so many different people who feel this thing is really important to them, but it’s important to them in different ways. You have Boomer the Dog in the movie who wanted to legally change his name to Boomer the Dog. To me, that’s the most dedicated furry you can be. But then you also have people who would say that Boomer the Dog is not even a furry because he takes it so far to the point where they don’t want him associated with them. So that’s where it starts to get complicated. And the fact that there are all these different perspectives, I just wanted to embrace that complexity as opposed to ignore it, and I think other pieces I’ve seen ignore that complexity. And I think it’s extraordinarily complicated because you have people where this is their identities, but then it’s also a community. And you see this in religions, you see this in lots of different communities, of people trying to share the same space and call themselves the same word, but in reality, it means something different to all of them.

You premiered at Slamdance, where you won the Spirit of Slamdance award. Were you anticipating that you would win anything or that you would get any kind of recognition?

I was hoping we would get in somewhere and that people would watch the film, but, at least with me, having worked on this for so long, you have to be ready for people not to like it. But really, you just want everybody to like it. When we got in there, that was huge and really exciting. And then the fact that we got that award, everybody in the crew was gobsmacked. We did not expect it at all. It was cool, because looking at it now and what the award is about, not just the movie itself, but how you promoted the film, and stuff like that. I was in my fursuit walking around, so definitely everybody knew who we were, so it makes sense.

You were also acquired by Gravitas Ventures. Do have any timeline for when the film will be released?

What I know is that they’re doing a video-on-demand release. That would be this summer. I don’t know the exact month, but it’s pretty soon, actually.

That’s what’s really cool is there’s momentum being established, especially on the furry side of things. Furries will want to see this movie because it’s about something that they care about, and every piece of furry media that comes out is hotly debated within the community. So this is going to be a great platform for everybody to see it, but I think especially for furries to see it.

You’re having a premiere at Regent Square Theater on March 10th, and I’m wondering what kind of reception or reaction are you hoping for at the premiere if any?

There’s going to be a Q&A after, so I’m hoping for some thoughtful discussion afterward. Obviously, I want people to enjoy it and be able to relate to it. I think it depends on whether you’re a furry or not. People who aren’t furries, the vibe that I generally get is that the film is relatable and that they feel like they learned something, and that they felt something, and that they see the subjects as people and not just as fursuiters without personalities.

But then from the furry side of things, I think the movie asks some challenging questions to the community, and so I think that will be kind of different. That is something I would get more nervous about because I don’t want furries to think that I’m out to get them or anything. The film, I think, is very pro-furries. But it’s not like a PR piece. So that’s why I think it might be a bit more controversial. But so far, when we were in Slamdance, five furries saw it there that I never met before. One traveled 300 miles to see it. They were there in their fursuits and they all loved it.

The Fursonas Pittsburgh premiere will begin at 7 p.m. A Q&A with Rodriguez and the entire filmmaking team – as well as a few possible special guests – will follow the screening. Guests are also encouraged to join the team for an afterparty at Brew Gentleman. Tickets cost $10 and are available for purchase at Eventbrite.

[Interview] Pop Up Premieres Founder Njaimeh Njie Sees Black And Gold

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Njaimeh Njie (center) with founding members of Pop Up Premieres

Pittsburgh-based multimedia producer Njaimeh Njie has worked as a high school teacher, a travel expert, and, more recently, an advocate for diversity in film. This year, she created Pop Up Premieres as a way to celebrate the African-American community by showcasing an array of work by black filmmakers and content creators. The independent cinema venture has hosted screenings at Assemble and 720 Music, Clothing and Cafe, and collaborated with the Penn Avenue art gallery BOOM Concepts to present the three-part Black Gold Film Series last August.

On Dec. 11th, Pop Up Premieres returns to BOOM Concepts to host another edition of the Black Gold Film Series, one that highlights shorts from around the globe. Njie, a Pittsburgh native who earned her BA in film and media studies at Washington University in St Louis, spoke with Steel Cinema about the upcoming event, her taste in film, and the future of Pop Up Premieres.

