William Quinn, a retired ironworker from Scott Township, has quite a few tales to tell while working high up on steel beams to build Pittsburgh.
And his grandson, Ryan Quinn, made it his mission to tell those stories in a new documentary called “Invincible Pep.”
The younger Quinn, who is 24, lives in Scott and graduated from Chartiers Valley High School in 2006, wanted to create a documentary with his friends that broke from the mold of typical filmmaking and told story that is very personal to his family.
“Having gone to a lot of film festivals, there are always documentaries about an older woman making quilts or someone helping the church,” Ryan Quinn said. “It’s nice, but I have this really, really interesting grandfather with a really interesting story. I wanted to make it pop.”
So he focused on his 78-year-old grandfather who grew up in Bridgeville before moving to Scott Township. Quinn said he often heard his grandfather’s amazing stories while growing up and thought it would make for an interesting story.
“It’s just one guy’s stories, but they’re ubiquitous to everyone who worked in the city,” Quinn said. “It’s a story about amazing feats of survival by him.”
One of those stories includes William Quinn surviving a fall into the icy Monongahela River while building the Fort Pitt Bridge. Not only did Quinn survive, his grandson said, but he returned to work the following day.
The biggest challenge Quinn and his college friends, cinematographer Ryan Kroboth and producer Erica Sperber, was capturing the scenes without having much film from the era. They did have some original 16mm video of Quinn and thousands of pictures to tell the story.
The movie debuted on Nov. 10 and is narrated by former Pittsburgh Steeler Craig Wolfley to give it “gruff and rough and tumble” feel.
“We wanted to show the city and the people who built this beautiful city in a benevolent light,” Sperber said.
They interviewed modern-day ironworkers from Local Union No. 3 to give a broader view of the profession. They tie it together with animation and film that gives it a comic book-like feel that puts the viewers on the beams with the ironworkers.
“It was a tricky balance. In the end of the day, I still wanted it to be about him,” Ryan Quinn said. “It was dangerous then, it’s dangerous now even with all the safety regulations. The ironworkers really helped tie it all together.
“It’s the proudest I’ve been with a project.”