Like many Pittsburghers, Kristina Horan was mildly baffled the first time she pulled up to Steel City Arts Foundation in Stanton Heights.
“You drive by and see that it’s a church with a Hanukkah sign outside,” Horan told the Union Progress. “Then you come in and realize that it’s 10 other things inside.”
Horan is a New York City-based actor who probably never expected to be in Pittsburgh filming a movie in a church that had been converted into an all-purpose entertainment space. And yet there she was on a rainy Thursday morning, hanging out in the former chapel that had been turned into a hangout area during production of the indie thriller “Overhaul.”
This is exactly the sort of project Steel City Arts Foundation — also known as “Steel City AF” — has been itching to host since it was founded almost two years ago by comedian Steve Hofstetter, who uprooted his life from Los Angeles to create this live-work incubator for aspiring creatives in Pittsburgh.
“Steve is a magician at follow-through,” said Jay Black, who wrote “Overhaul.” “He’s like, ‘I’m going to convert a church and turn it into a cultural mecca in Pittsburgh,’ and then it happens. And then Steve says, ‘I’m going back to make a movie in that church.’ He texts me in August, and by October we’re in preproduction on the movie. It was a quick turnaround.”
“Overhaul” follows Maggie (Liliana Tandon), who recently separated from her husband, David (David Santiago), after he cheated on her. Maggie’s attempt at a kitchen renovation turns into a nightmare when charming contractor Nate (Joey Ariemma) turns out to be a psychopath. Horan plays Harriet, the girlfriend of Maggie’s overprotective brother, Michael (Hofstetter). The film will also feature cameos from comedians Michael Ian Black, Frank Caliendo and Vic Dibitetto, as well as other fun guest stars.
Black and Hofstetter have known each other for about 20 years. They recently worked together on the Lifetime movie “Psycho Storm Chaser” about a serial killer claiming victims during a hurricane. At one point, they began brainstorming other film concepts involving “psychos.”
“What if we do a movie about a contractor on a converted church?” Hofstetter recalled them positing. “It was a joke because all my fans know I’m converting a church.”
On Dec. 8, that joke turned into a reality when “Overhaul” kicked off its 11-day production at Steel City AF. The film is being produced by Brian Hartman and directed by his son, Cody Hartman. Both Hartmans served in the same capacities on the locally shot film “Unsinkable,” which chronicles the Senate inquires following the Titanic disaster.
While a lot of the film’s cast and crew are local, stars Horan, Tandon and Ariemma all came to Pittsburgh specifically for “Overhaul.” Ariemma is a Cleveland native and was already pretty familiar with Western Pennsylvania. He said that getting to work on “Overhaul” right before the holidays is “probably the coolest gift I’ve ever gotten for Christmas.”
“What Steve has done with this church is, he created a culture,” Ariemma said. “It’s based on Pittsburgh love. There’s just a lot of care for the city, and I think it’s cool we get to document this little piece of history and show it to the world.”
Tandon and Horan have both enjoyed getting to explore Pittsburgh. They gushed about hanging out on Butler Street in Lawrenceville, walking through the holiday market in Downtown’s Market Square and Horan’s newfound obsession with Peace, Love and Little Donuts.
Filming a movie in a converted church has been a fascinating experience for Tandon, especially because part of Maggie’s story is that she’s living in a remodeled church that she was supposed to renovate with her philandering husband.
“It’s a really cool space, and I’m excited to see what Steve keeps doing with it,” she said.
Santiago, who plays said philandering husband, is a Sewickley resident who has been living in Pittsburgh for about 20 years now. This is his second time being directed by Hartman, who has a knack for quietly suggesting small “inspirations” to his actors that Santiago believes can help create a “moment of spontaneity” that crackles during filming.
As someone who has worked on Pittsburgh-shot Hollywood productions such as the 2020 Amazon Prime Video thriller “I’m Your Woman,” Santiago is all for smaller films like “Overhaul” providing Western Pennsylvania film folks with even more opportunities to make some money while doing what they love.
“It’s something that will continue to lead to more work here, which is great,” he said. “The more films that are shot like this here, the more attention Pittsburgh gets. I think that’s fantastic.”
Hofstetter has found the Pittsburgh film and comedy communities to be “incredibly welcoming” since he first arrived in February 2020. He has carved out “this little niche of progressive comedy” for himself through his “Steve Hofstetter and Friends” shows, the latest of which is planned for Tuesday at Lawrenceville’s Hop Farm Brewing Co.
Currently, Steel City AF is only operating as a film set, space to hold comedy classes and a home base for the budding funny people living there. Hofstetter still eventually wants to turn it into a full-fledged performance venue, but he and the city haven’t been able to get the zoning logistics worked out quite yet.
For now, he’s fully focused on “Overhaul,” which he originally saw as a Lifetime original movie but now may shop around to streaming services like Netflix or Tubi. He hopes the finished project “honors the city,” as do other cast members like Horan.
“If you’re just looking for something that’s going to keep you on your toes, that’s going to be the perfect combo of a thriller that’s just going to surprise you with good comedic moments and laughter, this is it,” she said. “I think it’s going to make Pittsburgh proud that we’re doing this film here.”
If “Overhaul” is able to accomplish that lofty goal, both Hofstetter and Black think it may be just the beginning of what could be even more collaborations between them in Pittsburgh.
“I feel like this is the start of something amazing,” Black said. “Hopefully I’m here with Steve every four months doing something different.”