PITTSTON — Lights. Camera. Pittston!
In a continuing effort to become an art mecca in Northeast Pennsylvania, Pittston officials and a private group have started the Pistol City Film Office with hopes of luring Hollywood-size talent to the region while incorporating local casts, crews, goods and services.
And once it gets off the ground, organizers promise a lineup of benefits.
For the producer, there’s a bevy of state tax credits, a proposed modern film studio and a central area located a short distance from New York and Philadelphia. The city will benefit from the exposure, the continued art-scene branding and the major boost to the local economy ranging from lodging to catering and restaurants.
“We’re doing a tremendous amount of revitalization in downtown Pittston through the arts and the next logical next step is film and television,” Geoffrey Pizzuto, a member of the Film Office’s board of directors.
Some filming of Pittston director Alan Hanczyc’s short film “Issues” took place Sunday and Monday at Tomato Bar & Bistro in Pittston. The shoot was arranged through the film office and features an predominately local cast and will be shot exclusively in Greater Pittston.
Hanczyc, who also serves as the film’s co-producer and co-writer, is making the film with Mark Dziak of Pittston, who serves as assistant director, co-producer and co-writer. Hanczyc said they tried to keep it as local as possible and participate in the “art community” that is forming in the downtown.
“And the fact that we’re from Pittston, it’s important we promote our hometown in any way we can,” Hanczyc said.
From short films to feature-length pictures, the office hopes to work with a variety of filmmakers.
Pizzuto said he and his partner, Yvonne Maria Schaefer of YMC Films of New York and Frankfurt, Germany, were in the Philadelphia Film Office to pitch a script when the idea for the film office came to him.
“I thought to myself, with all that’s going on, why can’t we do something similar in Pittston?” Pizzuto said. “Why don’t we just go ahead and bring filmmakers to the Northeast Pennsylvania region and to Pittston itself.”
Local film producer Joe Van Wie, of JVW Inc., said he intends to relocate his Scranton offices to downtown Pittston and plans to construct a green-screen studio within the city. He said the new studio with high ceilings and a large green screen will be part of the city’s pitch.
“I just did shoots in St. Louis, Philadelphia and Atlanta, and the entire crew was from here,” Van Wie said. “We have a load of talent right here.”
Van Wie said the old Hollywood model for producing films and television is becoming obsolete.
“Most indie filmmakers want to utilize and celebrate the area they’re shooting in,” he said. “We always ask what can we use to make the film authentic, to keep the visual integrity? We’ll use the town as a resource and use their products and goods as a ‘thank-you.’ ”
He gave an example of the hit AMC TV show “Breaking Bad” and the impact in had on Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Production used their bakeries and restaurants; everything they needed,” Van Wie said. “It was really a shot in the arm to the local economy. That’s what will happen here.”
Local film crews, hotels, insurance companies, restaurants and craft services would be utilized, Van Wie said.
In the past, film companies set up shop in a town and bought everything with them and took everything with them when they left. Van Wie said that’s no longer the case.
“Films are now flat and locally driven,” he said.
One of Van Wie’s recent productions, “The Paragon Cortex,” recently won best picture at the Dixieland Film Festival in Georgia and was shot locally with a local crew.
Van Wie said state tax incentives could help in Pittston.
The Pennsylvania Film Production Tax Credit Program was enacted in 2007 and offers a 25 percent tax credit to films that spend at least 60 percent of their total production budget in the state. The cap on yearly tax credits is $60 million and productions over $1 million are eligible, but than figure may soon be lowered.
Most of the tax breaks are used in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but they’re available throughout the state.
Eligible productions include feature films, television films, television talk or game show series, television commercials, television series, pilots or documentaries.
Schaffer, the girlfriend of Federico Castelluccio of the HBO’s “The Soprano’s,: has spent over 30 years in the entertainment industry in Germany and the U.S. and touted the benefits of international cooperation. “The goal is to develop an intentional understanding through film exchange,” she said.
She spoke of young filmmakers getting their start.
“They should be able to explore film making outside their home countries, but many don’t know how to do that,” she said. “Making a film in a foreign country could inspire and educate them. But you can be sure they will come back and make bigger films.”
She said the NEPA film office could facilitate such an exchange and be able to suggest sites, crews, lodging, catering and craft services. She said her film company has used such exchanges with Canada and Italy, but she’s not aware of a similar exchange program in America.
Schaffer, who has visited Pittston with Castelluccio more than 10 times, said Pittston is a perfect location for filming.
“It has diverse looks,” she said. “Pittston has so many beautiful churches. You can’t find that anywhere. And the downtown is spectacular.”
She touted the short 2-hour drive to Philadelphia or New York City for some bigger shots.
Her company, YMC Films, currently has a film, “The Child,” which was partially shot in the U.S and partially in Germany. The U.S. cast included Eric Roberts, Sunny Mabrey and Peter Greene. Her other films include “Checkmate,” “Stick Em Up: Reloaded” and a documentary on the struggle of Cuban artists called “The Cuban Herd,” which is in post-production.
Pistol City, named for an 1930s moniker describing the high number of unsolved killings in the area, is all volunteer and will be housed in the city’s Redevelopment Authority Office in City Hall.
Pittston’s Main Street Manager Rose Randazzo, Pizzuto’s wife, said she would arrange free location shoots on any city-owned property and deal with Main Street businesses willing to offer their properties in a shoot.
Pizzuto said a new proposed theater on North Main Street could be a good place to premiere local films.
“We saw all the changes to the face of our little town, Pittston, that’s slowly on its way back and we wanted to be a part of it,” Pizzuto said.
The board of directors includes Pizzuto, Schaefer, Van Wie, Mayor Jason Klush, former Mayor Mike Lombardo, executive director of the Redevelopment Authority Joe Chacke and City Administrator Joe Moskovitz.
Moskovitz said the film office is not merely an economic-development tool.
“It’s part of a larger format and motif we’ve been developing: culture in Pittston,” Moskovitz said.
He said the art gallery, murals, sculptures, the Second Friday Art Walks and the theater project are all under that umbrella.
Pittston’s location is one of its greatest assets, Moskovitz said. The city is centrally located between Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, between interstates 80 and 81, and a short distance from New York City and Philadelphia. And Pittston can offer all the amenities and backdrops such as downtown, the riverfront, churches, coal fields, railroad yards and suburbia.
“But we can offer rates far below what they would pay in major metros,” Moskovitz said. “That’s very important to filmmakers.”