The Pierson High School grad who is currently a producer of the film “3 Backyards,” which appears at Sag Harbor Cinema this weekend, on the challenges of independent filmmaking, getting started in the business and life after high school.
When was it you graduated from Pierson?
Hmmmm. I think it was 1997. I remember Gary Kalish, who is now an assistant principal, was in my class.
Had you been interested in film when you were a student here?
No, not at all.
What did you wind up doing after graduating from Pierson?
I went to Skidmore College and came back home every summer and waited tables. At that time my aunt — who was also a Pierson grad — was living in New York and had been working for MTV, so I started assisting her. That’s probably the first time I ever considered going into film. Then I waited tables in the city until I got this job.
And how did you wind up getting a job as a producer?
After waiting tables for a while I called in a favor and got a job as a production assistant on “Law & Order.” There I started working with producer Fred Berner and we’ve been together ever since. This is our third film together.
How did you get involved making “3 Backyards”?
“3 Backyards” is written and directed by Eric Mendelsohn, and I had been working with my boss on a different project with him in 2007, just before the actors strike. It was difficult to get the actors and raise the money needed for that film, so we said we’ll do this small film. And we started doing “3 Backyards” in September of 2008.
Sounds like a long time.
It’s been a long and tough road.
Why such a long gestation period?
The easy answer is money. Once we finished shopping it around, we put every dollar on the screen. The director took some time off after filming, and then he edited it with the help of his students at Columbia. Then we recorded the score, and then we entered it at the Sundance festival, where it won the Directors Award in 2010.
What about the script attracted you?
When I read the script I was impressed with how quiet it was. The story is portrayed in what the characters can’t verbalize. To me that was touching, and groundbreaking. And the people we’ve put together to make this movie are phenomenal. We made the movie we intended to make; that is the most satisfying thing ever.
Part of “3 Backyards” was filmed here in Sag Harbor. Tell me about the scene you shot on Long Beach.
It’s really a pivotal scene in the movie. And actually apropos of our neighborhood here in Sag Harbor. Edie Falco’s character is a housewife who has a famous actress, played by Embeth Davidtz, as a neighbor. The actress asks Edie’s character for a ride, and the scene becomes very revealing between the two. The housewife is impressed and anxious, and the whole scene is this woman alone in the car with this famous actress. All that tension is compressed into the confines of the car.
We visited Sag Harbor in the fall of 2008 and drove up and down Long Beach to time the scene, and the road was perfect since it has water on both sides, which is what we were looking for.
What are some of the challenges independent filmmakers face today?
Movies cost more to make than they did because of the changes in revenue streams. It’s more expensive to make and market than they’re able to make in profit. Star quality can help you get financed, but that’s becoming harder to bank on. There are fewer actors that investors feel they can get they’re money back on.
Also, investors are shying away from dramas, and want more comedies. There’s just not much of a market for serious drama.
Films like “The Fighter” still enjoy a certain amount of success.
“The Fighter” was really good storytelling, on top of all these amazing performances. And on some level people came together on marketing. Plus Mark Wahlberg and Christian Bale have real star power.
“Winter’s Bone” is even a better example; it’s even bleaker. It proves every once in a while you can break through.
The movies I’m involved in have budgets of one to three million dollars. Getting those movies out is very difficult.
Is creating an audience for these types of films possible?
If we don’t keep making serious movies, how can we expect people to like them? Think of the great early movies made by Lumet and Scorcese. Our story is very small, with subtle performances, but very crafted. Craftsmanship gives it its character.
Why is it important to do independent films?
Well, otherwise you’ll end up with 50 Batman movies. You want to keep getting different points of views.
What’s you involvement as a producer?
I think of myself as a creative producer. I’ve been involved in reading scripts, to casting to marketing.
Any interest in working with a camera in your hand — or in front of the camera?
With a camera in my hands, maybe, if I had the skills. But definitely not in front of the camera.
“3 Backyards,” starring Edie Falco, Embeth Davidtz, Elias Koteas and Rachel Resheff, will be at Sag Harbor Cinema Friday through Monday, April 1 through April 4 and Thursday April 7.