Wednesday, June 8, 2011

And Now I Know Spanish Harlem Are Not Just Pretty Words To Say

Why make With Love, Marty? During the second half of my spring semester at NYU, I was swamped with Sight and Sound: Studio projects, the Tisch New Theatre mainstage production of Last Exit No Toll and many other projects (not to mention classwork), and so naturally it seemed like an unwise decision to make an outside-of-class movie, especially considering that I wanted to not only direct the project, but also star in the film. The script was sixteen pages long, and to make the movie properly, it would involve shooting at a number of hard locations, including Columbia University and a crowded New York City bus stop. Ultimately, I chose to make the movie not only because I have long wanted to take advantage of the incredible camera equipment and facilities at Tisch, but particularly because I have the privilege of knowing people who were excited about the project and who were willing to do everything possible to make the film that I wanted to make. If I were anywhere else in the world other than the Tisch School of the Arts, I could not have possibly assembled such an incredible cast and crew, full of people so eager to collaborate that they gave up their time, talent, energy and sleep for the sake of the movie. There is something about the collaborative nature of film (and theatre, for that matter, too) that really inspires me. By the way, the poster above was created and designed by Benjamin Dewey, who was also my cinematographer on the film.

There were also, of course, the artistic reasons for making the film. I love writing about loners. I love stories about outsiders and people who are trying very hard to be a part of a social group. My scripts always reflect the way I feel about something, to a certain extent. As an actor, I also tend to write characters modeled, more or less, on myself, or at least characters that I think I could play well - and oftentimes, writing these stories and these characters help me understand myself better. Admitting this is a double-edged sword, though. When people watch With Love, Marty, I don't want them to think that this story is autobiographical, because it's not. And yet, I wouldn't have been so passionate about making the film if it didn't represent a certain aspect of my personality. I am not Marty by any means, but it might be fair to say that his behavior is a highly exaggerated example of how I have felt at times in the past.

I finished writing the screenplay for With Love, Marty shortly before my Spring Break, and during my break I reached out to my friends and classmates who I had worked with in the past to see if they would be interested in making this outside-of-class project. My cinematographer, the incredible Benjamin Dewey, was my loyal collaborator from the very beginning. Shortly after I returned from Spring Break, he and I met constantly to draw storyboards and make shot lists for every scene in the script (sometimes during our Monday night shifts at the Post-Production Center, where we both work as Teaching Assistants). He assisted me in purchasing the appropriate lighting equipment, and he also provided the EX1 camera, tripod and sound equipment necessary to shoot this film. My roommate Bobb Barito was also on board the project from the very beginning, both starring in the movie (as a character modeled on him, named Bobb) and agreeing to serve as Sound Mixer and Sound Editor for the film. During the shoot, there were scenes where Bobb was acting and therefore could not do sound, and my friends Andrew Griego, Adam Boese and Jeremy Keller graciously offered their sound-mixing and booming skills during that time.

For the opening interior apartment scene, I wanted to use the apartment of my good friend Mike Cheslik, whose apartment on 2nd Street and 2nd Avenue has become a sort of permanent film-set this past semester (it's almost a rite-of-passage to shoot something in his apartment at this point). Not only did I want to use his apartment, but I wanted to cast him in the film, along with our friends Jon Annunziata and Justin Levine, as versions of themselves (the characters are named Mike, Jon and Justin). They were all incredibly willing participants, bringing so many ideas to the table and showing off some incredible acting talent. Long before shooting the opening scene of the film - in which Bobb, Mike, Jon, Justin and I riff and make lewd jokes in the apartment - the five of us gathered together to go through the script and re-write that opening scene, essentially, with our improvisations. You can imagine that these were very fun screenwriting sessions - everybody was trying to be as hilarious as possible, and I included the funniest, most relevant bits in the final screenplay. I cannot thank Mike, Bobb, Jon and Justin enough for their hilarious work in both forming that scene in the final script, and for their eventually hilarious performances on set.

My producer, Erica Rose, was so incredibly helpful in getting this project off the ground, and not only did she keep me focused, help cast the film and set up auditions with actors, organize cast and crew members with daily call-sheets, gather extras for a large party scene and help me find filming locations, she also served as my Assistant Director on set, always keeping me on schedule (she acts in the film, too, in the small role of Rose). Erica recommended that I have an Art Director for the film, and the wonderful Madeline Wall came on board to help us. Madeline is responsible for all of the art, make-up and much of the costuming in the movie, particularly the interior scenes. She sent out specific instructions to our party extras on how to dress for the hipster party scene at Columbia University (her work with glitter and face paint stands out in this section of the film). She was present at all times during the shoot, also working as a Boom Operator, Gaffer and any other position we needed.

