Posted by: lucylightning | April 22, 2013

The Director’s Pitch Recap

by Lucy Leitner

The Film Factory is an appropriate name for this Steeltown Entertainment Project venture. At Saturday’s The Director’s Pitch, Steeltown President Carl Kurlander reiterated his non-profit’s mission to discover, incubate, and export talent.

Yes, the project exports talent — like last year’s winner Yulin Kuang, who is currently in LA working as an NBC page and screening her short films — but the ultimate goal is to keep that here. To be able to sustain an industry in Western Pennsylvania, for the demand to meet the rapidly growing supply. It’s not an embargo against Hollywood. It’s an honest factory that cultivates talent and grooms it, not a sweatshop that churns it out en masse for quantity.

This emphasis on quality is evident in the grueling Steeltown Film Factory process. Twelve semi-finalists were selected from over 200 entries. Those twelve were whittled down to three finalists whose scripts will be read by Carnegie Mellon drama students at the And the Winner Is… event at CMU next month.

The panelists for Saturday’s event represented a departure from the usual Steeltown judge selection in that only one, Gretchen Berg, is a native Pittsburgher. She knew she wanted to write since she was a student at North Allegheny High School and became involved at the TV station there. She studied film at Northwestern University where she met future writing/producing partner and fellow panelist Aaron Harberts.

Harberts was originally a journalism major whose first assignment was covering the Clinton scandal. But when he didn’t feel like going out in the snow to get quotes and decided that he much prefer making them up instead, he realized, “You should get out of journalism today!” So he transferred to the film school. With Berg, he has written and produced hit TV series, including Beverly Hills 90210 and Revenge.

Writer’s Guild of America — West President and Party of Five creator Chris Keyser took a different path from college to Hollywood. He was originally studying law, but took playwriting classes when he realized that he wasn’t going to be a lawyer anyway.

It proved not to matter where the judges were from — this was a tough panel. With a superiority complex.

“We feel very strongly that our notes are better than the previous panel,” Keyser said.

“They should never be invited back,” Harberts added.

The semi-finalists presented not only their revised scripts, but also their budgets.

Judges worried that Dennis Schebetta’s budget for My Date with Adam, in which a wedding planner falls for a robot, would be too tied up weddings. Harberts cautioned about the expense of these spectacles and the need for extras that get taken for granted.

“Locations aren’t really where the heart of the movie is,” Keyser said.

Glenn Syska’s The Sketch was universally praised during The Writer’s Pitch for its uniqueness, but it encountered some obstacles when it came to production. One of the central characters is a charcoal drawing. Animation is time-consuming and expensive, particularly when juxtaposing it against live action. Though Syska had the total budget accounted for down to the cent, Harberts cautioned the he may have “short shrift the post-production.” Berg said it reminded her of something French, romantic, and tragic while Keyser praised it for being imaginative and surprising.

Heather Gray signed while she pitched her script and budget for Life After Deaf. Since her short film about the collision between the deaf and hearing worlds is not profane, it’s a good thing she was speaking or else I would have been lost. The panelists appreciated the simplicity of the story and the fact that it all takes place in a hospital, which makes it easier to shoot on a budget. The lone concern appeared to be whether the one day that Gray allotted would be sufficient to shoot the entire film.

Laci Corridor acknowledged that her plans for Two Thousand Bridges are ambitious in terms of cast and locations. The central character of the short, which Keyser described as “beautifully written and subtle,” is a young child. While Corridor is open to either a male or female, Berg cautioned about the regulations for child actors and that the shoot would have to revolve around the young performer.

DVE Morning Show host Randy Baumann’s Tire Stem Sushi would require a closure of the Strip District for filming. The panelists warned that this may pose a problem, even with the proposed all-star cast that includes Billy Gardell, Steve Byrne, and Iliza Shlesinger. A major point in the script is the cult following surrounding several Strip staples — it would be an exercise in cruelty to deprive Pittsburghers of access to them even to film a movie.

