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Starz reality series ‘The Chair’ follows 2 films shot in Pittsburgh

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Chair One Productions
Shane Dawson on the set of 'The Chair' on Starz
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Chair One Productions
Anna Martemucci on the set of 'The Chair' on Starz
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Chair One Productions
Zachary Quinto is one of the producers of the series 'The Chair' for Starz.
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Chair One Productions
Shane Dawson directs a scene from his film 'Not Cool.'
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Chair One Productions
Anna Martemucci directs a scene for 'Hollidaysburg.'
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Chair One Productions
Shane Dawson directs his actors for his film, 'Not Cool.'
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Chair One Productions
Anna Martemucci directs a scene for her film 'Hollidaysburg.'
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Chair One Productions
Producer Chris Moore on the set of 'The Chair' on Starz
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Starz
Poster for the reality-TV show 'The Chair' on Starz

There’s an art to making “reality TV” — but not a lot of art in the finished product.

“The Chair,” which debuts on Starz at 10 p.m. Sept. 6, attempts to change that formula.

The show, shot largely in and around Pittsburgh, is all about the artistic process of making a movie. The premise challenges two young up-and-coming filmmakers to each make separate movies using the same script. The films veer in different directions.

Point Park University students and alumni played a huge role in the production and were put to work alongside major Hollywood power players like Green Tree native Zachary Quinto (“Heroes,” “Star Trek”) and Chris Moore (producer of “Good Will Hunting” and “Project Greenlight”).

“I have been able to see some of the episodes,” says Ronald Allan-Lindblom, vice president and artistic director of Point Park’s Conservatory of Performing Arts. “I think it looks terrific. … It looks great from a Pittsburgh perspective, too.”

A little like the old children’s game of telephone, the idea for “The Chair” is to explore how a message is heard differently by different people, and how it changes as it’s passed from one person to another. Here, the message is the script for “How Soon Is Now,” a coming-of-age comedy about a group of high school friends who return home from college for Thanksgiving. It’s taken in different directions by filmmakers Shane Dawson (from Southern California, a YouTube star), and Anna Martemucci (a New York University film-school grad, originally from State College).

Both filmmakers were given the same amount of money and resources and the same city to shoot in — Pittsburgh. Otherwise, they were left to their own devices to make their movies.

“The Chair” is a chance for viewers to see the complicated sausage-making of film production that goes on behind the scenes — and how casting, rewriting, shooting and editing has its own drama, particularly for less-experienced filmmakers.

After “The Chair” airs, the two completed movies — “Not Cool” by Dawson and “Hollidaysburg” by Martemucci — will screen in theaters this fall. Audiences will be able to vote for a winner, deciding which director receives a $250,000 prize.

“It’s a pretty rare project,” says Neil Dodson, a Carnegie Mellon University grad who runs Before the Door Pictures with Quinto and Corey Moosa and is co-producing “The Chair.” “The idea of two directors given the same raw materials … it’s a testament to what a director visually brings to a film. They’ll be very different.”

Dawson of Long Beach, Calif., has a built-in fanbase for his YouTube comedy channels, which have more than 10 million subscribers. Martemucci, a Penn State grad, already has an acclaimed independent film under her belt, “Breakup at a Wedding,” in which she starred, co-wrote and produced.

Getting to work on a major film-and-TV production is, obviously, a special opportunity for college students.

“We had over 100 students and alums able to work on both sides of the camera,” Allan-Lindblom says of Point Park, which offers degrees in filmmaking. “I think it was a really valuable experience. Current students were cast in the films. They were involved in every aspect.”

Steeltown Entertainment Project helped with the production, too.

Moore has been involved in several Steeltown projects and seems to have developed an affection for Pittsburgh.

“I have nothing but respect for Chris Moore,” Allan-Lindblom says. “He’s been very generous with the students and has delivered on everything he said he’s going to deliver.”

For new filmmakers on a budget, Pittsburgh has its uses.

“You can make Pittsburgh look like 1930, or Gotham City in the future,” Allan-Lindblom says. “I’ve heard many people say it’s a great place to shoot films.”

Weekly screening parties of “The Chair” have been planned on Point Park’s campus.

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at mmachosky@tribweb.com or 412-320-7901.

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