After having some production meetings with Erica and Ben - where we made shooting schedules, divided up responsibilities among the crew and assembled necessary equipment - it was time for me to cast and subsequently rehearse with my actors. The scenes featuring Bobb, Mike, Jon, Justin and me were easily rehearsed, not only because we are all good friends, but mainly because my character in the scene is mostly silent as everybody else is fraternizing, and so it was easier for me to forget about my performance in rehearsal and really focus on directing my friends. However, the more serious scenes in the picture - particularly the ones where my character is the most emotionally vulnerable - required a different kind of rehearsal.

Erica suggested that I audition an actress named Alexis Gay for the role of Kellie in the film, and from the moment she walked into the audition room, I knew she was perfect for the role. I rehearsed with her privately twice, and we discussed the complicated interaction in the film between Kellie and Marty. Our final scene together in the film - the most important part of the movie, really - is such a painful and discomforting scene that it was a difficult task for me to direct her and simultaneously perform in the scene as this anguished, slightly delusional character. Thankfully, Alexis was so naturally receptive to my direction and understood her character so well that it made the process considerably easier for me.

I had another separate, private rehearsal with Karen McFarlane, an actress who auditioned for the role of the elderly Lucille. Karen was brilliant. Lucille's scene in the movie is relatively short - she's only onscreen for about a minute and a half - but her role is critical. I'll admit, I was worried that Erica and I would not find a fantastic older actress who fit the part, even though Erica posted a casting call online weeks in advance. But when Erica brought Karen into the audition room and I read through the scene with her, I knew she was perfect. She was incredibly flexible with her schedule, too - we were scheduled to shoot her scene at 10:30 PM on the evening of April 24th at a bus stop near Union Square, and it started pouring down raining shortly before our call time. We had to reschedule to another date, and she could not have been more understanding (we ended up shooting the scene at 11:30 PM on a Friday night - and I'll tell you, we had to fight against some rowdy late-night crowds). It was a joy to work with Karen, and I think she's terrific in the picture.

An exact shooting schedule went something like this - on the evening of Saturday, April 23rd, we shot the Columbia hipster party scene in Erica's dorm room at Gramercy (doubling for the interior of a Columbia dorm room). Lee Gold and Jon Annunziata were on hand as Gaffers for the evening, and we had a great group of party extras who were extremely patient. The shoot took about three-and-a-half hours, mainly because Ben and I had planned a complicated tracking shot following Marty into the party and through the dancing crowd of hipsters. One of Ben's most beautiful shots is in this scene - a medium shot of Alexis, in full party attire, with her back to a window overlooking the nighttime traffic on Third Avenue.

The second night of filming involved shooting the scene between Karen and me at the bus stop, which ultimately took about two hours to capture. This was a difficult scene for Bobb (as the Sound Mixer), because the bus stop by Union Square was certainly not quiet at 11:30 PM on a Friday night. It certainly didn't help matters that we had, more or less, taken over a public bus stop in one of the most popular spots in Manhattan. Later that night, Ben and I wandered around the West Village and picked up some beautiful exterior shots.

The final day of shooting was the pressure cooker - we had to shoot about seventy-five percent of the movie in one day. We shot day-for-night in Mike's apartment from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM, which included the opening scene of the film, the last scene of the film and a critical scene between Bobb and me that sets the story in motion. Then, after a short break, my crew and I met at Columbia University around 7:00 PM to shoot the scenes between Alexis and me, as well as all exterior Columbia University shots. The exterior Columbia scenes look absolutely beautiful, thanks to Ben's outstanding cinematography and a little help from C0lumbia's stunning campus. After that, we were more or less wrapped with the production, aside from a few smaller shots that required fewer people on set. It was an exhausting and rewarding day thanks to the incredible work of Ben, Bobb, Erica, Madeline, Alexis, Mike, Jon, Justin, Andrew and Jeremy - I could not have possibly asked for a better production experience or a better creative team.

For the post-production process, I edited the film using Final Cut Pro in the editing laboratories at Tisch during the last few weeks of the semester, seeking input constantly from other students. Shortly before he left to return to Colorado for the summer, Ben color-corrected my picture-locked cut of the movie in a suite at Tisch, and the movie looks incredible because of his talent and hard work. I have since handed over the picture-locked cut to Bobb, who is currently working on the sound design. My good friend Jonah Greenstein offered to write an original musical score for the movie, and I couldn't have been more thankful for his offer. I know he will do brilliant work.

Anyway, that's a fast breakdown of the production of With Love, Marty. I'm enormously excited to screen the final product for anybody who wants to see the picture, and I am so lucky to work with such dedicated and talented people at the Tisch School of the Arts. I love making movies, and I'm grateful for the opportunity to have made this particular one.


  1. It sounds amazing, Jack. I'm looking forward to seeing it. Let me know if you're shooting anything this summer in Austin. (I'm IN!)

  2. Thank you so much, Mr. Fuchs! I will absolutely let you know if I shoot anything this summer, I would love to work with you.