While the judges deliberated, last year’s winner Kuang presented her latest short film and announced that The Perils of Growing Up Flat Chested has been accepted into the Palm Springs International Film Festival. Third-place winners Scott Peters and Tony Poremski debuted their finished short Escape from St. Quentin’s.

At the end of the event, only Syska, Schebetta, and Gray are moving on to the next round in which their films will meet another round of constructive criticism before the winner is granted up to $30,000 to film the short in Pittsburgh.

“Hollywood is wonderful,” Harberts said. “You have all these people legislating your creativity and killing your soul.”

Maybe that won’t happen if that creativity is kept in da ‘Burgh.

Posted by: lucylightning | April 17, 2013

The Director’s Pitch Preview

by Lucy Leitner

Last year, the second round of obstacles in Steeltown Film Factory entrants’ quest for $30,000 included Rusty Cundieff. This Saturday, the six semi-finalists that have already bested the Chapelle’s Show director in the Writer’s Pitch portion of the epic journey will meet three new judges who will decide their fate.

The extremely helpful villains of this level of the game include  Chris Keyser — President of the Writer’s Guild of America, West and creator/producer of Party of Five. The veritable tag team of producers and writers Gretchen Berg and Aaron Harberts — with credits that include RevengeBeverly Hills 90210Roswell, and Pushing Daisies — will also help determine which of the six remaining contestants will make it to the finals.

Witness the showdown from which only three entrants will emerge victorious at  University Center on Point Park’s campus at 11 AM (doors at 10:30). Tickets are still available through the Steeltown Entertainment Project. No one will be vanquished, but it will be a fascinating event nonetheless that provides an opportunity to hear from accomplished film industry professionals and emerging local talent.

Semi-finalists include:

Randy Baumann — Tire Stem Sushi
Laci Corridor — Two Thousand Bridges
Heather Gray — Life After Deaf
Dennis Schebetta — My Date with Adam
Glenn Syska — The Sketch

Though this is not an audience participation game and your opinion on the scripts has absolutely no bearing on the results, please read the semi-finalists’ entries on the Film Factory website. They are good. These panelists are far more difficult to pass through than a horde of zombies. If you’re playing a video game.

Posted by: lucylightning | April 11, 2013

Steel City Secret Cinema: Part 2

by Lucy Leitner

It’s not often that a sequel to a secret can be a secret again, but that
is exactly what is happening with the Steel City Secret Cinema event. 

In October of last year, event founder Colin Matthews satisfied out mid-lockout hockey cravings with a surprise screening of Slap Shot at the Hollywood Theater. On April 26, the shrouded event returns, but this time with more blood than even the Hanson brothers can draw.

“I learned a lot of what worked and what didn’t from the last time around and took everyone’s feedback as to what the event needed. The two big changes were to move it to a Friday night and, of course, bring in a beer vendor,” Matthews said.

This time around, the secret film is an ‘80s cult horror movie. So I can continue to believe that it is Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh. Or, since Matthews says its not limited to Western PA this time, I can hope for Sleepaway Camp.

A $15 advance ticket gets you admission to the screening as well as a gallery of local art inspired by the film and pre-show food, a drink ticket, a raffle ticket, and entertainment from DJ duo Tracksploitation. The $35 poster pass ticket scores you a limited edition 24 x 36” poster by local artist Matt Ryan Tobin as well.

All proceeds will benefit the Hollywood and the Toonseum.

Matthews is looking to expand the event to other locally run theaters and host it more frequently than every six months.

Someday, when we’re least expecting it, it may be Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh. But, then again, no one is ever expecting Bloodsucking Pharaohs in Pittsburgh.

Get tickets to the event via ShowClix.

Learn more at and on Facebook and Twitter.

Posted by: lucylightning | April 8, 2013

Ahab Premiere

by Lucy Leitner

ahab premiere

April Gustafson and Brian Holton at the premiere

From the seafood buffet at Luke Wholey’s Wild Alaska Grille to the “White Whale” drink on the event menu to co-producer April Gustafson’s aquamarine hair, the premiere of Ahab was an immersion into the sea. The only part of the ocean missing was, thankfully, the smell.

