I was standing in the kitchen when my wife told me she loved another man.
“His name is Dean Bog,” she gushed. “He’s a YouTuber.”
She said Dean was a real artist, the auteur behind a visually stunning video series on Pittsburgh and its many neighborhoods.
Over the sound of a running dishwasher, I tried and failed to convince her of my own artistic merits. We went to bed in a fog of quiet tension.
The next morning I binged every Dean Bog video I could find.
Slackliners on Mount Washington. Punks in Polish Hill. Cat people in The Run. Robots in Oakland. All featured centrally in Dean’s rendering of Pittsburgh, along with Dean himself. (Imagine Rick Sebak if he looked like a “Bleach”-era Kurt Cobain. Now imagine him also wearing a bike helmet, teashades, and a pocket full of weed.)
The videos were jaunty and offbeat, glossy and guerilla-style, shot with handhelds and drones and from the handlebars of Dean’s trusty bicycle. They were surprisingly well-produced, with percussive edits tailor-made for the streaming-era.
Then I saw the five-digit view numbers — and the four-digit likes — and conceded that my wife may have a point. Same goes for the many readers who have emailed us to rave about Dean’s work over the last few months.
But beyond Dean’s Neistat-esque directorial style, his penchant for Bourdain-ish haunts, or his on-camera chutzpah, I wondered why these weekly videos were resonating so clearly — especially in a city that’s far from starved for content about itself.
And that’s when it struck me: If nothing else, Dean’s videos — and his choice in subjects (see: “Run Rats”) — confirm that Pittsburgh is still quirky and eccentric and rough around the edges, something that’s easy to forget when you’re standing between two macaron shops in a gentrified East Liberty.
“He’s making chicken soup for the Pittsburgh soul,” I said out loud to no one. “Or maybe it’s Gonzo journalism for the Pittsburgh soul.”
But is it journalism? And who is Dean Bogdanovic (shortened to Dean Bog) anyway?
I met Dean at South Side’s Big Dog Coffee to find out.
He’s a New Jersey transplant with a serious peanut allergy who followed a crush to an information science degree at Pitt and then tossed that degree for a run at filmmaking. He fell in love with Pittsburgh’s gloomy aesthetic and launched a video series about its neighborhoods — partly for fun, mostly to hone his video-making chops. He’s filmed 16 episodes so far, exploring many neighborhoods for the first time as the camera rolls.
The result is a wildly popular series and a growing Patreon account. It also has Dean getting recognized by strangers and stopped in the street, much as you’d expect from a grungier Sebak.
In the process, the 24-year-old is helping Pittsburghers rediscover some of this city’s grit — all as he discovers its deep fault lines around issues like race, class, and sustainability.
Portions of our conversation follow here, edited for clarity and length.
The Incline: How did this all start?
Bog: When I was a senior at Pitt, my favorite thing to do was bike to a new neighborhood and just be blown away by it. And that’s where the idea for this series comes from.
The Incline: When did you start?
Bog: I’ve only been making videos for, like, three years. This project started three months ago. I’d been doing smaller projects before this. I posted a video every day for 40 days once. And that was probably my biggest period of growth and learning and discovering new video techniques. And this project is putting all of those little tools together and throwing everything I got into this one thing.
The Incline: Where’s your favorite shoot?
Bog: I really fell in love with The Run. But it’s all just a canvas for me to fill in with everything I got.
The Incline: What was your hardest episode?
Bog: I think the most difficult one was the Hill District because it was my first time covering a historically black neighborhood.
The Incline: And that episode included footage of a white motorist warning you to guard yourself and your expensive camera equipment there, right?
Bog: Yeah, and it was only the second episode I had done. So I was still very much figuring out how this was going to work. And I’m not an expert on anything, really, except for maybe making YouTube videos.
It’s very scary to speak your mind on camera, and I definitely do. I don’t say everything on my mind, but I do try to speak as honestly as I possibly can. And I think ally-ship with any community and any minority community is a practice. You are not an ally, you are practicing ally-ship, and you can speak and you can mis-speak, but you have to be listening for when people correct you and you have to be able to recognize when you said something stupid or something offensive.
But the Hill District was certainly a challenging one. And honestly the saving grace is, like, I can let people (interview subjects) take that burden for me.
The Incline: Do you consider yourself a journalist?
Bog: I think I have journalistic responsibilities. You’re trying to walk the line a bit between, you know, this is obviously captivating footage but do the potential consequences of publishing it outweigh its captivating nature?
The Incline: Can you give me an example?
Bog: I was at a laundromat in Mount Oliver to meet a woman for an interview. While I’m waiting there, there was a guy who was just going berserk on the phone with some poor sales rep. I was filming him very slyly because I didn’t want to get socked in the face.
