Posted by: lucylightning | November 9, 2015

Event Preview: The Room Screening

by Lucy Leitner

The Room may be the worst movie ever made. It’s a story of a love triangle, but the numerous divergent plot lines turn it into a dodecagon with sides that never meet. Terrible filmmaker Tommy Wiseau’s opus of bizarre ineptitude has inspired a book (The Disaster Artist, which is being adapted for screen by talented people Seth Rogen and James Franco), a video game, and legions of devotees that make screenings of the film a Rocky Horror-like spectacle. Badness of this level is rare, such ineptitude an art form that warrants academic study as a hilarious lesson on the inverse relationship between confidence and ability.

The University of Pittsburgh Film Department will screen this “Citizen Kane of bad movies” as part of its Cult Film course on campus next Wednesday evening. The event will be an immersive experience in the world of cult cinema, from viewing a recent classic to understand what characteristics inspire cultish devotion and the behavior of said cults.

Devotees of The Room engage in several customs at set times in the film. They greet auteur/actor Tommy Wiseau when he appears on the screen, count aloud allusions to the best friendship between the two male leads, and shout when the film goes in and out of focus. In honor of the cutlery-based art that provides mise-en-scene throughout the film, attendees will receive plastic spoons to hurl at the screen. The Film Department will also provide spongy footballs for audience members to follow along when characters toss a football on screen.

Get familiar with the full scope of The Room audience participation with this definitive guide from The Onion’s AV Club.

The event is free but, with Thanksgiving right around the corner, non-perishable food donations are encouraged to be sent to local food banks.

Name: The University of Pittsburgh Film Studies Cult Film course presents Tommy Wiseau’s “The Room”
Location: Cathedral of Learning G24
Date: Wednesday, November 18
Time: Intro begins at 8:30, Film starts at 8:45
Event Includes: Film, free goodie bags with all cult tradition materials, and the full cult film screening experience.
Admission: FREE
Posted by: lucylightning | October 28, 2014

The Other Side

by Lucy Leitner

Even though The Other Side is their first full-length feature, Orchard Place Productions knows how to put on a damn movie premiere. Drinks at a private bar, prix fixe dinner, red carpet, photo ops in front of a The Other Side backdrop — the VIP event Saturday night at Latitude 360 was a real movie premiere in Pittsburgh. The opening remarks of from co-directors Chris Niespodzianski and Ray Mongelli and producers John Niespodzianski and Christopher Murphy even included some news — they’ve just signed with Cyfuno Ventures to handle distribution.

the other side premiere

Chris Niespodzianski, Ray Mongelli, John Niespodzianski, Christopher Murphy deliver opening remarks.

The quick introduction opened a screening of the film in the venue’s comedy club that was packed with cast and crew and supporters of the ambitious local zombie flick.

Ash (Christine Starkey) is missing. That wouldn’t be that much of a concern — she’s disappeared before — but she hasn’t taken any of her many meds. Her implied history of mental illness could explain why Ash is disoriented in the woods, with blood dripping from a head injury and no memory of how she got there, only a vague sense of dread that something is after her. So she follows Chuck (Chucky Hendershot), a mysterious stranger who claims he’s being chased.

Ash’s recently un-estranged husband Chris (Chad Conley) isn’t too worried until he hears that more locals have been reported missing. And in a town as small as Elkwood, even just a few missing persons is enough to cause a stir. 42 miles outside of Pittsburgh, Elkwood needs to be small to work with the film’s budget, and small-town tropes act as conduits for the plot. Every character has a sordid history with one another. Whether that history is necessary is a matter of debate, as none of the pre-existing story lines prove truly integral to the current drama.


The law of Elkwood: Tom Mirth, Benjamin Sheeler, Matt Bright, Lamar Darnell Fields

There’s Greg (Jack Davis) the parole officer with a haunted past; Chris and Ash’s mildly traumatized daughter Cami (Michelle Coben); Natalie (Danielle Lozeau) Ash’s shrill, combative sister; Joe (Rob Liscio) the town criminal/husband of Natalie/enemy of Chris; power-mad mayor (Christopher Murphy); and Elkwood’s own version of Andy Brennan (Matt Bright).

The film examines what a once-unfaithful husband and father does when the zombies arrive, how an everyman re-evaluates his priorities in the face of zombies. The body count is high and the cell phone towers haven’t even gone down yet. How many casualties will Elkwood lose to shock, fear, and confusion?