Ahab director/writer/producer Brian Holton said he wanted to do something different. He did. Both in terms of the premiere as a singular event and the film itself. Holton’s reimagining of Moby Dick moves from the sea to the land and makes the white whale a black man.

Most impressively, Holton managed to extrapolate the eternal theme of the futility of vengeance from the 500+ page novel and condense it into a 21-minute short film. To someone like me — who believes that molasses is too slow at any time of year, who only has the patience to get through the whistling intro to Guns N’ Roses “Patience” because of an unfortunate fanaticism when it comes to Axl Rose, who shares Sammy Hagar’s feelings towards state-mandated speed limits — this is the greatest thing ever.

Ahab is not a fast-forward dance remix of the Herman Melville classic — it is a reinvention.

This is Moby Dick for the Twitter generation.

The Ahab of Holton’s film (Sean McCollum) grew up in the impoverished “Docks” of Pittsburgh. He had two options — crime or fish. He chose the former and has risen to the top of his gang, the Black Hand, in which he uses “fish” as messengers. But then there’s the vile, chilling Levi, his white whale, who is shown only in violent flashbacks to, as Holton says, maximize his ominous impact

“I’ll cut his throat and spill his blood for everyone to see,” Ahab says.

The restaurant setting introduced some acoustic difficulties, as did admittedly intoxicated attendees who attempt to insinuate themselves into blog posts by talking through the film, so I was only able to catch much of the dialogue upon second viewing in my apartment. However, like any instance of sensory depravation, this inability to hear thrust more of my attention on the visual aspects of the film and I found myself typing “really cool shot of…” several times. These range from dangerous femme fatale strutting through a warehouse to Tarantino-esque music, to an overexposed shot of a cane-using Ahab, to a quick dialogue-free scene of Gustafson as Ahab’s ex-wife, Elizabeth, dolled up as a post-modern gangster moll/raver chick that you know would be an eccentric villain more dangerous than Levi in an extended version.

Holton cleverly incorporates aquatic metaphors into the dialogue in a manner that makes sense in context without being overly obvious. His substitution of a simple “set sail” for “get going” is a subtle homage to the source work and just smart screenwriting.

Holton transformed the thriving, trendy Lawrenceville into the crime-ridden “Docks” while still incorporating Pittsburgh’s unique eccentricities, like Atlantic and Pacific streets. He uses the slum setting to tackle not only the futility and destructive nature of vengeance in general, but how it applies to current urban crime and the pointlessness of gang warfare.

Post-screening Q&A

Post-screening Q&A

Ahab is a short film with intentional ambiguity and certain aspects that Holton leaves up to the viewer’s interpretation. I will admit that I did not understand some of Ahab, but I also neglected to turn on my headlights when I left the premiere and was not aware of this until the police informed me, so take that observation as you will. However, whether or not there is a loquacious, drunk dude next to you who thinks he’s making hilarious jokes about batteries, Ahab deserves multiple views.

It is not a linear story, which adds to the artsy experimental quality of the film. It could easily be longer. And Holton intends it to be so, as he will release an extended cut on DVD in July.

The voice-over narration is reminiscent of 1990s crime films of the post-Reservoir Dogs epoch in which non-linear formats, clever dialogue, and an eclectic ensemble cast were en vogue. By introducing all these interesting minor characters, like The Ocean “who will cook you dinner, then slit your throat,” Holton positions Ahab for a feature film adaptation.

“It’s a dense novel with a lot of layers,” Holton said during a Q&A session after the screening. “I could shoot Moby Dick forever.”

And that is what makes Moby Dick a classic, why its epic length and Byron Leftwich pacing enable it to still be required reading in this ADHD era. Its themes are eternal. It doesn’t matter if there is no sea and the object of the obsession is a white whale or a black dude. Vengeance, whether served hot or cold, is a dish that will ultimately destroy its chef. Let’s just hope that chef is not Luke Wholey because even to a non-seafood fan, that buffet looked pretty fantastic.