And now the question is, like, ‘Do I include that?’ This guy’s being a blatant a**hole. But he might be having the worst day of his year. Maybe he’s a nice guy 99 percent of the time. But it’s such a good clip.
Same thing with that couple on the incline bitching about their trip to Hawaii. For that one I was a little less worried because I could tell they were tourists. But this guy at the laundromat, it’s like, on the one hand I don’t want to put him on blast. But maybe he’s just an a**hole, right? If that’s the case, I kind of want to say, ‘Hey, this is what happens. Be conscious of your actions. There’s a human being on the other end of that phone.’ (Bog used the laundromat clip to open his Mount Oliver dispatch. The Hawaii conversation can be found here at the 5:40-mark in “Mount Washington.”)
The Incline: What was your first experience with Pittsburgh?
Bog: My mom and I came out on the gloomiest February day in 2014. It was, like, 10 degrees outside and we were both blown away.
The Incline: Why?
Bog: It was the things that collectively make up the atmosphere. It was the way people were dressed. The conversations I overheard and the old architecture of the buildings. It was the attitude of the restaurants, the facades of the businesses, the whole thing, you know. The trees were a big one for sure.
The Incline: You’re from a suburb of New York City. Did you have any idea what Pittsburgh was like before you arrived here?
Bog: It was a blank slate. I thought it was going to be the Cathedral of Learning and then just an open field, right? I really had no idea. I was coming in blind.
But I think that has helped make Pittsburgh feel like my adventure.
The Incline: And you’ve been here since then?
Bog: Yes. And I don’t count my first two years at Pitt because you’re just in the dorm, right? You’re a little isolated. You spend 99.99 percent of your time in Oakland. If you do venture out, it’s to the South Side or Shadyside. Then my junior year, I bought a bicycle. That was the thing that started the exploration. The bike is probably my most integral piece of filmmaking equipment. Also, I get high.
The Incline: What?
Bog: I get high before I film every episode from the bike ride there.
The Incline: Oh.
Bog: The endorphin rush that I get from biking up to Mount Oliver, like, I’m on cloud nine when I get out there and I’m ready to go. I’m warmed up and I feel great.
The Incline: What advice do you have for someone who wants to explore their city or their neighborhood better?
Bog: Getting a bike is the number one recommendation. Obviously, not everyone is physically capable of riding a bike. But also just put the cellphone down. It’s poison for the soul.
And if we’re trying to explore the threads and the fabric of our communities, really the best way to do it is to just talk to people.
The Incline: What about aspiring filmmakers?
Bog: It’s cheesy, but I think the universe is always ready to give a gift if you’re ready to receive it. There are days where I feel depressed and anxious and just like a failure and that I don’t want to do this. I can’t do this. I’m afraid.
I had one of those days recently when I was doing the Spring Hill video. It was the morning and I just sat on my phone feeling terrible. Instead of taking that plunge and getting out on my bike and going up there to film… And that day there was a big snow squall. I was devastated because I was really struggling with this episode and that would have been such a good turnaround if I was filming in that chaos — that would have been great, beautiful footage. And I had this moment of ‘Oh, if I just go out and trust, trust it every day, like, Pittsburgh is going to give me something amazing.’ It might take three hours. It might take two minutes. But you have to be out there.
The Incline: Why film?
Bog: After my sophomore year, I worked this really bougie internship in New York City because that’s what I thought I was going to do. I was kind of a jock in high school and I figured, OK, like, business marketing, I can do that route. And I worked at this really fancy branding agency where everybody looked like they were out of a fashion magazine with big name clients and it was all very sexy, and I was utterly miserable. I was commuting from New Jersey, sitting at a desk for eight hours a day doing work that didn’t make me feel purposeful at all. And that was the final straw where I was like, OK, I need to pick up a camera.
So I had an Amazon gift card and I bought a $200 camera and started making videos on YouTube and just kind of took it into my own hands.
The Incline: And what has the response to the videos been like here in Pittsburgh?
Bog: It’s 99 percent positive and people saying the kindest and most heartwarming things, like, complete strangers just pouring their hearts out about their experiences in Pittsburgh and how these videos made them feel a new love for their city and just saying really kind things about me. And that’s why I’d be an idiot to stop making these things because people are really responding to them. And I think I’m getting better and they’re becoming enjoyable to people outside of Pittsburgh, too. So now I’m getting people saying, ‘Hey mate, watching from New Zealand and all of a sudden I’m obsessed with Pittsburgh.’
The Incline: So will you keep making them?
Bog: Right now I’m committed to 20. And I think with the way it’s going, I’ll probably commit to another 10 after that. But I don’t want to run this thing into the ground either. I don’t have a car, but if I got a car I think I could maybe start expanding. If somebody was like, ‘You gotta check this place out, it’s in the middle of Ohio,’ you know, maybe something like that.
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