The fruit-swatting crazy mayor refuses to acknowledge that there’s a problem, but his “all is well” edict serves more as an affirmation of his ruthless ambition than as a mechanism to advance the plot. A meeting with police chief Dodson (Benjamin Sheeler) quickly escalates to a screaming match. Is it something in the fertilizer in Elkwood that causes emotions to get out of hand as quickly as a San Diego news team brawl? Every conversation with Natalie becomes a verbal bout of Frank and Estelle Costanza magnitude, a tense encounter with an old football buddy goes from talk to taser within a minute, and a gun is always the first weapon used.

the other side

With a budget less than $50,000, The Other Side is an ambitious undertaking and directors Niespodzianski and Mongelli never seem in over their heads or try to exceed their means. Cinematography was impressive, with some shots looking like they were run through Instagram. Elaborate special effects are virtually non-existent, eliminating the possibility of looking fake. Camera work was clever, with close-up shots used to convey a full school population with relatively few adolescent extras and locations that were likely not what they were supposed to be (i.e., a golf course). The modest budget also led to a darkly comedic moment in which the aftermath of an encounter with zombies is shown in lieu of the massacre itself.

The film has a twist ending that was the entire thrust of the eponymous short that won the 2012 Pittsburgh Zombie Shorts Festival. While the twist was more effective and surprising in the short (there’s a reason why O. Henry wrote short stories instead of full-length novels — it’s difficult to sustain a secret for 90 minutes or a novel, unless you pull a Chuck Palahniuk and place a twist at the end of every act), it proved a unique look at zombie films. And they never cheated the audience. There were hints, so astute watchers could figure it out.

the other side premiere

A veritable horde of supporters filled the comedy club at Latitude 360

The Other Side moved as quickly as many of its zombies through the opening stages of an undead apocalypse in the microcosm that is Elkwood, PA. Is the virus an epidemic with global implications or something that is cataclysmic merely to this small town? We don’t know for sure (though there are hints that the disaster may be the result of local greed), and ultimately it doesn’t matter. Ambiguity renders the probable villain more antagonistic than bad. Punishment is equally non-committal as Chris Niespodzianski’s screenplay is to the zombie origin sub-plot, making its inclusion dubious. The heart of The Other Side beats hardest when handling how an everyman in Everytown, USA tosses the pre-existing drama with the living aside and fights for his and his family’s survival. The movie poster asks, “Where will you be when it begins?” Though we will most likely be in different surroundings, we will all face the same challenges. It’s about uniting the living against the threat that has risen from the dead.

The Other Side – 2nd Official Trailer from Chris Niespodzianski on Vimeo.

Check out The Other Side on December 6 at the Hollywood Theater. This unique “concert and a movie” event features performances by four bands that provided original songs for the film — Venus In Furs, Fist Fight In The Parking Lot, Homicide Black, and Supervoid.

Pre-order the DVD and the all-Pittsburgh soundtrack from Orchard Place Productions.

Posted by: lucylightning | March 10, 2014

Faces of Work: Carnegie Mellon International Festival

by Lucy Leitner

It’s the eighth edition of the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival. Each year is a different set of faces, a different theme that literally puts a human face on a something to which we can all relate. From March 20 through April 5, the McConomy Auditorium on CMU’s campus will feature the Faces of Work.

The year’s festival is dedicated to the late CMU professor, filmmaker, and psychologist Paul Goodman whose professional focus was on workers worldwide. His award-winning documentary Shipbreakers is among the 15 films featured at the festival.

faces of work

The films range from the Chinese treatment of Internet dependence as an addiction to war-torn Rwanda’s optimistic path to recovery.

By centering on a theme, the festival shows how, though the faces are diverse and the words that come out of the mouths are all different languages, we are all united by certain themes.

“We try to take into account a broad, globally relevant theme that could encompass a wide variety of film subjects, such as ‘Faces of Democracy’ or ‘Faces of Migration,’” said festival director Jolanta Lion. “Oftentimes we also select a theme that corresponds well with the missions of our sponsors.”

Following each festival, Lion, the Assistant Director of the Humanities Center at Carnegie Mellon University, decides on a new theme based on the aforementioned factors. She travels to festivals around the world to find films that fit into the theme and will appeal to the audience in Pittsburgh. The student festival selections committee helps her to narrow down the list.

This year’s selections include several prestigious titles:

Walesa: Man of Hope
Poland. A biopic about the Solidarity Trade Union leader and Nobel Peace Prize-winning politician Lech Walesa. The event features an appearance by former Polish first lady Danuta Walesa.

USA/India. A documentary about the fascinating and chaotic trade of shipbreaking on Indian ports. The screening is the opening night event at CMU and features food from Coriander India Grill, as well as a panel discussion with director Ralph Vituccio and local professors and journalists.

The Square
Egypt/USA. A view of Egypt’s 2011 revolution from inside Tahrir Square. The event includes a panel discussion with Pitt professors.

Web Junkie
China/Israel/USA. A behind-the-barbed-wire look into a Chinese military facility where Internet addiction is treated like a disease that requires rehabilitation. After the screening, director Shosh Shlam will answer questions.