An extended cut of Ahab will be available on DVD in July.

Holton is planning a screening with a download party for the full soundtrack.

Keep following Hollyburgh for updates on Holton and Gustafson’s adventures within the national whaling community.

Stay up to date on Ahab by following on Facebook.

Posted by: lucylightning | March 27, 2013

Daggervision Films

by Lucy Leitner

There are a thousand words that could describe Daggervision Films, but the photo below does a better job of displaying the blend of macabre, fun, and horror fandom that Daggervision is all about. Though steeped in all these things, the creative partnership between Brian Cottington and Johnny Daggers is founded in independence and the belief that the little guy still matters in horror.

pittsburgh horror, daggervision films

A blood-covered Daggers and a camera-wielding Cottington

In a way, Daggervision honors the heritage of Pittsburgh. Zombies were reinvented here by a film student with a small budget and a vision. There was no star power behind Night of the Living Dead, yet it revolutionized the genre. It stripped down horror to raw scares. Daggervision has a similar ideology — to create a uniquely creepy product that doesn’t rely on exploitative crutches like excessive gore and nudity.

In 2010, Johnny Daggers had completed and roughly edited the short film Samhain: Night Feast, but placed an ad on Craig’s List for someone to do more polished post-production work. Cottington, a recent graduate of the TV Video department at Robert Morris University, replied to the ad and a productive partnership was born, as opposed to what is usually conceived on Craig’s List. When Samhain won the Bastards of Horror short film festival at the Horror Realm convention, Daggers decided to launch a full-fledged production company. The next project was Caustic Zombies.

Daggervision is also responsible for horror anthology homage Tablet of Tales that served as Cottington’s master’s thesis at Chatham University. Daggers and Cottington are currently at work on Mon Anam Cara, a dark fairy tale with no dialogue aside from Hellraiser star and new Pittsburgher Doug Bradley’s narration. Local horror artist Steph Sciullo created the sets and production will begin in the spring to accommodate a 2014 release. Animation, puppetry, miniatures, stop motion, live action will be used to tell the tale of about an undead couple battling a dark force that has ravaged the land.

Aside from an active presence on social media and near ubiquity at local horror events, Daggervision also has a weekly podcast. After reading an article in which Kevin Smith said that podcasting was the new form of publicity and expression, Cottington decided that a weekly show was the way to go. Like Smith’s fanboy love of comics and Star Wars that infiltrates all his work, Cottington and Daggers are just as much horror fans as they are contributors to the genre.

They had some success on Live365, but have been garnering more interest and higher-profile guests — like John Kassir (the Cryptkeeper) and Bradley — since they were invited to join The horror talk show airs live at 10 PM every Friday night and the podcast is posted on the Spookshow site the following week. During the show, Cottington, Daggers, and their guests talk about their projects, the state of modern horror, and, when I am a guest, apparently Terri Schiavo becomes relevant again.

The mission of Daggervision is to show that originality still matters in horror. It’s about creating something different instead of rehashing the same plots and contrivances. It’s about creating new villains instead of just putting Jason Voorhees in outer space, or even an Ilya Bryzgalov mask. Though the latter is an awesome idea that I hope to make a reality someday. I have no statistics to back this up, but it appears that the horror genre has suffered most from Hollywood’s recent play-it-safe attitude. More horror movies seem to be remade than any other genre. Successful low-budget American horror has been relegated to found footage films because indie horror moviemakers can simply not keep up with today’s special effects. But even something that was once innovative can quickly stale due to oversaturation.

That is where Daggervision comes in. They are horror fans making movies for other horror fans.

Learn more about Daggervision Films on their site: and Facebook

Follow Johnny and Brian on Twitter

Check out the podcast at and on Facebook at

Posted by: lucylightning | March 25, 2013

Steeltown Film Factory: The Writer’s Pitch

by Lucy Leitner

The Steeltown Film Factory proves that it’s not just our police corruption scandals that make Pittsburgh the Hollywood of the East.

