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Eric Gold pitches Hollywood workings

| Saturday, March 17, 2012

Generally, it's been understood that if you're looking to break into the entertainment industry, hanging around in Pittsburgh wouldn't do you much good.

Churchill native Eric Gold moved to Hollywood in the late '70s, and slowly built a career that anyone would envy, as producer, agent and manager guiding the careers of people like Jim Carrey and Vince Vaughn.

But that rule about taking the train to Tinseltown is becoming a little less hard-and-fast than it used to be -- in part, thanks to people like Eric Gold and the Steeltown Entertainment Project. Gold returns home today to help host the Steeltown Film Factory: The Writer's Pitch. He will share his stories about the inner workings of Hollywood, and advise local filmmakers competing in Steeltown's "Film Factory" contest.

Gold is as surprised as anyone that Pittsburgh has become a production center for big-budget movies -- and potentially, much more. But he already knew the talent was here.

"I was fortunate to go and last in Hollywood," he says. "As I got more successful, I got a bird's-eye view of the process. Carl (Kurlander) and Ellen Kander (of Steeltown Entertainment Project) approached a bunch of us (in Hollywood) who had been ex-pats. We all wanted to try to help Pittsburgh. We put this group together to help nurture the talent in Pittsburgh, and maybe bring some of the entertainment stuff back.

"We had a big summit that Ellen and Carl put together that was pretty effective. It had everyone from Rob Marshall (director of "Chicago") to Jamie Widdoes (director of "Two-and-A-Half Men") come back. One of the things that we had pushed for -- which shocked me that people followed through, a testament to Ellen and Carl -- was that they did get the tax relief that a lot of us asked for, so Pittsburgh. and PA could compete. And you've seen the results of that. A ton of productions have come home."

In addition to ensuring that the playing field is level for movie productions, Steeltown has tried to focus on developing and identifying the talent pool already in Pittsburgh. Then, they try to help connect the talent to established industry professionals, which is what the Film Factory project is about.

From 182 original short-film scripts that were submitted, they're down to 12 quarterfinalists -- including people like Chris Preksta, creator of the web-short phenomenon "Pittsburgh Dad." Five will go on to the next round. The winner (or winners) will be awarded up to $30,000 to make their film, which will be announced at a final Steeltown panel May 12 at Carnegie Mellon University, Oakland.

"The truth of the matter is that you've got to put something tangible on film, on paper or on stage, and get the needle moved," Gold says. "So, we talked about having a program with these shorts, where we could put these kids through some real-life (experience): 'Pitch it to us, write it, here's your notes. Do you work for us, or do we work for you?'

"We wanted to put them through enough of a basic training that they didn't walk in cold. If you give these kids a little direction, they can improve their game."

Holiday house to Hollywood

From an early age, Gold was surrounded by stars.

"My family was close to the owners of the Holiday House (in Monroeville)," he says. "That was a big-time club with big-time performers. My father died when I was 13. My mother went to work there as an assistant banquet manager. I literally grew up in the halls of the Holiday House. I was there all the time. The owners were very good to me, and helped me even when I came to L.A., to meet people.

"A lot of big acts would come through. David Brenner would come in, so I'd get to pick his brain. Whenever there was a comic, I'd sort of show up and ask them a million questions. Unfortunately, for them."

During a long career, Gold has been a producer ("She's Out of My League," "Scary Movie," "My Wife and Kids"), and a manager and agent. He and his long-time friend from Pittsburgh, Jimmy Miller (brother of comedian Dennis Miller), have worked with some of Hollywood's biggest stars during the years.

"For me, I guess the biggest highlight was when I was involved in putting together the show 'In Living Color,' " Gold says. "Going forward, that became the most important show for breaking movie stars."

That lead to jobs managing Jim Carrey, Jennifer Lopez and a lot of Wayans brothers -- Keenan, Damon, Shawn, Marlon.

Curiously enough, Jim Carrey wasn't considered a sure-thing back then.

"He had a career before I got involved," Gold says. "He did standup, and did a show on NBC called 'The Duck Factory' that was supposed to be a can't-miss. He already had a moment where it looked like he was going all the way, then didn't, which is not unusual.

"You hunt for the Jim Carreys. First of all, he's a very good-looking guy, and amazingly talented. I've always loved standups because they're people who have to learn to self-generate. Nobody's handing them comedy routines. They have to learn their personas onstage."

Gold's passion project at the moment is a Broadway musical based on the music and life of rapper Tupac Shakur. Gold originally approached playwright August Wilson to write it. Eventually, "Holler if Ya Hear Me" was taken on by Wilson's protege Todd Kreidler, also a Pittsburgher.

"We're going to put it up on its feet in May," Gold says.

At the Steeltown Film Factory event today, Gold's wife, actress-writer Marcy Kaplan Gold, will be screening her short film "The Pre-Nup" -- using it to depict each step in the process of creating a successful short film.

"The Pre-Nup" led to Kaplan Gold getting a script-writing deal with Universal Studios. It's based on a true story.

"It's really funny. I had been married before," Gold says. "When we were dating, I told her she'd have to sign a pre-nup. She said, 'Of course, no problem.' You'll see in the movie, I messengered her over a 102-page pre-nup."

Additional Information:

'Steeltown Film Factory: The Writer's Pitch'

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Admission: $15; $5 for students. Sold out.

Where: Frick Fine Arts Building, University of Pittsburgh, Oakland

Details: 412-622-1325

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