Hollywood returned to Pittsburgh’s Northside in July, this time to film a Netflix adaptation of Pittsburgh playwright August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” and the second season of true crime TV series “Manhunt.”

By Zach Armstrong

Pittsburgh’s Northside became one of the filming locations for two Netflix productions this past July. The projects include a feature film as well as a true crime series, and both will premiere in 2020. 

In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a film based on a play of the same name by Pittsburgh’s own August Wilson, tensions boil between a blues singer and her agent, producer, and bandmates, while she is making a record in Chicago during the 1920s. The film is being produced by Denzel Washington and stars Chadwick Boseman from the film “Black Panther” along with Viola Davis from the film adaptation of “Fences,” another play written by Wilson. A section of Brighton Road from Ridge Avenue to Western Avenue was closed for filming on July 8 for a scene in the film which features exterior shots of a home. 

According to Cid Swank, unit publicist for the casting crew, the location was chosen for filming since it was “able to recreate the look of 1927 Chicago, thanks to the structures located in the Northside of Pittsburgh.” 

The second season of the television series “Manhunt” called “Manhunt: Lone Wolf” is based on the true story of police officer Richard Jewell who was suspected of placing a 40-pound pipe bomb inside of Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta. The series will feature actors Arliss Howard, Desmond Harrington, and Ness Bautista. Filming took place at Monterey Pub in the Mexican War Streets on July 23 and 24. 

“Lionsgate chose to film this project on the Northside because they liked the look, our amazing crew enjoyed being in the area, and the Pennsylvania Film Tax Credit program (PFTCP),” said Dawn Keezer, director of the Pittsburgh Film Office.

The PFTCP has helped make Pittsburgh neighborhoods a hot spot for many filming productions. It offers a 25% minimum tax credit for television films, feature films, game show series, episodes of a television series, or commercials that spend at least 60 percent of their production funds within Pennsylvania. The blockbuster “Jack Reacher” starring Tom Cruise was allegedly encouraged to film in Pittsburgh because of the PFTCP. 

During filming, the crew for “Manhunt: Lone Wolf” hired local residents to be extras in the production. Locals portrayed Olympic guests, emergency responders, and security guards.

Another recent filming operation on the Northside was an untitled comedy about a pickle factory starring Seth Rogan, which is set to be released by Sony Pictures around 2020. 

“Locations teams have to find locations that meet the requirements of the script,” said Keezer. “In this case as in others, the Northside fit the bill completely.”

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