Sometimes, a film’s location takes on a life of its own. The Paramount Theater, located in Westchester’s artsy City of Peekskill, had the perfect vibe for the look and feel of the independent film, "Friends and Romans," produced by Michael Mailer.
“It’s an older theater that harkens back to a certain time and age,” said Susan Parsons, production manager, on a recent day of filming. “It has what we needed—the kind of character that we built into the script. It’s the kind of place that inspires great memories.”
The Paramount Theater serves as a backdrop for about a third of the film, which features actor Michael Rispoli, who plays an Italian-American aspiring actor so desperate to move beyond stereotyped background work, he decides to mount a production of Julius Caesar to prove his mettle. The film also stars Annabella Sciorra and Tony Sirico. Rispoli and Sirico are well known for their roles on "The Sopranos," 'Jackie,' and 'Paulie,' respectively.
Parsons says that the rest of city served as the perfect setting for the film that supposedly takes place in Staten Island, New York. “In terms of production, Peekskill is well-located on the Hudson River. It has water access and is close to major parkways that allow commercial vehicles. Plus, it has proximity to Manhattan, where some of our actors and crew are located,” Parsons added, noting that the locals—from the theater staff to realtors, police, business council and Westchester film office representatives—have helped with various aspects of the production.
The film shoot has provided benefits for the town, too, according to Jonathan Close, the theater’s general manager. “The main benefit for us has been a continuous use of our theater. The crew has frequented area restaurants and used local equipment. And it has meant a great deal to our staff, both from a professional development standpoint and, given the extra work they’ve had, an economic one as well.”
Producer Michael Mailer said audiences of all ages would enjoy the comedy, due out in 2014. The film is a warm, aspirational tale in the style and humor of "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," according to Mailer, and has themes of self-empowerment, proving oneself, and realizing that potential doesn’t disappear with youth.
Mailer said he’s a big booster of New York State shoots.
“The Governor’s office has made it favorable,” said Mailer. “Tax rebates make productions possible. Plus, shooting in Westchester has been more relaxed than shooting in Manhattan—and the theater is a gem of a space.”
Lead actor Michael Rispoli also said he was happy to be filming in the region. “I grew up in Rockland County and still live in the Hudson Valley. I also come from a theater background, so the Paramount Theater was a draw for me. It feels like home.”
Mailer agrees. “The location is all part of the package of making art. We feel the joy of making a movie and feel good about employing a bunch of people and contributing to the New York State economy. It’s a joy to work with actors who get the New York vibe of this shoot.”