Saturday, July 18, 2015

Blood and Thunder, By Sidney Lumet and Upcoming Festivals

I recently had the great honor of starring in my good friend Alex Fofonoff's first feature film, titled Blood and Thunder, which is soon to be released. The production wrapped in May after five months of shooting, and I cannot thank the fine people involved enough for such a great shoot and for giving me the acting experience of a lifetime. I am truly going to miss working on this movie.

I was lucky enough to view a close-to-finished cut of the film last month and again this week, and boy, has Alex made a great movie! I'm incredibly proud to appear in all ninety minutes of this crazy picture.

We had our last full day of shooting Blood and Thunder on May 12th, with two big locations: Melody Lanes, a great bowling alley in Brooklyn, and a Brooklyn concert venue, followed by a final day of pick-up shots on May 14th. Leading up to the shoot at Melody Lanes, I had many character research nights at the bowling alley, including many fascinating discussions with Peter, the bartender who acts in the film. He was a terrific scene partner.

We started shooting the picture on the weekend of Friday, December 5th, when the cast and crew drove down to Virginia and stayed two nights at our friend Daniel Hasse's incredible ranch. Interestingly enough, we shot both the very beginning and ending of the picture during those two days. My costars included the great Bristol Pomeroy (as my character's father), Megan Hasse (as my character's sister), and one of the Hasse family's horses.

The next weekend, on December 13th and 14th, we drove up to beautiful Beacon, New York and shot at a variety of great locations, including an antique shop, a candy store, the Beacon train station, an abandoned house, a restaurant and a scenic view by the Hudson River. It didn't hit me until I heard our assistant director say we were shooting Scene 46 that this was one big movie.

We picked back up in January for a very cold and tightly scheduled four-day shoot, where we filmed many exterior scenes in Gowanus and other sections of Brooklyn. This included a night-time murder scene in a scrap yard along the Gowanus Canal, a chilly alleyway scene that nearly froze my co-star Desi Domo and me to death, several scenes inside a Brooklyn motel room, scenes in Sunset Park, several bridges in Brooklyn and exterior shots in Harlem and Grand Central Station. It's the coldest I've been in some time (my character wears the same, not quite warm-enough costume for the entire movie), but these scenes look amazing on camera.

In February, we shot for three more days for a critical party sequence at two different Brooklyn apartments, as well as John F. Kennedy International Airport and several Brooklyn subway stations. The weather was still freezing, but again, it really gives a life to the locations and overall feeling of the picture. By the time we finally shot on a sunny day (in March, our fourteenth day of shooting) in Washington Square Park, I was surprised to get a massive sunburn from being out in the park all day.

We finished shooting in April and May with the aforementioned bowling alley sequences at Melody Lanes (which overall involved three shooting days), as well as one massive sixteen hour-day of shooting in which two critical apartment scenes (from very different points in the movie) were filmed. In total, we filmed for nearly three weeks over the course of several months, and refined performances in rehearsals along the way.

I was so fortunate to get this opportunity from Alex, who wrote a terrific script with me in mind for the leading role, and I felt free to take a lot of chances under his direction (along with the support of so many great actors, including Desi, Bristol, Peter, Megan, Kristin Parker, Pat Dwyer, Ben Kahre, Taylor Myers and more.) The crew, including cinematographer Oliver Anderson, producer Charles Malin, sound mixers Adam Boese and Nick Chirumbolo, assistant director Raven Jensen, production designer Danny Porter and many others, were a delight to work with, as well.

If this picture in any way helps jumpstart an acting career for me, I'd be overjoyed - but even if it doesn't, I'm thrilled I got the chance to show what I can do in terms of performance and carrying a feature film. I think the movie is a better representation of my skills than many other things I've helped make, and I'm very excited for people to see it.

My movie You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory will have its official festival premiere at the 9th Athens International Short Film Festival Psarokokalo in Athens, Greece as the only short film from the United States in the International Competition. I'm thrilled for my film to be among the International Competition in Psarokokalo.

Additionally, I recently heard that the movie is an Official Selection of The Hudson Valley International Film Festival in upstate New York, which runs from August 14th - 16th, and an Official Selection of the Black Cat Picture Show in Augusta, Georgia, which runs from August 21st - 23rd at Le Chat Noir.

The Psarokokalo screening will also be in August, and per their website, "for the 9th year, the International Short Film Festival Psarokokalo gathers the best short films from the most important international film festivals (Cannes, Sundance, Rotterdam, Clermont Ferrant and others) which make their debut in Greece." Well, we weren't at any of those festivals, but I'm overjoyed the movie is in such great company!

