Wheeling Native Diana Riggs Develops Full-Length Feature for First Film Project

Photos Provided Novice filmmaker Diana Riggs, center, attends the Florida premiere of her full-length feature, “Noxious,” with lead actors Wendi Highes and Brian Edward Kahrs. An area premiere is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, Pa.

When Wheeling native Diana Riggs set out to make her first film, she defied convention by writing, directing and producing a full-length feature.

Riggs, who grew up in the Ohio Valley, now resides in Pittsburgh and in Florida. After doing technical work on a documentary, she decided to explore filmmaking.

“Before, I had done a lot of Halloween costumes,” she said. “I was always interested in doing that kind of stuff. Originally, I wanted to do a movie so I could do special effects. It just grew and grew.

“It was an experience. It was fun and a lot of hard work,” she said.

Riggs’ movie, “Noxious,” debuted at a theater in Florida in late February, with 215 people attending the premiere. She was pleased with the audience’s reaction. “It’s a long film. They were right there with it,” she said.

A Pittsburgh premiere is set for 4 p.m. Saturday at the Hollywood Theater in Dormont, Pa. Tickets can be purchased online at www.brownpaper tickets.com/event/3232845 or contact the Hollywood Theater at www.the hollywooddormont.org for additional show times.

Several of Riggs’ Brooke High School classmates attended the Florida premiere. She expects many area friends and relatives, including her sister, Cheryl Joseph of Wheeling, to attend the Pittsburgh screening.

Riggs said “Noxious” is an eclectic mix of genres, including thriller, horror, sci-fi, romance and drama, with a touch of humor. The two-hour movie is not yet rated and is not suitable for small children, she added.

The fictitious story, filmed on the beach at Redington Shores, Fla., expresses “a message that speaks to the concerns for Florida Gulf coast environment,” said Riggs, who earned a doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh.

Generally, independent films take three to five years to produce. Riggs said her project took “almost three years, almost to the day, when I sat down to write the script to the premiere.”

Despite being told that only two out of 100 indie films are completed, she remained determined. “I am a finisher. I finish things,” she said.

Riggs said 68 people were involved in the making of the movie. When observers questioned whether she could create a full-length feature with special effects and filmed on the beach, “I would just laugh,” she recalled. “I had friends who came and had never acted before. There’s a dozen of them in this movie that nailed it. The whole thing was amazingly beautiful for me.”

The first-time filmmaker said, “It was a challenging, creative nightmare, and I like challenges. … After seeing it and seeing all the people excited and having a good time, I hardly remember those tough times.”

She added, “There was a very spiritual aspect about this project, too. Everything came up against us. There would be so many obstacles. … I would just say to myself. ‘It’s supposed to be shot on the beach. We have to do whatever we have to do to do it.’ I would be blessed with someone to do it. A big obstacle would come up, and it would be resolved.”

A sound editor and a video editor helped with the final product. “It was an amazing process. It was so much fun,” she said.

Riggs commented, “I had great, great help. They were not paid. They jumped on board and contributed. I can’t believe it to this day. I had people, and that really made it worthwhile to do that. I made some of my best friends, who will be my friends forever, through this process.”

Riggs, who has a line of Halloween costumes that she licenses in New York, became involved in film work in 2012, when she did special effects makeup, props and set design for “America: Imagine The World Without Her,” a full-length, political documentary film by Dinesh D’Souza. She was recommended for the project by her twin sister, Donna Riggs, the film’s costume designer.

After she enthused about that experience, her husband, Bernie Artman, suggested she make her own movie. Riggs said she never had expectations beyond creating a little local film.

“This was another art project. It wasn’t a lifelong dream. It was a project,” she said.

Riggs also has written a chapter for a “very, very dark” book. She said, “I plan to go back to writing that book and possibly exploring making another movie.”

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