The Cleaner
Peru. Lima is the site of a fatal epidemic in this dystopian look at urban desolation in which the protagonist disposes of human corpses for a living. The film will be screened twice — one will be free while the other features a Q&A with director Adrian Saba.

Eat Sleep Die
Sweden. A young Muslim immigrant struggles to find work while caring for her ailing father in southern Sweden.

Master of the Universe
Germany/Austria. A glimpse into the not-always-glamorous life of an investment banker. This screening is only open to SMU students and faculty.

Sofia’s Last Ambulance
Bulgaria/Germany/Croatia. The film spotlights the issue of a deteriorating emergency response system through this day-in-the-life film of three first responders in Sofia, Bulgaria. The film will be preceded by Dr. Paul Goodman’s short Nurse, a profile of a neo-natal nurse at Pittsburgh’s Mercy Hospital.

Open City of Amereida
Chile/USA. This documentary details the history of the city that was created as a laboratory for architecture and perspectives on the unique philosophy by which its inhabitants abide. The event features a Q&A with director Andres Tapia-Urzua and Chilean wine.

Chad/France. A noir drama about a unique dancer with a rare condition that enables flexibility who becomes involved in criminal activities when the family business hits hard times. Afro-Brazilian music and dance ensemble Nego Gato will perform at the screening.

Madame Presidenta: Why Not U.S.? — Vamos Meninas!
USA/Brazil. Director Heather Arnet (CEO of the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania) travels to Brazil to ask women how the culture shifted to enable a woman to be elected president. The event includes a Q&A with Arnet.

Women’s Day
Poland. An underdog story about a single mother in a managerial role at a supermarket that delves into broader issues of gender roles in the workforce and workers’ rights in Poland. Renowned Polish writer Piotr Adamowicz will moderate a discussion after the screening.

Iran. Loyalty and friendship are tested in this thriller about mismatched roommates in contemporary Tehran. Conflict Kitchen will cater the reception and director Parviz Shahbazi will answer questions after the screening.

At Berkeley
USA. As tuition rates skyrocket, students at legendary college of dissent UC — Berkeley organize protests for affordable public education. The event features a discussion with local college professors.

Sweet Dreams
Rwanda/USA. An uplifting look at the creative means that women try to start anew in post-genocide Rwanda. This closing night event features a Q&A with director Lisa Fruchtman and a reception catered by Dave & Andy’s Homemade Ice Cream.

The Faces of Work festival also includes the shortFACES film competition. Each selected 8-minute film will be screened before the feature films, with $1,000 going to the first prize winner.

The annual Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival is planned and executed almost entirely by CMU and Pitt students under the guidance of Lion. To learn more about the festival and purchase tickets, visit the web site:

Posted by: lucylightning | February 17, 2014


by Lucy Leitner

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave depicts an ancient prison where inmates have lived since birth, where the only reality they know is composed of the shadows of artifacts. When a prisoner is liberated and presented with actual reality, he refuses to believe it. To him, the shadows are real. When he is free, he is presented with light that he feels is blinding. After a while, instead of pulling a Slingblade (a contemporary reference, to be sure) and getting sent back to the darkness to which he is accustomed, he literally sees the light and understands reality. The Allegory from Plato’s The Republic is about the eternal themes of power of denial and the ability to accept things that you don’t already “know” to be true.

This is the basis for CAVE, a short film by a group of Pittsburghers currently residing in Hollywood West. Except the allegory is not a primitive prison, but the shadowy world of drug addiction. It’s a black and white, day-in-the-life portrait of two addicts (played by Dean Jacobs and Mike Wagner) as they grift and steal to support their habit that enables them to live in their own reality.

Writer/director/producer Vipassi Calabro (a Bethel Park native) and producer/writer Timothy Papciak (also from Pittsburgh) were developing a feature based on the life of a late friend when they began to think of short form projects on the same theme of drug addiction and recovery. The original draft was already written and the film cast when Calabro “got lost in a Wikipedia wormhole” and discovered Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

“I was immediately floored by the resemblance of our story to the Allegory and how well drug addiction fit within the narrative of Plato’s Cave,” Calabro said. “From this point on we found the depth we were all searching for and the Allegory served as an anchor on all creative choices moving forward.”

The 35-minute film came together through this network of displaced Pittsburghers. Calabro met producer/actor Dean Jacobs (Scream Park) nearly a decade ago at a South Side Slopes house party. They shared a similar taste in movies, and maintained the friendship when the happened to move to LA around the same time.

