Jeffrey P. Nesker, director: ELSEWHERE, NY
1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of Elsewhere, NY, from concept to financing.
The story of Elsewhere, NY has to start with Tom Wilton, the writer and my fellow producer. Tom is a gifted filmmaker in his own right, a zen master of zero budget filmmaking, and a guy I’ve had a long standing friendship and collaborative relationship with. Together, along with Neil Rolland and a handful of others, we ran the globe-hopping Bootleg Film Festival, taking it to London, Swansea, Toronto, Edinburgh, and finally New York City.
It was actually on the closing night in NYC that both Tom and Neil essentially held an intervention on me, telling me it was time to get out and make a feature. You see, after beginning my career with a bunch of very successful shorts, I had spent too long sitting on the fence, waiting for that magic ratio of finances and permission to make my debut feature. It was showing on me of course. Here we were, screening features that others had made, and there I was, angst-ridden, disillusioned and more than a little bitter. In truth, I wasn’t much fun to be around.
Tom suggested I return to New York soon, and that we’d just get down to shooting a movie in that no-budget, no-holds-barred way.
And so, on the ride back to Toronto, my sister and I chewed over some simple story ideas. Then, before I knew it, I was back in New York, camera in hand, a screenplay Tom had pieced together and actors at the ready.
Fast forward a month (and a few bucks later), I had exactly the film I wanted to make; challenging, ambitious, but most importantly, true to the uniqueness of the city that never sleeps. I felt that I had really drilled down in authenticity, peeling open a place and just what it can do to people that decide to make it their home.
2Q: Cinequest Film Festival is hosting the US Premiere of Elsewhere, NY. Explain to us how it feels to bring this film before US audiences for the first time, and what do you think their reaction will be to your film?
The film actually debuted last December at the prestigious Whistler Film Festival, Canada, so I was fortunate enough to see it with an audience there. But having its US Premiere at Cinequest is truly fantastic, and I’m a huge fan of the festival, so it’s truly an honor getting to share it with everyone here first.
Of course, when you factor in that Elsewhere, NY is a DIY feature, shot on the sly with a cast of four and a crew of two, it’s exciting to see what people will make of it. The film is certainly aggressive, stylized, and features characters who can be selfish and impulsive. But I think that’s what makes it a compelling (and hopefully refreshing) story to tell.
I was delighted by the audience response at Whistler, and, in many instances, they felt compelled to stop us in cafes and out on the street after to talk about the movie and its themes.
Personally, I’m always curious which of the characters people identify with, and at Cinequest, I hope I’ll be getting to enjoy many more of those conversations.
3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making Elsewhere, NY?
Making a no budget feature in a month, with no prep, that’s hard. To do it in New York, a city where even the subway makes no sense half that time, yeah, it’s a challenge for sure. But the truth is that despite all the backaches from couch-hopping, stomach aches from too much dollar pizza, plus all the usual struggles of making a feature film, shooting Elsewhere, NY has been the greatest, and most rewarding adventure of my life. It was pure magic. I had an absolutely terrific cast that came together far quicker than anyone expected, a great script, and, of course, the chaos that is New York City to steer my ship by. It was insane, but I got it, and even learned to love it. It was my kind of crazy.
Still, like any debut feature, there was a definite learning curve. The challenge was always to get the best possible sound, within reason. Of course, New York is one noisy place, and so we made the choice early to just embrace it’s authenticity. As a filmmaker, there’s always a desire to control your environment, but when you’re in one of the most populated cities on the planet, you simply have to surrender to what New York is.
4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?
I hope that audiences see themselves – warts and all – in these characters. That they reflect the people we are, the people we’ve been, and also the people we want to be.
Personally, I’m very proud of this movie. I think it’s bold, authentic, and exciting. We have created something that transcends it’s humble production and (so it seems) speaks to people. It’s certainly put me back on track as a filmmaker, and its continued successes as we share it with the world reaffirm why we do this in the first place.
And on a really raw level, I want this film to inspire more filmmakers to go and make their films – to also stop worrying about the details, and just go do it.
5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Oscar for Elsewhere, NY. Give us your acceptance speech.
A film, even a micro-budget one, is a team effort, and I had a fantastic team. To my actors, Gillian Leigh Visco, Andrew Ruth, Andrew Leland Rogers, and Fiona Graham, I owe you a singular debt. You trusted me to do something very ambitious with no time and no money. We succeeded not because of me, but because of each of you, and that sacred trust.
To my composers, Jason Thomson and Simon Poole, and all the bands that graciously allowed us to use your music, you rolled with a workflow from hell, countless changes after the fact, and so much more noise, if you’ll pardon the pun. Sasha Abramov, thanks again for doing what you do so well – delivering amazing graphics and VFX quicker than it takes me to type out my thanks!
(The orchestra probably starts up here to play me out, so my volume raises in tandem…)
To Elma Bello, who became much more than a Sound Designer. You became a trusted lieutenant. Your belief in the film held the whole ship together more than a few times, and your tireless devotion to making it great is beyond appreciated.
To Allon Schemool, Nicole DeWalt, and “Fireman” Sam, who opened their doors, and their lives, to an old friend from Toronto with no other place to go, without you, there would be no film to speak of. I am forever in your debt.
(Music at deafening volume now. TV broadcast cuts to people more famous than I. They look bored.)
To Tom Wilton, who showed me a kindness and willingness to service my dreams that I will cherish forever. And of course, to my family, who put up with this insane career choice of mine! After years of sitting on a fence, I’ve gone and climbed the mountain top, and it feels damn good standing at the summit looking down. Onward and upward!