Filmmaker Matt Boatright-Simon says he aspires to be “Pittsburgh’s Woody Allen,” but he doesn’t much look the part.
They both may be Jewish filmmakers, but Boatright-Simon, who is young, large and gregarious, seems nothing like Allen, exuding not a hint of Allen’s famously self-deprecating sensibilities.
Yet, akin to Allen’s affinity to New York, Boatright-Simon sees Pittsburgh as a muse of sorts, and a compelling backdrop for his upcoming film, “Dealing.”
Boatright-Simon was in town last week to scout locations for “Dealing,” his second full-length feature film, and for the second episode of his television show, “PushPull.” He feels a strong connection to Pittsburgh, having spent a lot of time here with his father’s family while growing up.
“My grandparents, Joe and Chick Simon, had a bakery on Carson Street,” he recalled. “We made a lot of trips to Pittsburgh. I’m a big Steelers fan and a Pirates fan. I even did a book report on Franco Harris in second grade.”
Boatright-Simon, an award-winning director, with one feature film, four television shows, 20 commercials and six stage plays to his credit, grew up in Wisconsin and Indiana, and now lives near Los Angeles. He says he would move to Pittsburgh “in a second” if he could make it work with his career.
“I’m more of a blue collar guy,” Boatright-Simon said. “Pittsburgh fits my work ethic.”
“Dealing,” a co-production of Boatright-Simon Picture & Sound and Pittsburgh-based Bridge City Films, was written by Boatright-Simon’s cousin Brad Davis and his writing partner Nick Bartel. Davis and Bartel both grew up in Monroeville and attended Gateway High School. They now reside in Los Angeles.
“Dealing” tells the story of a young ex-convict, working as a janitor in an elite private school, who is forced back into a life of crime in order to save his family. Boatright-Simon said the characters in the film mirror the contrasts within the city of Pittsburgh.
“The movie is a love letter to working class Pittsburgh,” Boatright-Simon said. “There is a scene where the main character walks from the beautiful school where he works, across Pittsburgh to a working class neighborhood in the South Side slopes, which I still think is beautiful. You see all of the old relics from the ’70s: the buildings of old brick and old steel, the inclines, the rivers. It’s a metaphor for all these diverging stories.”
“This is about showing the city in all its beauty, past and present,” he continued. “I want to show the part of Pittsburgh that resonates with me. I want to show Pittsburgh in a beautiful light — and then turn the camera 90 degrees to the right.”
Boatright-Simon said he plans to begin pre-production work on “Dealing” in January, and to begin shooting the film here in March.
“This is going to be a homegrown film,” Boatright-Simon said, noting that he would be hiring a local crew, and auditioning local actors.
While in town, Boatright-Simon was also scouting locations for an upcoming episode of his television series, “PushPull,” which will be introduced as an iPhone application, and then posted on the Internet.
The show, set to be released Oct. 15, tells the story of a woman from Los Angeles who teleports around the world in an effort to escape a dark faction pursuing her. Whenever she teleports, though, a former love interest who lives on the East Coast is involuntarily teleported an equal distance, never knowing why he is pulled to another place.
In the second episode, he lands in Pittsburgh.
Boatright-Simon is busy these days, working on several other projects in addition to “Dealing” and “PushPull.” He says he has always been a storyteller.
“I’m interested in telling stories about heroes and their journeys,” Boatright-Simon said, “whether it’s a 70-year-old Asian man, or a 10-year-old in South America.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)