“What's life but equal parts love and death? You've been closed to both, so, if you don't have a story I don't know what to tell you.”
A friend spoke those words on a cold day around my 23rd birthday in 2006. I'd just come back from abroad; working, traveling and decompressing from the last years in New York City, trying to figure out what to do next.
On many trains while traveling and working in Europe, I'd told small and big stories; after a while all the stories became easier and lad to one another until I found myself telling one long one.
Notes on napkins were all I could muster until, while teaching English in Asia, I found myself trapped by a particularly nasty monsoon season and, locked inside, began what would be the first drafts of “…Around.”
Returning to New York in the fall, I began refining and sharpening the script through helpful notes from colleagues, friends and actors.
Casting took place in the winter of 2006, as more rewriting was taking place. Robert Evans was cast as the male lead, Doyle. The casting of the female lead was strenuous but rewarding, as 30 local actresses came in over a long weekend. We realized that Molly Ryman had a unique beauty and charm, subtle delivery and a loving quality that would be a perfect counterpart to Rob.
The chemistry and trust built intense but enjoyable rehearsals with the two leads that also led to several great unscripted and added moments to the story. With Rob's and Molly's particularly strong improvisational skills, they made great connections to the characters
The chance of any immediate outside funding fell through and it became a mission to self-fund the film.
With $150,000 or 40 credit cards (no, seriously…) and a cast locked down, I went about trying to find anyone crazy enough to partner up with me on that daunting quest to make a feature film for less than $200,000 that took place over four years, had 190 locations and was set, for the most part, in NYC. Where would I find anyone that insane?
Lee Gillentine, only 21, who had only come to NYC a year earlier, having been a self-taught gaffer and never having produced before, put together a crew, a budget and a schedule with just six weeks of pre-production.
Instantly I knew, both from his passion and his honest belief in the ability to do this on our own, that he was the person who could actually make it happen. His inexperience did not get in the way of his tenacity or his ability to get things done. More important, he understood that the most important role of a producer is to surround the director with the best people. He had assembled an all-star crew of the best he had worked with on various films over the year.
Over 27 days in September 2007, 21 of them production, “…Around” was shot all over NYC.
In the grandest example of Murphy's Law, many obstacles that befall films of all budget sizes befell us: Production days changed, locations fell through, extras didn't show, a technical error almost deleted an entire day's worth of shooting, the president of Iran showed up to Columbia University the day we shot amidst an onslaught of protesters, there were car accidents, sets were built and painted overnight, and more.
The thing that always pulled us through was the hard work and passion of the talented cast and crew with whom I was blessed to be working. The skill they all had at their respective crafts, combined with a sheer love for what they did and the project, brought an energy that could overcome any problem and would be obvious in the end product.
A two-hour rough cut of the film screened for cast, crew, friends and families on January 24, 2008. It was my birthday and almost two years to the date that I had that simple yet life-changing cup of coffee with a dear friend.
After another grueling six months of cutting, tweaking and post-production “…Around” was finally finished with the post-production knowledge, mentoring and assistance of Nick Boris, a crisp sound mix by the talented Carlos “Storm” Martinez and an impressive score by Vita Tanga, who manages to evoke oceans of emotion with a few simple chords of a poignant and brooding theme that stretches and changes with the film.
A long road of hitting the festival circuit, rejections, screeners, reviews and navigating distribution deals was ahead. Slowly but surely the film has been catching on, receiving critical and commercial acclaim and utilizing all forms of new media and social networking that is continually changing the way the business operates.
I recently celebrated my 27th birthday and am now looking back on a 10-year journey since arriving in this city that never sleeps. I've closed this chapter in my life and am optimistic for the future in a way I've never quite been before. I look forward to sharing it and my future journeys with the family I've built on this project and over the last decade here in my home.