Calabro knew Papciak and costume designer Lindsey Tervo-Clemmens from working on independent films in Pittsburgh. Through Tervo-Clemmens, fellow Pittsburgher Mike Wagner auditioned and earned a starring role. While studying film at the University of New Orleans, Calabro befriended director of photography Vailios Sfinarolakis. They are currently editing the documentary Tekoha: Land Without Evil, which they also produced. The comradery of the cast and crew made this “passion project” possible.

cave the movie

“Everyone on the crew brought details from their lives to this story and this really is a film that benefited from such an intimate collaboration,” Calabro said.

The plan is to submit CAVE to several film festivals — both domestic and international — with Pittsburgh International Film Festival at the top of the list. Right now, the cast and crew are taking a “working class,” grassroots approach and promoting the film through social media and their own social skills. And it seems to be working. The teaser garnered more than 5,000 views in its first day online. The film, that Calabro describes as “American Blues-Rust-Belt Realism,” is shot cleanly in a chiaroscuro style that emphasizes the contrast between light and dark that is the dichotomy between life inside and outside of any literal or allegorical cave.

“This is a passion project that deals with cyclical and habitual drug use and the path to recovery,” Calabro said. “So, this is a film for those stuck in the Cave and for all those dedicating their lives to helping the prisoners within see the light outside.”

Learn more about Cave:
On Tumblr:
On Facebook:
On Twitter: @CAVEthefilm

Posted by: lucylightning | January 27, 2014

Jack & Emma

by Lucy Leitner

Jack and Emma chased the Hollywood dream for 12 years. But, like so many others, it didn’t work out. Now, instead of becoming failed Hollywood clichés, they’re moving back home to the fictional town of Oaktown, Pennsylvania. And, as the animated intro says, everyone is pretty excited. That is the premise of the new Pittsburgh-made comedy web series Jack & Emma.

Show creators Kati and Blake Lightholder, of Apartment 11 Studios, play the eponymous characters and, like their characters on the show, they’re also married. Though they’ve both been active in their own projects, this is their first joint endeavor. They hope to have more success with the locally made web series than Jack and Emma did in LA.

FB cover image 1.9

While a web series may seem like an affordable endeavor, it’s more complex than just “a couple of friends with a camera.”

Kati would know. She’s had success with web series in the past. She produced The Mercury Men, the local series created by Chris Preksta (also of Pittsburgh Dad fame) that got picked up by the Syfy network and became one of the most downloaded shows on iTunes.

“We treated Jack & Emma like a TV show from the very beginning,” Kati Lightholder said. “We went through several rounds of casting to find our actors. Our crew was made up of mostly professionals. We composed original music. It took nearly a year to bring everything together.”

That’s why the Lightholders have launched an indiegogo campaign to fund the project. They’re seeking $30,000 to facilitate their mission to fill the web with quirky, clean, socially responsible comedy. They’ve already got non-profit Fractured Atlas behind them, but need more funding to be responsible to their cast and crew.

By clean and socially responsible, they don’t mean prude and preachy — just hoping to make a positive influence by being relevant and funny without being vulgar and offensive. They want to earn their laughs through light-hearted social commentary (like the Mailman Surveillance Agency) and character-driven humor that does not depend on shock value.

The film Sonny Days, in which Kati Lightholder starred, operated on a similar philosophy of character eccentricities providing the humor.

“We love ensemble comedies with unique and quirky characters — the Jenna Maroneys, Phil Dunphes, and Ron Swansons of the world. There are so many talented actors here in Pittsburgh that we were able to surround Jack and Emma with lots of interesting characters,” Kati said.

Indeed, there are some recognizable locals in the cast. Comedian Aaron Kleiber, also of Sonny Days, is Fender, Jack’s childhood “hombre” who went through an expired-Oreo-cookie-binging dark period when his pal left. He’s thrilled for best bud Jack’s return, or his “coming full circle, like a rotisserie chicken.”

Jim Donovan, founding member of Rusted Root and Kati’s brother, plays the domestic espionage-obsessed Greg the Mailman in a manner reminiscent of Danny McBride.

Emma’s naïve high school friends Maddie (Julie Beroes), Jen (Jennie Bushnell), and Kirsten (Klase Danko) are thrilled to relive their “wild” teenage years. They all should have been behind bars. If bartending weren’t a man’s job. Marie (Claire Chapelli) is anxious to see her sister again, while her New Age husband Daan (Joseph James) wants to reach out to them, presumably in a way more uncomfortable than just about anything they’d encounter in even Venice Beach.

The only one who doesn’t share the enthusiasm is Krish, an aspiring stand-up comedian, played by Krish Mohan, an actual stand-up comedian.

jack and emma pittsburgh web series

Local voice artist Molly Difiore provides the narration, and interviews the characters’ on-camera testimonials that serve as promotional videos for the series until they receive the funding to film the full-length pilot.

