First Kander Award gives career boost to Hollywood-bound filmmaker
The inaugural winner of Steeltown Film Factory’s Ellen Weiss Kander Award, Carnegie Mellon University graduate Yulin Kuang, wrapped filming her award-winning script “The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested”in Pittsburgh last week. (Watch the Perils of Production blog on the making of the film.)
Kuang, who was born in China and raised in Kansas, won $15,000 for her coming-of-age tale, which she said was inspired by “a lifetime of growing up flat-chested myself.”
The Steeltown Film Factory is a yearlong filmmaking competition, sponsored by the Steeltown Entertainment Project, and supported by a series of public workshops, panel discussions and staged readings, designed to engage aspiring filmmakers to create projects with Pittsburgh-inspired content.
Kuang’s script was selected from over 180 entries, which were judged by a panel of Hollywood professionals including Eric Gold, who manages Jim Carrey and Ellen DeGeneres; “Good Will Hunting” and Promise Land” producer Chris Moore; “Ghost Whisperer” co-star David Conrad; “Sesame Street” puppeteer and director Jim Martin; and “MTV Made” producer Bob Kusbit, according to Carl Kurlander, executive producer of The Steeltown Entertainment Project.
“The film is charming, funny and poignant,” said Kurlander of “The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested.” “Out of 182 scripts, Yulin’s stood out. She said the story was about her 22-year-old self talking to her 16-year-old self, and saying, ‘It’s going to be okay.’ ”
The Ellen Weiss Kander Award honors Steeltown Entertainment Project co-founder and founding executive director Ellen Weiss Kander, who died at age 51 last month. Kander, along with Kurlander and “Ellen” writer/producer Maxine Lapiduss, co-founded the nonprofit Steeltown Entertainment Project in 2003 with the mission of building a vibrant and sustainable entertainment industry in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Kander and her Steeltown co-founders wanted Pittsburgh to be a viable place for those with talent to live and work, and the filmmaking competition was conceived as a way for Pittsburgh expatriates to mentor a new generation of entertainment professionals in their hometown.
“Ellen had that tenacity, that not giving up,” Kurlander said. “She hated that people were bemoaning that their kids were leaving Pittsburgh and going to other places.”
The Ellen Weiss Kander award helped 22-year-old Kuang to realize her longtime dream of being a filmmaker.
“For the last 10 years, I knew I wanted to be a storyteller of some kind,” she said. “The prize money was incredible, and Ellen Weiss Kander is an incredible inspiration.”
Kuang soon will be moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in television writing.
When “The Perils of Growing Up Flat-Chested” premieres this fall at the Three Rivers Film Festival, the audience may recognize several local sites, including Shady Side Academy, Winchester Thurston School, CMU, and the Edgewood Golf and Country Club. Several of the film’s scenes were shot in the home of Jim Busis, interim CEO of The Chronicle.
The Steeltown Film Factory awarded second place in its competition to Chris Preksta, who received $10,000 for his script Echo Torch, a story of man who invents a light that can see ghosts as he tries to get resolution on the death of his wife. The $5,000 third place prize went to childhood friends Scott Peters and Anthony Poremski for their comedy Escape from St. Quentin’s, which chronicles a young boy’s daring attempt to escape Sunday mass to play football.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)