'Pittsburgh Dad' passes 3 million views on YouTube
When pals Chris Preksta and Curt Wootton filmed the first few episodes of "Pittsburgh Dad," they shot them in a couple minutes on an iPhone. It was just for fun, something their friends and families might like.
More than six months later, the hilarious hit web series has surpassed 3 million YouTube views, 36,000 likes on Facebook and 23,000 Twitter followers.
For director Preksta, 31, a Munhall native, and actor Wootton, 33, from Greensburg, the past few months have a whirlwind -- much like the twister Pittsburgh Dad saw "comin' dahn the road" in a recent episode.
"He's the everyman dad in Pittsburgh," says Wootton, who bases his spot-on character after his father, a huge fan of the show. "He cares about his family, but they drive him absolutely insane."
"Pittsburgh Dad" was born on the set of another show, "The Mercury Men," a series Preksta directs starring Wootton that airs on SyFy. Between takes, Wootton would entertain the crew by applying his perfect Pittsburghese to phrases every 'Burgh kid has heard at least once, like, "Hey, yinz kids worsh yer feet off before coming in the hahs!" It killed.
"They had all heard the exact same things," Preksta says.
So the guys hit up Goodwill for a pair of dad glasses -- the perfect pair they found are prescription bifocals that wreak havoc on Wootton's eyes -- and filmed the first few episodes in about 10 minutes with Wootton improvising the entire time.
Now, the show they started just for fun is practically a full-time job. The pair write episodes weeks in advance with a new "Pittsburgh Dad," most around two minutes long, hitting the web each Tuesday. Wootton, who was living on the West coast, moved back to the area for a summer of filming.
It's also become interactive, with fans contributing episode ideas and jokes on Facebook from their experiences. They comment on what they like -- or what they thought the guys overlooked -- often within minutes of the show debuting. Preksta reads every one. For example, in the "Pittsburgh Dad Seen a Tornado" episode, the character appears on the news to describe a "twister" ("I says, 'Get dahn the basement!'").
"People were commenting, 'I can't believe you didn't describe it like a freight train coming through!'" as Pittsburghers are so prone to do, Preksta says. "If we feel like we let too many jokes through, there are a lot of ideas we can revisit."
Despite the show's mass popularity, the guys say they don't feel added pressure beyond the standards they impose on themselves. They're constantly working to make the show as good as it can be, down to every detail. For a recent episode, the color of the shirt Wootton wore wasn't quite right, so they made a new one and reshot.
It's that attention to detail that helps the guys accurately depict life in the 'Burgh. They were shocked when many of their fans told them their mothers were named Deb, just like their character's wife. While all other characters exist only off-screen, Deb might just make an appearance for a finale episode, but only if the guys can find the perfect actress to portray her.
The intro is a shot of the street where Preksta grew up, Crawford Avenue in Munhall. He says, for him, the show is about giving a glimpse into a life perspective some people may never consider.
The guys shot the first show in October, so the goal is to come full circle and keep filming episodes to run at least through Halloween. From that point on, they'll decide if they can keep the material fresh enough to keep going. But that doesn't mean the end of "Pittsburgh Dad." They hope to explore other options, such as a live show.
Meanwhile, the pair's other projects are continuing to grow. "The Mercury Men" will be shown internationally soon. While Preksta says he can't go into much detail, there's another project in the works that could possibly be filmed in Pittsburgh in the fall.
Preksta is a finalist in Steeltown Film Factory's competition for the Ellen Weiss Kander Award. Preksta is up against two others for $30,000 to make his short film, "Echo Torch." Carnegie Mellon University students will perform reading of all entries at a finale event on Saturday.
Though they admit Dad can come across a little angry at times, they're hoping to show another side of the character this summer as he goes camping, fishing and to baseball games. The guys are working on making a highly requested Kennywood episode come together. But as always, Dad will think the whole world is against him.
"It will be him wanting to take the kids to do things, and they're bringing the DS," Preksta says. "He loves Little League, but he gets the worst team in the league with every knucklehead this borough has to offer."
So is every Pittsburgh man destined to end up like Pittsburgh Dad?
"I find myself talking more like him," Preksta says with a laugh. "It's caused a downward spiral."
For Wootton, evoking Pittsburgh Dad is effortless. He does it in an instant, incorporating the signature semi-yell and head shake into casual conversation for a laugh. When it's time to film, a quick makeup application to create Dad's beard is about all it takes for him to slip completely into the role.
"It's really natural," he says of becoming the ultimate Yinzer. "It's how my grandfather and father talk. Now that I'm back here for the summer, it's really easy to get into it."