Thursday, November 7, 2013
While one might bump into a Hollywood star in town to film the next blockbuster in Pittsburgh these days, most would never expect the same to happen in an old steel town like Sharon, PA. In the 80's and 90's, though, the reverse was actually quite likely to occur.
"I remember stories of residents having coffee with Patrick Swayze or playing pool with Forest Whitaker, " shared Audio Visual Director, Gary Swanson. "It was an exciting time for the Shenango Valley."
The excitement was being generated by the Continental Film Group, who had opened a film production business in Sharon, regularly bringing "big-name" talent to the area to audition and produce movies for the big screen. The studio was owned by Amin Q. Chaudhri, a director and producer born in British India, (present day Pakistan,) who worked to create independent films in what he found to be a community loaded with ideal shooting locations for story-telling.
Swayze and Whitaker, along with Patricia O'Neil, Shelly Winters, Sharon Stone, and Sherilyn Fenn were some of the then larger-than-life stars who shot on location for films like Tiger Warsaw, Diary of a Hitman, and An Unremarkable Life.
Despite the star-power, Chaudhri's films never experienced great commercial success, and over time the studio like the steel town around it, fell into hard economic times. The building is believed to have been abandoned in 2003 but it still houses different soundstage sets, world premiere souvenir wine glasses, tripods, lights, dollies, mass amounts of film and many other items. "It's looks like when they left, they left in a hurry," Swanson shared. "No one seems to know the full story, but it's clear that the building was abandoned almost overnight."
Blank checks, never-produced scripts, cameras, editing equipment, sound effect loops, props, wardrobe pieces, thousands of promotional headshots for prospective actors and actresses, and endless miles of film now litter the various rooms of what previously was the old Wengler Avenue elementary school in Sharon.
Swanson, along with Assistant Director, Katie Bittner, Assistant Professor of Theatre, Communication Studies and Art, Kurt Roscoe, and AV Operations Manager Brad Steward were given access to the studio recently to assist the current owners with identifying items and connecting them with parties that might be interested in these materials, as the building is slated for demolition.
The building has been damaged by leaks, a variety of critters, and even thieves who have broken in and removed all of the copper pipe and wiring. As a result, lots of items have been ruined, but there is still plenty for collectors and museum curators to consider.
"The technology we saw was mostly from the 80's and 90's," said Steward. "That was only 20-30 years ago but there wasn't anything that could still be used in a modern day classroom. It really illustrates the rapid pace of change with audio visual technology."
"It was like walking into a time machine," Bittner added. "Totally frozen in time. It was amazing to see how film studios had to work in the past. So much has changed. These monstrous cameras and editing equipment that took a team of people to carry have been replaced by a small camera and a computer."
"I found myself just shaking my head more as we entered each new room," Swanson sighed. "The sheer volume of stuff required, even for a tiny independent film company to produce a final product is overwhelming. I'm one of those odd folks who always stay to the end of the movie credits, but this gives me an even greater appreciation for the coordination and collaboration required to create an award-winner."
Anyone interested in learning more about the remaining materials can contact Art Widmire directly at (724) 301-4760.
Contributed by Savanna Adams, AV Assistant Public Relations Manager.