'The Normal Heart' another winning beat for producer from Pittsburgh

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When HBO’s “The Normal Heart” won the Emmy last week for outstanding television movie, Scott Ferguson was part of the happy group assembled onstage to accept the award.

“I was hoping my tie was not too crooked,” joked Mr. Ferguson, a 1978 graduate of Bethel Park High School. “Other than that, I really was thrilled.”

Mr. Ferguson is a producer, a title that in Hollywood can mean any number of things. In his case, he said, “My role is to take the money that my producing partners raise or convince the studio to invest and help them and the director make the best movie we can for the money we get.”

Among his credits: co-producer on “Brokeback Mountain,” producer on HBO’s “Temple Grandin” (which also won a best movie Emmy) and “You Don’t Know Jack,” and line producer for “Adventureland,” which filmed at Kennywood park in West Mifflin.

Mr. Ferguson said he never intended to get into this business.

“I started at Cornell as an engineering student, and that lasted about a week,” he said. “I bounced around campus and ended up in the theater department there. Filmmaking wasn’t something that had ever occurred to me, but there was this wonderful 16-millimeter filmmaking class that all the cool kids were taking, and I decided I would try it.”

After graduation, he worked at WQED, learning about making documentary films. His desire to pursue fiction led to Mr. Ferguson getting a graduate degree at Columbia University.

One of his professors there, Michael Hausman, became his mentor.

In turn, Mr. Ferguson has joined the faculty, teaching a course there titled “Pre-production.”

His current dance card includes an HBO miniseries with executive producer Steve Zaillian producing; the original pilot, shot with James Gandolfini, remains unaired. Mr. Gandolfini’s death in 2013 resulted in the role being recast with Robert De Niro. Ultimately, John Turturro stepped in for Mr. De Niro when a scheduling conflict forced him to drop out.

“I’ve had a pretty strong association within the last six or seven years with HBO. They’ve been very loyal to me, and it’s quite a place to work,” Mr. Ferguson said.

It was through HBO Mr. Ferguson connected with Ryan Murphy, who would direct “The Normal Heart.”

“I certainly wasn’t going to hesitate to work with Ryan Murphy on that material, and Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo, who’s a friend.”

Maria Sciullo: msciullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1478 or @MariaSciulloPG.

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