Here is a link to the Psarokokalo website, and the official list of the International Competition (as well as our film's page on their website - we screen in the Competition 5 section on August 8th), and here is a link to the Black Cat Picture Show's line-up of their Official Selections.

I won't be going to the screening in Greece, but I'll definitely be heading upstate for the Hudson Valley screening, if anyone wants information about the screening date/ time and tickets. The screening schedule can be found here.

In April, You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory screened at NYU's First Run Festival at 8:30 PM in Room 200, the largest theater at the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Film Center. It was fantastic to see my film on such a large screen at Cantor, where so many films were shown during my years at NYU. We had a great turnout for the screening (including lead actor Mike Wesolowski, cinematographer Benjamin Dewey and sound designer Bobb Barito, among many others.)

Check out the page for You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory on the First Run Film Festival website here.

I wasn't able to talk about this project for some time, but now that it's out in the open, I'm thrilled to announce that the film on which I've been working as Associate Producer and Assistant Editor, By Sidney Lumet, premiered at this year's Cannes Film Festival in May. Sidney Lumet was one of the greatest of all filmmakers, and I'm overjoyed to be a part of Nancy Buirski's wonderful documentary about him.

After its premiere at Cannes, By Sidney Lumet got its first rave review from The Hollywood Reporter. This was soon followed by a great review and an in-depth interview with Buirski by IndieWire.

With an illustrious crew including editor Anthony Ripoli, special advisor Martin Scorsese and executive producer Brett Ratner, I was deeply honored to have four credits on this great film (in addition to Associate Producer and Assistant Editor, I was also a Researcher and Bookkeeper.) After spending many months in the editing room, it continues to be a joy to work on this movie, and I never get tired of watching it. That's a testament to the fascinating interview footage of Mr. Lumet in the film, and the great archival clips from so many of his masterful films, including Dog Day Afternoon (1975), Network (1976), Prince of the City (1981), Serpico (1973), Before the Devil Knows You're Dead (2007), The Verdict (1982), 12 Angry Men (1957), Long Day's Journey Into Night (1964) and Daniel (1983).

By Sidney Lumet most recently screened at the Jerusalem Film Festival this month, and I'm sure as we continue working on the film, I will have much more to report in the coming months. This is a very special picture.

In April, I had the honor of directing a video for the Dallas Spiders Club sketch comedy group, titled Broken Glass. Look for it online soon! The video stars my good friend Mike Wesolowski (who starred in You Can't Put Your Arms Around A Memory), along with Taylor Frey, Justin Danforth and Shelby Leshine, who are some of the funniest and most talented people I know.

So many of my favorite filmmakers are releasing, or have already released, new movies in cinemas this year. Any time Cameron Crowe puts out a new film, it's a cause for celebration. If you feel at home during his movies (as I do), you'll love his latest one, Aloha, which stars Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Rachel McAdams and Alec Baldwin. I wish more people had seen this wonderful film, which is full of more heart than most other pictures this year. Filmmaker Alex Ross Perry wrote an excellent article about Aloha and the unwarranted criticism of Crowe's recent films, in which he correctly wrote, "I suppose it’s indicative of our rotten, cynical culture, in which the greatest appreciation of things is purely ironic, that Aloha is apparently doomed to play to empty theaters while Vin Diesel movies about flying cars not only make money but also earn the respect and admiration of people who purport to care about cinema."

Critics and audiences did themselves a disservice by shunning this movie, but I'm happy to champion the picture and its wonderful soundtrack (one of many wonderful music moments in Aloha comes courtesy of Fleetwood Mac's I Know I'm Not Wrong.) You can watch my full video review of Aloha in my previous blog post, along with video reviews of Love & Mercy, Inside Out and Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Early this year, two of my favorite directors - Clint Eastwood and Michael Mann - both released great films, one of which was widely seen, while the other didn't get the audience it deserved. Mann's Blackhat is another work of art from the master filmmaker, with shootouts as thrilling as those in Heat (1995) and Public Enemies (2009). It was the first official great film of 2015. Eastwood's American Sniper was deservedly a huge hit (it was technically a 2014 release, and just barely missed my top ten list of the year), and the legendary director's best film since Letters from Iwo Jima (2006). Bradley Cooper is astonishing in the movie, and it's doubly impressive considering Eastwood also gave us Jersey Boys last year. American Sniper is a complex picture that was over-simplified by some critics who were mystified by its success. As The Dissolve beautifully wrote, "It's been heartening to follow the quieter, more rigorous conversation about [American Sniper] among those whose job it is to treat it as a film, not a political talking point. Films mean something, and they deserve better than snap judgments and pre-determined, agenda-serving conclusions."

