Comedian Steve Hofstetter isn’t an area native – he grew up in Queens, N.Y. – but his career as a stand-up performer brought him to Western Pennsylvania often enough that he opted to move here two-and-a-half years ago. He bought a former Stanton Heights church and turned it into the Steel City Arts Foundation, a member-based organization predominantly for standup comedians, some of whom live there. (The space also contains a podcast studio, green screen studio and a chapel that may someday, with the proper zoning, become a performance space.)
Hofstetter’s latest project to come out of Steel City AF: “Handyman from Hell,” a movie that debuts at 8 p.m. Thursday on cable’s Lifetime Movie Network and streaming Oct. 20 at www.mylifetime.com/lmn.
It’s the story of Maggie Anderson (Liliana Tandon) who’s recently separated from her husband David (Pittsburgher David Santiago) when she hires hunky contractor Nate (Joey Ariemma) to give her home (and life?) a makeover. Viewers learn sooner than Maggie that Nate is a psychopath. His power tools become deadly weapons. Hofstetter co-stars as Maggie’s brother.
“Handyman” filmed under the title “Overhaul” but when Hofstetter and his fellow producers sold it to LMN just two weeks ago the network had a different idea for the title.
“Lifetime’s gonna Lifetime,” Hofstetter said, laughing (“Handyman” is considered an indie – it’s not produced by a struck company — which is how Hofstetter can promote it during the ongoing actors’ strike). “At first I bristled a little bit, mainly because the title is campy and camp is fun but the movie isn’t super-campy. I was worried some people would expect it to be something it’s not. But the more I’ve talked to people about it, the more everybody seems to love [the title]. … So good on Lifetime for tapping into that.”
Directed by Cody Hartman (“Unsinkable”), “Handyman” filmed over 11 days in December 2022 using several crew and supporting cast members from Pittsburgh. That included Hofstetter in his first major supporting role.
“This was the first time I really got to stretch as an actor,” said Hofstetter, who is also a producer on the film, which is trying to qualify for Pennsylvania film tax credits. “I learned so much from the rest of the cast.”
In addition to filming in Pittsburgh, “Handyman” is set in Pittsburgh with some nods to local TV station call letters (KDXI-TV subs for WPXI-TV) and lower-third graphics (“News Now Pittsburgh” has the same yellow background and moving dot graphic in the lower left corner as KDKA-TV displays).
Hofstetter said producers retained theatrical and video-on-demand rights to “Handyman.” He hopes to set up a local theatrical showing in the future. On Thursday at 7:30 p.m. there will be an online watch party where viewers can pay ($10-$40) to see and hear behind-the-scenes scoop from the film’s cast and creators at www.handymanfromhell.com. A portion of the proceeds go to cast and crew as they continue to support the SAG-AFTRA strike.
In addition to the Steel City AF building in Stanton Heights, which is where “Handyman” was mostly filmed, Hofstetter more recently purchased another former church, this time in Ross. Sunken Bus Studios, formerly the Melwood Party Center, is now home to Red Caiman Studios, an events hall and a future co-working space.
Hofstetter’s penchant for buying old churches made its way into the “Handyman” script where it’s mentioned that Maggie lives in a former church even though her place looks nothing like a church interior and the exterior is never shown. Hofstetter said knowing they were aiming to sell “Handyman” to Lifetime, they focused instead on Maggie’s kitchen.
“[‘Handyman’ screenwriter] Jay [Black] has been writing movies for a while, a lot in the Lifetime genre,” Hofstetter said. “Apparently he has learned from Lifetime one of the big things that their demos love to see in a movie is a gorgeous kitchen. Because of that we went from doing the church renovation [which was the original concept for the film’s story] to concentrating on the kitchen.”
Yes, “Handyman” was created with an intent to sell the film to Lifetime.
“I had a teacher in eighth grade who said, ‘Every piece of writing has a purpose and an audience,’ and I very much believe that,” Hofstetter said. “For us, the audience was designed to be Lifetime though we didn’t want to make it formulaic so there are a couple of departures, especially that comic break, which is very different from the average thriller.”
In addition to up-and-comers, “Handyman” features cameo appearances by some bold-face names, too.
Former “Full House”/“Fuller House” star Jodie Sweetin came to town to film her part while a trio of comedians – Michael Ian Black (“The State”), Frank Caliendo (“Mad TV) and Vic Dibitetto (Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”) – performed via Zoom, playing contractors Maggie interviews via computer before she settles on Nate.
“Jay wrote a part for a hipster contractor and philosopher contractor. We had Michael for 15 minutes and he said he liked the philosopher contractor better,” said Hofstetter, who hosted the syndicated stand-up comedy show “Laughs” in 2014-15. “The only direction I gave him was the premise of the character talking and not saying much and going into ‘what even is a kitchen?’ He took that and ran with it in such an incredible way.”
And yes, there are ideas afoot for a sequel if “Handyman” proves financially successful.
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You can reach TV writer Rob Owen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-380-8559. Follow @RobOwenTV on Threads, Twitter, Bluesky and Facebook. Ask TV questions by email or phone. Please include your first name and location.