PITTch connects Pittsburgh creatives to the film industry

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Image courtesy of Aditi Sridhar

The Center for Creativity hosted “PITTch: The Next Step” Wednesday night as part of its PITTch project, which aims to give Pittsburghers hands-on experience pitching their movie and TV ideas to producers.

By Charlie Taylor, Senior Staff Writer

Aditi Sridhar wrote “Nerdfest,” a light-hearted film script about nerdy high schoolers at a technology competition, as a way to escape from the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I wanted to write something funny and entertaining, and something to get my mind off of all of the horrible things that were happening in the world,” Sridhar, a rising junior majoring in psychology and film and media studies, said.

What started as an escapist project has now received feedback from Hollywood professionals, thanks to “PITTch: The Next Step.” The Center for Creativity hosted the event last Wednesday as part of its PITTch project, which aims to give Pittsburghers hands-on experience pitching their movie and TV ideas to producers. Four writers, filmmakers and creatives pitched their projects — selected from a pool of over 70 project proposals submitted in the fall — as part of the event. 

The pitches received feedback from Rusty Cundieff, a Pittsburgh native whose directing credits include “Tales from the Hood” and “Chappelle’s Show,” and Norman Aladjem, founder and CEO of the production company Mainstay Entertainment. Carl Kurlander, a senior lecturer in the film and media studies department, moderated the event. 

Kurlander’s own film career began when he wrote the 1985 film St. Elmo’s Fire, and he has since directed and produced several films in Pittsburgh. Kurlander said he believes Pittsburgh is full of talented people looking to share their stories, and sees PITTch as a way of helping those people navigate the film industry.

“[PITTch is] trying to explain the development process that goes on, routinely in LA and New York, and to connect people more proactively here and really to explain and let people watch and be part of it,” he said.

The projects at Wednesday’s event encompassed several mediums and stages of development, from memoirs to full scripts to video clips. “Nerdfest,” a script based on Sridhar’s own experiences in high school, follows a young Indian-American girl named Deepthi as she competes in Technology Student Association events.

“We’re definitely not the same people, but I definitely poured a lot of myself into [Deepthi]. She’s very perfectionist, wants to win at all of her events,” Sridhar said.

Deepthi’s Technology Student Association experience complicates when she shares a room with another student, Cat, who only competes because her parents force her to, and whom Deepthi dismisses as an airhead. Sridhar said over the course of the film, the pair realize they have more in common than they thought, but Deepthi’s crush on a rival TSA president threatens their bond.

Like “Nerdfest,” two documentary pitches from Pittsburgh-based filmmaker Jordan Taylor feature similar themes of community and competition. 

“All Style” follows Christian Brown, a hip-hop dancer who leaves Pittsburgh for the first time to explore the underground dance scene in cities across the globe. “Marymount,” meanwhile, documents a July 4 tradition as the residents of Shaler, a Pittsburgh suburb located 20 minutes north of Oakland, prepare for their annual lawnmower race.

“It is the most Americana thing I’ve ever experienced, and we had eight cameras on it and a drone. I just had to get it,” he said.

Jan Beatty, director of Carlow University’s creative writing program, also pitched a film rooted in real life. Based on her forthcoming memoir, “American Bastard,” the proposed film of the same name follows Beatty as she searches for her birth parents — a working-class Pittsburgh woman and a Canadian hockey star — while working at abortion clinics and prisons.

Another pitch, “Will You Take Care of My Children,” is based on an upcoming memoir by Sylvia Owusu-Ansah, the only Black female physician at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s Emergency Department. Owusu-Ansah, who is co-writing her memoir with Cristina D’Imperio, said she envisions a series following a strong Black protagonist and the lessons she learns from her young patients.

“It is a unique memoir because it talks about how my patients have changed me and not the other way around, how there are certain patients I’ve encountered throughout my 15 year career that have changed me as a human being, a doctor, a mother,” she said.

Of the 70 original submissions to PITTch, C4C selected 25 to receive coverage — or analysis of the script’s potential — from a professional script reading service. The four that C4C selected for “The Next Step” represent a diverse group, according to Kurlander.

“We chose a diverse group of people in every sense of the word,” Kurlander said. “We kind of chose them because they each are from a different age group, a different variety of backgrounds.”

Sridhar said in writing “Nerdfest” and submitting it to PITTch, she wanted to give her story a platform that doesn’t come easily for students of color in creative fields.

“Pitt is a [predominantly white institution] and I know for a lot of students of color here, especially in the creative majors, it’s hard to kind of navigate because there’s not a lot of representation in the faculty,” she said.

Cundieff emphasized during the event that for aspiring writers and filmmakers, it sometimes takes extensive revision to create a script in which production companies will be interested.

“I sometimes do like 20 drafts or more before I show it to someone. I write and write and write and write and then I will take it and I’ll set it aside and I’ll look at it a month later,” Cundieff said.
“And I’ll write some more.”

Sridhar’s script has already undergone tweaking, and she said in the process of developing the script, she’s had to pay special attention to creating moments in the script that hook the reader.

“If you don’t have those details to draw people in, to make them laugh, to make them gasp, to make them cry, to make them mad about something that’s going on, you don’t have a strong pitch,” she said.

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