OCTOBER 12, 2009

Hollywood comes to Pittsburgh
Stars filming on the streets, TV shows set in the ’Burgh, and performers stopping for concerts
By Meela Dudley, The Tartan, October 12, 2009

Alina Narvaez, Photo Credit: R.W. RampWith the recent amount of unending media attention and popularity being thrown at Pittsburgh, Hollywood executives are finally discovering everything that this city has to offer.

Pittsburgh has it all: a thriving arts scene, triumphant sports teams, family-friendly neighborhoods, buzzing urban centers, and a rich history. Point blank, as far as cities go, Pittsburgh is pretty charming. However, while all of the amazing qualities of Pittsburgh have always been evident to the locals who have had the privilege of living here, it seems as if others around the world are only just starting to catch on.

Recently, Pittsburgh has been getting a lot of attention. Through constant coverage of the G20 Summit, people have unintentionally rediscovered the city. CNN reporter Jordan Valinsky phrases it well. “Ten years ago, you couldn’t mention the words ‘posh’ and ‘Pittsburgh’ in the same sentence without a collective laugh. Not anymore,” he said. Activity within the Pittsburgh art scene has been extremely conspicuous. Outside of the usual symphonies, cabarets, and musicals that have become token attractions of this city, there has also been a recent flood of “foreign” artistic activity: Hollywood has discovered the ’Burgh.

This newfound media attention is spreading like the swine flu during first-year orientation week. It has extended within all artistic genres: music, film, performance, and even visual art. It seems as if a variety of intrigued artists want to see just what Pittsburgh has to offer them.

Pittsburgh has always boasted a pretty impressive visual arts scene. From world-renowned displays like those at The Andy Warhol Museum to one-of-a-kind contemporary exhibits like those of the Mattress Factory, Pittsburgh has always been a notable hub for the visual arts. But, according to the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, the “call for artists” has never been as well-received as it is now.

In the music scene, more artists seem to be making Pittsburgh a usual stop on their various national tours. Popular mainstream artists like Taylor Swift, Kelly Clarkson, and Daughtry have all made Pittsburgh a destination for their 2009 fall tours. And while more unknown underground artists will always find a home here in the ’Burgh, this recent musical magnetism has only added to the torrent of attention that has been directed toward Pittsburgh.

Popular unconventional talents are also bringing their acts to Pittsburgh stages. Magic shows by David Copperfield, international orchestras, and blue-collar comedy acts have all found a home here in Pittsburgh. With over 30 active venues and theaters in the city alone, there is always some form of art to see or partake in.

“In the Pittsburgh art scene,” said Alina Narvaez, a first-year in the BHA program, “there is always something to do, even outside of the Carnegie Mellon bubble. Whether it’s a new exhibit at the Mattress Factory, a concert downtown, or a new installation at The Andy Warhol Museum, something is always happening.”

The film industry has also found refuge in Pittsburgh. Just recently, Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe visited Pittsburgh to film scenes for his latest project, The Next Three Days, at the Allegheny County Jail. In a screenplay written by Paul Haggis, Crowe plays a man whose life is turned upside down when his wife is accused of murder. So far, directors have named Pittsburgh the project’s sole filming location. But this is not an acting debut for the city. Apart from being a popular film setting itself, many of the films which ostensibly take place in Washington, D.C., Memphis, Tenn., or New York City were actually filmed right here in Pittsburgh.

With its quaint suburbs and towering urban features, Pittsburgh truly is a director’s dream. Pittsburgh has been featured in blockbuster films like Flashdance and Dawn of the Dead, along with more recent releases like Silence of the Lambs and Robert Downey Jr.’s film Wonder Boys. As it goes, Pittsburgh has a rich cinematic history and has been a staple location in over 60 smash hits released in the past two decades.

Just recently, the Internet was abuzz when Pittsburghers discovered the recent arrival of actor Jake Gyllenhaal and actress Anne Hathway to the city. Pittsburgh has been named the shooting site of their newest project, Love and Other Drugs, a film about a young salesman trying to survive in the cutthroat business of pharmaceuticals. Based on Jamie Reidy’s memoir Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman, the salesman, played by Gyllenhaal, struggles to hawk a male performance enhancement drug. The movie production is centered in Squirrel Hill.

Similarly, actor Denzel Washington and actress Rosario Dawson will also be visiting Pittsburgh to film for their newest project, Unstoppable. The film is about a railroad company that frantically attempts to stop an unrestrained freight train full of combustible liquids and poisonous gases from destroying an entire city. It is rumored that producers have already begun shooting scenes in the Strip District.

Pittsburgh has also made its mark in the world of broadcast television. The CBS show Three Rivers is a medical drama that takes place right here in Pittsburgh. The show is about the complex world of medical transplants, and the world’s most established fictional transplant hospital just happens to be set right here in Pittsburgh.

All of this publicity has inspired some positive advances in the city’s dedication and attention to the arts. New theaters have been opening up, arts-based program expenses have been increased, and museums have been experiencing a constant influx of new exhibits from various artists wishing to display their work. If anything, it is truly the people of Pittsburgh who have recognized the benefits reaped from having Hollywood in the ’Burgh.

In an attempt to encourage these positive advances, groups like the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council have made it their goal to encourage artistic development in the city, and they aim to achieve this through a series of loan programs distributed to those businesses and corporations involved in the education and development of the professional arts.

While the rest of the nation, in light of the recent economy, has been forced to make sacrifices and cutbacks to their arts programs, Pittsburgh has been fortunate enough to be able to do the opposite. This is a city that has truly embraced the arts scene as one of its most beneficiary attractions. With all eyes on Pittsburgh, standing center stage, the city has only one thing to say: Hollywood, here we come!