On Saturday morning, Pittsburgh’s finest exports, imports, and homegrown domestics gathered in the Frick Fine Arts building on Pitt’s campus for the first event of the annual Steeltown Film Factory competition. Like last year’s event, twelve quarterfinalists were tasked with pitching their 12-page screenplays to a three-man panel of Pittsburghers turned Hollywood success stories.

Readers Unlimited founder Asher Garfinkel returned to the panel, imparting his knowledge and experience as a professional coverage giver to the aspiring screenwriters. Fear of a Black Hat writer, director, star and returning panelist Rusty Cundieff extolled the virtues of making yourself invaluable by being a multifaceted talent in the industry. The Chapelle’s Show director spoke of the benefits of learning the basics of acting in order to create a more compelling screenplay pitch, to add charisma to the typically introverted writer. Editor Doug Crise, who has cut such acclaimed films as Kill the Irishman and Arbitrage, provided an interesting perspective on how editing is the final stage of screenwriting. Crise also edited this weekend’s release Spring Breakers, which Steeltown Entertainment Project President and event moderator Carl Kurlander described as “an amazingly artistic movie that my 13-year-old daughter will never see.”

With accompanying movie posters, the twelve quarterfinalists pitched their scripts to the panel. And lecture hall filled with people. And cameras. And media. When every single activity becomes a reality TV show, this will be how pitching is done. This may be more of a glimpse into the future than Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics program that inspired the first quarterfinalist.

My Date with Adam

Cundieff really enjoyed CMU School of Drama professor Dennis Schebetta’s romantic comedy about a wedding planner whose ideal man is apparently a robot. Though the panel agreed that it has feature film potential, “it runs out of batteries at the end,” Garfinkel said.

Two Thousand Bridges

CMU grad student Laci Corridor just moved to Pittsburgh in the fall and was struck by our abundance of bridges. But instead of wondering how the combination of that plethora of places from which to jump and the past 20 years of Pirate baseball does not lead to a higher suicide rate, she used the bridges as a mechanism for a young boy to cope with the death of his father. While Crise praised the use of Pittsburgh’s unique geography, Cundieff cautioned that she would benefit from infusing a little humor into the drama. “American dramas are too damned serious,” he said.

Tire Stem Sushi

DVE Morning Show personality Randy Baumann’s script did not have the “why so serious?” dilemma. That would be a strange problem for a script involving a tailgating Pittsburgher whose identifiable struggle to park in the Strip District inspires a battle with what may or may not be an Asian sushi mafia. “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you,” Baumann said. Garfinkel noted that the script felt like a Seinfeld episode.


Cundieff enjoyed Brandon Clemens’ story about a young man with Asperger’s Syndrome who meets the girl of his dreams via speed dating while Garfinkel warned that the quirky character should propel the plot instead of being led along by it.


2011 Film Factory semi-finalist Bruce Johnson returned to the competition with an emotional script about a man who looks like a “young Don Knotts” and his decision to run for mayor of his small fishing town. Garfinkel enjoyed the quirkiness and noted its departure in subject matter from Johnson’s previous entry.

The Escapist

Cundieff praised the dark beat of 2012 Film Factory quarter-finalist Jarrett Fisher-Forester’s story of a young boy who uses his imagination to escape his abusive father. Maybe it was because both he and Fisher-Forester showed little fear of the newsboy hat. Crise and Garfinkel were a bit more disturbed by the short, comparing its mood and subject matter to Precious.

Cruelty Towards Animals

Point Park screenwriting student Kevin Fuller’s script deals with a young couple that moves to a Pittsburgh house where they suspect the downstairs neighbor is torturing animals. Fuller’s script tackles the naive outsider perspective on our city’s odd living arrangements. After living in the South Side, one becomes immune to any Rear Window curiosity about downstairs neighbors.

Life After Deaf

Sign Language interpreter Heather Gray pitched her story about characters communicating via Sign Language in Sign Language. While the simultaneous English and signing was interesting to watch on the stage and Crise liked the same juxtaposition in the script, he warned against making a “cause movie.”

