Pittsburgh-made film set records, opened doors for producer, director |

Pittsburgh-made film set records, opened doors for producer, director

More than one year after the initial release of “The Bread, My Sweet,” the producer and director are still reveling in the success of the film.

The locally made and produced film not only set box office records in several Pittsburgh movie theaters, but it has been released in more than 20 other cities, including Chicago and Kansas City, and is scheduled for release on five screens in San Francisco.

Here in Pittsburgh, “The Bread, My Sweet” just ended an unprecedented run. It’s the first week the film hasn’t been playing since it opened on Jan. 18, 2002 — it played several theaters over its 63-week run here. Speaking engagements by director/writer Melissa Martin and producer Adrienne Wehr have pulled in full houses of audiences eager to discuss the film and the duo’s experiences.

The two have yet to see what they would call a “substantial profit.” They decline to say exactly how much the film cost to make, but Wehr says it’s “well under $1 million.” Any money made is put back into the film to try to get it on more screens throughout the country, she says.

But in the difficult and often disappointing world of filmmaking — especially for independent filmmakers — it’s an achievement to not have lost any money on the venture.

The success of the film is still amazing to Martin and Wehr. Both were film novices when they began working on “The Bread,” which is based on Martin’s screenplay about a group of Italian-American brothers, headed by Scott Baio, who decides to leave the viscious corporate life to work in his bakery full time. The trio are surrogate sons to their elderly Italian-American landlords, who live above the bakery. The dream of the wife, played by stage veteran Rosemary Prinz, is to see her daughter get married before she dies. Baio’s character and the daughter, portrayed by Kristin Minter, decide to stage a fake wedding to please her mother, but ultimately fall in love in this tearjerker of a story

Martin and Wehr had extensive theater experience before embarking on “Bread,” their first feature film, but they had no insights into the inner workings of the film industry.

“I think that we anticipated a certain commercial response — that if we made a good story told well with good acting, then we would have a certain commercial response,” Martin says. “Things have changed since then. We expected to get into Sundance and all the major festivals and win awards at all of them. We got rejected from Sundance twice.

“When you don’t get into Sundance, you realize that the jig is up and that the world is not the way that you thought it was.”

They soon realized that Sundance wasn’t the only game in town and went full force ahead to play at other festivals, such as Worldfest-Houston, where “Bread” won the Grand Jury Prize in 2001, beating out all the competitors for the “best of show” distinction.

“Bread” also won awards at the San Diego Film Festival (best actor for Baio) and the Marco Island Film Festival (Best Dramatic Feature — Audience Choice Award).

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review film critic Ed Blank rated it 3 1/2 stars in 2001, making it among the best-reviewed by Blank that year.

“… Succumb to ‘The Bread, My Sweet,’ a locally made movie that betrays its budgetary constraints and still manages to be funny, charming and so powerful you’re almost certain to be caught off guard,” Blank wrote. “What a pleasure to see a move in which you enjoy everybody’s company while the affection builds and builds. Still, you might not expect the wallop the picture packs.”

The film even gained a favorable review from arguably the most famous film critic in America, Roger Ebert, who rated it three stars and wrote, “‘The Bread, My Sweet’ tells an improbable love story in such a heartfelt way that it’s impossible to be cynical in the face of its innocence …”

As a result of the festival successes of “Bread,” Martin and Wehr were offered distribution deals. They chose Panorama Entertainment, a New York-based distribution company. The distribution deal enabled them to showcase their film in theaters across the country.

Martin recalls the film’s opening in January 2002 at the Pittsburgh Filmmakers’ Regent Square Theater.

“It opened here at the Regent Square Theater during the playoffs, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, we’re going to tank,'” Martin says. “I can remember the first weekend — it was snowing horribly, and I was really nervous and just had to drive by Braddock Avenue to find out what was happening. There was this traffic jam, and I couldn’t get up to the theater. Once I got up there, I discovered that the traffic jam was for the movie. It was snowing, and people were lined up around the block.”

Locally, the film has broken box-office records at the Denis Theater in Mt. Lebanon, where it was the longest-running movie of all time, beating out the previous record set by the Academy Award-winning film “Life is Beautiful.” The Bread, My Sweet” also was the first film to sell out all seats on one screen at the Oaks Theater in Oakmont during a collaborative venture with the Pittsburgh Public Theater, where Prinz, Martin and Wehr hosted a post-film audience discussion. Prinz was in town at the time appearing in the Pittsburgh Public Theater’s production of “Driving Miss Daisy.”

The success of “The Bread, My Sweet” has propelled Martin and Wehr to the status of local celebrities in their own right.

Due to the huge success of the film, they are now coveted guest speakers at various events and serve as role models for young women.

Mary Miller, a mother and nutrition consultant who lives in Fox Chapel, decided to organize a panel discussion of successful Pittsburgh females in traditionally male-dominated fields to inspire female students and thought Martin and Wehr would make a great addition to the Fox Chapel Area High School-sponsored event.