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How did you come up with Pop Up Premieres?

I am slightly involved in film on a national level. I volunteer with an organization called AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. And I realized that all these interesting, cool films were being made, but to my knowledge none of them were screening in Pittsburgh. I wanted to bring more independent black films into the city, and also wanting to provide a platform for people to have conversations and engage.

I look for films that are being made by, at this point, black people around the country. It’s not limited to African-Americans based here in Pittsburgh. But I’m working to cultivate a new type of community here in the city.

Do you screen exclusively at BOOM Concepts?

Originally, the plan was to do monthly screenings in rotating venues. I wanted the venue to play off of the theme or setting in the film to make it like an integrated viewing experience. But Darrell Kinsel approached me about bringing the series to BOOM in August and doing a kind of multi-week, multi-part series. And they were so cool and welcoming, and the venue felt warm, and it just felt right. So we ended up keeping it at BOOM.

How do you choose the work that you show? Do you seek it out, or do people come to you?

At first, I set it up like a board decision. A couple of friends and I would talk about some of the films that we saw and what we thought would be interesting to see in public. At the end of the August series, I started scouring the internet and thinking about some of the films I had seen that had moved me or made me think or made me laugh, and I started pulling from those films.

I think so often the term “black film” is associated with these comedies or big historical ensemble period pieces or action movies, and I just wanted to expand the idea that black films don’t have to fit into these few key genres. Personally, not even concerning the series, I like very intimate, slow-moving character dramas, quirky comedies, kind of mumblecore with a twist – films that really delve into the internal lives of characters, and not just surface stereotypes.

Is there a theme for the upcoming event?

The theme is short films. None of the pieces are over 20 minutes. We’re going to branch out a little bit and show a piece from England, and also one from Senegal in West Africa. Really the point is to highlight this moment that we’re in, with all of these police brutality cases and this shift that is happening right now. I do want to use film to address some of those issues. But the shorts also highlight a real diversity and richness in the black diaspora. So it’s not all police brutality, it’s not all one any type of thing. I just want to show some different perspectives that aren’t typically seen in films.

What do you think the African-American filmmaking community is like in Pittsburgh?

The arts community in general is really rich, but there are a lot of really phenomenal African-American artists in the region. I’m excited because they’ve come out to support Pop Up Premieres. But I’m also really excited because – and this is going off your question a little bit – it’s been something that has attracted many different types of people. We’ve had artists, we’ve had young professionals, we’ve had people from academia. So it’s really been a good mix, I think, of what the Pittsburgh community has to offer in general.

I’m not even necessarily looking to just have members of the black community come out. Anybody who’s interested in watching good content and engaging in some thought-provoking conversation, maybe seeing images that they haven’t seen before, is more than welcome. Come engage, maybe learn something new, gain a different perspective. And have a good time. These are fun events, they’re not totally high brow.

What has the response been like for Pop Up Premieres so far? Do you think it’s gaining a larger audience?

I was a little bit surprised, because it started out with what we considered strong numbers. We probably average between 20 and 30 people per screening, which, for something without an established reputation, I’m pretty happy with. I think the word has spread. I’ve been really pleased with the response so far.

Where would you like to see Pop Up Premieres go? What are your future plans for the series?

My big pipe dream is to eventually see it evolve into a small-scale film festival. Maybe two or three films over one weekend. One very concentrated period of time in which a variety of black films are being screened in the city.

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The Black and Gold Series: Short Film Edition begins at 7 p.m., with screenings starting at 7:30 p.m. Guests can enjoy refreshments provided by Wine & Words Pittsburgh. Admission is $3 suggested donation.

