Local filmmaker to shoot scenes at Leechburg B&B, converted church
A local independent film crew has set its sights on filming in the Leechburg area.
Spruce Films of Ebensburg has secured historic buildings at 156 Siberian Ave. in Leechburg and a tavern in Hyde Park as filming locations for a short feature horror film titled “Occurrence at Mills Creek.”
Written and directed by filmmaker Don Swanson, “Occurrence at Mills Creek” will serve as the first act of a planned feature film.
He describes it as a “terrifying tale” that examines the dynamics of strong female characters against a supernatural backdrop through failing reality.
Swanson, 40, who teaches senior English and media theory production at Armstrong High School, began filming last May .
The film takes place in the present, but will feature early 20th century flashbacks.
Swanson explained the plot centers around Cassandra and her older sister, Clara.
Cassandra awakens to find herself weak and on display in a casket at her home, under the vigil of Clara.
As she regains her strength, Cassandra desperately attempts to be seen and heard and she considers the possibility that she may actually be dead.
Swanson, of Ebensburg, said filming locally makes sense.
He scouted other filming locations in Armstrong, Westmoreland, Indiana and Cambria counties.
He still needs to locate a funeral home for filming.
“Since I am local to the area, it makes the most sense to film here from a logistical and financial standpoint,” Swanson said. “The Pittsburgh area has a fantastic human and physical infrastructure for filmmakers.”
Swanson has garnered several film awards including the Jury Prize for Best Feature Film and Best Cinematographer for “A Wish for Giants” at the 2018 Chautauqua International Film Festival.
John Truett, of Leechburg, owns both the Old Parsonage Bed and Breakfast and the Enchanted Abbey (formerly Holy Innocents Episcopal Church) on Siberian Avenue. He said he always wanted his properties to be featured in a film.
“I have the properties listed on film scout sites,” said Truett, who is also cast as an extra in the production. “This is exciting.”
Holy Innocents originally opened in 1889 and the rectory, now the B&B, was built in 1914.
Both of Truett’s buildings are booked for about two days of filming in May or June, Swanson said.
The Jacobean, attic and drawing rooms of the Old Parsonage are slated for scenes.
The Asps section of Enchanted Abbey, complete with original stained glass windows, will be featured in a dream sequence.
Truett said he only charged the standard B&B rates and blocked out a few days to accommodate the film crew during his normally busy lodging early summer season.
“I know they are limited on funds,” Truett said.
Swanson said the Leechburg properties are uniquely qualified for his film.
“The old church is perfect as a surreal backdrop for a nightmare sequence that is scripted to be shot later this spring,” Swanson said. “The Old Parsonage Bed and Breakfast, with its uniquely themed and decorated rooms, provides varied character for at least three different locations that the script calls for.”
Old Parsonage originally served as the rectory for Holy Innocents.
Truett has operated the B&B for almost a decade — offering three guest rooms including The Jacobean, which features a 300-year-old, hand-carved bed.
Swanson founded Spruce Films in 2000, making a name for himself on the independent film scene in 2004 with “Suddenly Shay,” a short film produced with a $300 micro-budget.
In addition to local singer Mia Zanotti of Hyde Park, the film stars Betsy Lynn George of Ford City, most known for playing Devon in the 1990’s Billy Idol video, “Cradle of Love”; George’s daughter, Ava Psoras; and Pittsburgh-area actress Alexa Mechling.
“Occurrence at Mills Creek” will run about 85 minutes.
“Our goal is to have a festival run followed by wide release, likely limited to DVD/Blu-Ray as well as streaming services such as Amazon Prime,” Swanson said.
Joyce Hanz is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.