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The Buzz: Teamwork pays off
Jobs on movie sets here open door to Hollywood for two women
January 1, 2000
by Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor
So you wanna be in pictures? Here are two more budding Hollywood-on-the-Mon success stories. When she wasn’t working as a stand-in on made-in-Pittsburgh movies like “Innocent Blood,” Paula Gregg of New Kensington was feeding the hands as head of her own craft services company — laying out tables of snacks and drinks for cast and crew during a shoot.
Susan Burig, a graduate of Shaler High School and Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is a graphic designer who started modeling and picking up film work as an extra. The two women, both clients of Pittsburgh’s Docherty Agency, met on the set of “Innocent Blood” — Burig portrayed a hooker, Gregg was the stand-in for star Anne Parillaud — and, says Gregg, “Ever since then, we’ve been friends.”
At one point they called themselves Mutt and Jeff — Burig is a tall redhead, Gregg is short with dark hair. Now they have formed a production company called Chances Are, as in “What are the chances?”
What dreams may come from such humble beginnings. Gregg and Burig “watched and learned and networked” on their various film assignments.
“We took in everything,” Burig says, and they met people like actor Bruce Willis and director Rowdy Harrington, who worked in the 1992 Pittsburgh-based “Striking Distance,” and screenwriter Ivan Menchell (“Cemetery Club,” shot here in 1993).
Burig worked with Gregg doing craft service (they billed themselves as “The Crafty Girls”) on the South Carolina set of “The Jungle Book,” where they met producer Edward S. Feldman, who helped Burig find a use for her art degree working on movies, starting with yet another made-in-Pittsburgh film, “Kingpin.”
She lives in Los Angeles now, where her graphic-design assignments include the TV series “Roswell” and she has worked on such films as “Three Kings,” “Austin Powers 2,” “Bowfinger” and yet another made-in-Pittsburgh film, “Wonder Boys.” Gregg stayed in New Kensington, where she lives with her husband, Roy, and daughters Brianna and Marki.
But still the two women looked for greater opportunities. Gregg went to Los Angeles to visit Burig, who started reminiscing about her experiences as a “pet au pair,” taking care of dogs for the stars. And then it struck them. This could be a movie. They spent the entire night into the next morning working it out.
“That was our first seed,” Gregg says. “We did it from the feature-film perspective to the spinoff to the live-action doll. I mean, we’re ready.” Soon, they’ll be pitching the project to producers.
Gregg came back to Pittsburgh, where she became involved with a woman trying to fight the system on behalf of her autistic son. “I found the story from the mother’s perspective fascinating,” Gregg says, and she wrote a treatment. Through their contacts, she started pitching the story to producers.
When TV producer Ed Self presented her with an option offer on the project, he told Gregg to talk with her agent and her lawyer.
“I was like, ‘OK, sure.’ And I got in my car and went back to Susan and said, “I don’t have an agent and a lawyer,” Gregg says. “God love them, Docherty came into play,” offering the services of agent Dan Pietragallo to help them with the business dealings.
Their biggest deal to date involves producer Adam Leipzig, whom they met in 1995 when he was in Pittsburgh as executive producer of the film “Roommates,” starring Peter Falk. He’s optioned their treatment for a story called “Act of Duty,” which they describe as a cross between “A Few Good Men” and “Kramer vs. Kramer.” It’s based on a true story of a Marine ordered to kidnap the children of a female officer whose husband was holding them on dubious legal grounds.
Patrick Sheane Duncan, who wrote the movies “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “Courage Under Fire,” will begin writing the screenplay in January.
Burig and Gregg may be living proof of the adage that in Hollywood, it’s all about whom you know. But they insist that what you know still comes first.
“One of the things we tell everybody is that those eight years of watching and learning, of knowing who to know, is just as important,” Gregg says.
And, Burig adds, “The people we chose to have in our circle are really good people.”