Production Notes


THE CHIEF takes place in 1976 in an office at Three Rivers Stadium, as Rooney (Tom Atkins) prepares for an event honoring him at the Knights of Columbus. Speaking openly to the audience, he reflects on his life and career, showing his personality and morals by the stories he tells and the beliefs he describes. Atkins presents a fine portrayal of the gruff but sentimental Rooney, who at the time would have been 75. Cigar smoking and speaking from the heart, Atkins’ Rooney recalls times, places, and people familiar to the audience. Mostly a story of Rooney’s life and “what made the man,” The Chief also gives a snapshot of the people and circumstance which allowed the Steelers to leave behind the SOS (“same old Steelers” is the clean translation) years.
For anyone with a fondness for Pittsburgh or the Steelers, this is a rich, inspirational piece of Americana. For natives of the ‘burgh and diehard Steelers fans, it is a near religious experience. To top it off, the famous “immaculate reception,” a fluke catch in a 1972 playoff game with the Oakland Raiders which catapulted the Steelers into their dynasty years, is shown on film. If you didn’t wear your black and gold jersey into the theater (and some people did), by this time you wish you had.
Art Rooney’s story transcends Steelers fans, and will stand as a critically acclaimed and inspirational story to rival that of a Knute Rockne, or Lou Gehrig and will be an opportunity to be a part of history.

The Producers of The Chief Movie are proud to deliver what is sure to be an instant classic, and adorn the video libraries of all who love the Steelers, who love Pittsburgh, who are inspired by a story of a true champion, or love The Chief himself.


In early 2009 I heard that there were several efforts over the past years to film the one-man stage play “The Chief” about Art Rooney Sr. The play is the most successful performance in the history of Pittsburgh Public Theater. The Chief is played by Tom Atkins, the nationally known actor, who resides in Pittsburgh, PA. Since I was aware that Pittsburgh Public Theater was planning to retire the play after the January 2010 performances I was determined to take on the project since I viewed the play as a piece of historical importance. Bruce Kaplan and I acquired the movie rights to the play in August, 2009 and we filmed it in November. Our team including Producer, Mike Wittlin, and Director, Stevo Parys, spearheaded a crew that delivered one of the finest, if not the finest, movie productions adapted from a one-man-stage play! The Rooney family and the Pittsburgh Steelers are certainly excited about the project and have officially endorsed the film which will allow us to market this film and DVD to countless thousands of Steelers Nation fans— to personally know Art “The Chief” Rooney a bit more intimately. We are grateful for the support from our investors enabling us to produce and deliver this piece of history! This film is indeed a labor of love, intended to honor the beloved founder of the Steelers, Art Rooney Sr.

I dedicate this film to our fathers and sons.

Thomas Chaffee


The making of this film was truly a project of passion from the start to finish. Our production team was given the challenge to take an amazing and captivating stage show, and bring it to life on the big screen.  Under the leadership of our Executive Producers, Tom Chaffee and Bruce Kaplan, we started to assemble the crew “dream team.”

In preparing to shoot we spent countless hours figuring out how to transform a seat in the movie theater, into a virtual seat in the live theater. Giving the feeling that viewers are actually attending this show and in the audience.  Capturing the magic that Tom Atkins, Ted Pappas, Rob Zellers and Gene Collier created on the stage and have it translate to film.

Live theater is an intimate art form, it’s an experience.  There is a rhythm based on the relationship between the actor and the audience you don’t get in movies. It has to be created by carefully crafted shots and a crackerjack crew.  I feel our team has captured this experience and the end result is fantastic.

It also takes a talented actor to pull this off.  We were fortunate enough to have the luxury of Tom Atkins as our star. Tom is a true pro –  hour after hour, day after day, Tom gave an engaging and emotional performance.  Having produced many features I can tell you how rare it is for an actor to be able to maintain that intensity while staying in character.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to have produced this project and can tell you that the entire crew, from the Executive Producers on down, love the Pittsburgh Steelers!  I know that I speak for all who worked on and invested in this project, when I say that I hope you find that this film does justice to the stage show, to the City of Pittsburgh, and to a true American hero…Art Rooney, Sr.

Mike Wittlin
Mike Wittlin Productions


Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 70s, The Steelers and Art Rooney were obviously a huge part of my upbringing. Back then, they seemed unstoppable and represented the very best of a city I love. They were rough on the field and true class off. I idolized Terry and the guys and looked at Art as a kind and wise uncle. When Pittsburgh was on the brink of collapse in the early 80s, we could always count on Art and our Steelers to win the day.

This project is extremely personal to me and I dedicated myself to bringing this gem of a play to life on the screen. I wanted to polish up this nearly flawless one-man show, beautifully written and incredibly performed, and add what I could to its legacy. Theater and film are different sides of the same coin and I wanted to capture the play in as visually cinematic a way as humanly possible. With the aide of my Cinematographer, Jeff Garton, I mapped out the best possible presentation. I had worked with Tom Atkins as a Production Assistant and as a 1st Assistant Director on various features many years ago, so was honored to get a chance to now direct him. Lots of care and pride has been poured into this feature film.

I hope you love THE CHIEF as much as I do. Thanks and, of course, GO STEELERS!

Steve Parys


Excerpts from the Introduction to the book, THE CHIEF,
written by Gene Collier and Rob Zellers.

Had one of us not been the director of education for Pittsburgh Public
Theater, and had the other’s son not been preparing for the theater’s
annual Shakespeare contest, and had the former not arranged for some
coaching sessions on that particular wintry Saturday in Oakland, this conversation
would be part of no one’s oral history and the play would likely
never have happened. But in just a few short minutes, it was somehow
revealed that Rob Zellers, who was in possession of a tribute titled “If
The Chief Asks, We’re Not So Good Today” that he’d been holding since 1989
written by a young columnist from the Pittsburgh Press named Gene
Collier, had a long-held idea for a one-man play, and that Gene Collier
had a long-held ambition to write a biography, and that their subjects
were the very same Arthur J. Rooney.

Ultimately, there is no escaping the conclusion that while the play worked
for many, many reasons, it works mostly due to one person, Art Rooney.
All of the complex social and cultural elements that defined Pittsburgh
in the first part of the 20th century produced a singular metropolitan
character, and that city’s greatest most enduring character was Art
Rooney. That still undersells him in a way, as no combination of time and
place can fully explain his humor, his way, or his humanity. In a place
that sometimes has a hard time feeling good about itself, we like to think
that maybe the Chief came back to remind us that not only was that OK,
but that it was right.

Enjoy the show!

Gene Collier & Rob Zellers

More info on “THE CHIEF” book