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[Interview] RAW Pittsburgh Winner Jake Mulliken Has A ‘Meltdown’

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On Nov. 22nd, RAW Pittsburgh, a monthly artist showcase featuring new and emerging local talent, held a semi-finals awards show to determine the best artists to represent Pittsburgh at the RAWards National Finals. Winners were chosen in the categories of fashion, music, visual art, performing art, hair, makeup, photography and accessories, but only one participant took away the RAW Artist of the Year for film.

Recent Pittsburgh transplant Jake Mulliken beat out the competition with his debut film Meltdown, a 30-minute zombie comedy shot on a budget of $1,200. He wrote, directed and starred in the short, which follows three Pittsburghers as they slash and shoot their way through a horde of radioactive undead. The film is the first project produced under Mulliken’s company Out Of Pocket Productions.

Mulliken spoke with Steel Cinema about his move to Pittsburgh from the West Coast, his influences, and his current project Ghost Hunt, a documentary about gonzo journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson.

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Why did you decide to move to Pittsburgh?

It was a couple of things. I got swept up in the teacher layoffs when I was out in California, where I was teaching at a private school. A friend of mine was living here finishing up his doctorate at Carnegie Mellon. I always came out to visit and kinda kept an eye on Pittsburgh. It’s a great city, but the more I read about it and the more I researched it, it really seemed like, not just in film, but the city in general was just on this whole new upswing. And it’s really cheap to live here compared to the West Coast. So I figured what the hell, I’ll just go back and do film again.

Do you have formal film training? Or no?

No! No, no. I left Kentucky when I was 21, and I’ve always loved movies, and we’d goof around when we were kids with cameras and stuff. But when I moved, I had this harebrained scheme that I was gonna be an actor and a filmmaker. So I found myself in the middle of the desert and I got really involved there. I was on Breaking Bad and In Plain Sight. They filmed all that out in New Mexico. I was on the board of directors at the Santa Fe Playhouse for three years and we did about 14 plays. So I learned from watching people. I jumped in that world and watched people who were far more experienced and far more talented than me and just picked things up from there.

Where did the idea for Meltdown come from?

I guess I wrote it six years ago when I was living in Santa Fe. It’s one of those things that’s always been on the back burner and I never really had time to do it until I moved here, and everything just kind of fell into place. I knew I wanted to do a zombie movie because the genre always kind of freaked me out when I was a kid. I grew up to like it and I think there are a lot of things you can do with it. It was just a natural progression. I wanted to do something zombie-ish, but have it be almost like a spoof. Like a zombie flick on its own legs, but something kind of funny and intentionally cheesy.

And you want to expand it into a webseries?

Originally, we were going to do it as a feature, but I’ve been watching a lot of stuff online, and I think doing it as a series of ten minute episodes as opposed to an hour or half hour would be the way to go.

You cited Kevin Smith as one of your influences, and I definitely see a similarity between Meltdown and Clerks. I was just wondering if that was intentional.

Oh yeah, Clerks was a major, major influence. When I first wrote the thing, I had seven or eight movies playing constantly – Clerks, definitely, High Fidelity, Shaun of the Dead. One thing that always kind of bugged me about the zombie genre is that a lot of the characters are really over the top, especially the modern ones. And even if you do get emotionally invested in a character, they fucking die in the end anyway. It’s like you spent two hours on them and then they’re dead. But I think a lot of the characters are really hard to relate to in some sense, and what I really love about what Kevin Smith did in Clerks and about High Fidelity is that they are about these really mundane, normal, everyday people. There’s the depressed guy that runs the record store, there’s a guy who’s stuck behind the counter at a convenience store. So I really wanted the characters to kind of be like that. I thought Shaun of the Dead did a great job doing that.

One of your locations was the Bloomfield Sandwich Shop. What was it like filming in that space?

Oh yes indeed, Mike and Ros (owners Michael Miller and Rosalyn Dukes) are very good friends of mine. Logistically, it was interesting at some points because the place is so narrow, so it definitely called for some creative camerawork. They gave me the keys, and they close at 3 p.m., so we would come in at 4 p.m. and filmed until we were done for the day. The only stipulation they had was that Mike got to be zombie Santa Claus. That was all he wanted was to be a zombie in a Santa outfit, and he horrified the hell out of a bunch of my neighbor kids.