The Mercury Men proved that we could produce a high-end finished product without a large budget. It all came down to the right mix of people. So I knew how important it was to get the right people no matter what size our budget was,” Kati said.

Kati and Blake Lightholder are creators, writers, and producers of the show. Though some of the monologue lines seem extemporaneous in their delivery, the show is 95% scripted.

“They are all just amazing actors,” Kati said.

The indiegogo campaign runs until February 18. Contributions range from $15 to $15,000, the latter of which gives the opportunity to appear in the pilot episode. Due to the affiliation with Fractured Atlas, your contributions to the campaign are tax deductible.

Yes, memorabilia and the feeling that you’re getting out of giving some money to a government that may or may not fund a Mailman Surveillance Agency are great perks, but the real reward should be helping a well-intentioned project that can be a huge boon to the local entertainment industry.

No one involved in the project fled their home of Pittsburgh for the bright lights and burst pipe dreams of Los Angeles. They stayed with cloudy skies and the water main breaks. They are all determined to make it work in Pittsburgh, which, in turn, makes our city earn its nickname of Hollywood East. And that’s why you should help fund Jack & Emma — to make it possible for a TV series to happen here. To be locally produced, filmed, acted. We don’t want to lose local talent to Hollywood. Make it your social responsibility. We want to retain our talent. Don’t let the cast and crew and other people after become Jack and Emma. Help make Hollywood happen here.

Support the indiegogo campaign
Learn more on the official Jack & Emma web site
Get updates on Facebook
Follow them on Twitter
Check out promo episodes on YouTube

Posted by: lucylightning | December 9, 2013

Out of the Furnace

by Lucy Leitner

One thing is certain: if Christian Bale works in a factory, he should not be driving.

In the bleak, laugh-less Out of the Furnace, Bale’s protagonist Russell is a steelworker in Braddock with a dying father, a troubled brother Rodney (Casey Affleck), and a beautiful girlfriend Lena (Zoe Saldana). It’s not much — it’s Braddock — but he’s happy. He’s doing it right. Until it all goes wrong when he takes an ill-advised whiskey shot from local loan shark John (Willem Dafoe) and winds up killing a kid in a DUI crash. I think. The camera angle left it purposefully vague and apparently without a driver in the victim’s car.

He’s in jail while Rodney’s post-deployment job prospects and mental state continue to deteriorate, while his father dies, while his girlfriend leaves him for the local police chief Wesley (Forrest Whitaker). John, he of the fateful whiskey shot, has been making Rodney take dives in underground boxing matches to pay back a debt he owes to violent, lollipop-sucking, crank-injecting, psychotic, hill-dwelling belt buckle enthusiast Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson).

Things got bad. Yet, with the exception of getting ditched for Forrest Whitaker, those circumstances would not have been different if he had not been jailed. Unless the angel Clarence shows up and shows Russell how one action could have led his brother to a more merciful fate. So, why send him to jail? To show the futility of living a good life? Of hard work every day when the steel mill is just going to close soon anyway? Of Rodney’s search for a career after four tours in Iraq? Of giving years to his country for nothing in return except a pair of fatigue pants to wear in an illicit boxing ring? Of the police when Rodney goes missing? Of being an underground boxing promoter/loan shark with a heart of, well — what’s the lowest carat of gold? The futility of trying to live a good life when you can just be Harlan DeGroat?

Futility appears to be the central theme and the scenes and plot lines surround it appear, without taking an existential look, futile. Character motivations are clear even though their methods are often muddled. This is not a criticism of the writing — the characters are just frustratingly human.

You know where the movie is going. You know that the characters are going to react in a manner that will not be most beneficial in the long run. The only real surprise is that Christian Bale can get left for Forrest Whitaker. You know that Russell’s actions are motivated — at least in part — by righteousness, Rodney’s by desperation, Harlan’s by being the worst person in the world. And, with the exception of blatant racism, Harlan has just about every villainous trait possible. He’s a like a Hills Have Eyes mountain villain without the radiation to justify his violent madness. We know he’s bad in the first scene of the movie and John does not let us forget it with constant verbal reminders. He is a villain with no redeeming qualities, no complex motivation besides greed and bloodlust. The deepest we get into Harlan is a hint of cowardice when he pulls the trigger. Mickey Knox had a better shot at redemption than Harlan DeGroat. But that’s okay. His villainy is focused on being a greedy, drug-addled hillbilly psycho. He is not a conglomeration of every villain cliche. He is not The Governor.

And Harrelson’s performance, like the rest of the cast, makes it work. The dramatic chops of all the players kept a bleak, humorless exploration of human futility entertaining.

