Pittsburgh-centric ‘The Chair’ nears finale, strives for profit
A project to document two novices directing films in Pittsburgh will announce this week which one movie viewers deem better, and then turn its attention to turning a profit.
Developers of “The Chair” need $500,000 and reached out to Season 1 investors — Point Park University, Steeltown Entertainment Project and private donors — who contributed to the more than $3 million budget.
The project received a $225,000 grant from Allegheny County Redevelopment Authority and $650,000 in state film tax credits, which the production leveraged to obtain a $400,000 loan.
“We’re going to go out there and push to let people know this is available,” said Chris Moore of Los Angeles, creator and executive producer of the weekly documentary series on Starz and two feature films: “Not Cool” by YouTube sensation Shane Dawson and “Hollidaysburg” by State College native Anna Martemucci.
The two shot their films this year in and around Pittsburgh with $800,000 budgets, using the same script as a starting point. A 10-episode series that airs Saturday nights documents their efforts.
The show is produced by Before the Door Productions, owned by “Star Trek” star and Green Tree-native Zachary Quinto and fellow Carnegie Mellon University graduates.
The final episode airs Saturday at 10 p.m.; it will reveal which director is awarded a $250,000 grand prize.
Critics widely panned Dawson’s film but liked Martemucci’s movie. Yet “Not Cool” by Dawson, who has 10 million YouTube subscribers, made more money through Internet downloads and ticket sales during a limited theater release.
Moore acknowledged that “The Chair” has not drawn the viewership or investment return he envisioned, but said he intends to pursue other distribution outlets.
“We’re not breaking any box-office records, and we’re not the highest-viewed show on cable TV,” said Moore, who produced “American Pie” and “Good Will Hunting,” as well as “Promised Land” in 2012, which filmed in Western Pennsylvania.
“But I am very proud of ‘The Chair.’ It’s exactly what you want when you set out to tell a story. You want people involved and interested in what is going to happen next.”
Next week, Moore and Starz Digital plan to crank up a campaign to get “The Chair” into foreign markets, to boost rentals and to offer electronic sales through online platforms. A DVD release is planned early next year.
Those revenue streams could garner between $1.8 million and $2.75 million, Moore told investors in an email seeking money.
An announcement could come by January about Season 2 of “The Chair,” which Moore said will be back in Pittsburgh — and could include bigger budgets, a known storyline and experienced filmmakers.
“We are definitely coming back,” he said. “I love the Pittsburgh area. We learned a lot and have a great group of people there.”
First, Moore needs to finish work for Season 1 and is confident he will come close to the $500,000 being sought.
Roughly $125,000 is for “guerrilla marketing,” which Moore said would supplement a national campaign by Starz Digital with its cable partners. Moore said his focus would be largely on the Pittsburgh region — targeting markets such as local universities and the Three Rivers Film Festival.
“On Nov. 10, the show becomes available to everybody,” he said. “We’re going to be pushing it pretty hard in avenues for people who don’t have Starz.”
Last week, Moore testified before an Allegheny County judge and helped get disorderly conduct convictions overturned for three crew members arrested in March for filming outside the Fort Pitt Tunnel.
Court-related travel and legal expenses total about $25,000, Moore told investors, and another $350,000 is needed to cover back pay and benefits for unions, including the Teamsters, the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the Screen Actors Guild and the Writers Guild of America.
“Our budget was raised and determined by being a non-union show,” Moore said, noting that the Starz deal triggered higher prices.
Joseph Rossi, president of Teamsters Local 249, said his nine union members agreed to accept lower wages — about $19 an hour — to help because the project involved Point Park.
“We wanted to help college students break into the business,” said Rossi, whose workers are owed about $13,000.
Point Park contributed $250,000 to Season 1 and likely will contribute again, said Nelson Chipman, who chairs the Downtown university’s cinema and digital arts department and is a co-executive producer of “The Chair” with university President Paul Hennigan and two other school officials.
“This was sort of like winning the lottery for what you want to do for students in a program,” Chipman said, noting that more than 100 students and alumni worked as interns or as hired crew members on the project and earned more than $250,000.
“We just saw this as a terrific opportunity for them to get experience that will be recognizable in the industry.”
Carl Kurlander, Steeltown’s president and CEO, declined to say how much his group contributed, but said, “This brands us as a place where innovative, interesting things are happening.”
He said “The Chair” showcases Pittsburgh, provides workforce training and attempts to expand the local film industry infrastructure to include financial backing for projects.
“I’m not saying there isn’t a risk, but it is a risk that already has paid some pretty big dividends,” Kurlander said.
Jason Cato is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7936 or [email protected].