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Your next project is a documentary on Hunter S. Thompson. Could you expand on it a little bit?

The idea for the documentary came from one of my seniors. The school I taught at was a school for high functioning kids with language-based learning disabilities. And in the film class I taught, one of my seniors had Asberger’s, which is the highest functioning form of autism. And he was a huge Hunter fan, and when we started jiving, we realized that we were both huge Hunter fans. The idea kind of blossomed from … there’s the persona, the drug-crazy Fear and Loathing Hunter, but then there’s this brilliant political analyst, journalist, social activist and writer. So the goal of the documentary is to peel away the layers of the persona and highlight why Hunter S. Thompson is an important modern literary figure and why he deserves to be that. So it’s really more of an academic approach focusing on gonzo journalism, and how he changed the face of journalism by inserting himself in the story, his work on campaign trails, his own run for sheriff in Pitkin County in Aspen. Just really focusing on his achievements and not his extracurricular activities.

I know he’s been the subject of other documentaries, including the 2008 film Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson. How would Ghost Hunt compare?

It’ll be really different. Those are more following the timeline of Hunter’s life from Louisville, KY to when he killed himself. You’ll see people in my film that have either said no to other films or have never even been approached, like people who were with Hunter when he ran for sheriff, helped with the campaign, and his closest friends and neighbors. I’ve interviewed his ex-wife, his widow, a lot of his close people. It’s just really focusing on specific moments that highlight his importance, not only in his time, but why he’s relevant today. I guess that’s pretty much the whole point of the documentary is to highlight why he’s relevant. When you talk to college kids about Hunter S. Thompson, they always say, oh, he’s that guy that did all those drugs raised all that hell, but there’s a lot more to it. In the 80s, that fame and that persona took him over. And that’s what he was the last 30 some-odd years of his life.

I know you’re still working on the documentary, but do you have any other projects in the works?

There are a lot of things. I’m working on a comic book with a friend of mine from back home in Kentucky. We got the first 12 issues done by the first of this year. And the goal with that is to try to pimp it out as a comic book, but we’ve also talked about possibly just jumping the gun and doing it as a television show. There’s another documentary that kind of stems from the Hunter one about George McGovern and the 1972 election between him and Richard Nixon. Those are the things that are the most hashed out. It’s interesting, because stuff like Meltdown and the comic book are projects that I’ve been working on for years, and just never really had time to finish. I was either acting all the time or teaching, and now I’m resolved to do this full-time.

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RAW will announce the national winners on Dec. 16th. Watch Mulliken’s entry Meltdown below:

[Interview] Mark Ricche And Christian Stavrakis Dig Up ‘Mortal Remains’

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Ever since George Romero shocked audiences with Night of the Living Dead, Pittsburgh has become a city synonymous with the horror genre. In 2009, Mark Ricche and Christian Stavrakis added to that connection when they founded their locally based production company Cryptic Pictures and made Mortal Remains, a docu-thriller that investigates the life, career and mysterious death of filmmaker Karl Atticus, referred to by some as the godfather of the slasher film movement. Written, produced, directed and edited by Ricche and Stavrakis, the 90-minute film contains interviews with various horror aficionados, including Blair Witch Project director, Eduardo Sanchez, as well as details on the sinister circumstances surrounding Atticus’ last work.

Mortal Remains screened at a number of film festivals, including the Terror Film Festival, where it won two awards, and was given a sneak preview at Horror Realm‘s spring convention. The macabre shockumentary will soon represent Pittsburgh at the Three Rivers Film Festival, and Ricche and Stavrakis talked with Steel Cinema about their first feature film.

