Pittsburgh showcased in Mt. Lebanon native’s new film
Film'Two Lives in Pittsburgh'

Pittsburgh showcased in Mt. Lebanon native’s new film

A recent passion project brought the Pittsburgher back home from California.

Shot from “Two lives in Pittsburgh” (Image courtesy of Fresh PR Los Angeles)
Shot from “Two lives in Pittsburgh” (Image courtesy of Fresh PR Los Angeles)

Brian Silverman got the acting itch young.

But it wasn’t until he collected a few ZIP codes under his belt that he decided to ply the trade as a career.

Born in Cleveland, Silverman moved to Pittsburgh at 2, and his family eventually settled in Mt. Lebanon. He never starred in a school play. After graduating high school in 1986, he went to college in Massachusetts. Still, no auditions.

After college, he joined the Peace Corps, which took him to Haiti and Guatemala.

It wasn’t until around 2000 that Silverman flexed his acting muscles when he moved to California after briefly flirting with improv theater.

“I kind of avoided [acting] while I was in Pittsburgh, even though I was drawn to it. Finally, I just couldn’t avoid it anymore,” Silverman, who is Jewish, told the Chronicle. “So, I moved to California, studied acting and I tried to do what everyone does: build a career.”

Silverman scored his first IMDb credit in 2004 when he appeared in an episode of “The Guardian.” Roles followed in indie films, as well as TV series like “24,” “Monk” and “Ray Donovan.”

But a recent passion project brought the Pittsburgher back home.

During a lull in the pandemic, Silverman wrote and directed “Two Lives in Pittsburgh,” a shoestring-budget indie feature that follows a traditional blue-collar guy stumbling between who he has always been and who his child needs him to be, as he confronts his mother’s illness and his child’s exploration of gender.

Silverman wanted “Two Lives In Pittsburgh” to be authentic. So, he shot it in Allegheny County for 20 days in June 2021, soaking the film in all of the regional details of his childhood and making sure every aspect of the production was hyperlocal.

“I just always loved Pittsburgh — the sports traditions and the sense of community, the understanding I have of what a childhood there could be like,” he said.

In addition to casting a few Pittsburghers who were working as actors in Los Angeles, Silverman left about half the roles open so they could be filled by Pittsburgh residents. When he sought his makeup team, he sought Pittsburghers. When he looked for someone to do production design, he looked for Pittsburghers.

The crew shot 100% of the film in Allegheny County, basing most of it in Carnegie, Green Tree, Dormont and Silverman’s native Mt. Lebanon.

Brian Silverman (Photo courtesy of Fresh PR Los Angeles)
The film’s soundtrack features Pittsburgh artists such as Evan Mulgrave, Shamar and Bjordan, Silverman said. He even chose a color palette for “Two Lives” to reflect Pittsburgh’s aesthetic.

The team worked with local landlords to rent short-term housing instead of staying in corporate-owned motels, Silverman said. When the crew needed to meet outside of the shooting schedule, they did so at Carnegie Coffee Co.

When they were looking for a Pittsburgh classroom, they shot in Temple Emanuel of South Hills. No, Silverman didn’t grow up attending Temple Emanuel; he said his dad was a former president at Beth El Congregation of the South Hills. But an actor in California originally from Pittsburgh did recognize his temple in the film, Silverman said.

“Every little dollar we spent — from shopping runs to Giant Eagle to pizza from Mineo’s — went to Pittsburgh,” Silverman said. “The COVID testing was all local. All that money went back to the community — and that was really fulfilling to me. It meant a lot to me.”

Sky Elobar grew up in Bloomfield and moved to New York City before relocating to Los Angeles in 2003. A 1983 Peabody High School alumnus, he’s acted for some 17 years; he joined the Screen Actors Guild in 2006.

Elobar, who is not Jewish, but has Jewish family members, saw Silverman’s casting notice in an actors’ forum in L.A.

“I was like, ‘Man, I would love to be in this!” he laughed. “I had to get this thing.”
Silverman cast Elobar as Jim, who Elobar describes as a bit of a racist and homophobic character. He stayed in Pittsburgh for two weeks during the 2021 shoot.

“It was weird,” Elobar said. “I’ve been in Carnegie, I know Pittsburgh well from growing up there — it was surreal.”

Actor Mark McClain Wilson, an L.A. resident by way of Upper St. Clair, didn’t feel strange about shooting in Mt. Lebanon, 10 minutes away from his childhood home. In Silverman’s film, he plays Will Garcia, who teaches the gender-fluid son of Silverman’s character.

He said the whole production and his time back in western Pennsylvania brought “waves and waves and waves of good feelings.”

“It was so nostalgic,” said Wilson, a 1988 Upper St. Clair High School alumnus who has lived and worked in California for about 22 years. “There’s a lot that has changed (about Pittsburgh), but so much of it has remained the same. And I enjoyed seeing both elements.”

Wilson has been down this road before, having shot a part in “The Perks of Being A Wallflower” in his native Steel City around 2010.

Wilson’s brother still lives in Warrendale in Pittsburgh’s North Hills, but he admits the film shoot was his first extended time back in his hometown since high school.

The experience meant a lot to him, as it did to Silverman and Elobar.

“Every time I drive through the Fort Pitt Tunnel, I drive Downtown and go over that bridge and the city just explodes in front of you,” Wilson said.

“It’s a feeling in the center of your chest that never leaves.”

Silverman’s Pittsburgh-shot and Pittsburgh-inspired film has been screened primarily at festivals, and recently won the Audience Award for Narrative Feature at the Dances With Films and Best Narrative Feature at Indie Spirit, Silverman said.

It was chosen as one of four Centerpiece Selections for the OUTSOUTH Queer Film Festival and is a First Five Film for aGLIFF.

If you can make it to California, you can catch a screening of “Two Lives in Pittsburgh” at Cinequest Film & VR Festival in San Jose until Aug. 30.

Closer to the Atlantic, “Two Lives In Pittsburgh” will play at the Buffalo Dreams Fantastic Film Festival in Williamsville, New York, from Aug. 18-24. PJC

Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.

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