Manglehorn is a beautiful end to David Gordon Green's Texas trilogy, with an incredible performance from Al Pacino. Green's recent films - Manglehorn, Joe (2014) and Prince Avalanche (2013) - have more personality and rich local flavor to them than anything else out there.

Of the upcoming releases from directors whose work I love, I am most excited for David O. Russell's Joy, starring Jennifer Lawrence, Robert De Niro, Bradley Cooper, Isabella Rosselini and Diane Ladd, and Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy in Alejandro González Iñárritu's The Revenant. I will also be first in line for Woody Allen's Irrational Man, starring Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone, coming out this summer, and Steven Spielberg's Bridges of Spies, starring Tom Hanks and written by Joel and Ethan Coen, coming out in the fall.

Meanwhile, as Noah Baumbach's While We're Young remains one of my favorite movies of the year so far (and possibly my favorite Baumbach film), he already has another film, Mistress America, coming out in August. Two Baumbach movies in the same year means he's likely taking up two of the spots on my end-of-year top ten list.

I could not be more excited for these films - I mean, who cares about the next superhero trailer when you get releases like these from our greatest directors?

Meanwhile, there's The Program, from director Stephen Frears, starring Ben Foster as Lance Armstrong, and Dustin Hoffman. And De Niro, my hero, is also starring in the new comedy from Nancy Meyers, The Intern.

On Saturday, June 27th, I had a nice conversation with Patrick Brice, director of the new film The Overnight, before he introduced a screening of the film at Austin's Regal Arbor Cinema (where I spend most of my time when visiting Austin, along with the Alamo Drafthouse.) It's a very funny film and worth seeing.

I'll write more about many other good films I've seen this year in my next post.

Earlier in July, my dear friend Lucas Loredo and I ventured to see my favorite movie of all time, Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas, on the big screen at Film Forum for its 25th Anniversary in a new restoration. The movie has never looked so glorious - every time I see it, I am astounded by its power and its ability to thrill me.

There have been a number of good articles written on the film for its anniversary, including Richard Brody's article Scorsese's Achievement with Goodfellas from The New Yorker, Filmmaker Magazine's Of Tarantino and TV: The Legacy of Goodfellas, along with a Goodfellas supercut from IndieWire and 24 (or 25) Things You Didn't Know about Goodfellas.

Over the past six months, we've lost a number of wonderful and influential people in the film industry. The great film critic Richard Corliss passed away - Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and many others had wonderful things to say about Corliss, and one of his final pieces was a terrific tribute to Robert Redford for Film Society of Lincoln Center. Here are 25 Great Movie Reviews by Richard Corliss worth reading.

Albert Maysles, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, died earlier this year, as well. His film Gimme Shelter is one of the finest documentaries ever made, and I had the honor of seeing him at a post-screening reception for Afternoon of a Faun: Tanaquil Le Clercq last year.

We also lost two of the greatest producers of all time, Robert Chartoff (Raging Bull, The Right Stuff, Point Blank, Rocky) and Jerry Weintraub (Nashville, Cruising, Ocean's Eleven); The Simpsons co-creator Sam Simon, whose name appears every time I'm about to watch twenty-two minutes of joyous fun; the filmmaker Francesco Rosi; actor Edward Herrmann (so good in The Aviator, Intolerable Cruelty, The Purple Rose of Cairo and Overboard); David Carr, an amazing journalist and the hero of Page One: Inside the New York Times (2011); legendary actor Christopher Lee; Errol Brown, lead singer of Hot Chocolate (whose music Noah Baumbach uses so winningly in Frances Ha and in the trailer for Mistress America); and actor and playwright Ira Lewis.

Before I take off, here's a link to my Intermediate Narrative film The Wheels, which is now available to watch for free on Vimeo. It was awarded the Best Student Film prize at the 2012 Metropolitan Film Festival of New York, and was an Official Selection of The 2012 Coney Island Film Festival.

The Wheels - A Film By Jack Kyser from Jack Kyser on Vimeo.


  1. Looks like a fun film festival (and I love The Shining pic). By the way, I just read your post about While We're Young and it was great. You seem to be a bit of an expert in Noah Baumbach. Anyway, I also wrote about the film in my blog (wich I encourage you to visit):

    I hope you enjoy my review, and please feel free to leave me a comment over there or add yourself as a follower (or both), and I promise I'll reciprocate.



  2. Hey Arion,

    Thank you so much for your kind comment. I definitely wouldn't think of myself as a Baumbach expert, but I loved his last three films and think he's one of the best filmmakers working right now. I just read your piece on While We're Young, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it, too! I also liked your thoughts on Edge of Tomorrow, that was an excellent film. I look forward to reading more of your posts!