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You’ve both been in the film business for a number of years. What influenced the creation of Cryptic Pictures, and why did you choose to base it in Pittsburgh?

MARK: Chris and I have been buddies for 25 years, since high school, actually. A friend of mine works in acquisitions at one of the big studios, and when I pitched the idea to him, he thought [Mortal Remains] was worth developing. So after years of filmmaking for fun, Chris and I decided it was time to create a formal partnership in order to produce our first real feature.

CHRISTIAN: I was born here, though I grew up in Maryland. After we graduated from school, my family moved back to the ‘Burgh and Mark would often come to visit. When we decided to make the movie, shooting it here was almost a foregone conclusion – I had written the original story and was intimately familiar with the material, so casting was easier, locations were easier to nail down, and it was less troublesome for Mark to travel back and forth since I have to work around my day jobs.

Mortal Remains is the company’s first feature release. Where did the idea for the film come from? Blair Witch Project writer/director Eduardo Sanchez took part in this film. How did he become involved?

C: It was certainly inspired – at least in part – by Blair Witch, which we acknowledge in the film. We went to high school with Ed; he was two years ahead of us, so he went on to college while Mark and I were doing our thing in TV Production class, but we all knew each other and we became cheerleaders when Blair Witch hit the jackpot. But our inspiration was the same – old TV shows like In Search Of or Ripley’s Believe It or Not with Jack Palance, grainy old B-movies, especially the grindhouse fare of the 70s and 80s. So the project is really rooted in nostalgia, and I hope it strikes that chord with our audience.

M: Chris has always had an affinity for horror movies. I was strictly into adventures – Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Back to the Future. I never got into horror until Chris taught me to appreciate the genre. But now that I’m more familiar with it, I understand some of the primal “triggers” that make good horror movies as effective as they are. There are certain themes or situations that elicit an almost universal response, and we made an effort to work as many of these into Mortal as we could.

The film recently won two awards at the Terror Film Festival, and it’s made the rounds at other horror/sci-fi/fantasy movie festivals. It’s also screening at the Three Rivers Film Festival this month. In your experience, how do you feel genre film festivals differ from more traditional film festivals?

M: That’s a toughie, since this is our first experience with the festival circuit – we really don’t have a frame of reference, and the Three Rivers Festival is our first non-genre event. The other shows we’ve attended so far were all horror-oriented, and they were all great fun, because horror fans are so enthusiastic.

C: I can expand on this a little. I’ve attended a lot of horror conventions over the years and have made many, many friends based on our mutual love for the genre. Horror fans, by and large, are outsiders. We tend to be somewhat introverted, at least until we’re among our own kind, and then it becomes acceptable to geek out, to cut loose and cheer on our favorite monsters. Making horror movies for horror fans is terrific, because you know at least some of your audience will get it, some of them will dig it, and hopefully the rest will at least appreciate what you’ve tried to do.

M: That said, it’s a great honor to have been accepted into a traditional festival like Three Rivers, because genre fare often tends to be overlooked or scorned in the world of “respectable cinema.” Knowing that our film transcends those boundaries makes its acceptance all the more satisfying, and we hope that mainstream moviegoers will get a thrill out of it as well.

Can we expect more horror films from Cryptic Pictures, or are you branching out into different genres? What’s your next project?

M: There is a project near and dear to our hearts that we are beginning to flesh out, a period piece that we’re really having fun developing. Definitely not a horror movie, but that one must take a backseat to financial necessity for the time being.

C: Which is a euphemistic way of saying that the next project in the pipeline is of course Mortal Remains 2, which we are currently writing. We’ll be going into production next summer, and interested parties are welcome to contact us, because this one will be much bigger, bolder, and bloodier than the original picture.

M: We’re making distribution arrangements for the first film, and we’ve got interest from a couple of different outlets; what we’re hoping to find is someone who sees the potential for a marketable franchise and is willing to come along for the ride, so to speak. There’s a lot more to be discovered about Karl Atticus, and we’ve only just begun to dig!

