As longtime Steeltown advisor and Hollywood producer Laura Davis prepares to return to Pittsburgh for the first public screening of “A New York Heartbeat,” she cannot help but feel that things have come full circle. Davis grew up in Pittsburgh’s Squirrel Hill, and she and her husband Tjardus Greidanus decided to shoot their film in Pittsburgh, so it only seemed appropriate to open the film here. The film will run at the Regent Square Theater, from July 12-25, with an opening night Q&A on Friday July 12 featuring Davis and Greidanus, moderated by Steeltown President Carl Kurlander.
“A New York Heartbeat” is a film noir-influenced story of the heroic journey of a young gang leader in New York in the late 1950s, featuring Eric Roberts and a hot young cast including Rachel Brosnahan (“House of Cards,” “Beautiful Creatures”). When the production team was scouting for filming sites, however, they quickly realized that present day Brooklyn, with its prevalent, modern graffiti, looks nothing like 1959 Brooklyn. That’s when the team turned to Pittsburgh. “I spent three months scouting locations that were so evocative that a viewer could imagine himself or herself on a street corner in Brooklyn in 1959,” said Greidanus, who wrote, directed, and co-produced “Heartbeat.” “Ironically, we ended up shooting in Pittsburgh, where soot-stained brick, industrial decay and rusted bridges suggested post-war New York.”
Long before returning to film “A New York Heartbeat”, Davis and Greidanus had connections to Steeltown Entertainment and Pittsburgh’s film community. Having met Carl Kurlander through a connection made by her mother’s mailman in 2003, Davis learned about Steeltown’s vision for developing the region’s entertainment industry, and agreed, along with her husband, to be an advisor during its inception. Having made behind the scenes documentaries for some of the most noted filmmakers of our time, including Martin Scorsese, and Michael Mann, Davis and Greidanus partnered with Kurlander to produce the film that introduced Steeltown to the world, a fifteen-minute film entitled “Pittsburgh: Hollywood’s Best Kept Secret,” which aired on WQED as part of the Mid-Atlantic Emmy Nominated “Steeltown Entertainment Summit” television special. Davis and Greidanus continued to work with Steeltown on subsequent films, including “A Shot that Saved the World,” which won Best Documentary last year at the San Luis Obispo Film Festival and will have its broadcast premiere in October on the Smithsonian Networks.
Upon returning to Pittsburgh to film “A New York Heartbeat,” Davis could not say enough positive things about the Pittsburgh film community, which supplied 80% of the crew. “After having spent so much time in Hollywood, which a lot of times feels like ‘the land of no,’ I felt upon coming to Pittsburgh that I had arrived in the land of ‘yes.’ Because of our small budget, we decided to film during a five-week window when no other projects were filming in Pittsburgh, so we wouldn’t have to compete for crew with big studio pictures. We reached out to potential crew members, sending them scripts to give them a sense of the project, and letting them know about our limited budget. We were thrilled when about two-thirds of them said yes.”
The Pittsburgh community was integrated into the production in many ways. One of the sites for interior filming included Davis’s childhood home in Squirrel Hill, as well as the top floor of a former coffee warehouse in the Strip District. “The Pittsburgh film community really came together to support us,” Davis said. “The Pittsburgh Filmmakers, Pittsburgh Film Office and WQED, with guidance from Steeltown, gave us all the support we could have asked for and more. In fact, former Steeltown employee Cait Murray is a co-producer of the film and Steeltown production manager Kris Veenis not only worked on the film, but takes a bullet in the movie!”