- Associated Press - Sunday, June 1, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The answer caught even those of us who live here by surprise.

“What movie do you think people ask about the most?” tour guide Sherris Moreira said, against a dizzying backdrop of Pittsburgh as viewed from the Duquesne Incline lookout on Mount Washington.

What movie is considered quintessential Pittsburgh? What movie prompts them to contact the local film office? Had to be “Flashdance.” No? Not “Flashdance?”

The answer was 1993’s “Striking Distance,” with Bruce Willis as a riverboat cop on the trail of a serial killer.

Jessica Conner, assistant director of the Pittsburgh Film Office, confirmed this: “We get a lot of people with questions about ‘Striking Distance.’ That film has lived on cable for so long, people are still able to discover it at different points; ‘Hey, where was the houseboat?’ “

Pittsburgh, which has starred in more than 120 film and TV roles since 1990, is part of a new slate of tours that began operation this weekend. “Lights! Camera! Pittsburgh!” was operating a test run for the media Thursday, which included a handful of Canadian travel writers and editors.

Tours open to the public are scheduled for every other Saturday through mid-October, although operator Pittsburgh Tours & More is promoting private tours on additional days. Moreira, director of group tours for the organization, said “the biggest thing I hope they take away from this is a greater appreciation for Pittsburgh, because Pittsburgh is becoming a national and kind of international star that people can come to and film.

“It generates so much money for our community but it also just shows what a wonderful vantage point the city provides.

“The hills and the rivers, the bridges and tunnels - everything we consider quirky or even kind of complain about are things that film companies come in and think are wonderful.”

The 2½-hour tours will visit numerous sites featured in films, from the Grand Concourse restaurant where Jennifer Beals famously enjoyed the lobster, to the Omni William Penn Hotel, where scenes were recently shot for the Russell Crowe film “Fathers and Daughters.”

More than 30 productions are referenced on the tour, although it would be impossible to visit as many sites. For now, the shuttle buses hit some of the high points in Downtown, the North Side and Mount Washington.

Cost is $40 per person, $70 for two, three for $100 and so on. A portion of the proceeds benefits local nonprofits, including the Pittsburgh Film Office. Patrons are asked to park at the bottom of the Duquesne Incline off Carson Street and ride to the top for the start of the tour; cost of the incline ticket is included in the overall price.

Also included: popcorn, water bottles, video clips from area productions and props. At one point, Regis Dudley, a communications manager for Destination Halifax, was a good sport about donning a Batman cowl as the shuttle descended McArdle Roadway.

There also was amusing patter from the tour guides. Kelley Stroup, a volunteer who narrated the William Penn portion of the visit, explained the historic significance of the Wonskolasers to Pittsburgh’s film industry.

“Because, who among us here has not heard of the Wonskolaser Brothers?” she said.

Perhaps better known by their Anglicized names - the Warner Bros. - these immigrants from Russian-annexed Poland got their start in the area and built one of the first film production companies.

Another local company, Metro, was based in the Hill District. It would become the first “M” in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Tour routes will be adjusted to account for time of day, weather and traffic. For example, a trip to see Heinz Field, so famously used in “The Dark Knight Rises,” would be timed to avoid rush-hour gridlock.

There are surprises as well, which will not be detailed here because that would pretty much squelch the surprise part. But here’s a hint: a nod to George Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” influence on zombie-centric Pittsburgh comes in the guise of the undead, courtesy of Etna’s frightful “ScareHouse” amusement.

The original “Night of the Living Dead” crypt in Evans City is too far off the grid, as is Monroeville Mall, infamously the scene of “NOTLD” sequel, “Dawn of the Dead.” But that might change.

“It’s our hope with this tour that it will be successful and for future tours, we will be able to branch out and hopefully have that on the tour,” Conner said.





Information from: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, https://www.post-gazette.com

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