Secondhand Start

Garfinkel offered similar criticism about Dan Wilkerson’s story of a young squatter learning how to ask for help that he did to Clemens’ script—the character should propel the plot. The panel appreciated Wilkerson’s use of Pittsburgh’s abundance of abandoned houses as a setting for the short.

The Greater Image

After Pitt freshman Cameron Roeback presented his script about a gay man seeking acceptance from his religious family before he gets married, Crise said, “I love this passion. You’ve got to calm down.” This was in response to both Roeback’s earnestness and the overwhelming intolerance of the religious family in his script. “Hitler thought he was a good guy,” Cundieff said. “Make the bad guys think they’re good.”

The Sketch

After Roeback’s empassioned plea for tolerance (I think), Glenn Syska’s nerves were a welcome contrast that illustrated the diversity of the entrants. The panel was unanimously impressed by his script about a lonely artist who falls in love with a nude model in a sketching class. “He’s like me and he can’t go talk to her,” Syska said. Asher and Crise found it unpredictable while Cundieff checked out the movie poster and said, “I can see why he’s in love with her.”


Samuel Krebs described his short script as a fast-paced action sequence in post-apocalyptic Pittsburgh. Adolescent bike messengers are tasked with delivering supplies to various parts of the city while they search for some kind of hope in the violent world that Krebs created. While Crise and Cundieff both got a bit lost in certain parts of the script, Garfinkel labeled it as one of his favorites.

The twelve quarterfinalists have a week to revise their scripts before semifinalists are selected. The Director’s Pitch will take place on April 20 at Point Park.

The Steeltown Film Factory received over 250 entries this year — the highest in its existence. Last year’s winner Yulin Kuang’s The Perils of Growing Up Flat Chested was recently screened at Lion’s Gate in Los Angeles to much acclaim. Second place winner Chris Preksta’s Echo Torch was recently purchased by Vuguru studios. Third place winners Scott Peters and Tony Poremski parlayed their $5,000 winnings into a successful Kickstarter campaign and have completed filming Escape from St. Quentin’s. Audience members on Saturday were treated to a preview of their film, cleverly cut to look like an adventure from the 1950s.

“Our mission is to show talent in Pittsburgh and I think we’ve done that in the Film Factory,” Kurlander said.

Yes, Pittsburgh imports and exports talent better than Art Vandelay imports and exports… whatever.

by Lucy Leitner

In honor of Black History Month, Hollyburgh is now going to profile a white guy —Ralph “Ruffles” Johns.

Thank you to Mary McAnallen for the story and all for the documents to put this together. You are right — this has all the characters, drama, and act structure to make a great movie.

One of the greatest gate crashers in the nation, Ralph Johns infiltrated movies, prizefights, the Olympics, and even the Civil Rights Movement. He was a bit player in movies, the instigator of the seminal Greensboro sit-ins of 1960, and also, of course, a Pittsburgher.

Act 1

The Beginning of the Partyralph johns

Johns began his prolific career of uninvited attendance while growing up in New Castle in the 1920s and 30s, sneaking into nickelodeons to see the latest movies. At that time, the crashing served a practical purpose — the son of Syrian immigrants, he simply couldn’t afford to pay to get into the theaters. That success, however, turned into crashing for sport, to be around pivotal events like the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles. He even stowed away on an ocean liner bound for Berlin to try to see the 1936 Olympics, but was arrested and spent 6 days in jail in England. He snuck into prize fights where he crashed photo ops of reigning heavyweight champs.

Act 2

Crashing History

After graduating from New Castle High School in 1938, he moved to Los Angeles where he promptly crashed his way onto studio lots, which led to bit parts in several films. He worked with Abbott and Costello, in b-movie westerns, and as a stand-in for Rudolph Valentino.

After a brief stint as a soldier in WWII, he moved to Greensboro, NC in 1944 where he promptly spread the crashing spirit to those to whom crashing was unfortunately a part of daily life.

