Delving into the Pittsburgh Film Industry and History

Nancy Mosser and I at the casting audition room in Mosser Casting studio

 

Delving into the Pittsburgh Film Industry and History

Museum Studies Intern at Senator John Heinz History Center - Spring 2018

As a Museum Studies intern at Senator John Heinz History Center for Spring 2018, I have had the opportunity to work under curators Leslie Przybylek and Lauren Uhl, helping them document Pittsburgh’s significant ties to commercial film production. During my internship, I looked through newspaper articles about films I was interested in knowing more about. I also interviewed people in the industry and did research on the museum’s collection for an eventual exhibit on Pittsburgh’s role in film.

I first researched Fences (2016), a film based on the play by Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson. The film follows the lives of the Maxon family in the 1950s Hill District neighborhood. One of the people that we interviewed was my cousin Greg Weimerskirch, an art director in the film industry locally. He showed us how he designs each environment for the camera. For Fences he had to recreate what the Hill District looked like in the 1950s, from the street signs to the kind of garbage truck used, to how the houses looked at that time. It was amazing to witness the level of detail that goes into being an art director and how Greg uses both digital and physical modeling to create an impression of setting in the film.

Other films that I have examined closely in my internship were Striking Distance (1993), Sudden Death (1995), and Inspector Gadget (1999). I searched through newspapers to find articles on how each of the movies was received when it was in theatres, as well as production information pertaining to the who, when, where and how they were produced. I then searched for film crewmembers and technicians to contact who worked on these films.

Some of my leads did not meet with success, but one lead for Sudden Death led me to interviewing Nancy Mosser, who runs the Mosser Casting studio in Lawrenceville, Pittsburgh. Nancy casts extras and actors for films, television, and commercials. This is unique because most casting agencies only cast either extras or actors, not both. She got her start by working as a Production Assistant for Channel 11 news and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. She then struck out on her own to become a casting director. Nancy told us about the ease of casting today, compared to when she started out, thanks to the increased use of technology.

Overall, this internship has blended my passios of Pittsburgh history and film. I have more understanding about what it takes to envision and work on a film. This was revealed to me by using digital archival material, tracking down and interviewing contacts, and critically thinking about the interconnection between people and movies and objects.

Learn more about the Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh initiative here

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  • Academic Interns
  • Undergraduate Work
  • Collecting Knowledge Pittsburgh