In terms of the Pittsburgh setting, there’s not much to see. And the actual current state of Braddock is the opposite of the futility theme of the film — what with mayor John Fetterman’s constant efforts to get the city out of Atlantis status and infuse it with art and commerce to put it back on the map. However, it provides an ideal backdrop on a visual level for the film. There’s some black and gold and Russell sports a neck tattoo that appears to be a local zip code beginning with 1510-.

This is not one of the films that makes Pittsburgh look beautiful. It doesn’t make anything look beautiful. It’s bleak, but not hopeless. It’s not a surprise, but it’s an interesting detour to exactly where you thought you’d be going.
Posted by: lucylightning | November 8, 2013

M is for Mothership

by Lucy Leitner

A is for Aaron J. Shelton, a local filmmaker and instructor/editor at the Douglas Education Center who calls serving as AC on the Honey Boo Boo episode of Toddlers and Tiaras his claim to fame.

M is for M is for Mothership, Shelton’s two-and-a-half-minute entry into the ABCs of Death 2 competition, a horror short contest in which the public votes for the winners with the Facebook Like button. The rules are simple — create a short film inspired by a word that begins with the letter M. Shelton went the extra-terrestrial route.

“Since childhood, I’ve been fascinated/terrified by aliens, alien abduction and UFOs,” Shelton said.

abcs-of-death 2

He brought in Andy Westfall, who is currently wrapping up the soccer documentary Muerte o Gloria: The Rise of the American Soccer Fan, and mentor Robert Tinnell — a director, comic book writer, producer (Surf Nazis Must Die), and DEC’s Factory Digital Filmmaking Program Director — as producers. Tinnell suggested that the short alien film be part of the Final Product class, a course for students in their graduating semester to create a short film with an industry professional.

“The students just didn’t fetch coffee,” Shelton said. “I mean, some of them did that, but they also served in prominent roles.”

Indeed, every major role outside of producer, Shelton’s writer/director credit, composer Duncan Blickenstaff, and actor (local pro Seth Gontkovic) was filled by a DEC student. Tom Savini Special Effects Program students, led by Carlos “Mayhem” Alba, created the special effects with student Jess Phillips was responsible for wearing some of those special effects (the alien suit). The Director of Photography (Michael Scardina), Assistant Director (David J. Oates), and Editor (Nick Eisel) jobs were all completed by students as well.

pittsburgh short film

The school schedule condensed shooting to the weekend before the competition deadline in a model home in Morgantown, WV. Post production took place in a grueling week that included 25 visual effects shots. The hard work paid off and Shelton’s film is a sophisticated, exciting, and weird two and half minutes that deserves more votes than (probably) many winning politicians got across the nation on Tuesday.

Just visit the film’s page at the A,B,Cs of Death 2 website and click the Facebook Like button above the video to vote.

Learn more about Aaron Shelton’s work by visiting

Posted by: lucylightning | October 29, 2013

Steel City Secret Cinema: Part III

by Lucy Leitner

It’s back. The movie behind the mask. steel-city-secret-cinema-part-iii-95

For the third time, Steel City Secret Cinema comes to the Hollywood Theater in Dormont. As usual, the film is more hidden than Hollyburgh has been in the past six months. But here’s what event founder Colin Matthews is willing to divulge:

Friday, November 1.

7:00 PM:
Doors open.

7:00 to 9:00 PM:
Live music by Tracksploitation.
Gallery featuring local art inspired by the film
Food from Round Corner Cantina, The Salted Pig,
Market District, Aladdin’s Eatery, and Eat ‘n Park.
Beer from East End Brewing (Big Hop IPA and Blackberry Rye).

9:00 to 10:30 PM:
Film screening.

10:30 PM:
Raffle prizes.
Poster unveiling by Pittsburgh artist Zeb Love.

This season’s film is a dark comedy. It is not regionally significant, which eliminates, surprisingly, nothing. As usual, all proceeds benefit the Hollywood and Lawrenceville WORKS!

“I’d like to think this event has been a success because it’s unique, and of course, it’s for a good cause,” Matthews said. “So even if you don’t see the movie you were expecting, you’ll still leave the night feeling good about yourself… and of course we have plenty of beer to go around.”

Tickets are available on Showclix and it’s probably a good idea to get them immediately seeing how the event has been growing in popularity. About 150 cinephiles turned up for the spring Day of the Dead screening and tickets sales for Friday’s event have already surpassed those for the Romero classic.

Even though the movie is a secret until 9:00 Friday night, even though the only hint is a genre — no comedy can be blacker and more painful to watch than the black and gold comedy of errors we’ve been seeing every Sunday this season.