Mortal Remains will screen at the Harris Theater on Nov. 16th at 9 p.m. Individual tickets are $10, $9 if purchased through Showclix.

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[Interview] ‘Steel Town’ Director Nick Hurt Talks Pittsburgh History

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A city as old as Pittsburgh has a long and illustrious history full of world-shaping events. One local filmmaker and his crew will hone in on one of these moments for a new project.

Carnegie Mellon graduate Nick Hurt will direct Steel Town, an 18-minute short film portraying the harrowing 1892 Homestead Steel Strike. The film, which was co-written by Hurt and Steeltown Film Factory winner Yulin Kuang, follows the story of Hugh O’Donnell, leader of the Homestead steelworkers, in their ill-fated negotiations with Henry Clay Frick and ultimate strike against Carnegie Steel. The mounting tensions forebode a brutal workers’ strike, but O’Donnell is determined to find a peaceful solution to this historic clash between capital and labor.

On Oct. 2nd, Hurt will address the audience at a live table read of the film’s script, which is being held in order to raise funds for production. In an exclusive interview with Steel Cinema, he discusses the event, the future of the film, and a very unusual perk for a a contributor willing to make a big pledge.

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What attracted you to this story?

I first learned about the Homestead Strike a few years ago when I was in a history class at Carnegie Mellon and I immediately pictured it as a movie. I thought it would be a really exciting feature film. So a good place to start was to make a short film version of it. I finally decided to direct and produce it with Yulin Kuang, who won the Steeltown Film Factory last year with her film The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested. I produced Perils with Yulin last summer and now we’re co-writing Steel Town together and producing it.

You have some really well-rendered concept art on your Kickstarter. I was impressed by how many details you have ironed out.

I’m really happy with how the concept art (by Nik Hagialas) turned out. With taking on such a big project, there are so many things to consider. I needed to get all of those details straightened out before we even launched the Kickstarter. We’re working on storyboards right now, and Pittsburgh has so many amazing locations to offer, so we’re still in the middle of location scouting. We’re gonna film at Carrie Furnace, and hopefully film at Hartwood Acres. Maybe we’ll shoot in a nationality room at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of Learning.

The scale of the event would make this a fairly ambitious project. How are you going to fit all of it into a short film?

It is such an enormous event, and after I started doing research, I realized that it was years in the making. So we had to really narrow it down and choose a chunk of time. The story is going to focus on the week leading up to the Homestead Strike and it’s going to culminate with the final battle of Homestead with the strikers facing off against the Pinkertons.

I’ve lived in Pittsburgh for over ten years and I’m not familiar this incredible event.

Most people I talk to have heard of the Homestead Strike but they don’t know very much about it. Obviously everyone has heard of Carnegie, and some people have heard of Frick, but they’re not really sure about just how interesting the relationship between Frick and Carnegie was and all of the different feuds that they had. That’s something that I’m gonna explore more in the feature version. The short film is really gonna serve as sort of a teaser for a longer feature length film which I hope to pursue sometime next year. So once I finish the short, I’ll be working on the feature length script next spring, and hopefully I can take it to producers and get it financed. That’s the long term plan. We’ll see what happens.

That would be really amazing for Pittsburgh if that happened.

Especially if I can convince people to film it in Pittsburgh. That would be a great thing for the film crew members here. We have such a blossoming film economy with all of the recent larger Hollywood productions coming here, and I think it’s definitely a city that could support a film of this scale. I’m excited about all of the possibilities.

This is a pretty accurate retelling of the event, but obviously you have to embellish some of the details. How are you balancing the history with the fictionalized elements?

We borrowed a handful of true historical figures who actually lived through the period – we kept Henry Clay Frick, we kept Hugh O’Donnell, we kept Frick’s accountant, Francis Lovejoy, we kept the leader of the Pinkertons, Captain Heinde. Some storylines are based on true events, but we changed the names of some of the characters involved. And a few of the characters I just straight up invented to convey what the time period was like. So it’s a combination of true historical figures that I read about and fictional characters that I’m using to tell a truthful story.

