he story of the Pittsburgh Film Office is a narrative of visionary ambition and strategic development. Its inception can be traced back to the cultural ripples created by George A. Romero’s 1968 classic, “Night of the Living Dead,” which spotlighted Pittsburgh as a potential film hub. The official establishment of the PFO coincided with the production of “The Silence of the Lambs” in 1990, marking a significant milestone in the region’s film history. A pivotal moment arrived in 2007 with the introduction of the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit, catalyzing an influx of filmmaking activities in the state.

The PFO stands as a linchpin in the film production process, offering a plethora of services that make it a one-stop-shop for filmmakers. From providing a vast database of over 50,000 images of locations to aiding with location scouting and crew recruitment, the PFO streamlines the filmmaking process. 

Furthermore, its CREATE PA initiative focuses on increasing crew diversity and skill sets, underscoring the PFO’s commitment to community development. This initiative is a significant effort to train and develop talent in film and theater industries. The initiative offers training for a variety of crew jobs such as electrical workers, grips, hair stylists, wardrobe specialists, carpenters, set decorators, and makeup artists, catering to both stage and screen work. The training is designed to provide participants with the foundational skills necessary to start a career behind the stage or screen.

CREATE PA has put emphasis on nurturing local talent and allowing them to thrive in Pittsburgh rather than relocating to more established entertainment hubs like New York or Los Angeles. The initiative also focuses on inclusivity and diversity, aiming to provide opportunities for underrepresented communities in the arts.

Dawn M. Keezer, Executive Director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, explains why initiatives like CREATE  PA are so important in creative industries: “When you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, there’s often a direct path to achieving that goal that everyone knows about. You go to college, pass exams, become licensed. But for someone wanting to get into this side of the theater or film industry, it’s not so clear. You might already be an electrician, or a hairstylist, but how do you get hired on a set? If you want to learn those skills, where can you get proper training to use them in this industry? Who do you talk to, where do you apply? Initiatives like CREATE PA make the path clearer and more straightforward, offering a creative opportunity for people of all backgrounds to pursue meaningful work.”

Since the PFO’s start in 1990, the film industry has brought in an astounding $2.5 billion in spending to the region. This economic contribution underscores the vitality of these industries to the local economy and the importance of initiatives like CREATE PA in sustaining and growing this sector.

When working with filmmakers interested in the area, Keezer says there are always two main questions. The first, she says, is always “are there any tax incentives?” Since 2007, that answer has been “yes,” with eligible projects qualifying for a 25% tax credit. “What’s great about the incentive is that, in order to qualify, at least 60% of a project’s total budget must be spent in Pennsylvania. They keep meticulous records and have to be audited by an outside auditor to ensure that the money stays in the state.”

Keezer says the second question that gets asked is, “what makes Pittsburgh special?” To answer that, she explains that “we can be anything. If you have a specific shot in mind, whether it’s farmland, mountains, urban – this area can really be transformed into any place in the world. In addition to our diverse and beautiful geography, there’s the people of southwestern Pennsylvania. Filmmakers keep wanting to come back, over and over again, because the people here are truly lovely. We shut down parts of downtown for twelve days when filming The Dark Knight Rises; everybody was so accommodating and wonderful. You don’t  always get that in other places.”

Despite its successes, the PFO faces challenges, primarily in terms of funding and resources. The organization is constantly seeking ways to expand its impact, with aspirations to take initiatives like CREATE PA to a statewide level. 

This ambition reflects a broader goal of enhancing the region’s film infrastructure and talent pool, ensuring sustained growth and diversity in the industry. 

A significant fundraiser for the organization, the annual “Lights, Glamour, Action!” Gala is more than a celebration; funds raised from the event help support, sustain, and expand the PFO’s operations. 

Scheduled each year on the night before the Oscars, this year’s event is set for Saturday, March 9th and will be held downtown at the Pennsylvanian. The Gala exemplifies the blend of glamour and community spirit that defines Pittsburgh’s film scene.

Presented by Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, the “Lights, Glamour, Action!” Gala is unique in its inclusivity, welcoming not just industry heavyweights but also the public, local crew members, and celebrities. This mix fosters a sense of community and provides invaluable networking opportunities. For industry professionals and aspirants alike, the event offers a chance to connect with peers, mentors, and potential collaborators.

The event also serves as a platform to showcase local talent and the achievements of the film industry in Pittsburgh. It highlights the contributions of various professionals who have played a part in making Pittsburgh a vibrant location for filmmaking. By celebrating these successes, the PFO aims to inspire and encourage further growth in the industry.

The 21+ red carpet event, with its black-tie-optional dress code, offers a taste of Hollywood glamour, right in the heart of Pittsburgh. The Gala offers gourmet food stations, specialty cocktails, live music, dancing, interactive experiences and most importantly, all proceeds benefit the mission of the Pittsburgh Film Office to market and promote the southwestern Pennsylvania region to the film industry.

As we pull back the curtain on the Pittsburgh Film Office, we see not just an organization but a pulsating heart of a community rich in creativity and ambition. Over the years, the PFO has become much more than a facilitator of film production; it’s a nurturing ground for dreams and a catalyst for economic prosperity. In every sense, the PFO and its endeavors encapsulate the spirit of Pittsburgh – a city of bridges, not just connecting its people but also linking dreams to reality.

For more information about the Pittsburgh Film Office or to purchase tickets to the “Lights, Glamour, Action!” Gala, visit pghfilm.org

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