Studio ready to handle any film job

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Mogul Mind Inc. hopes its recent tenant of "Unstoppable" proves an apt description for its plans to do more than provide soundstage space for movie and TV productions and commercials in the Strip District.

"We're producing our own projects, and we're developing projects locally with different writers and producers," says Robert Stewart, film fund director and creative director for Mogul Mind.

"I'm optioning properties, developing and packaging them and pitching the ideas to different agents and networks and production companies." An option gives Mogul Mind exclusive rights for a limited time.

Mr. Stewart optioned two projects from Crafton's Greg Rempel, a comedy called "The Whiskey Mower" and a supernatural thriller, "Burn." They are just two of the half-dozen projects being put into the early pipeline.

"This is all part of the process of building our own brand and our own slate of films and television shows that could be staged and produced right here at Mogul Mind Studios."

With six soundstages and 330,000 square feet -- more than enough to build full-scale locomotives for the Denzel Washington runaway train movie -- plus office space, Mogul Mind is making its mark as a place to shoot movies.

Stewart has optioned six properties, including "The Vanishing Man" by David Shifren, an author, screenwriter and former Baldwin Borough police officer. Shifren also has been commissioned to work on a feature called "Duquesne," with "Steelmill Mafia" writer Carl Begovich, and an animated sitcom, Mr. Stewart said.

Other projects: "The Wounded Sky" by Dan Mahon; "Body Farm" by Brandon Keenan; "Since I Don't Have You," by Gavin Rapp, son of the late Skyliners' singer Janet Vogel Rapp; and "The Ghosts of Woods Run," written by Stewart. All of the projects have some Pittsburgh connection and are set, start or end here.

" 'The Whiskey Mower' is the first project on my slate that I'm going to be raising funds for and talking with investors and casting and packaging. I'm having a table read for that in February," Mr. Stewart said.

In addition to accommodating some of the "Unstoppable" shooting, Mogul was an occasional base camp for "Love and Other Drugs," and sometime home for Russell Crowe's workout trailer. Lionsgate, Dreamworks, MTV, VH1 and others also have used the indoor or outdoor space.

Mr. Stewart and CEO John Yost say Mogul could get into the sitcom, drama and game show business in Pittsburgh and employ local actors, producers, writers and crew. Although shows such as "The Guardian" did some shooting here, they were not based in Pittsburgh.

Stewart, 47, grew up on the North Side, left in 1983 for a skiing vacation to Aspen and didn't return until April 2008 after his sister, Ronna Stewart-Smoot, was stricken with ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease.

The siblings lost their father, Pittsburgh Police Detective Norman A. Stewart, in 1983 when he was shot and killed during a narcotics raid in the Hill District.

"I spent 18 years in Colorado and was involved in publishing. I owned a national magazine and a local regional publication in Colorado," Mr. Stewart says.

"After 9-11 happened and the advertising budgets dried up, the national magazine couldn't survive anymore and I found myself in LA on Manhattan Beach, wondering what my next step was going to be. And that ended up being learning about the business of making movies ... and started raising funds from private investors for various projects."

When he came home, he turned his attention to his sister. After her death last April, he joined Mr. Yost at Mogul Mind on 31st Street in the old Pittsburgh Flat Roll space.

Mr. Stewart says he is trying to keep movies under $5 million unless they are dependent on pricey effects. "I do have a project -- 'The Vanishing Man' -- my goal is to go after Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas for the leads to play opposite each other, so that would kick that budget up significantly."

Asked if he's been deluged with pitches, Mr. Stewart said, "The word has gotten out and I do take some unsolicited materials. I'm very picky and very selective." And he uses interns to first review material.

In addition to the features, Mr. Stewart is working on TV projects, from an hour drama to a sitcom about jitney drivers, and is developing a script-writing contest for Point Park University students and plans to do the same with other colleges.

In the meantime, Mogul Mind is pitching itself at the Sundance Film Festival and positioning itself as a film factory.

"What my goal is, and my hope and my dream ... is we do all the media, from print to commercial to the big movies, to the small movies, to the student projects," Mr. Yost said. The soundstage space, which boasts some ceilings 55 feet high and cranes which make moving enormous set pieces easier, is malleable.

"That's the key to what we do, is to be as flexible as we can," the CEO added. "Have the capacity to do the next 'Titanic' but also have the capability to shrink down into the microcosm and allow us to do the Ginsu knife commercial. Because you have to be able to satisfy that entire spectrum."

Theaters change hands

In late December, Rave Motion Pictures of Dallas bought Showcase Cinemas North and West, although it's too early to say whether they will get a face-lift.

National Amusements will continue to operate the theaters during a transition phase as Rave evaluates the nearly three dozen theaters it bought.

"That will continue for a number of months," said Jeremy Devine, vice president of marketing. "We're going to get into the theaters and analyze them and see how we can bring some of our best practices on board."

Moviegoers can use gift cards, Prestige discount tickets and coupons through Dec. 17 although some passes are good only through March 31.

The deal closed right before Christmas so Rave is still analyzing its acquisitions. It's too early to say whether Rave will renovate, close or make other changes to the theaters, which lack modern amenities.

"Rave is doubling in size and we're attempting to assimilate these new theaters. National Amusements is a very good operator and they're continuing to operate them in the short term until we can incorporate them into our full operations," Mr. Devine said.

Rave opened its first theater in 1999 and is known for state-of-the-art stadium seating and digital projection. It will grow from 30 to about 65 theaters and 989 screens when the transactions are finalized.

For show times: www.national-amusements.com or www.ravemotionpictures.com.


Barbara Vancheri: bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632. First Published January 29, 2010 5:00 AM


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