In that era of Jim Crow laws, just being part of society was considered crashing for African Americans. Johns opened a clothing store through which he attempted to eliminate this sentiment by hiring black employees. Many were students at North Carolina A&T state University, and included a young Jesse Jackson.

Johns had been eating at Woolworth and Kress’s for lunch in the late 1940s and couldn’t understand why he was able to sit down while black customers were forced to either stand or take their lunch to go.

It was during that time of his eclectic life that Johns organized his greatest crashing of his prolific career. He spent 12 years attempting to convince his employees and customers to breach the whites-only areas in town. He asked Bob “Stonewall” Jackson to crash the lunch counter in 1948, but the future New York Giants football star refused. Johns served as vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP, the first white to hold that position, and begged the members to do to do just as he did — to crash. But not to photo-bomb Joe Louis — to fight for equality.

Finally he coached four A&T students on what to say and do when they sat at the Woolworth lunch counter on February 1, 1960. That event became the famous Greensboro sit-in that spawned several others in the burgeoning Civil Rights movement.

greensboro sit in, black history month

Crashing his way into history did come at a price for Johns, as he claimed to have been run out of Greensboro by the KKK and others.

Act 3

All Crashers Are Eventually Asked to Leave the Party

He moved to Memphis where he was left by his wife and fired from the clothing store where he worked. His role in the Civil Rights Movement, though the cause of his exile from Greensboro, was being virtually ignored.

One of the few times he was unable to infiltrate was in 1966 when he attempted to exchange himself to Ho Chi Min for American POWs. Though he was unsuccessful in crashing the Vietnam War, his bold offer was picked up by news wire services and spurred 1,200 others to join him.

He returned to Greensboro, but was fired from a federal anti-poverty organization. He failed as a reporter because screaming at his subjects is apparently not the best way to land the big story. So, he went to California where he lived out the rest of his days in a quieter fashion, selling ads for a newspaper in Beverly Hills.

After his death of heart failure in 1997, he crashed his way back into notability when obituaries finally recognized his role in the sit-ins and as, quite possibly, the original photobomber.

For a brief time in our nation’s history, if there was something monumental happening, Ralph Johns was there.


Read an interview with Johns about the sit-in here.

Listen to audio about his role in the sit-in here.

Posted by: lucylightning | February 15, 2013

Oscar Party with Steeltown

by Lucy Leitner

By failing to see any of this year’s Oscar-nominated movies, Hollyburgh has accomplished what should be un heard of for any film blogger. But others in the Pittsburgh arts community have not taken such an inadvertently iconoclastic approach. The Steeltown Entertainment Project is hosting an Oscar party next Sunday the 24th, which is presumably when the awards show airs.

Educators, parents, and students are welcome to attend this free event at the Heinz History Center from 12–2 PM. There will be pizza, filmmaking lessons, and prizes for a trivia contest dealing with Pittsburgh-connected movies. This is also the perfect opportunity to learn more about the Take a Shot at Changing the World Contest that is underway.

And, remember to watch the Oscars with the kids later. It gives a new generation the opportunity to hate Joan Rivers.

RSVP to to reserve your spot!

Posted by: lucylightning | January 14, 2013

The Mon Valley: Stories of Struggle

by Meg Huber

Pittsburgh is known for technological innovations, a thriving healthcare industry beginning with the invention of the Salk polio vaccine, vibrant college campuses and educational esteem — a financial hub and the Hollywood of the East.

But not so long ago, the city thrived on the production of steel. In fact, in 1875, Edgar  Thomson Steel Works was the first major steel mill built in the country. During the 1920’s, one third of the steel produced in the country came from Pittsburgh. This steel-centered economy stemmed from the Monongahela Valley, also known as Mon Valley, and included areas like Braddock, Clairton, Swissvale and others.

Then in the 1980’s the steel industry took a downturn. What were once vibrant, manufacturing communities in the Mon Valley became lifeless, as factories closed and young people moved out.

