Kiski Area teacher pursues passion in films

| Sunday, Oct. 13, 2013, 5:52 p.m.

Nick LaMantia, 26, wears many creative hats, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

The former English teacher at Kiski Area High School, who also taught a year at Kiski Area Middle School, and who is a substitute teacher when his schedule allows, is a writer, actor, director and producer.

CEO and executive producer at Nickel 17 Productions, LaMantia will host a free screening and have his directorial debut of his short film anthology, “Self Obscurities,” on Oct. 14 at the Hollywood Theatre in Dormont.

Shot in Pittsburgh and using local talent, LaMantia wrote, directed and acted in the 23-minute film.

“I was about 19 when it really hit me, the whole creative thing. I acted in over two dozen independent film projects,” he says. LaMantia's Nickel 17 Productions, founded in 2009, specializes in commercials, training videos, films and theatrical productions. “I named the production company after my name (Nick L), and the 17 is my late grandfather GiGi's birthday and my college ice-hockey number,” LaMantia says. “It's a nice tribute to (my grandfather).”

LaMantia graduated from Penn-Trafford High School in 2005 and earned a degree in 2009 from the University of Pittsburgh in media and professional communications with a writing specialization.”

After graduating, LaMantia entered into an intensive one-year master's degree program at Pitt and in 2010 graduated with a Master of Arts in teaching. “I decided to teach because I love the sense where I am distributing knowledge and continuing the learning process,” he says.

Chad Roland, Kiski Area High School principal, praises LaMantia's work ethic as a teacher. “Nick did a great job for us teaching English, and he would let me know when he was growing his hair long for a part in a movie or growing a beard. He is passionate about his film work.”

While teaching, LaMantia was building his resume with acting jobs around the Pittsburgh area. Often, the role required a new “look.”

“I showed up to work with a mohawk; the principal was cool about it,' LaMantia recalls. “I lost 40 pounds in six weeks for a film once, not in a healthy way, either, and I've had long hair, too.”

He has had roles in feature-length films including “Everyone Must Die!” (2012), “All Saints Eve” (2013), “Ultimate Reality” (2009), “Squidman” (2013), “Yin, Yang, and Other Middle Aged Nonsense” (2010), and “Marko Friday Night” (2013).

LaMantia auditioned more than 80 actors for “Self Obscurities,” a three-chapter psychological thriller.

“I knew I would act in it, too, and shaved my head into a Mohawk for the role.” That role was Marcus in the “Soliloquy” chapter, in which his “interior doesn't match his exterior,” so society judges his thug appearance.

While the extreme haircut didn't fare well at a family wedding — and he's glad family members didn't see him after five hours in makeup for all of the tattoos his character sported — he's proud that he saw the film through from start to finish.

“I acted in so many independent short films that never were finished, never had a finished product. I didn't want to be one of those people,” he says. LaMantia filmed for four days and credits his company for a concise shooting schedule. The series filmed in June and October 2012 and May 2013.

“Self Obscurities” showcases three stories of tragic decision-making, with each main character experiencing challenges. The films are unrated, mature in content and not suitable for children.

Chapter 1 is titled “Assertions,” and its character, Julius, is tired of his boring business lifestyle.

In Chapter 2's “Soliloquy,” a disease-stricken woman has societal issues as she shuns her only blood relative, her father. (“Soliloquy” screened at the Pittsburgh Women In Film Media Film Festival in January 2013).

Pittsburgh actress Jennie Bushnell, whom LaMantia cast as the woman, says she is impressed with his directorial skills. “Nick was organized, the set was fabulous, everything was so well planned out. We shot all of the scenes in one day. I've worked with Nick before, acting, and I think his acting experience lends itself to him being a good director.”

Bushnell describes her role as a terminally ill woman as “dark,” and says she won't be taking her 5-year-old to the premiere.

In Chapter 3's “Confessional,” a fictional senator confronts God (his own version) in an attempt to repent from sins. “This story starts in 1999 and flashes back to congressional meetings. It's about a man grappling with his past,” LaMantia says.

LaMantia loves gritty dramas and considers “Raging Bull” his favorite.

He says he enjoys telling stories with film. “Acting, writing, directing and producing, I don't have a favorite. I want to use whatever medium to tell stories, or other people's stories. I just love creating a world in which the audience can relate, empathize and enjoy.”

Joyce Hanz is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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