Coming-of-age film 'Summerlings' casts 2 Westmoreland County residents in lead roles
Two young actors from Westmoreland County have leading roles in an independent movie to be filmed in Westmoreland and Allegheny counties.
Ben Pimental, 20, of Mt. Pleasant and Anthony Marino, 18, of Greensburg have been cast to play best friends in "Summerlings," a coming-of-age story set in western Pennsylvania in 1985 against the backdrop of steel mills shutting down and families devastated by the collapsing steel industry.
The film currently in development is being directed by Melissa Martin, who earned her BFA at the University of Illinois and MFA at Carnegie Mellon University School of Drama, where she is an adjunct professor teaching screenwriting.
The screenplay was written by Don Ammon, a graduate of Penn-Trafford High School and St. Vincent College; Kris Veenis, then one of his students when he taught at St. Vincent, and Melissa Martin. Susan Berman Kress and Peter Karlovich are producers with cinematography by Mark Knobil.
'Latter-day Huck Finn'
The film is based on a short story Ammon wrote in high school in 1981 about his own experiences as a teenager when he lost someone close to him at age 17.
It won a Best Feature Length Screenplay award from Steeltown Indie in 2015, under the title "Candyland." Steeltown Indie supports independent film projects made in and about Pittsburgh.
Ammon says "Summerlings" is about "teenage alienation, and the collapse of the steel industry highlighting the feeling of hopelessness. I think it's a story that will speak to people, cause discourse, help and heal," he said.
Pimental and Marino, who are real-life best friends, were selected for the roles after replying to a notice Ammon placed on Facebook looking for actors to audition for the parts.
Ammon said when he listened to them reading lines from the script, "It was the most surreal thing. It was like meeting my fictional characters in person."
The roles they play are high school students during the summer between their junior and senior years. Marino's character, Billy Hartman, is described as "a beguiling latter-day Huck Finn" who has been ignored by his barfly mother and is forced to sell drugs at school by the local drug dealer.
Pimental's character, Sid Harris, is the athletic but sensitive and shy "new kid" that moves into town at the end of the school year. His father relocates the family often for his job that involves closing plants and factories and trimming workforces.
Pimental has been performing since age 6 and has done nearly 100 shows with a variety of theater companies, including Pittsburgh CLO, Actors and Artists of Fayette County, Geyer Performing Arts Center, Stage Right and Westmoreland Academy of Performing Arts. A 2016 graduate of Mt. Pleasant Area Senior High School, he is a musical theater major at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music.
Marino, who will be a senior at Hempfield Area High School, also has acted since he was very young. He performs with Stage Right, where his title roles include "Billy Elliot: the Musical" and "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat." He also acted in the 2013 film "The Lifeguard" starring Kristen Bell and in a 2012 film, "Won't Back Down," starring Viola Davis. He performed in an A&E crime drama series, "Those Who Killed," in 2014.
Martin says she hopes "Summerlings" will get the financial backing it needs to begin production soon. Details about investment opportunities are available at sulfurcreekproductions.com.
She has plans to develop curriculum for high school students in conjunction with the film to address the critical issues of poverty and neglect, drug addiction and sexuality. She also hopes to create apprenticeship opportunities for local teens and college students during production.
Martin wrote and directed the successful, award-winning 2001 film, "The Bread, My Sweet" starring Scott Baio, which was filmed in Pittsburgh's Strip District.
Candy Williams is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.