As far as 21-year-old Pittsburgh natives go, Jason Georgiades doesn't consider himself all that rabid a Steelers fan. On the morning after a loss, he claims, you won't find him hanging his head. Still, around noon on a recent Tuesday, he apologized: His voice was hoarse from his Monday night at Heinz Field, cheering the team to its muddy Nov. 26 victory over the Miami Dolphins.
Fandom itself is the subject of The Steal Phantom, a comedic documentary about Georgiades trying to get the Steelers, during their 2006 season, to consider a trick play he'd designed. The 65-minute movie, by Georgiades and Trevar Cushing, screens at the Tue., Dec. 11, installment of the Film Kitchen series (a CP-sponsored event). Also screening is "Will You Come With Me," a short drama by Andrew Kelemen.
Steal Phantom finds skinny, boyish Georgiades, a University of Pittsburgh art student, seeking an audience with apparently inaccessible Steelers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt; approaching drunken tailgaters in the guise of a briefcase-toting, headset-wearing superfan named "Coach Jason"; and exploring the sociology of fandom in both talking-head interviews and a day in Cleveland spent with fanatical Browns backers. "The Cleveland trip was unbelievable," says Cushing. "We could have made a documentary just on that trip." Steal Phantom is part Roger & Me, part performance art, part shoestring PBS special and part Browns Fans Gone Wild.
It's also a journey into disillusion. Georgiades concocted the project with high hopes. But the intimate connection a loyalist feels for a team, he learned, is neither requited nor acceptable to express in terms other than drinking, yelling and forking over the cash.
"What is a fan's role? When you wanna step out of that role, you're not really free to do that," he says. Georgiades and cameraman/co-director Cushing survey the gulf between the players and coaches ... and the fans who make pro athletics possible. Cameos include obliging Hall of Famer Jack Ham; then-Steelers safety Mike Logan; and ex-lineman Craig Wolfley, whose villainous laugh when he's told of the Steal Phantom scheme perhaps summarizes the film.
For contrast, Georgiades and Cushing visit the Schaumberg Flyers, an Illinois independent-league baseball team that lets fans vote for starting lineups. Most poignantly, they meet Ed Brosky and Scott Dolfi, respectively the founder and a player for the Pittsburgh Colts, a minor-league football club that goes largely unheralded despite its grassroots cred.
Ultimately, the Steal Phantom scheme didn't go in the "win" column in terms of getting the Steelers to actually run the play. But there were little triumphs, including considerable coverage by local newspapers and TV stations and a lively if anomalous break-dance party Georgiades and Cushing threw in a pre-game Heinz Field parking lot.
Another victory was simply completing the film. Georgiades, who was looking for a more experienced filmmaker than himself, had found Cushing, a Pitt film-studies grad, on craigslist, and they began shooting after scant preparation. With setbacks including fan hostility to the Coach Jason persona, says Cushing, "The first week really was a kind of disaster."
But the pair -- with help from Georgiades' old Shadyside Academy classmate Chet Vincent, who supplied the original trick-play idea and wrote the film's narration -- The Steal Phantom got made. It premiered on Pitt's campus in October, and later screened at the Philadelphia-area Delaware Valley Film Festival.
Georgiades, a studio-arts major, is set to graduate in May. Cushing, 25, recently relocated to New York, where he's interning for Vice Magazine's Internet-TV station, VBS. Georgiades still enthuses about their collaboration. "It sounds like some kind of weird dating service," he says of the craigslist match. "We both had the same interests and the same ambition to get something done."
Film Kitchen 8 p.m. Tue., Dec. 11 (7 p.m. reception). Melwood Screening Room, 477 Melwood Ave., North Oakland. $4. 412-316-3342, x178 or www.filmkitchenpgh.org