Posted by: lucylightning | May 1, 2013

Atrocity 2013: Commedia Dell’Morte Carnivale

by Lucy Leitner

Before last year’s Atrocity exhibition, I was a bit apprehensive. Sure, it seemed cool and my friend Lita D’Vargas would be performing, but the event page also showed a guy hanging from hooks implanted in his skin. As someone who has trouble with National Geographic photos of African lip plates, I didn’t think this would be the event for me. I’ve fallen asleep during The Exorcist and laughed hysterically at A Nightmare on Elm Street, but Tod Browning’s Freaks gave me nightmares. So, the concept of a live, modern-day sideshow made me uncomfortable.atrocity exhibition

The specter of pinheads and those afflicted with Proteus Syndrome is not necessarily a rational fear. More people may actually have Proteus Syndrome than this worry. However, I saw the suspension act and extrapolated terrifying sideshow from there.

Instead, when I attended the annual show at the Rex Theater, I found that it featured a burlesque performance with tentacles and current RuPaul’s Drag Race finalist Alaska Thunderfuck 5000 running around mostly naked in a chicken mask.

It turned out to be my kind of event.

“It’s a gathering of talented weirdos,” said event organizer and sideshow/burlesque performer Macabre Noir.

Many assumptions about Atrocity are probably wrong. This Saturday’s event is not a freak show. Yes, it is a spectacle and this year’s theme of Commedia Dell’Morte Carnivale denotes a circus atmosphere. This is accurate. But it’s not a sideshow. It’s a combination of the main stage of early 20th century circus performances and the Renaissance-era Italian masked theater commedia dell’arte.

Macabre Noir

Macabre Noir

Some artists are billed as “drag guignols.” The music will be Bat Cave. There will be ballyhoo entertainment.

I can tell you how to say “end mill” in at least five different languages (and explain what an end mill is and how it can be as genocidal to nickel-chromium alloys as Pol Pot), but I don’t know what any of those words mean. You could ask Siri to tell you what they are, but attending Atrocity guarantees that you’ll see more nipple tassles. Siri doesn’t wear those. Prude.

Carnivale is a celebration of several nearly lost forms of entertainment, a Rosetta Stone for people like me who are not well-versed in strange, dark, yet comical theatrical stage spectacles in the many eras B.A.C. (Before Alice Cooper).

And it has a story. That you can read on the Atrocity web site.

The Atrocity show is different from goth nights and fetish events that pop up in town with some regularity. This is an almost academic fusion of the old and the new, an appreciation of influences that made each performer who they are. With booze.

And a concession stand. With popcorn and black and white lollipops. And a sense of humor. Drag queen Cherry Baum will host the event with a comical flair as a circus ringmaster.

Penny Delapoison

Penny Delapoison

Penny Delapoison will perform a sideshow/burlesque number. Her narrative performance last year to The Dresden Dolls’ “Missed Me” — the sweetest song about pedophilia second only to Faith No More’s “Edge of the World” — got me hooked on Amanda Palmer’s entire catalog.

Countess Von Tella, billed as a “notorious bizarre performance artist” will likely do just that. Last year’s number involved what appeared to be the top of Bib Fortuna’s head. It was highly cool.

Lita D’Vargas will perform a show-long burlesque striptease between acts. “Lita can tell a story,” Macabre said. “If I give her the lyrics, she can figure out how to take her clothes off to it in a day. She’s a professional and has a passion for what she does.”

Lita D'Vargas

Lita D’Vargas

“Pain-proof man” Gypsy’s promotional photo depicts him lying on nails. He’s a founding member of Kabarett Vulgare, the performance artist troupe from which most of the local acts hail.

Legendary Pittsburgh jazz chanteuse Phat Man Dee will provide a surely striking vocal performance with much more than a hint of bizarre.

Flesh suspension artist Reverend Decay, from Frederick, MD, will do something interesting that is apparently not flesh suspension this year.

New Orleans-based Vinsantos will contribute a vocal and piano performance while Cherry Von Bomb will come to town from Charlotte, NC for a burlesque/sideshow act.

“Pittsburgh’s premier pain-proof clown and performance arsonist” (according to his Facebook page), Andrew the Impaled will lend his strange sensibilities to the evening. Drag/burlesque/sideshow performer Lilith DeVille will also be featured.

The floor of the Rex will be filled with vendors peddling the art darker than anything that requires training to defend oneself against.



The preparation for the next Atrocity starts as soon as the previous one ends. After about six months of planning the aesthetic, theme, and story, and booking performers, Macabre and her artistic partner Dr. Morose (the two also run the House of Oddities) begin promotions with a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to bring in out-of-state entertainers.

“We don’t do it for money. It’s just an excuse to get together, make stuff, be weird, and do something cool,” Macabre said.

This arduous preparation process, the “weirdo exchange program of foster homes” to house the out-of-towners, the behind-the-scenes intrigue — it’s all fodder for a movie.

