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Interview – Dawn Keezer

Dawn Keezer is the Director of the Pittsburgh Film Office. She works out of LA and helps Hollywood land here. The Pittsburgh Film Office is responsible for bringing such movies here like Perks of Being a Wallflower, Batman: Dark Knight Rises, and most recently, John Green’s bestselling adaptation The Fault in Our Stars. It’s such a cool company and i knew I had to interview the lady at the helm. Enjoy!

The Pittsburgh Film Office is the place to go to learn all about the film industry in Pittsburgh. Can you tell me about its inception and what its goals are?

The Pittsburgh Film Office (PFO) was created in 1990. The mission of the PFO is to attract film production projects to the greater Southwestern Pennsylvania region; provide information on the region, locations, vendors and crew; and to coordinate government and business offices in support of production.  In addition, the film office is a conduit for information, providing assistance to local filmmakers and the local film industry throughout Allegheny County and the designated ten-county region.

Since 1990, the PFO has collected data reflecting over $762 million in film production.  This includes 125 feature and television films and series.

The Pgh Film Office is an amazing company! Your Twitter feed is invaluable. How’s your experience been working with the city?

Our experience working with the City and County is wonderful and one of the key factors in our success.  Our elected leadership really understands the importance of the film industry to SWPA’s economy.

Dawn, as director of the Pgh Film Office, can you describe an average day?

No such thing as an average day.  Since I am located full-time in Los Angeles, my day typically starts very early with calls at 5:30 am with people in the Pittsburgh region and after 9am is when I start working with our contacts in Los Angeles. My day may consist of meetings with studio and production people over breakfast, lunch or dinner and other days I hold conference call meetings over the phone.  Additionally, I am in constant contact with PA government contacts regarding PA film tax credits and film industry development.  When a film is in production in SWPA, I am oftentimes called upon to assist the film with issues the production may be having.

On your fabulous website, you say that a part of the PFO is to provide assistance to local filmmakers and local film industry throughout the region. Can you tell us more?

Well we maintain a crew and vendor list.  This is essentially a database of local film resources, crew that are available to work and companies that supply equipment and other things to film production.  We can also help find locations. We have a library of locations and filmmakers can contact and outline what they are looking for.  If we have it or can give insight we will pass it along to the filmmaker.  We can also answer general questions about filming in SWPA including film permits and other physical production questions.  We can also post crew and actor announcements on our website.

Some amazing movies have been filmed here in the city and surrounding areas! It’s so cool! Do you have a particularly wonderful memory that sticks out in your mind, either of working with someone or seeing something filmed?

I have many favorite memories of many of our projects.  My most recent favorite is meeting Tom Cruise on Mt. Washington during the filming of “Jack Reacher” and having him sell me on why he liked Pittsburgh so much!  It was a great experience and it was wonderful to have someone of his caliber really fall in love with our city and our amazing local crew.

Okay, let’s switch gears a minute. Tell us what having movies filmed in Pittsburgh can do for the city?

The most obvious benefit is economic.  Any production that bases here means jobs and money coming into our region.  A single medium-sized feature film can mean 250 crew jobs, benefits to dozens of local companies who supply equipment to the production and potential work for  hundreds to thousands of acting extras. For example, “The Dark Knight Rises” hired 10,000 extras for one scene alone!  This doesn’t take into account the many other businesses that see additional business from the out of town crew.  That includes everything from hotels to restaurants to local attractions.  A typical feature film can bring in 15 – 40 million dollars.  Any business that comes in for a few months, utilizes a large group of local resources, doesn’t pollute and doesn’t require a large investment of local dollars yet nets a benefit to the local economy of tens of millions of dollars is a vital industry to support.

Additional benefit is the immeasurable public relations the city receives.  A major film like “Jack Reacher” or “Dark Knight Rises” brings international attention to the region for years.  The value of that cannot be measured.

Why do you think Pittsburgh has been such a great filming location for so many movies? We’re called the Hollywood of the East!

We pride ourselves in our locations.  Pittsburgh is a modern city but has its roots in the past.  Our architecture can double for many other cities.  Also, although we are a major urban center, we are close to everything from farms to mountains.  We often say if it doesn’t require an ocean or a desert, SWPA can double for anything. (And even though it’s more northwestern PA, we actually have a history of supporting production in Erie which has doubled for an ocean in several productions including “The Road”.)

Do you have a favorite spot in the city?

I like the Exchange Way alley downtown.  It’s a great look and could be almost anywhere.  It has been used in many films including “The Dark Knight Rises”.

What, to you, makes for an ideal shooting location? I’m sure it varies with each film agency who come scouting, but have you noticed anything in particular that really sticks out and is asked for again and again?

We are lucky since the local population and government are very film friendly.  The ideal shooting location is really the one that can be utilized by the film production with as little interference as possible.  There we are fortunate in that the local population and government realize how important (and fun) film production can be and they have been very cooperative.  We never tell a production something can’t be done since we have often been surprised at how much the community has been willing to work with the film industry.  It’s really about working out the logistics so neither side is too put out by the production.

Okay, last question and I can’t ever leave an interview without asking for some advice! So….what is the best piece of advice you can give to an actor who’s trying to make it in the industry? 

Advice? Hmmm.  I guess I would say, study your craft, work as often as you can and get to know casting agents and casting directors as much as possible. That extends to anyone who wants to break into the industry…learn your craft and take any job that will help you learn and network.  Believe it or not, it’s a fairly small industry so meeting as many people as possible will help to build a career.

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