Student filmmakers ready to debut ‘Reel Teens: Pittsburgh’
Blood splattered explosively from Joshua Bullock’s chest.
The scene took place at Tolin FX, a special-effects studio, as part of Steeltown Entertainment Project’s fledgling television project, “The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh.”
Bullock, a junior at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School, is one of 17 local high school students who helped create the first production of the show, which will premiere at 9 a.m. April 9 on Fox 53.
The teen crew is covering cool and creative things happening in Pittsburgh. They come from diverse neighborhoods and backgrounds but have one thing in common: a love of filmmaking. Schools include Pittsburgh Allderdice, Urban Pathways, Propel, Pittsburgh Creative and Performing Arts school, Montour and Seneca Valley.
“I am happy with this experience,” Bullock says. “I am more of a people person after doing this. I learned better communication skills and am more open to talking to people now.”
The crew has been working on this episode since January, but some of them have been part of Steeltown’s teen film crew for years. They’ve been meeting every Wednesday at Steeltown in the South Side, often logging additional days and hours to complete the project.
“Pittsburgh is a city at the forefront of teaching and learning,” says Gregg Behr, executive director of the Grable Foundation, which provided funding for the first three episodes. “People around the country look to us to see what we are doing. There is nothing better than project-based learning.
“It’s the best way to learn everything from deciding what to do, to communicating that idea, to coming up with the solution to make it real,” he says.
The students looked to many mentors during the process, including longtime Steeltown adviser director/producer Jamie Widdoes (“Two and a Half Men,” “Mom”) who played Hoover in “Animal House,” and David Conrad, whose credits include “Ghost Whisperer,” “Wedding Crashers” and ”Marvel’s Agent of the Shield.”
Others offering guidance include cinematographer Mark Knobil (“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “National Geographic”) and Curtis Fuqua, a stuntman on “Olympus Has Fallen” and a Teamster on “Last Witch Hunter” and “Fences.”
Amy Hartman taught the teens how to do voiceovers, and Michael Bartley and Tonia Caruso shared their knowledge of television production. Helping with day-to-day film crew production are Jordan Taylor, who was also in one of the skits, as well as Brett Wormsely, who runs the youth and media program, and Kris Veenis and Jen Taormina Lawson.
“It’s the hardest work you will ever do, so you will have to love it,” Conrad told the teens at a sneak preview earlier this week. “You have some great resources here, and this is an amazing opportunity. I am super impressed.”
So is Carl Kurlander, president and CEO of Steeltown, and executive producer of “The Reel Teens: Pittsburgh.” His credits include “Saved by the Bell,” “St. Elmo’s Fire” and “My Tale of Two Cities.”
“This is their show, their stories,” Kurlander says. “We just gave them guidance. Pilots are hard and if something gets cut, you can’t take it personally. It’s great to see where this has gotten.”
The teens found out the hard way that things don’t always go as planned — such as when they blew a fuse during their shoot at the annual Strip District Music Festival, as well as how scenes had to be re-shot several times.
“It’s hard work, and it’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together,” says Georgia Fowkes, a senior at Montour. “It requires looking at every detail. It’s a great opportunity. I would never have imagined working on a TV show. I love production. It’s like we are all part of one whole big family.”
Caleb Hickerson, a senior at Propel, says he never considered doing voiceovers, but once he heard himself on the show, he liked it.
“You never really like how you sound,” he says. “You have to learn to be consistent when it comes to filmmaking. I really enjoyed the entire process.”
A second show is planned for 8 a.m. May 7 and will feature Google in Bakery Square, as well as the mobile sculpture workshop at Carrie Furnace in Rankin.
JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at [email protected] or 412-320-7889.