Pittsburgh as a city turned its focus to the industries its known for today, and has revived its economy.

But what about the people? Those who stayed in the Mon Valley, whose small businesses struggle, whose children live in poverty, whose neighborhoods are almost empty?  The towns are barely surviving, as most businesses close their doors, unable to survive in this downward spiral. Residents are elderly or poverty-stricken. Homes are boarded up, buildings are broken, streets are riddled with crime.

mon valley, clairton

In 2011, the UPMC hospital in Braddock, its last remaining hope, closed its doors forever. There are plans in the future to build a four-lane toll road right through the center of the town, destroying half of what is left. Braddock mayor John Fetterman has earned national recognition in this attempts to rescue his decimated town, but walls are still crumbling.

The people are barely surviving as the city of Pittsburgh grows up so close to them. They fight, they struggle, and they hope.

These people have a story to tell. They have things to say, battles to win and an economy to revive.

The documentary, Renaissance IV: Mon Valley Moving Mountains (produced by Ron Turowski and Veronica Halpin of Cool Attitude Films) follows their stories and shares their struggles. It brings to light a community that has been forgotten — a community that has a chance to start again if only given the chance.

The documentary is currently in production. The expected release date is May, 2013.

For more information about the documentary visit

Posted by: lucylightning | January 10, 2013

Steeltown Film Factory Contest Deadline Approaches

by Lucy Leitner

In the Pittsburgh creative community, it’s Sunday the 13th that matters. While a terrible day for triskaidekaphobiacs, this Sunday, January 13 of the year 2013 is a great day for aspiring screenwriters with the deadline for the annual Steeltown Film Factory competition. For this Sunday is the day when they get the piece of mind that comes with sending a completed 12-page script with the hope that their story will earn up to $30,000 to make it come to life. And, even if it doesn’t garner the monetary prize, that their short screenplays will at least receive the invaluable criticism from industry professionals.

Few competitions offer the opportunity for contestants to have their work read and analyzed by Promised Land producer Chris Moore as an ancillary benefit. Usually you have to submit your script to Readers Unlimited to even get one of Asher Garfinkel’s employees to read it. Last year, Garfinkel judged the semi-finalists. Usually Oscar winners like Precious screenwriter Geoffrey Fletcher don’t just critique unsolicited manuscripts. And rarely are writing contest entrants given the opportunity to pitch their scripts to a captive audience that includes 300 producer Bernie Goldman.

Trailer for 2011 winner Roll the Dice

Aside from receiving criticism from top Pittsburgh-born (with the exception of Moore) industry luminaries, the winner (or winners, as was the case in last year’s competition) receive a portion of the $30,000 prize to turn their script into a short film. The sponsoring Steeltown Entertainment Project assists both winners and also-rans with production logistics in the hope that someday these contestants will someday be up on the judging panel.

The point of the competition is to locate and cultivate local talent and providing an incentive for staying here rather than running to Los Angeles. Everyone has a story, but not everyone gets the opportunity to tell it. Instead of forcing the amateurs to travel across the country and get lost in a veritable sea of aspiring screenwriters, the Film Factory brings the industry back to Pittsburgh.

And that is an opportunity not to be missed.

There is still time to submit your 12-page script at Entries are technically due this Sunday, but the contest is still open for submissions until Tuesday, Jan. 15 for an extra $10 added to the $50 standard entry fee.

The idea behind the contest is to build a sustainable industry around movies. Not by wind power, but by keeping local talent in Pittsburgh. More of a creative kibbutz rather than an economy based solely on exports to Los Angeles. To create an environment where Christopher Nolan would want to return to film big-budget blockbusters and first-time directors like Cary Hill can make low-budget horror like Scream Park. To make “entertainment the new steel.” Though we’ll probably never get a second football team called the Entertainers or Filmers, this contest helps solidify our status as Hollywood East.

Learn more about the contest and submit at

Get last-minute updates on Facebook and Twitter

Check out behind the scenes footage of last year’s winner The Perils of Being Flat Chested.

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