Whether it’s a parent in “Houseguest,” an uncle in “Inspector Gadget” or a school in “Diabolique,” we all seem to have at least one claim to fame in Pittsburgh’s entertainment industry.
Having been too young to truly experience firsthand the luxuries of “background acting” affords (or so I was told), I was confident that my postgraduate move to Los Angeles would provide the right atmosphere for me to live my life as an indolent member of society both on screen and off.
I lasted three months as an extra before I changed professions.
Thankfully, I didn’t walk away empty-handed. You can easily spot me gracing the background of several feature films and over a handful of TV shows (not listed on my IMDB profile).
In retrospect I understand that being an extra is more important than securing a few screen credits. We’re the people who set the mood. We establish the tone. We breathe life into the scene by simply standing behind a couch or sitting next to a bookshelf.
Expatriate Pittsburgher Eddie Rosenstein might not work with background actors, but he certainly has a passion for the real extras of the world. Eddie, now a documentary filmmaker, grew up intrigued by the stories of ordinary people.
“Even as a kid I used to just watch people, ride on buses through Pittsburgh,” said Eddie. “My mother would take me through Monroeville Mall and just people watch.”
A Squirrel Hill native and Taylor Allderdice graduate, Eddie, 45, currently lives in Brooklyn with his wife, Randi and two sons. His company, EyePop Productions, produces an average of one documentary film each year.
“I got interested in documentary films a long, long time ago and pursued it,” he said, adding, “I was always fascinated by what I call God’s stories.”
Graduating from Penn State in only three years, Eddie initially studied hotel and restaurant management before taking a film elective course that ultimately helped reshape his career choice.
The day after graduating, Eddie moved to New York to start work as a production assistant. Unfortunately, the thankless life as a broke postgrad quickly prompted Eddie to move into his office, where he masterfully convinced his co-workers that he was the hardest working assistant there.
“By my 21st birthday, I was producing million-dollar films at a time,” said Eddie.
Some of his recent documentaries include, “School Play,” which chronicles the efforts of producing a fifth-grade play; “Reality People,” which follows the lives of reality TV celebrities clenching on to their 15 minutes of fame; and “Sandhogs,” which details the construction of New York’s underground tunnel system.
When he’s not working, Eddie and his family go back to Pittsburgh several times a year, though he’ll gladly admit that his “fridge is always stocked with Iron City beer.”
“My boys think of it as their second home,” said Eddie. “There’s real stability in Pittsburgh, as opposed to New York. You can go back year after year and really feel the stability.”
But oddly enough, Eddie has yet to film a single documentary in Pittsburgh, but admits that he he’s been trying to talk Dan Rooney into letting him make a film about the Steelers. (There was no mention of any Pirates or Penguins film.)
“All my films are about working people — and that’s very much my Pittsburgh background,” he said. “It’s all about humble people working hard. My heroes are people who throw their hearts into work.”
And if Eddie ever ends up filming a project in Pittsburgh, hopefully I’ll be there, standing behind a couch or sitting next to a bookshelf.
(Jay Firestone, a Pittsburgh native and staff writer for the Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles, writes about Pittsburghers who now live somewhere else. He can be reached at email@example.com.)