I think people tend to see Frick and Carnegie as philanthropic figures. Do you think this film would change that perception?

The film would focus more on Frick – Carnegie was in Scotland at the time of the strike. There have been a lot of different ideas of Frick. Some people think that he was just a nasty, bulldog-type guy who just wanted to squash all of the workers and smash out the union. And when I started to do more research I realized that, as expected, he’s just a real person with many complexities. He was a family man and a loving father. And he loved art, and that’s why he had such a large art collection and donated it to New York City. So there’s a lot of complexities that I’m playing with, and I’m doing my best to present him not as a one-sided character like a Mr. Potter from It’s A Wonderful Life, but rather as a guy with sympathies and weaknesses.

Why do you think this story is important to tell now?

Initially, I liked it just because of how interesting the characters are. You have your steel magnate, robber baron millionaires like Carnegie and Frick, and it’s amazing to think of the kind of lifestyle they lived compared with the lifestyles of the poor steel workers. And then about a month ago, producer Dan Vetanovetz and I started interacting with members of labor unions such as SEIU, AFL-CIO, and the Teachers’ Union, and we realized out that even though workers aren’t fighting their battles with rifles anymore, there still is a very serious relevance to the Homestead Strike 120 years ago. There still is the idea of a group of workers banning together to protect their rights against a larger corporation or non-profit. And I think it’s important not to forget the history of organized labor and where we came from, especially since Pittsburgh is the biggest steel town in the country.

And this was one of the first organized labor uprisings?

There were riots in coal fields and some train stations before, I believe. But the reason the Homestead Strike was so important was that so many people knew about it and were following it in the news. The whole country was watching, and it really started to shift public opinion away from the owners to the workers. So it was a big step for labor history.

How are you in terms of casting?

We cast most of the roles, but the character of of Frick is still up in the air. We’re going to have casting calls for that role pretty soon. And it’s exciting because we’re hiring a lot of actors from Pittsburgh. We have one guy we’re flying out from LA, and we have a couple actors coming in from New York City. So we’re getting people from all over the place, but a lot of them are going to be from Pittsburgh.

I’m guessing you’re going to need a lot of extras.

When we held auditions over the summer, we had about 200 responses, which is really encouraging. I think we’ll be able to get a lot of people interested in being extras in the film. And one really cool idea I had was to get actual steel workers. We have two scenes inside the Homestead Steel Mill, so we’ll need a few dozen steel worker extras. That will be shot at the Carrie Furnace. Also, we’ll need a lot of extras for the final Pinkerton stand-off scene. So we’ll need quite a few Pinkerton extras and dozens of Homestead villager and striker extras. As many as we can get, really.

Tell me about your upcoming table read.

We’ll have a group of live actors read through the scripts. People can bring donations. It’s also two days before the end of our Kickstarter, so if we need a final boost, we’ll encourage people to donate to the Kickstarter. Beyond that it’s just a chance to get more people excited about the film.

I noticed you have a lot of perks for your Kickstarter contributors, but the one I found most interesting was that for anyone who donates $5,000 you would shoot a second all-cat version of the film.

(Laughs) That was mostly for fun, but I’m entirely serious about that. If we can get one person or a group of people to pool their money and donate $5,000, that will absolutely happen and I’m super excited to do that.

I think that’s worth $5,000.

Absolutely! I would love to make that my spring project.

The Steel Town live table read begins at 6 p.m. at Bar Marco. The event is open to the public, but interested patrons are encouraged to RSVP at steeltownmovie@gmail.com. Hurt will address the audience beforehand, and head up a Q&A session after the script has been read. For more information on Steel Town, please visit the film’s website. Donations for the project will be accepted at the film’s Kickstarter campaign through Oct. 4th.

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