A newsmaker you should know: Mt. Lebanon teen's vision hits big screen

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Christopher Kelley may be only 18, but the Mt. Lebanon resident already has written and directed a feature film.

Mr. Kelley started writing "Let Me Down Slowly" the summer after finishing his freshman year at Mt. Lebanon High School. By the time he was done filming the screenplay in January, he had tacked onto his name the titles of editor and director in the film credits, which he hopes may roll on a screen at either the Sundance or Slamdance film festivals.

"Initially, I wanted to write a horror movie with real, fleshed-out characters, rather than the cardboard characters you usually get," he said. "The film gradually developed from a horror film into a teenage, angsty drama with elements of the thriller and horror genre."

Mr. Kelley is majoring in cinema/photography and politics at Ithaca College, where he is a freshman. He had made some films in high school for classes in television production, advanced video production and digital filmmaking, but the 71-minute "Let Me Down Slowly" is his first, full-scale feature movie.

The film was shot mostly in Mt. Lebanon with a couple of outdoor shots on Mount Washington and in Castle Shannon.

"I wrote it with the location of my grandmother's house in Mt. Lebanon in mind, and that's where I actually filmed it," he said.

Five theater-trained actors who attended Mt. Lebanon High School appear in the film: Nathan Bateman, Caroline Connell, Craig James Ketchum, Quinn Kobelak and Tory Pasternak.

While filming the movie, he discovered some dialogue didn't work the way he initially envisioned it. As a result, he ended up changing some of the script.

The young filmmaker recently sent his movie to Park City, Utah, home of both the Sundance and Slamdance film festivals. He'll find out in late December whether his film has been accepted for inclusion in the festivals, held concurrently in January.

"Slamdance was born out of rejects of the Sundance Festival and is geared to first-time directors," Mr. Kelley said. "[My film] won't have any public screenings in the Pittsburgh area until after Sundance and Slamdance, because I want to premiere there. If the film gets accepted at either venue, I hope to be able to travel to Park City to attend the screening."

Filmed in color, the movie cost about $10,000 to produce. Money was provided by producer Julian Schwartz of Mt. Lebanon and Mr. Kelley's parents, Clint and Cindy Kelley.

An unfinished version of the film was screened at a public critique viewing at Mt. Lebanon Public Library.

"The library audience of about 45 people wrote down what they liked and disliked about the film and what they'd change," Mr. Kelley said. "They also rated the film on a scale of 0 to 100 and came up with a average score of 86."

At the moment, Mr. Kelley is working on a couple of ideas for additional films, but he wants to take some time off to get acclimated to college life and a study regimen.

"My goal is to someday adapt Virginia Woolf's novel, 'Mrs. Dalloway' to the screen," he said. "I love her writing and the way she shows how wartime trauma and mental instability affect her female characters' day-to-day lives."


Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.


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