“What they brought to the workshops was a real sense of honesty in their lives, both personally and professionally, and they imparted a sense of passion in what they do,” Miller says. “They were also very hip and cool, and the students really responded to that.”

Many of the students found the filmmakers’ message to be inspiring, even if they had no interest in pursuing arts-based careers.

“I really liked Adrienne and Melissa. Their personalities were really cool, and they seemed very confident,” says Ashley Laughlin, a sophomore at Fox Chapel. “I plan to go into business, but they really inspired me.”

Next on the agenda for the intrepid director/writer and producer of “The Bread, My Sweet” is a continuation of the push to release the film in other, larger markets across the country. They’re holding off on the major markets such as New York and Los Angeles until they have enough advertising money stockpiled, Wehr says.

“Where we will make our big money back is when we start selling to foreign countries and when we make TV and video deals,” she says.

Martin and Wehr are in development of another feature film, for which Martin is writing the script.

The second feature is tentatively titled “Nights of the Tutu Parties,” and is a love story involving the subjects of tutus and tattoos.

“The message is that there are things in life that you just have to do that enhance your humanity,” Martin says.

Just like “The Bread, My Sweet,” the second film will be shot in Pittsburgh using local crews. Wehr says she sees this as an indication of things to come.

“More independent films are being made in this town, which I think are going to become the bread and butter of the industry here,” Wehr says.

The magnitude of the film’s success is surprising, but not shocking, to film industry insiders.

“It’s a great example for Pittsburgh filmmakers to see how they can realize their dreams,” says Stuart Strutin, president of Panorama Entertainment. “(‘Bread’) has far exceeded Adrienne and Melissa’s dreams. The film stands on its own. We knew what we had, and we were willing to give it a shot.

“It’s very difficult to have an independent film make it in today’s market. (Panorama) has just given the film the opportunity to be discovered.”

Part of the film’s success in Pittsburgh can be attributed to its local setting. Pittsburghers enjoy seeing their city on the big screen, says Jared Earley, manager of the Oaks Theater in Oakmont.

“Being filmed here, it really involved the audience in a unique way. People were excited to get behind it — maybe they had been to the biscotti shop where it was filmed or they knew someone who was in the film,” Earley says.

Besides being filmed in Pittsburgh, the film has a quality script that has resonance with moviegoers in other cities that have never heard of Enrico Biscotti in the Strip District.

“You hear people in the audience saying that this is their 11th time seeing the film,” says Teresa D’Amico Kresak, theater coordinator for Cinemagic Denis in Mt. Lebanon.

“It’s really a charming little film — it’s a feel-good movie. It makes you think that anything is possible with the unity of family and love.”

One of the biggest fans of “Bread” is Phil McEntee, a self-described film buff who resides in Dormont and owns an antiques and collectibles store in Canonsburg. McEntee has seen the movie eight times.

Why does he keep coming back for more?

“This movie really stands out,” he says. “It’s a beautifully written story that translates to film very well. It’s a story about true love in its many forms, which is centered around a family and focused on a dying mother.

“A good movie is really a work of art — it stands up to many viewings.”

Women behind ‘Bread’ work to elevate Pittsburgh filmmaking

It might be too early to tell what profound effects the success of “The Bread, My Sweet” will have on the future of the Pittsburgh filmmaking industry, but it can’t be denied that the women behind the film have been putting in overtime in order to help their colleagues get their projects off the ground.

“I believe that our film has impacted greatly on the filmmaking industry here on a number of levels,” says producer Adrienne Wehr. “It stands as a testament to the notion of yes, you can make a film here in Pittsburgh, even if it’s your first-time film.

“We have so many local filmmakers who come to us for consultation or advice. We have gone through this process now and know what it’s all about. We have taken an awful lot of time to offer these people some of the things that we know.”

Wehr says they have been trying to rally together filmmakers in a more collective fashion, so that they can assist each other in achieving their goals.

One such filmmaker is Brady Lewis, whose film “Daddy Cool” just had its Pittsburgh debut at Pittsburgh Filmmakers and is playing at various film festivals.

“We’ve been helping Brady Lewis with his film ‘Daddy Cool’ — introducing him to film festivals and directors,” Wehr says. “He’s been getting into a lot of the same festivals that our film played at.”

The success of “Bread” might have piqued national interest in the Pittsburgh film scene, says Stuart Strutin, president of Panorama Entertainment.

“It not only validates the success of the film, both financially and critically, but it has also gotten such national attention,” he says. “Most independents don’t see the light of day. It absolutely is wonderful for (Martin and Wehr’s) future careers, and has called attention to a lot of people in the Pittsburgh film industry.”

However, it might be too early just yet to see the long-term effects of “Bread” on the Pittsburgh filmmaking industry, says Charlie Humphrey, executive director of Pittsburgh Filmmakers.

“It’s not quite like rock ‘n’ roll, where one style catches on and another picks up — it takes time to catch on,” Humphrey says. “I can say with all my heart that I certainly hope that this film will be an inspiration to others.”

— Erin Walsh

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