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Who knew? Pittsburgh's music video scene is rocking

Jason Cato
| Saturday, Feb. 6, 2010

In a dark corner of a Strip District warehouse, a team of assistants position sheets of rusted metal to get them just so on the cold, concrete floor.

Others adjust lights.

One mans a camera perched atop a small crane as the musician below is repositioned again and again.

"Roll camera. Play back," barks Endeavor Media's Steven Hoover, who this week directed a music video at Mogul Mind Studios for the Akron band The Devil Wears Prada.

The daylong shoot highlighted the city's latest role in music video production, a small but growing niche industry for local filmmakers and production companies. This is the third video The Devil Wears Prada has filmed in the city with Endeavor. The band, under contract with Warner Bros. Records, shot its last video in California.

"The reason we film with Endeavor isn't because it is convenient, but it is," said Mike Hranica, vocalist for the band, which starts a six-week tour today in Boston. "A bit of it is comfort. It's nice to work for people where you get a certain idea of expectation. It's not a bit of a gamble."

Endeavor videos have been shown on MTV, MTV2 and VH1. The Brighton Heights company filmed the video for the Owl City song "Fireflies," which peaked at No. 1 on Billboard's Hot 100 chart. Endeavor also shot the video for Anberlin's "Feel Good Drag," which hit No. 1 on Billboard's Modern Rock chart in April.

"That really made Pittsburgh a stop for some of these national artists," said Tom Larkin, 24, owner of T. Larkin Productions in Brookline. "A few years ago, that wasn't the case at all."

Larkin said he has shot more than 300 music-related videos here during the past four years, including about a dozen higher-budget music videos. One of those was Pittsburgh-based Lovebettie's "Dirty Mary," which was shot at the Geyer Performing Arts Center in Scottdale and Red Star Agave Grill in Greensburg. The video premiered Saturday at Hard Rock Cafe in Station Square.

Budgets for Larkin's projects have ranged from $500 to around $3,000.

"We're long since past the Puff Daddy days where you can drop a million dollars on a video and get away with it," Larkin said. "Now you're lucky if you have $10,000 — and then you have to make it look like a million dollars."

Independent filmmaker Thom Glunt has shot nine music videos in Pittsburgh during the past two years for local artists, including Anti-Flag, Punchline, RJD2 and Meeting of Important People.

"There is a perception of Pittsburgh that is slowly shifting," said Glunt, 23, of the South Side. "It used to seem that if you weren't in New York or L.A., you weren't any good. But that's changing."

Yet some young directors who cut their teeth here still find it necessary to move on to reach the next level.

"I think Pittsburgh is like triple-A ball (for music videos)," said David Urbanic, 30, a former Pittsburgh-based director who moved to Phoenix last year to be closer to the Los Angeles market. "Maybe you can't move to New York or L.A. right now. But Pittsburgh affords budding artists a lot of opportunity."

Urbanic has shot three music videos in Western Pennsylvania, including a full-length video for Philadelphia-based Zelazowa inside the former G.C. Murphy department store in Bellevue.

"I don't mind if I sound pessimistic," Urbanic said. "I got frustrated and wanted to leave, and I left. ... But I like Pittsburgh and will defend it to anyone."

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