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Find Out Where (and How) the “Unsinkable” Filmmakers Turned Pittsburgh Into 1912 New York

Locations from the William Penn to Ligonier Beach were used to film the drama, which makes its local debut this weekend.

In the world of filmmaking, places can be transformed.

Several iconic, locally shot films have used unlikely locations in creative ways. A shopping mall becomes an outpost for survivors of a zombie outbreak. A lovely home in Perryopolis becomes a murderer’s lair.

And now, a faux beach in Ligonier becomes the icy waters of the North Atlantic — complete with a sinking ship.

In “Unsinkable: Titanic Untold,” a locally made new drama, the sinking of the RMS Titanic becomes the subject of a series of tense congressional hearings. This new take on the historic tragedy looks not at the minute-to-minute reality of the tragedy, as the blockbuster ’90s film “Titanic” did, but rather at the aftermath and blame that followed.

“Our first choice is always to film here,” says Brian Hartman, the film’s producer and screenwriter — and a Pittsburgh native. “We knew all the little nooks and crannies that could add so much to the film.”

An ocean in Ligonier, though, was a surprise. Test footage for “Unsinkable” was shot in the wave pool at Settlers Cabin Park, but filmmakers wanted a larger tank for the film itself. They investigated the same massive tank used by James Cameron decades ago — it’s located in Baja California — but then heard about the former Ligonier Beach Park, a destination that drew bathers for nearly a century before its closure in 2018.

“We scouted it, drove up — and it was absolutely perfect,” says co-producer Steve Bittle. “I think it’s 1.25 million gallons — [it was] the largest outdoor swimming pool in the United States.”

After painting the bottom of the longtime destination black and erecting a giant screen to block out nearby foliage, actors and extras went into the pool. Bittle says the location was better than an indoor tank, as wind created movement on the water. “It worked perfectly. It was bigger than we possibly could have imagined.”

The film features Karen Allen, Fiona Dourif and Jayne Wisener alongside several Pittsburgh-based performers, including Sam Turich and David Whelan; eagle-eyed viewers will spot local notables including Jim Krenn and Rocky Bleier, as well. And while many of the film’s locales, including the William Penn (standing in for the Waldorf Astoria), will be instantly recognizable, one key set has never before been seen on camera: the Pennsylvania Supreme Court courtroom in the City-County building.



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