If a major movie came to town in the past few years, Ryan O’Shea was most likely in the end credits. Though many would be thrilled to retire with those credits, Ryan’s career is just getting started. He just graduated from the University of Pittsburgh where he headed Pitt in Hollywood and shrewdly positioned himself as a reliable go-to PA.
So, Hollyburgh had a bunch of questions for this ubiquitous Pittsburgh film wunderkind to get an inside look at what happens in a typical day on set and his perspective on the possibility of launching an entire movie career in Pittsburgh.
Talk about what movies you’ve worked on in Pittsburgh? Have you worked on other films in other locations?
I’ve worked on a number of movies in Pittsburgh, including Warrior, The Next Three Days, Love and Other Drugs, One For The Money, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Jack Reacher, The Dark Knight Rises, and Elixir, among others. I also have done television and commercial work. Mainly I work in Pittsbugh, but since I just graduated I now have the option of travelling.
What were your jobs on the productions?
So far I’ve primarily been a Production Assistant, or PA. The job description of a PA changes greatly between project and department, so it’s a lot of thinking on your feet and adapting to the situation. I’ve jumped around, having worked in Wardrobe, Casting, Art, Locations, the Production offices, etc. Usually I’m working on set with the AD Department, though. I’ve also worked as a stand-in, meaning I take the place of the actor while the shot is being blocked and lit.
What did you study in college and how did it prepare you to work on big-budget movies?
I double majored in Film and Communications at Pitt, with a minor in History. Unfortunately, Pitt focuses mainly film theory, meaning that hands-on production experience is hard to come by. No production is going to ask what you learned in school, though. You get a job in film by showing up and working hard, so having that determination and drive is what prepares you.
How did you land these jobs and internships?
During the spring semester of my freshman year, I took a journalism class and wrote an article on the up-and-coming Pittsburgh film scene. Warrior had just been announced, so I decided I’d try to interview someone involved with the production. Eventually I tracked down the contact information of the Production Supervisor, and at the end of the interview asked him “How can Pittsburghers, perhaps college students, get involved with the production?”
I wasn’t asking for my article, I was asking for myself. I think he knew this, and we set up an interview. I was offered an internship, and by halfway through production I had completed my internship hours and was hired as a PA. Getting those first connections and a credit is key to future work, and I was lucky to do that by my freshman year. After Warrior wrapped, Love and Other Drugs and The Next Three Days came into town. I did the same thing on these movies, meeting as many people as I could. Once you have sufficient connections and experience, the process gets easier, but it’s still always about putting yourself out there, showing up, and being reliable.
What was it like on the set? Describe a typical day.
The PAs are usually the first to show up and the last to leave, often with a pre-dawn call time. About a half hour later, any extras that are needed begin to arrive and have to be checked in. Crew Call happens around a half-hour later, and the day is officially underway. Grip, Electric, and Camera set up the shot while the actors finish up with Hair and Makeup. Stand-ins are called in, and once the shot is blocked and ready, filming begins. If we’re shooting out in the open, you need to establish a large perimeter around the area to “lock up,” so that no pedestrians or traffic can enter. You also have to be conscious of things like reflections and noise. Once we’re rolling, it’s silence. If you’re walking near set, you stop. Walkie chatter goes dead and any machinery is turned off. As soon as “Cut” is called, everyone resumes business.
The producers, director, and maybe some department heads gather around monitors to watch the shot, tweaking it slightly and running it again and again until we get it right. After six hours of this, seven hours after the PAs arrive, we break for lunch. Lunch is provided by Catering and usually lasts a half hour. After lunch, it’s more of the same for another at least another six hours. Craft Services provides snacks and drinks for the duration of the day, so there’s usually an energy boost close at hand. Once the final shot of the day is completed, we wrap. Everything is packed up and trucks are loaded. Call Sheets are passed out, detailing the schedule and call times for the next shooting day. Once everything is taken care of, we can finally leave. I’d say that on average, I’d expect to spend fourteen hours a day on set. Fifteen is common, and sometimes you near the seventeen-hour mark. It’s not the length of the day that gets you, though. It’s the turnaround, and having to be back at it early the next morning. If you can’t handle long days, film is the wrong industry.
