Film director Jonathan Demme, who filmed “The Silence of the Lambs” in Pittsburgh, passed away in New York at age 73 on Wednesday. “I’ve kept in touch with him over the years and when he got back to New York and everything,” said Rick McMaster, who serves on the board of the Pittsburgh Film Office.
McMaster fondly remembers meeting Demme as he was choosing where to shoot “Silence of the Lambs.”
“I was proprietor of the Grand Concourse for 17 years and we kind of had an unwritten agreement that if a scout team came to look at Pittsburgh for possible filming here, I would host the scout team,” said McMaster, who was tipped off that Demme was an oyster fan. “I had the chef order 13 different kinds of oysters, so he came in for lunch with the scout and I had a platter that filled the table of just oysters. So that kind of started the relationship.”
Their relationship lasted until Demme passed away from esophageal cancer.
“He was so down-to-earth. It’s amazing what he accomplished and yet how he treated the average person,” said McMaster.
McMaster still has personal notes from Demme and Jody Foster, as well as pictures to remember the times he was able to go on set and watch terrifying scenes play out in places all over the Pittsburgh area.
Demme actually stopped filming during a scene at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland when he saw McMasters and his wife on set.
“He sees me come around the corner and he grabs my wife by the hand and sits her in his director’s chair. He says ‘now you watch what happens,’ and she got to see the body fall out and all that and I mean he never met her before. He didn’t have to do that. That shows you what kind of person he was. Just an amazing human being and so down-to-earth,” said McMaster.
Point Park University film history professor Chris Sepesy met Demme during filming of “Silence of the Lambs.” He also built a lasting relationship with him.
“He was here for the Carnegie Mellon University International Film Festival two years ago and he couldn’t wait to talk to the students, because he wanted to talk to young people to give back and share his war stories,” said Sepesy.
“He was a great guy who loved Pittsburgh, and that makes him a winner in my book,” said McMaster.