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Young New Canaanites shoot for the stars with community-based film

Updated 1:42 pm, Thursday, June 27, 2013

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  • Abigail Schwarz and Nico Scandiffio, both NCHS grads, are attempting to shoot a feature-length film in New Canaan this summer. Photo: Contributed
    Abigail Schwarz and Nico Scandiffio, both NCHS grads, are attempting to shoot a feature-length film in New Canaan this summer. Photo: Contributed

 

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Two young residents plan to turn New Canaan into a film set this summer, and get the whole town involved along the way.

Abigail Schwarz and Nicola Scandiffio both graduated from New Canaan High School in 2010. Schwarz wrote the feature length film "Those Who Wander."

"It's a story about what it means to be young," Schwarz said. "You're not financially independent, but you're living on your own and feeling independent. I saw this change happening in how we culturally view 20-year-olds. One of the reasons I didn't want to sell it to a studio was that I didn't want 50-year-olds sitting behind a computer saying, `This is how young people are.' "

The pair have been interested in film for years. Last year, they created a short film together called "Seconds of in Between," written and directed by Schwarz, with Scandiffio as director of photography. The 24-minute film was submitted to and chosen as an official selection of the First Glance Film Festival, which is based in Philadelphia and Los Angeles.

"Those Who Wander" is the story of a group of friends who go on a spring break road trip to Georgia, where they find themselves in a scene of spontaneity, drug use and sex.

"It's more `Garden State' and less `Spring Breakers,' " Scandiffio said, rebutting the parallel to the semi-controversial recent film about the excesses of the culture of American spring break. Instead, the pair said, the film focuses on what it's like to be a 20-year-old -- old enough to feel independent but still reliant on parents for money and support.

The same applies to shooting a feature-length film as a 20-year-old. The pair, full of dreams, energy and ambition, needs help with the money.

"We're sort of in the middle of fundraising," Schwarz said. "We have a lot of team members set up and a casting director. We're hoping to get some Hollywood talent involved. We have a budget goal, which is $175,000."

Of that $175,000, the pair needs $120,000 to begin shooting. They've mined family and friends for funds, and now are looking to raise $70,000 via the online fundraising facilitator, Kickstarter.

Kickstarter works by having recipients set an amount that would allow them to fund their project. Donors have a certain time period, 30 days is common, to supply that money. If the fundraising target is not met, donors get their money back.

So the stakes are high for the success of the Kickstarter, but experts say it's the way to go.

"In terms of making and producing, the times have never been better than now for independent films," Meta Mazaj, senior lecturer of cinema studies at the University of Pennsylvania and co-author of "Critical Visions in Film Theory: Classic and Contemporary Readings."

"Kickstarter is the way of doing it. Hollywood is even getting into it now, using Kickstarter for what are really studio backed projects. It's not only effective, it's easy and it gives you more freedom in that you don't have three big donors who will get involved in decision making, which is what always used to happen before. When you have big amounts that come from a single source, they get a say in how things happen."

Kickstarter has gained in popularity as a way of financing films. Actor Zach Braff (of "Scrubs" and "Garden State" fame) recently took to Kickstarter to fund his upcoming film, "Wish I Was Here." A total of 46,520 people donated a total of $3.1 million, a good deal more than the $2 million Braff requested, to fund the film.

Kristin Bell, star of the television show "Veronica Mars," did the same thing in March and April, raising more than $5 million for a "Veronica Mars" movie.

Mazaj points out that another benefit of Kickstarter is that the people who donate, who are kept up to date on the project, can also be the film's initial audience.

Schwarz and Scandiffio don't want New Canaanites involved just with the funding, but with the whole of the film as well. Schwarz cast friends Ryan Timberlake and Ryan Stiffelman. Anna Kathryn Holbrooke, an Emmy Award-winning actress who has appeared in "Another World" and "Law and Order," and who is a teacher at the Performing Arts Conservatory of New Canaan, has also signed on to the project.

Another New Canaan High School graduate, Kendall Eagen, has agreed to be the music director for the film, choosing songs for the soundtrack.

"As music supervisor, I'm going to break down the script and figure out where we want music in the scene," said Eagen, who is the singer for the band Chloe Sunshine, which played SXSW in Austin in March, and recently returned from a European tour.

"We're looking for summery indie music with a happy feel, trying to capture the mood of the film ... I'm really excited to be working on this: I've been working freelance on a bunch of things but this is my first film, and it has a really great energy to it."

The film will be shot in tree-filled, hilly, New Canaan as a stand-in for rural Georgia. Scandiffio and Schwarz are on schedule to shoot in August, provided their funding comes in. First Selectman Robert Mallozzi made a cameo appearance in the duo's five-minute video on their Kickstarter page, pledging the town's help on the project however it could.

"I support the project because they are homegrown out of school system and town and have a demonstrable level of skills talent and expertise in the field," Mallozzi said in an interview. "They're very good at what they do and the town should be encouraging, like we encourage great baseball teams and volunteers. I think it reflects extremely well on the school system, the kids."

He said town staff was prepared to help Schwarz and Scandiffio with the paperwork that goes along with the permitting process to be able to shoot in town.

Filing the paperwork, raising the money and shooting a feature-length film is quite an undertaking.

"The next step is what's more difficult. Distribution is the tricky part," Mazaj said. "The most common way to do it is to submit it to festivals, perhaps something like TriBeCa (Film Festival), they've been really good in accepting young, innovative filmmakers. Then most people don't have a lot of life beyond a festival run. That's something everybody in the independent scene is struggling with,"

That is exactly what the pair hopes to do with the film. Schwarz referenced the film, "Like Crazy," the winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize, which was shot for $250,000 and sold to Paramount Vantage after its win as her ideal of what could happen. Mazaj agreed this was the formula for success.

"A festival is the place you're going to meet people and network. This is what Miramax has done for years: They take a film that no one's heard of, shot for $10,000, invest $2 million in marketing, and it becomes a huge success."

Schwarz, who attends the New York Film Academy, is moving to Los Angeles this fall, finishing school, doing sound editing for the film, and submitting it to festivals. At 20, she's hoping to become that next huge success, and if it happens, it will be due in no small part, to the town in which she grew up.

For more information, the film's website is: www.thosewhowanderfilm.com

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-330-9685; @Woods_NCNews