Talk about the big names that you’ve worked with.
I’ve worked with Tom Hardy, Christian Bale, and Anne Hathaway twice. Other projects I’ve worked on featured Emma Watson, Russell Crowe, Taylor Lautner, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Cruise, Woody Harrelson, Katherine Heigl, Matt Damon, and John Krasinski. Director-wise, Christopher Nolan is about as big as you can get. The people you work with should never be a reason to get into production, though.
How did your involvement in Pitt in Hollywood help? What other organizations were you involved in while in school?
Serving as President of Pitt in Hollywood was huge for me. We brought in some truly great resources: Donal Logue (Grounded for Life, Charlie St. Cloud) and Michael Raymond-James (True Blood, The Walking Dead) came to discuss how they broke into the industry. Chris Moore (Promised Land, American Pie) talked about The People Speak and David Newell (Mr. McFeely, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood) gave us great insight into the creation and production of one of the most impactful and iconic shows in television history. Being in Pitt in Hollywood was an excuse to reach out to these people, talk to them, and learn from them. It’s a resource that should definitely be taken advantage of.
I was a Resident Assistant at Pitt, which was a great experience but took up a lot of my time. I was active in the Student Alumni Association as part of the Membership Committee, spent my freshman year with Quo Vadis in the Cathedral or Learning’s Nationality Rooms, and was in the National Residence Hall Honorary, as well as brief stints in UPTV, The Panther Sports Network, and writing for The Original Magazine. There are other things I would have loved to do, such as writing for The Pitt News and getting involved with the Student Government Board, that I just never had the time.
What is your current job?
Right now I’m working as a Wardrobe PA on Nickelodeon’s Supah Ninjas, which is filming at 31st Street Studios. I’m also working with MTV’s The Buried Life. Among various duties there, I’m the assistant to cast member/creator/executive producer Ben Nemtin.
Do you plan on pursuing a career in Pittsburgh in the film industry? Or, do you plan to go to LA?
I love Pittsburgh and it’s my home, but I have a project lined up in LA for this summer/fall so I may head out there shortly. Nothing is definite yet, but I’d love to check out LA regardless. As far as pursuing a career in film, I’d be very happy with that, but have so many other interests as well. For example, working with the Pittsburgh Penguins in their media department this past season was great, and my History minor has yet to be used. Something along these lines would be great, too. Film is good because you can make content about anything, combining all of your passions into one thing.
Do you think it’s possible to make a living solely working on movies in Pittsburgh?
Yes, definitely. People can certainly live off of what they make working in film, as long as the productions remain consistent. The PA Film Tax Credit is crucial for this, though. We have so many things going in our favor: 31st Street Studios striking a deal with Paramount On Location, adding in Knight Vision and the only motion-capture studio outside of LA, and talent bases and resources at WQED and Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center. The industry has been created, now it’s up for the tax credits to enable it to thrive. At this point, though, LA is still where projects are written, bought, and green lit, so that’s where the above-the-line talent is usually based. If Pittsburgh were able to tap into this, that would be huge step.
What can people in Pittsburgh do to get involved in the local industry?
Stay educated. Know what’s filming in the city, where, and when. The Steeltown Entertainment Project has public events multiple times a year, showcasing local talent and bringing back the industry experts that can foster it. Pitt in Hollywood does the same. Support the Pittsburgh Film Office and the PA Film Tax Credit. And be understanding when a road may be closed or there is a slight delay. For the millions of dollars being pumped into the economy and the improving image of the city both nationally and internationally, a brief traffic jam is a small price to pay.
Pittsburgh was the location of the first movie theater, the birthplace of the Warner brothers, the first community-sponsored television station, and the beginning of George Romero and the modern zombie. We’ve been influencing and altering the film industry from the beginning, so it’s time for Pittsburgh to take pride in that reach our potential.