Three Rivers Film Festival: Q&As with Pittsburgh Directors
With the Three Rivers Film Festival in town through Nov. 22, we took the opportunity to sit down with some local filmmakers and pick their brains about shooting indy films in Pittsburgh.
We first talked with brothers Joe and Mark Graziano, whose documentary, "Deuce," tells the tale of stats man and local legend Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski, a fixture at Pittsburgh area high school and college sporting events for more than 50 seasons.We also talked with Tom Dixon, whose action-packed mobster film, "The Korean," was filmed entirely in Pittsburgh with one camera and no budget and has been getting attention on the festival circuit.
"Deuce" directors Joe and Mark Graziano
As statistician for the WPIAL and PIAA, Skurcenski has witnessed nearly 9,000 basketball games and more than 3,000 football contests. Filmmakers and Pittsburgh natives Joe and Mark Graziano focused their film on Deuce's life and his passion as a stat keeper. For their documentary, the brothers interviewed a host of local sports notables including Steelers QB Charlie Batch, PIAA Executive Director Brad Cashman, Pitt football coach Dave Wannstedt and Steelers play-by-play announcer Bill Hillgrove. After "Deuce" screened at Three Rivers, we interviewed them.Keystone Edge: So to start us off, how did you learn about Deuce?
Joe Graziano: When my brother and I were kids, our dad would take us to Civic Arena all the time. We would see Deuce down on the floor and our dad would shout down to him, "Hey Deuce!" We ended up just seeing him for years and years, in all different sports venues, doing the stats and making conversation with everyone who he crossed paths with. So about two years ago our dad sent us an article that was in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Deuce. Mark and I had been wanting to make a film together for awhile, so when we read the article, and remembered Deuce, we thought it would be the perfect opportunity.KE: Do you find that Pittsburgh, opposed to other places, is a good arena for finding this type of character?
Mark Graziano: Well, we've been to a lot of places, all over the world, and character certainly transcends locale. But with Deuce you know you're in the presence of a truly unique and nutty guy.
Joe: He's definitely specific to this area, you know? A guy like that could not come from anywhere from here.KE: Was it easy to find people to interview?
Mark: [Laughing] We would just point the camera and get a lot of good interviews. Lots of people had something to say. And of course Deuce was always so excited to talk as well. He would hand out his signed card to 50-60 people while we would be shooting a game.
Joe: When we started going out and getting some establishing shots of Pittsburgh, people would just come right up to us and ask what we were doing. When we mentioned Deuce, many of them would say "Oh! I know that guy!" He's widely known. So we had a mix of guys like Charlie Batch and Dave Wannstedt and then a slew of sports fans who just have known about Deuce for a long time.
Mark: The first part of shooting, at the high school basketball playoffs, we got about ten hours of footage. Between the sports action, fans and followers of Deuce, and Deuce himself, we just knew then that we were going to have a movie. KE: There also just seems to be something about Pittsburgh and sports, a passion that you can't find in a lot of other places.
Joe: Exactly. There was this one guy we interviewed that said "There is nothing here but steel mills and sports in North Braddock," and that is where Deuce is from. KE: Was the city of Pittsburgh just as supportive as all of Deuce's friends and fans?
Joe: Yes. Pittsburgh really embraced the Deuce story and people were highly cooperative. The sports community here is particularly tight-knit, and since Deuce is such a part of the sports fabric in the area, the logistics of the shoot were easy. We had no problem getting access to shoot anywhere. I think if a filmmaker outside of Pittsburgh had tried to make the Deuce doc, they would've encountered some resistance that we didn't face at all. Also, the natural beauty of Western PA and scenic nature of the landscape was great to shoot in. Not only were we trying to capture what Deuce is all about, but also the essence of sports in our area.KE: Do you have any plans to create more documentaries centered on Pittsburgh legends?
Joe: We're not averse to doing something else in Pittsburgh, but don't have plans for that at the moment. Deuce was 100 percent self-financed, and so it was a lot of hard work. The other night, someone pitched me the story of Dick Groat, a Pittsburgh sports legend and the first two-sport professional star, which I thought was interesting. Certainly, if we were commissioned to do a local piece that would be something we'd jump at...KE: I also understand that a lot of the songs were by a local Pittsburgh rapper?
Mark: There were four songs by Wiz Khalifa, who actually went to Alderdice High School and was just signed by Warner Brothers. Plus, with Joe's musical background we put together an all-star band with some great musicians and recorded several songs together in Los Angeles. KE: Even though it seems like this documentary is focused solely towards a Pittsburgh audience, where would you like to see it go?
Mark: Well, it's definitely a sports niche documentary, which is a little bit more difficult than, say, a mainstream documentary. So, we're after the sports fan. However, the main thing for us was to bring it back to Pittsburgh. We primarily wanted to show it to people that know Deuce and know the area and let it grow from there. It's certainly a grassroots campaign. Hopefully we can get make it popular here, get the support that we need and then we can see where it takes us.
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Joe Graziano, Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski, and Mark Graziano
Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski
Lawrence "Deuce" Skurcenski looks on
All Photographs by Renee Rosensteel