PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Students were the celebrities on a Sunday evening in January as scores of people gathered at the South Side Works Cinema for the sold-out premiere of Pretty Little Things, a feature film written and produced entirely by Point Park University students.
Supporters were clad in their finest for the black-tie event on Jan. 29 and celebrated afterwards at a catered wrap party held at South Side's The Library.
Writer-director Alex Di Marco and producers Jordan DiRisio, Cory Stoken and Heidi Schlegel received a standing ovation from a crowd of family, friends, fellow students, cast and crew after the credits appeared. For this small, determined group that spearheaded Pretty Little Things, the year-long project was finally coming to a close.
"I'm speechless. This is a very surreal moment," spoke Schlegel, a Point Park junior, to the audience. "I think this moment pretty much sums it up. We've all had good and bad days but at the end of it, it's moments like these that really make it worth it."
Schlegel thanked Di Marco, saying he made everyone who worked on Pretty Little Things a better filmmaker.
Point Park senior Stoken recognized Di Marco in his speech as well.
"Alex has been the driving force of this film. He got us all involved, he is our biggest promoter, he is the producer, the director, the writer; he's done it all. He has put his heart and soul into this film."
Di Marco extended a heartfelt thank you to DiRisio for being his support and keeping morale up throughout the filming process, and said the film would not have been possible without him.
Two audience family members, Nick Lanzi and Raymond Stoken, were honored with customized Pretty Little Things plaques and the title of Associate Producer Sponsor for having donated $1,000 or more to the film.
"If anything on the screen captured you for a minute, two minutes, a scene, it doesn't matter – then we as a crew did our job. If any of the characters captured you, then the cast did their job. And if anything changed you or made you look at something differently, then we as storytellers did our job," said Di Marco.
A character-driven story, Pretty Little Things explores universal themes of love, loss, friendship and new beginnings, moving the audience to both laughter and tears.
"I wanted the story to be as real as possible," said Di Marco. "They say write stories in full circle. Well, in a way, this story is full circle, but then it's the complete opposite. It depends on how you look at it. I just think your life doesn't end with fireworks in the distance and running off into the sun. I think there are great movies out there that utilize those types of endings, but I wanted to tell something that was real and that hit home with as many people as possible."
A newcomer to the big screen, Mike Reeping nailed the leading role of down-on-his-luck comedian Tommy Fulmer. The film revolves around Fulmer's fraught attempt to reconnect with a daughter who has written him off after he is released from a decade-long prison sentence. But it is the relationships he develops along the way that truly stick with you once the film is over, and it is through these relationships that Fulmer rediscovers himself.
Homeless and penniless, Fulmer befriends an unnamed golden lab that he finds roaming the streets of Pittsburgh and immediately starts caring for her as his own. This dog leads Tommy to realize the better things in life, said Di Marco.
He also meets a young and spunky aspiring photographer named Deanna, played by Point Park student Julia Warner, who brings a fresh spark of life back into Fulmer's life and into the film as well.
The three embark on separate yet interconnected journeys, and the film ends with a twist that may surprise audiences. It concludes on a hopeful note, promising new beginnings and achieving this sense of realness that Di Marco sought to capture.
The filmmakers of Pretty Little Things have already begun the process of submitting the movie to film festivals nationwide. The end goal? Di Marco wants to find a distributor and increase the film's reception so as many people can see it as possible.
"I think it's one of those movies that people should see. People deserve to see it and the filmmakers deserve for it to be seen," said Reeping.
After graduation, Di Marco plans to move to Los Angeles and get his foot in the film industry by continuing to write and direct. He hopes to start funding soon for his next big project entitled "The Inked Ballet," for which he has already written the script.
Di Marco's advice to other aspiring student directors? "Don't take no for an answer. If you're going to make a film, go make a film."
Despite the hardships and the initial discouragement the students received, their achievement and pride was evident during the premiere, and will no doubt set a standard to which future film students may aspire.
"It doesn't matter if they said we couldn't do it," said Di Marco. "We made a film and that's what counts."
Read the official movie review of Pretty Little Things, conducted by the Pittsburgh CW here.
Become a part of the Pittsburgh phenomenon! For the latest on all things pretty and the movie's festival tour progress, visit the Pretty Little Things website, "like" them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter!
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