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New Canaan's fledgling filmmakers attract funds, star power

Published 11:29 am, Wednesday, July 31, 2013
  • Abigail Schwarz (left) and Nico Scandiffio (right) are full steam ahead with their New Canaan-centric film, "Those Who Wander." The pair recently picked up $70,000 in funding and the support of the famous and controversial novelist James Frey. Photo: Contributed
    Abigail Schwarz (left) and Nico Scandiffio (right) are full steam ahead with their New Canaan-centric film, "Those Who Wander." The pair recently picked up $70,000 in funding and the support of the famous and controversial novelist James Frey. Photo: Contributed

 

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Two young New Canaanites picked up $70,000 in funding and the surprise aid of a best-selling novelist in their pursuit of filming a feature-length movie in town.

The pair, writer Abigail Schwarz and producer Nico Scandiffio, both 20, have been working on the film for more than a year. "Those Who Wander" is a coming-of-age story about a group of friends' spring break road trip to rural Georgia. Schwarz and Scadiffio have made the project a community-based one by choosing to shoot in New Canaan and by getting friends and peers from New Canaan High School involved in acting and musical roles. All they needed was money to finance the project.

On June 20, they started a page on Kickstarter.com, which allows people to request a specified amount of money to fund a project over a certain number of days. If the goal is not met, donors get their money back and the project doesn't get made. Schwarz and Scandiffio, who have already raised funds through their friends and family, asked for $70,000. They had 30 days to meet that amount.

In support of their Kickstarter, the pair interviewed with local media, printed 1,500 cards advertising their project which were placed near the cash registers of 20 to 30 stores in town, put up 70 posters around town, and relentlessly made phone calls to potential donors, they said.

One person who heard about the project is bestselling author and New Canaan resident James Frey. Frey said he learned of the film when a friend sent him a link to a news story profiling the duo, and it struck a chord with him. He contacted the pair and said he'd come on board to help however he could.

"I was in their position once, young and ambitious and trying to raise money to shoot film. I think it's good to pass the type of support I received on to the next generation of storytellers," he wrote in an email. "New Canaan is a beautiful place and will look great on film. And it will be fun to see a crew out shooting."

Frey is best known for the controversy surrounding his 2003 bestselling book, "A Million Little Pieces," which was marketed as a memoir but contained elements that did not happen in Frey's life. That revelation sparked an outcry against Frey, led by Oprah Winfrey, who had picked the book as an Oprah's Book Club selection. Following the controversy, Frey went on to write two more best sellers, "My Friend Leonard" and "Bright Shiny Morning." He recently purchased a $1.9 million house in New Canaan. In 2009, Frey started a young adult novel publishing company called Full Fathom Five.

Scandiffio and Schwarz got a Facebook message from Frey two days before the Kickstarter expired. They were tens of thousands of dollars short of their Kickstarter goal. Their dreams of filmmaking and hours of labor hung in the balance.

"It was terrifying to look at when it was down to the wire," Schwarz recalled. "We really started to see people rallying around the project and we'd see these massive jumps (in donations)."

Frey offered to contribute whatever the duo needed in order to make their $70,000 goal.

"We said, `Hold off a little, we think we can do it,' " Scandiffio said.

And he was right. In the final two days, patrons donated more than $15,000, and met the goal. A total of 417 backers donated an average of $170 to the project. Almost 750 people shared the page on their own Facebook accounts.

Scandiffio and Schwarz will still use Frey's help, however. He's sent the script to his agents at William Morris Endeavor Entertainment in Los Angeles and is going to help with casting. Once the film is done, he will ask the massive talent firm to help sell it, he said.

"We met them and they're great kids, really dedicated and enthusiastic, and we were all impressed," Frey said. "The script is also entertaining and fun, and will make a good movie."

It was a good July for the fledgling filmmakers, but they're not slowing down.

"We are running as fast forward at pre-production as we can," Scandiffio said. Schwarz added that they're on track to start shooting Aug. 5.

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6582; @Woods_NCNews