What do “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” producer Tom Pellegrini, MTV’s “The Buried Life” associate producer Ryan O’Shea, and “The Next Food Star” production assistant extraordinaire Kat Weiler have in common? They are examples of the many Steeltown interns now working on major film and TV productions after having gained valuable experience and built connections and relationships by working for the Steeltown Entertainment Project during college.
“Everybody wants to get producer credits as fast as possible, but you really have to put in the work first,” says Pellegrini, Steeltown’s first intern, who started in the kitchen of Steeltown co-founder Ellen Weiss Kander, and whose internship at Steeltown got him the connection with comedian Louie Anderson that lead to his first job in Hollywood as an assistant and creative executive. “Steeltown’s a good training ground. There aren’t many opportunities to get that kind of experience in Pittsburgh. Working at Steeltown really shows you how the entertainment industry works. You deal with the biggest players in Hollywood through Steeltown. Interns work on short films and get connected to people who are Hollywood heavy-hitters, and this ultimately helps [them] jump from Pittsburgh to L.A. or New York.”
“Steeltown is great for getting hands-on experience and making connections that you can’t find anywhere else,” agreed O’Shea, whose experiences with Steeltown included work on the Smithsonian Channel documentary “A Shot to Save the World,” a Steeltown co-produced regional version of “The People Speak” featuring Matt Damon and John Krasinski, and a WQED/Steeltown produced talk show pilot with “Two and a Half Men” and longtime Steeltown adviser director/producer Jamie Widdoes. “There’s something for everyone, regardless of your particular interests. I’d definitely recommend looking into the organization and finding out more.”
Kat Weiler, a University of Pittsburgh communications major and former captain of Pitt’s women’s soccer team, got her first television production experience working on the Jamie Widdoes talk show pilot, and before she graduated found herself with a job offer to work with Jamie and his producing partner Peter Isacksen on their innovative Subway sponsored webseries, “4 to 9ers,” in Los Angeles. “Because Steeltown has small staff, interns get a lot of hands-on experience, which is great. I got a lot of experience just because I was given the task and was trusted to do it.” Weiler has gone on to parlay that first job into a series of production gigs on various shows, including on “The Next Food Star,” which was produced by the same company that recently shot a pilot, featuring Iron Chef judge and celebrity chef/restaurateur Donatella Arpaia, in Pittsburgh with the WQED/Steeltown Incubator. “Working really closely with Hollywood advisors through Steeltown is great and opens a lot of doors.”
Pellegrini and O’Shea have also gone on to work on numerous film and television productions. In addition to his producing work on “Jiro Dreams of Sushi,” which was one of the highest grossing documentaries of 2012, Pellegrini co-produced two films that premiered at the Sundance Film Festival: “Sympathy for Delicious,” starring Mark Ruffalo, Orlando Bloom, Laura Linney, and Juliette Lewis; and “Hesher,” starring Natalie Portman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He also served as an executive on the five-time Tony Award nominated Broadway show “Rock of Ages,” and co-produced “Barry Munday” starring Patrick Wilson and Judy Greer. O’Shea, in addition to his work Associate Producing “The Buried Life,” has been a production assistant on “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” “Jack Reacher,” “The Fault in Our Stars” and Nickelodeon’s “Supah Ninjas.”
As a closing bit of advice for students looking to jump-start a career in the entertainment industry, O’Shea offered that “the most important thing anyone interested in the entertainment industry can do to get started is put in the effort. Show up to events and make connections. Don’t ever say “no” to an opportunity, and volunteer whenever possible. Steeltown is perfect for that.”
Pittsburgh Film Community, we want to hear from you. If you’re a college student seeking an internship, a film or industry professional, an emerging or independent filmmaker, or an educator, go to filmmakers.wqed.org/get-connected to learn more about what Steeltown can do for you