News Column

Zombies Go Back to School

July 12, 2013

Antoine Allen

In the early '80s, as Chris Niespodzianski and Ray Mongelli walked up and down the halls of Overbrook Elementary School, they had no idea that zombies would follow in their footsteps.

"It was very nostalgic and a little strange," said Mr. Niespodzianski about filming in his old elementary school more than 30 years later.

In full zombie makeup, pale, bloody extras roamed the halls of the old school in search of a scene they could be a part of. The empty school building, soon to be converted into an assisted living facility, is just one of the shooting locations for Orchard Place Productions' first feature film, "The Other Side." The producers began shooting July 1, expect to complete filming in early August and hope to have a final product before the end of the year.

The production company made up of Mr. Niespodzianski, his brother John Niespodzianski, Mr. Mongelli and Chris Murphy, decided to make the feature film after producing a short film by the same name. After it won the Pittsburgh Zombie Shorts Film Festival in 2012, the producers decided to expand their original concept into a 90-minute movie.

In "The Other Side," as the main character, Chris, begins searching for his missing wife in the fictional town of Elkwood, Pa., he begins to notice a series of strange happenings that signify the beginning of a zombie apocalypse.

Influenced by "28 Days Later" and "The Walking Dead," the producers attempted to create a zombie film that was more than just a zombie film.

"It's not just a bunch of stumbling, bleeding people," said Mr. Mongelli.

After being struck by inspiration one day, Chris Niespodzianski stayed up all night and wrote a rough draft of the screenplay. Four months and 30 rewrites later, the screenplay was complete.

The producers raised nearly $30,000 for the film by asking friends and family for donations, receiving a contribution from an international business, TRI Federation, in exchange for publicity for its product, and creating a campaign on Indiegogo, a crowd funding website.

The film also received donations from local organizations and businesses such as police uniforms from the Allegheny County Police Department, props from The Zenith cafe/art gallery/antiques shop and office space from Steel City Interpreters.

"What we were able to do with $30,000 was nothing short of amazing," said Chris Niespodzianski. "Each person knew their job, did it and did three or four other jobs."

After a three-day audition process, the producers filled most of the roles with local actors.

"There are so many talented actors in Pittsburgh that just need to be given a chance," said Chris Niespodzianski. "I think we found quite a bit of them."

For the remaining roles, the producers ended up with a few actors from New York City and an actress from China. They also cast Danielle Lozeau, an actress who has shot five feature films this year.

When they were looking for a crew, the producers just asked their bar buddies at Excuses Bar and Grill in the South Side. According to John Niespodzianski, many of the bar's regulars are professional crew members who worked on "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," "Love and Other Drugs," "Jack Reacher" and other movies filmed in Pittsburgh.

"They worked no differently than if they were working on 'The Dark Knight Rises.' " said Chris Niespodzianski.

The producers were impressed with the cast and crew's commitment to the film. They recalled actors showing up to the shooting of scenes that they weren't in, a makeup artist who left his sister's wedding reception early so he could be on set, and a crew member with a bad back who wanted to help in any way he could.

"People really took to this project and made it their own," Chris Niespodzianski said. "There is a certain pride that everyone has in [the movie] right now and a certain belief that this is something that could go somewhere."

For more information on "The Other Side," go to www.facebook.com/OPPTheOtherSide.

Antoine Allen: aallen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1723.

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