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Pair of directors film same script in Pittsburgh for ‘The Chair’

By Kat Prosachick / For The Pitt News

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Imagine your favorite movie — “The Notebook,” “Rocky,” “Goodfellas” — if it were directed by someone else. Chances are, it might have a radically different visual style, even if the script was still the same. What we now consider classics could be found at the bottom of the bargain bin. 

A new Starz reality competition, “The Chair,” brings this very scenario to the small screen.  

The show is a unique show-business experiment that tries to find out what will happen if two directors are handed the same script, given a couple rules and told to make their own adaptations. The results, which were filmed in Pittsburgh, could result in career springboards for the two first-time directors, Shane Dawson and Anna Martemucci.

They were given a script written by Dan Schoffer, a writer and actor, and had to keep their movies 85 minutes long and rated R or less. Other requirements had the directors keep the original character names for easy audience comparisons and stay within the budget of $850,000. Once the two films hit theaters in New York and Los Angeles, the winner will be voted on by audiences and receive $250,000 at the end of the show’s first season.

Last Thursday, “The Chair” held its premiere event at SouthSide Works Cinema, and many of the cast and crew members were in attendance.

Dawson, unrecognizable with his new do, is a YouTube star with more than 10 million subscribers to his three channels. He began making his own videos in 2006 and has since become a web celebrity.

“It wasn’t a hard transition between directing YouTube videos and the feature film, but it was a lot more pressure,” Dawson said. “My YouTube videos were produced using my own money, and this film was produced with other people’s money, which adds a certain amount of stress.”

His film is called “Not Cool,” and while directing it, Dawson wanted to make sure it was resonant with the current generation by creating a film that was crazy, funny and a “blend of the dramatic.”

“This film meant everything to me. I know that sounds cliched, but it did. I was proving to myself and the world that I could be a director,” Dawson said. “This experience put me out of my comfort zone because it wasn’t the YouTube me.”

Martemucci started her career as a writer and explained on “The Chair” that she always wanted to be a director but wasn’t sure if she could do it. She has a YouTube channel called Periods. Films, a collection of comedies, with Victor Quinaz, who is her partner and husband. These short films feature Martemucci herself, her brother-in-law Philip Quinaz and Zachary Quinto, who is a producer on “The Chair.” 

“Directing this film was the realization of a life-long dream. I wanted to do this for a long time, but it seemed too big a dream,” Martemucci said. “I did it even though I was terrified, and it turned out to be everything I wanted and more.”

She aims for her film, “Hollidaysburg,” to be a teen movie that hasn’t been done before, with female characters who are complex, weird and interesting. Martemucci said she wanted to make a “cozy” film.

“Very often, I’m in the mood for that place to feel safe and happy and like nothing too terrible will happen. These are the movies I rewatch,” Martemucci said. “And rewatchability was a major concern for me.”

Trisha Simmons, a Hollywood actress in Martemucci’s film, didn’t necessarily expect to be filming the movie in Pennsylvania. 

“I auditioned in L.A., and at the time, I didn’t know they were looking for people from Pittsburgh,” Simmons said.

Simmons thought Martemucci, who she referred to as a “real artist,” adjusted well to feature films.

“She liked to add scenes last minute and wanted to keep changing things — make it faster to make sure we had it right,” Simmons said.

Every film is a collaboration, and in the case of “Hollidaysburg,” Martemucci believes that talent has a way of compounding on itself.

“Work with talented people, and you will appear [to be] talented,” Martemucci said.

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Pair of directors film same script in Pittsburgh for ‘The Chair’