Harrisburg boasts a number of highly talented people who could be living practically anywhere but have intentionally chosen the city as their home.
Cue city resident Adrian Selkowitz, an Emmy-award winning filmmaker, with close to 20 years of experience in film and television.
Okay, so how did he end up here? Like his résumé, it’s an interesting story.
Back in 2001, Selkowitz graduated from NYU’s film school with a solid foundation in indie filmmaking. To gain experience with big-budget, studio films, he headed to the West Coast to try his chops in Hollywood.
After working in the development office at Sony Pictures, he took a job with the producer Barry Poltermann, who helped him learn the business of large-scale indie filmmaking. Together, they produced “The Life of Reilly,” about the actor Charles Nelson Reilly.
Eventually, Selkowitz created his first feature film, “Sex Drugs Guns,” which went on to win “Best Feature Film” at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival and to be acquired there.
As it was for many, the Great Recession proved a crystallizing time. Selkowitz described a confluence of factors, including an absence of paying projects and a general burnout on Hollywood.
About then, he attended a film writers’ panel where each panelist shared a piece of advice for the audience. One recommended leaving Los Angeles.
“He said, ‘If you’re going to be a writer or creator, there are no stories here to tell that aren’t Hollywood,’” Selkowitz recounted. “That really resonated with me.”
Not long after, Selkowitz and his wife Anela (a professional photographer and wardrobe production expert) decided to move to the East Coast to hit reset for a bit.
When asked if they intentionally landed in Harrisburg, he chuckled.
“This is up for debate,” he said. “After school, I told my roommates, ‘I’m going out to L.A. for two years. I’ll be back. Keep my spot.’”
“Ten years later, we moved back toward New York, but we stopped in Harrisburg because my family is here,” he said.
The couple discovered that they really liked Harrisburg. Selkowitz cited the open space and people as just two of the selling points.
“It was really lovely,” he said. “We were kind of taken with it. And it’s still a growing town, so there’s an opportunity to really contribute—to do what we want, and the impact is really felt. We love that.”
So, he said, they decided to stay for a while.
“And a little while turned into a long while, and we’ve been here for eight years now,” he said. “And we have no plans on leaving.”
A Better Place
But what about the burgeoning film career?
Back on the East Coast, Selkowitz and some of his buddies from film school started a production company called Cowboy Bear Ninja (if the name confounds you, just Google it), with the principles of being honest and telling meaningful stories for their clients. While Selkowitz lives here, the company is headquartered in Manhattan.
The first opportunity they were offered was a project for a hydrofracking company.
“It would’ve been a ton of money, but we said no because it didn’t align with our beliefs,” he said. “We were super broke, but then, a month later, Greenpeace called.”
Cowboy Bear Ninja has since made branded content and short films for a variety of non-governmental organizations and agencies for social good, including the U.N. Foundation. Gradually, as their experience broadened, they expanded into entertainment, but vowed to continue to be guided by their values.
“How can our work make the world a better place?” Selkowitz said. “And how can we contribute through media or television?”
“Liquid Science” is one such endeavor, a show that explores a range of scientific topics, including global warming, virtual reality and the quest for immortality. Selkowitz managed to snag the show’s host, GZA (of Wu-Tang Clan fame), whom he enticed to hop on board, knowing his reputation as a literal genius and lover of science.
“It was kismet,” he recounted. “We found someone who’s genuinely interested in the subject matter.”
Another example—a recent project with truTV and their collaborator, Michael Torpey, which developed into a show called “Paid off with Michael Torpey.” The show uses humor and a game show format to bring attention to the egregious student loan crisis. Comedy, coupled with social good.
People Around You
While much of the company’s work is filmed in other cities or at multiple locations across the country, Selkowitz has pointedly shot several projects in Harrisburg. Among these are six episodes of a show called “Blank Meets Blank.”
“I love bringing production here,” he said. “We have really wonderful people to work with here.”
Also, a film means jobs.
“When you shoot something somewhere, you eat there, you hire people there, it brings work,” he said. “And it’s good work, it’s paying work. And it’s fun.”
To that end, UPMC Pinnacle, Theatre Harrisburg, the Capital Area Greenbelt, friends’ houses and the Susquehanna River have all made appearances in Cowboy Bear Ninja productions. Plus, the city and surrounding area, he explained, can double as pretty much anywhere on the East Coast.
Looking ahead, Selkowitz talked about creating his own scripted series and just being a good parent.
“I understand that it takes complete focus and dedication and long hours to become really, really successful in an industry,” he said. “But I don’t want that to come at the sacrifice of getting to experience all the moments of my son’s childhood.”
He credited his wife with helping him appreciate that life is a journey to be appreciated, rather than one measured in discrete achievements.
Is he surprised by his own affection for Harrisburg?
“I never in a million years thought I would settle here,” he said. “But after you’ve lived enough places, you realize that everywhere you go is basically the same. It’s all about the people you have around you. Some of the nicest people I’ve had the opportunity to meet and know live here.”
For more information on Cowboy Bear Ninja, visit www.cowboybearninja.com.
“Paid Off with Michael Torpey” begins airing on truTV at 10 p.m. on July 10. “Liquid Science” is available to stream on Netflix, and “Blank Meets Blank” is available on truTV’s “Late Night Snack.”