Brian Cottington of Daggervision Films has been chronicling the event for a documentary that he plans to premiere in the fall. As of this writing, he’s filmed interviews with most of the Pittsburgh-based acts and plans to capture the out-of-towners as they filter in Friday.

Reverend Decay

Reverend Decay

“For me the main purpose of the documentary is to illustrate two very real points. One, that there is this massive underground event that occurs each year filled with some of the most bizarre acts you can find in Pittsburgh,” Cottington said. “The second, and arguably more important point, is that these individuals, despite their outward appearance and weird talents, are deep down as human and normal as everyone else. These people have morals, values, families, and friends.”

He’ll have three cameras at the show to get footage of the acts and capture audience reaction.

“When the entertainers are happy, the audience is happy, everyone is happy,” Macabre said.

While the event so scholarly in so many regards, it set the record for booze sales at the legendary Rex. It is a simultaneous homage to and update of performance art forms of the past.

It’s not what you’d expect.

It has lofty ambitions.

And pasties.

Learn more about Atrocity on Facebook.

 by Meg Huber

“Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can change the world.”
-Howard Zinn, The Optimism of Uncertainty

Such was the message of Steeltown Entertainment Project’s recent event, “The People Speak Live: Student Edition.” The event took place as part of Steeltown’s Take a Shot at Changing the World contest.

Middle and high school students from Westinghouse, CAPA, Environmental Charter School, and Highland gathered together on April 24 at Pittsburgh CAPA downtown to perform for their parents, their peers and their supporters. Several of Pittsburgh’s well-known public figures joined the students on stage, including Sally Wiggin (WTAE) , Chris Moore (WQED, WPXI) and Lynn Cullen (Lynn Cullen Live).

Inspired by historian Howard Zinn’s book Voices of a People’s History and the documentary The People Speak, the kids prepared pieces of art that reflected how they see their place in the world and what they might do to change it. The performances included everything from interpretive dance to singing to original short films.

take a shot

Guided by teachers and staff at Steeltown, the students prepared their pieces with one central theme in mind: how can the world in which we live be changed for the better?

In May of last year, Steeltown and WQED brought actors and activists together for the original event, The People Speak Live at WQED’s Fred Rogers studio. Actors Matt Damon  (Promised Land, Good Will Hunting), Emily Blunt (The Devil Wears Prada) and John Krasinski  (The Office, Promised Land) joined hometown figures, including Cullen and Vanessa German, to read from the works of Howard Zinn and inspire the community to dig deeper into history, to question our world, and find a way to take action.

On Wednesday night at CAPA, the students showed how inspired they were. Several acts, including a poem, a slideshow and interpretive dances, poignantly portrayed what it is like to live in Homewood, or one of the “bad areas” of the city. A particularly moving piece showed pictures of all the vacant, boarded-up houses and neighborhoods through which kids walk to school every day and where they call home.

Several girls from Westinghouse put together a song/skit that showed their reaction to arts education cuts that are being made in their school. They recreated one of their classrooms on stage and started a beat with their pencils and scissors, accompanying two songs, beautifully sung (Impossible by Shontelle  and 16 @ War by Karina Pasian).

take a shot 2

Several budding filmmakers debuted their short films at the event. One film, meant to raise awareness about pollution and the environment, showed what it might be like to live in a world 50 years from now where we can’t breathe the air. Another filmmaker asked several people around Pittsburgh what they like about the city and what they wish they could change, and spliced clips together so each person interviewed said one word of a sentence that was turned into a poem.

And what performance would be complete without dancers? Several girls created an interpretive dance involving a homeless person, a doctor, a lawyer, and someone in show business and the impact they had on someone living in poverty. Two girls from CAPA danced, one in black and one in white, representing our need to work together and to stand united.

The mood was light as the kids clapped along with the singer and guitarist as they performed “Over My Head (Cable Car)”  by the Fray. They encouraged each other to talk about their videos and dances. They laughed during the rap video produced by a seventh grader encouraging fair trade. And they enthusiastically applauded every performance and every performer.

With their show of creativity and hard lessons learned, it looked like many people in this world have something to learn from these students, rather than the other way around.

Wiggin,  Moore,  Cullen and CAPA’s Kate Daher each added their own thought-provoking message throughout the night. Lynn Cullen read a passionate piece about women’s rights, and Moore encouraged the kids to read and learn history outside of what their school’s textbooks teach and explained that knowledge is power.  Wiggin read from Jane Goodall’s book Reason for Hope emphasizing the need to avoid “just-me-ism,” where you think one person can’t make a difference. And  Daher concluded the night with our opening quote: small acts can change the world.

Learn more about Steeltown’s Take a Shot at Changing the World contest at Students can submit their short film about how Pittsburgh has changed the world or how they could take social action. The deadline to submit is May 1st.

Older Posts »