If it’s day 19 of the shoot for the "Untitled Shane Dawson Comedy," it must be Most Wanted Fine Art.
The interior of the Garfield storefront gallery has been remade for a couple of days as a used-record store called The Vinyl Vault. It’s just one of the many sets for “Untitled,” which in turn is one of two low-budget feature films being shot here almost simultaneously, based on the same source material, as part of a unique larger TV and film project.
Dawson, the wacky Internet comedy and music star, is directing a version that leans toward the raunchy comedy of American Pie. This scene centers on some phone sex that young protagonist Joel (played by Drew Monson) is having at the store counter.
First assistant director Phil Rush calls action. The wheeled camera cart is mounted on tracks running across Most Wanted’s bare wooden floor; as a burly crew member pulls it backward, the camera operator slowly pans across actors playing record-store patrons browsing the wooden racks, and stops when he focuses on Monson, who is intently leaning over the counter and his smartphone.
“I’m gonna come on those tits!” Monson excitedly whispers at his phone. Suddenly, a gravelly voice asking, “Hey, what you lookin’ at?” startles him out of his reverie: It’s Ray (played by local actor Bill Laing), the father of the girl Joel is, um, admiring. Aaawk-ward.
This take was the production’s first yesterday at Most Wanted, but the shoot was scheduled to continue till perhaps 2:30 a.m. … then resume at 5 p.m. today, and continue till 5 a.m. tomorrow.
That will wrap a succession of 10- to 12-hour days that took the 50-member crew all over town, from a house in Upper St. Clair to the Duquesne incline, Lawrenceville’s 31st Street Studios soundstage, a Bloomfield grocery store and even midfield at an empty Heinz Field.
Meanwhile, State College-based writer, actor and filmmaker Anna Martemucci is directing her own version of this story about college freshmen returning home on their first Thanksgiving break. Martemucci is still in the first week of shooting. And both productions are being captured by documentary film crews for The Chair, a TV series set to air starting in September.
Chair producer Josh Shader, who was on set with Dawson yesterday, says Martemucci’s take is in tone more realistic, somewhat like The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
Because The Chair is being produced in partnership with Point Park University, both crews include a number of Point Park alumnae and students — some 75 of them, according to executive producer Chris Moore. On Dawson’s crew, they include Heidi Schlegel, a 2013 graduate of the school’s Cinema and Digital Arts program. She’s Dawson’s unit production manager, responsible for day-to-day operations like hiring crew and locating vendors.
While Pittsburgh is known these days for hosting shoots for big-budget Hollywood fare like The Dark Knight Rises, Schlegel says she likes working on smaller productions, because she gets more responsibility. “I’m able to learn at a faster rate,” says Schlegel, who after graduation remained in town and has been making ends meet by working on TV pilots and stuff like Dance Moms.
Unlike Dance Moms, however, The Chair’s TV-series component is no reality show: There’s no script, no voting-off-the-island, no monkey wrenches introduced to heighten tension. “There’s enough real drama that goes on on a film set that you don’t need to manipulate,” says Shader.
Moore — who recently produced the Western PA-shot, Matt Damon-starring feature film Promised Land — wondered what would happen if the same unproduced script were given to two stylistically disparate directors. (He says the notion was sparked by the fact that directors attached to Good Will Hunting had included, at different times, both a post-Braveheart Mel Gibson and action-drama director Michael Mann. The film was eventually directed by Gus Van Sant.)
Also backing The Chair is indie production company Before the Door, whose principals include actor and Carnegie Mellon alum Zach Quinto.
For The Chair, Moore decided that the two filmmakers should both be making their first features, that the productions should be documented, and that the completed films should compete via audience vote.
Moore picked a script by writer Dan Schoffer. Shader said the original was “very John Hughes in tone,” but that after the Moore hand-picked Dawson and Martemucci, Schoffer did custom rewrites for each director. (Martemucci further rewrote her script, says Shader, now titled Hollidaysburg.)
Ironically, says Shader, at the time Moore selected the script, Shader had been working with Schoffer to get it picked up for a while: “The fact that we’re now getting it made twice is just bizarre.”
The Pittsburgh connections included Moore’s friendship with Lisa Smith-Reed, a film-industry vet who teaches at Point Park. Producers also credit the Steeltown Entertainment Project for its support.
Dawson and Martemucci’s productions are totally separate. Each has a budget of $800,000, Moore told an audience during a Feb. 5 talk at Point Park university.
Both movies should be completed this summer. Audience voting is scheduled for around Thanksgiving, after the movies have been released and while the documentary series is still airing. (The films' release platform or platforms — theatrical, streaming, etc. — are TBD, says Shader.)
Yesterday, though, the trick was turning an indie art gallery into an indie record store, complete with fake album covers (to avoid paying copyright fees).
Several dozen crew member and a few members of the media stood squished against the walls as the camera and sound guys captured an intimate moment of the actors in action. “This is the fun of making a movie,” said Shader. “it’s make-believe on a giant scale.”