A Yinzer's holiday tale wins screenwriter contest

| Sunday, May 18, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The tale of a true Yinzer and his quest for holiday dinner glory earned a local scriptwriter the funds needed to bring his vision to the big screen.

Stephen Knezovich of Point Breeze was named the 2014 Steeltown Film Factory Competition winner on May 17 at Point Park University's GRW Theater. The Ellen Weiss Kander Award, named for the Steeltown Entertainment Project co-founder, comes with $15,000 for production of his short film.

“I wanted to entertain,” Knezovich said. “I never take my writing too seriously. I want to make people laugh.”

“Franksgiving” is the tale of Frank, a bowler who's gained fame for throwing strikes at a local alley each year to win Thanksgiving day turkeys for his families and friends. When a bout of bad luck befalls him, he has to get creative to save the day.

The script oozes local charm with an emphasis on the Yinzer dialect and nods to many Pittsburgh anomalies, such as the basement toilet and grocery shopping at “Dah Iggle” (Giant Eagle).

Knezovich, 33, a fifth-generation Pittsburgher who was raised in the South Hills, spent a stint out West, then returned to the region several years ago to be near family. “Franksiving” was inspired in part by his own “unpronounceable last name” coupled with an urge to tell the tale of small victories.

“The goal was not to make fun of the ‘Yinzer,' ” Knezovich said. “People use that word derogatively, but at my family reunions, that's how people talk.”

Steeltown Entertainment Project, devoted to strengthening the industry in Western Pennsylvania, holds the Film Factory competition each year, drawing hundreds of scripts by writers seeking to make their short films in the Pittsburgh region. This year's contest attracted 200 entries.

Other top three finalists include Julie Jigour, whose somber “Paper Umbrellas” tells the tale of a young girl coping with her mother's illness, and Randy Kovitz's “The Beat Goes On,” an intense examination of a depressed widower's journey through grief. Both won $7,500 as runners-up.

Judges this year were Lauren Elmer, head of post-production at A24 Films; Kristen Bell, director of Austin's Fantastic Fest; and Daniel Hoyos, director of the Seattle Shorts Film Festival. Hoyos invited all three finalists to show their finished works at his festival in the future.

Actors performed table readings before the panel chose the favorite. The packed theater included attendees of the Women in Film and Television International 2014 Summit, held at various locations around Pittsburgh all weekend.

Laughter abounded during the reading of “Franksgiving,” even among non-locals who weren't aware of the many idiosyncrasies of native 'Burgers.

“I've never been to Pittsburgh, but I was still able to relate and find it comical,” Bell said. “It's humor anyone can relate to.”

Hoyos liked the use of Pittsburghese to amp up the script's humor.

“The comedic timing really stood out to me,” he said. “I really enjoyed the performance the actors gave.”

Elmer called “Franksgiving” a “very situational comedy that will appeal to all audiences.”

“It will definitely spark an interest and curiosity about this culture,” she said.

New this year to the competition is the Community Showcase, a chance for audiences to vote online on the top 20 scripts submitted in the 2014 Film Factory Competition. Voting at www.steeltown.org/community-gallery runs through May 24. The winner gets a $5,000 production grant.

Carl Kurlander, Steeltown Entertainment Project president, said the competition serves as a way to showcase local talent in addition to drawing attention to Pittsburgh's growing entertainment industry. The money each writer won will be used to pay local actors and crew members.

“The contest isn't the end of the journey. It's the beginning,” he said.

Rachel Weaver is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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