Lights, camera, black and gold
“The Steelers will never die, that’s just a way of life.”
These are the words of 21-year-old filmmaker Jason Georgiades. To any native of the Steel City, it’s a certain and unassailable fact — Pittsburgh bleeds black and gold.
But beyond die-hard support and consumerism, can we as fans play a larger role in our team’s success? Georgiades wanted to find out. Armed with only a cameraman and a top-secret play in a briefcase handcuffed to his wrist, he aimed to get one of the most popular NFL franchises in history to run his own offensive play.
What resulted is a film called The Steal Phantom (the name of the offensive play), the brainchild of Georgiades and fellow filmmaker Trevar Cushing. The pair met in Craigslist. The Steal Phantom, a 64-minute documentary, follows their journey as fans and filmmakers as they try to get their “secret” gadget play in the hands of the Steelers’ then-offensive coordinator, Ken Whisenhunt.
At its core, the film is not only about their quest to see the Steelers run a fan’s play, but also an attempt to understand the changing dynamic of fan-player relationships. In the film, Georgiades and Cushing roam across the country, speaking to drunken fans in stadium parking lots, minor league coaches, managers experimenting with new ways to involve fans, and even Steelers legend and Hall of Fame inductee Jack Ham.
The people Georgiades encountered all echoed the same idea: “ ... The NFL has become this self-sustaining entity, like a bureaucracy, and if someone leaves, there’s just someone who comes up to fill that spot,” he said. “The Steelers are just a bunch of jerseys people fill in, and the fans somehow identify with that — it’s not associated with players or people.”
The film debuted last Friday at the University of Pittsburgh, and Georgiades is pleased with the project so far. “It’s just good to have that under your belt,” he said. “I had no idea what I was getting myself into — it’s one of those things where you just take and idea and run with it.”
Interestingly, some of the film’s most powerful imagery actually occurs outside of the city, such as when the filmmakers stumble upon a Steelers bar in Chicago. Another example is an interview with the legendary Cleveland Browns fan known as “The Bone Lady,” who sports an enormous hat of hot-glued plastic Browns paraphernalia. In the interview, “The Bone Lady” fights back tears while talking about the loyalty that Browns fans exhibit in spite of the team’s losing record.
The Steal Phantom transcends football. It portrays the difficult learning process any young person faces when trying to complete a massive project. The film features Georgiades, half-asleep, desperately waiting in a parking lot at 4:30 a.m. for the first truck to deliver a bundle of city newspapers containing an article on his film. When it finally arrives, he is suddenly alive, childishly giddy, handing out free copies to the inebriated clientele of a nearby gas station.
The Steelers never wound up running Georgiades’s play, but the high point of the movie comes after the two filmmakers discover that, in their words, if they “just call” WTAE-TV, the local news will actually cover their project. The film becomes momentarily inaudible due to laughter and applause, as Cushing casually remarks, “It’s Pittsburgh, so I guess they’re hurting for stories.”
“People think of Pittsburgh as this blue collar, Steelers, let’s get ’em, thing,” said Georgiades, in a mock-Yinzer accent. “But there’s more to it ... there’s this interesting undercurrent of art.”
Disillusioned with the promise of media-saturated cities like New York and Los Angeles, Georgiades feels the open market of Pittsburgh has untapped promise and potential, which he likens to parts of ’70s Manhattan just before the punk explosion.
“It’s all right in front of you,” he said proudly, citing the local musicians, writers, and comedians who helped with the
film’s production and release. “I don’t know why I’d want to leave here.”
Emboldened by his first feature-length film, Georgiades now looks forward to working on several new smaller projects (he is currently laying the groundwork for a music video), but he remains resolute in his support for what he sees as the
“up-and-coming” art scene in Pittsburgh. “I think the city really backs the locals,” Georgiades said. “I’m almost glad people are always leaving ... It’s like, ‘Great, I have a void I can fill.’”