PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It turns out that an old steel warehouse in the Strip District has become a lure for movie makers.
It’s been transformed into a Pittsburgh version of a Hollywood movie studio.
“This is our largest sound-proofed sound stage – 40,000 square feet,” said Chris Breakwell, the founder of 31st Street Studio, who took us on a tour.
Breakwell says the latest “Batman” film, as well as Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher” both filmed at this studio.
There are also old sets from TV shows that have taped here. An elaborate wine cellar. A big round well. A jail cell.
Breakwell: This set can be used in almost every show.
Highfield: Somebody always winds up in jail?
Breakwell: Exactly. They really do!
Earlier this year, they built 10 dressing rooms for the stars of a TV series which moved its shooting from Hollywood to here. All the sets were shipped here from California. It’s the Nickelodeon show “Supah Ninja.”
George Takei from “Star Trek” is one of the actors in the show that people will recognize.
“We’ve become sort of the Hollywood East,” said Jessica Conner of the Pittsburgh Film Office. “We literally have people that have moved to the West Coast kind of seeking these kind of productions, and they’re calling back because were busier here!”
While studying musical theater at Carnegie Mellon University, Denver Milord got a role in Tom Cruise’s movie. Not just any role, but a role where he actually had to throw a punch at Cruise.
“You make contact,” said Milord. “But you have to. You pull the punch. You’re not actually going to be full out whacking him, cause then, yeah, it’s Tom Cruise. There’s a lot of nerves involved in that!”
He says he went through fight rehearsal first.
From actors to set builders to, movies in Pittsburgh mean jobs and money. The Film Office estimates more than $100 million was brought into the region each of the last three years.
Breakwell says all the sets at his studio are an example of that. “It literally saved a lumber company, family-owned, because of all the wood.”
But something bigger is happening at the studio now.
Knight Vision, which did the special effects in the movie Avatar, is opening the first motion-capture production facility outside Hollywood at the studio.
They put people in special suits with markers on them. Then a series of cameras chart those markers and translate the movements into animated figures.
They’re also joining forces with CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center, whose students will work at the new facility.
In addition to that, Paramount on Location has moved in to supply lights and equipment, so movie crews no longer have to ship those items in.
Breakwell is making a prediction about Pittsburgh’s filmmaking future. “I really believe it could be the fourth of fifth largest employer in Pittsburgh.”
Most everyone we interviewed, though, say the state’s film tax credit is a big draw to movie makers and is pivotal to luring them here.
Breakwell hopes eventually to have public tours at the studio, so everyone can get a first-hand look.