Off-Road Racing Video Producers Like the Valley

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – In the years following the retrenchment of heavy industry in the Mahoning Valley, some saw the derelict, rusting shells of factories and warehouses as unwelcome reminders of a painful period.

But last year, when Mad Media and UTVUnderground.com started looking for sites to film a video, those very sites drew them here.

“The urban decay is what we were looking for, that heavy industrial feel, said Joe DiGiovanni, CEO of UTVUnderground.com. “While I’m sure there are a lot of people that look at these buildings as an eyesore, for us it’s a gold mine. We look at these places and know we can build the ultimate playground and show how cool this place really is.”

Last week, filming began at six sites throughout Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties, including the former Republic Rubber Co. site on Albert Street in Youngstown as well as Salem and East Liverpool. The video, dubbed “XP1K3,” is the third installment in UTVUnderground’s annual series, which features a heavily modified Polaris RZR utility task vehicle, or UTV.

“These are fantasy films. RJ [Anderson] is a professional driver and these are not stock machines,” said Josh Martelli, chief operating officer of Mad Media. “The idea is to put them in remarkable environments and create a list of stunts that we can tie together to show people what these machines are capable of.”

Among the stunts that Anderson has done for this shoot – that Martelli is willing to reveal – are sliding the car down metal pipes and use the UTV to climb the faces of rocky cliffs.

The video will be released Halloween weekend at Polaris’ Camp RZR event in Glamis, Calif., and posted to UTVUnderground and its YouTube page Nov. 3. In addition to UTVUnderground promoting the effort, DiGiovanni said Monster Energy, B.F. Goodrich and Polaris will advertise with the video, adding on to viewership.

Anderson has won the Lucas Oil Off Road Racing Series championship twice among his off-road racing awards. This includes Off Road Driver of the Year in 2012 and Rookie of the Year in 2011.

The sets in Youngstown, he said, are unlike anywhere else he’s filmed.

“This is definitely my favorite of the three. I’ve enjoyed being here in Youngstown. Everyone’s been super helpful and I think it’ll show in the video with the little things,” Anderson said. “The way people have worked on set, these people are hard workers and really seem like they want to be here.”

All noted the enthusiasm of people from the area during the shoot. DiGiovanni said the team has gotten help in fabricating ramps from the businesses next to the abandoned buildings they’ve been filming in.

“Even the locals who are just checking us out are so cool and excited to help us out while we’re doing this,” he said. “The off-road community is pretty tight-knit. And the buzz that we’re here has spread and everyone knows we’re in town and wants to find us.”

The shoots of the last two years have been in remote areas, far from any small towns. On one shoot, according to Matt Martelli, CEO of Mad Media, the film crew was housed in an abandoned mining town. Youngstown has been a welcome change, he said.

“This has been great because we’ve been able to get our work done and then go out and have good food and meeting some cool people. We had beers with Kelly Pavlik last night,” he said. “Some of the people I’ve met and some of the stories I’ve heard have shown me that this is great for a lot of different films and projects.”

Everyone from UTVUnderground and Mad Media learned just how misleading their expectations were, they said.

“I’ve spoken to people who’ve told me it’s a rough neighborhood or rough part of Ohio, but we’ve found that it’s been great,” DiGiovanni said. “Everyone’s been unbelievable, a real shock, how much people have gone above and beyond to help us.”

Filming has had an economic impact already, said Fred D’Amico, director of the Youngstown Regional Film Commission, which helped scout locations and secure permits for Mad Media. Crew members were given guides to direct them to local restaurants as well as discounts. Local companies rented the crew equipment and the crew is staying at the California Palms hotel here.

When the filming wraps up next week, Matt Martelli said, the company will have “spent probably a couple hundred thousand” with local companies.

“We prefer to put money back into the local economy even down to where we stay and eat. We focus on supporting the locals rather than chains,” he said.

A study by Cleveland State University found the economic impact of the film industry in northeastern Ohio could be as much as $500 million, D’Amico said during the press conference Friday at the hotel.

“[That’s] over a four- or five-year period … along with the job creation,” he said. “This is the youth retention for this area, the tourniquet. The key is to have a workforce that’s ready to work and happy to work.”

It’s projects such as these, he continued, where production companies and locals work well together that can convince other projects to come here. And should anyone ask, Matt Martelli said he would recommend the Valley.

“It tells people here that this is a career,” he said. “And for producers it sets the scene for more production to come here. If someone called me today and asked about Youngstown as a location, I’d say yes without hesitation.”

Pictured: DiGiovanni / CEO of UTVunderground.com, Matt Martelli, CEO of Mad Media , Fred D’Amico, director of the Youngstown Regional Film Commission, R.J. Anderson,  professional stunt driver, Josh Martelli, chief operations officer of Mad Media. 

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.