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Young professionals flock to Pittsburgh for film jobs

By Abby Mathieu, Point Park News Service:

Emma Watson standing on the bed of a truck as she bursts through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, the Batmobile casually parked in a spot on Fifth Avenue and Matt Damon hanging out in a field in suburban Avonmore.

All of these, notably uncommon, occurrences could be seen in Pittsburgh in the last couple of years. From “The Dark Knight Rises” to “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” to “Promise Land,” Pittsburgh has become a hotspot for the film industry.

Along with these movies, young professionals are either flocking to the City of Bridges or staying put. Many have had the opportunity to not only work on these major motion pictures, but also to jump from one project to the next, with only a small amount of down time in between.

“The film industry has been booming in our region since 2007,” Jessica Conner, assistant director at the Pittsburgh Film Office, said. “There are a lot of opportunities for young professionals in the film industry here, and we hope it continues to grow.”

Heidi Schlegel, 23, of Regent Square, works as producer and assistant director on an independent film being shot in Pittsburgh called "Roses are Red." Submitted photo.
Heidi Schlegel, 23, of Regent Square, works as producer and assistant director on an independent film being shot in Pittsburgh called “Roses are Red.” Submitted photo.

Heidi Schlegel, 23, is among the film professionals in the area. She has worked on many different projects in the area, including the cable TV show “Dance Moms,” a PBS special called “Scientastic,” and most recently a new docu-series called “The Chair.”

“I have been working in the industry since I first entered school in 2009,” Schlegel said. “I got involved very early on in my career to ensure that I would have an extensive network when I graduated. I have been getting paid work [in Pittsburgh] for about a year now.”

Schlegel held several different titles in the numerous projects she worked on, including unit production manager, production coordinator and assistant production coordinator.

Currently, Schlegel is in between projects, which she describes as very stressful.

“When you are in production, you barely have time to do your laundry, let alone look for your next gig. There are days I wish I could get hired and never have to worry about finding another job,” Schlegel said. “However, I chose this career because I don’t want to work a 9-to-5, and I like the excitement of meeting new people and traveling to new places.”

Schlegel feels Pittsburgh is a great place for people seeking freelance work in the film industry.

“Pittsburgh is a great city for young professionals,” Schlegel said. ”More and more production companies are realizing it and sending work our way. Pittsburgh is a lot more affordable too.”

However, Emily Westfield, who also worked on “Dance Moms” and “The Chair,” said she does not feel this city is the right place for her. Westfield, also between jobs, is having a harder time adjusting to the film lifestyle.

“At the moment I am on unemployment because there is just no work available in Pittsburgh,” Westfield said. “I’ve agreed to help out on a few small projects, but most of the independent films are not paying very much.”

While Schlegel respects the freelance lifestyle, Westfield hopes to find a more secure career in the future.

”If you aren’t willing to travel constantly, freelance work will only come sparingly,” she said. “I’m hoping to work in a studio so that I can have consistent hours and income.”

Schlegel offered her take on how a young professional can successfully get into the business.

“When getting involved in this industry, it’s important to know that it will take time,” Schlegel said. “Filmmakers don’t become overnight successes very often. You have to spend a lot of time working your way up the ladder and meeting the right people.”

Chris Moore, producer for “American Pie” and “Good Will Hunting,” spoke highly of the film industry in the Pittsburgh area at a recent event hosted by Point Park University. He also provided insight into what he looks for when hiring young professionals for projects.

“In film, I want to know, Can you actually do the job I need you to do?” Moore said.

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