First time filmmaker learns by watching pro at work on ĎAmistadí
Among the crowds gathered along the streets of Newport last March and April watching Steven Spielberg film "Amistad" was a man with more than a passing interest.
Nick Pasyanos was there studying, looking over shoulders and talking to any members of the film crew he could get near. You could say he was on a school field trip.
At that particular time, the Middletown, RI resident was about to begin filming his own movie, only without the Hollywood stars, budget or professional crew.
"I was just amazed watching "Amistad.í I was a groupie," Pasyanos said. "Almost every day I was down there."
The 46-year-old box salesman made "Boxed man" on the weekends with the help of part-time actors, friends, and more than a year of careful plotting. Pasyanos didnít have the luxury of spending all day to get a single, brief scene the way Spielberg did.
The contrasts were amazing, Pasyanos found.
"Because we were a small production crew, we were really expedient," he said. "There were no discussions. There were days weíd shoot like 12 scenes in one day."
"The story of a frustrated box salesman, "Boxed Man" is based in part on its writerís life experience, but much of it is the product of Pasyanosí active imagination and offbeat sense of humor. The comedy, which traces the salesmanís comedic adventures through labor and love, finished shooting in December.
Now editing and finding a composer, Pasyanos also is searching for a buyer to put it on the big screen.
He had hoped to debut "Boxed Man" at the inaugural Newport Film Festival, being planned for June. Having lived in the area since he was 15, Pasyanos loved the idea of showing his film here.
"Unfortunately, I donít have the money to do a print," he said. "I just got a quote from my lab and Iím looking at about $80,000."
Ideally, that cost would be picked up by a film distributor who would buy and release "Boxed Man." But that wonít happen before the Newport festival, he said.
"Thereís just no time," Pasyanos said. "Itís a bummer. I had my heart set on making it."
Pasyanos instead is considering a run at the Sundance Film Festival, one of the most prestigious stops on the circuit. Gaining acceptance to Sundance would be no small challenge, but, like every other phase of the project, he wants to try.
"I feel very optimistic. I think weíve got a shot," he said.
Perhaps the best chance for "Boxed Man" lies in the hands of Tom Ohanian of Cranston, RI, an editing whiz who has put together a one-hour and 50-minute first cut. Ohanian is co-inventor of the editing system used to make "Titanic" and the latest James Bond Thriller.
"He says it looks good; it doesnít look like a first-timer," Pasyanos said.
Pasyanos said Ohanian, who has won Academy and Emmy awards for developing the high-tech editing system, adds the kind of credibility that will help get his film noticed.
In the spring of 1996, Pasyanos rented "The Brothers McMullen," the 1995 surprise Sundance hit written and directed on a shoestring by a nobody named Ed Burns. At the same time, he was reading about Richard Rodriguez, another nobody whoíd found his way to Hollywood with 1992ís "El Mariachi" and has since directed "Desperado" and "From Dusk Til Dawn."
Hearing how those outsiders made successful films, Pasyanos was inspired to tell the story himself. "It was a moment of clarity," he recalled. "It was like a flash. I said, "Iím making my movie. Iím not selling this script.í"
The only trouble was, Pasyanos had written the script without ever giving a thought to how it would be made. Had he considered the logistics, Pasyanos said he probably would have written something less complicated, something that didnít involve 43 actors (all with dialog) and 40 different locations.
"I would have tackled something a lot easier...maybe it would have taken place in my living doom Ė the whole movie," he said. "Here I am now with a movie that has restaurants, a movie theater, office buildings ... you name it.
Pasyanos had done work as a wedding and portrait photographer for 25 years, so he knew something about lighting and composition. Now he needed to learn how to capture a movement.
"Over a one-year period I read 42 books, all on film-making," Pasyanos said. "It was a self-paced film school."
By spring he was ready to put it all in motion.
Pasyanos spent about two months tracking down the equipment needed to make a feature-length film.
"Thank God for 800 numbers. I was on the phone every night."
He eventually bought a 16mm camera that was used to film the entire movie.
His next task was to find capable actors. "I needed professionals, or almost professionals."
Pasyanos visited area theater groups and dinner theaters and rented a hall in Pawtucket, RI for screen tests. He ended up auditioning Richard "Ace" Aceto, who took the lead role, on the street.
As with Aceto, Pasyanos made an instant connection with Terri Leander of Providence.
"She was perfect for the female lead, but she had this problem," Pasyanos remembered. She was pregnant.
Then Aceto, a part-time stand-up comic and part-time pharmaceutical sales rep, moved from North Providence to Springfield.
Aceto made it back on weekends, and Pasyanos shot Leaderís scenes before her pregnancy became too obvious, so potential disaster was averted.
Much of the film was made on between September and December in various Rhode Island communities, including Cumberland, Providence, Newport and Middletown.
Between friends and relatives Pasyanos was able to pull together crews to handle the camera and sound equipment. None of the crew members had ever worked on a film before, so Pasyanos had to be teacher as well as director.
The actual shooting went quickly, partly because the crew was small, but also because of the expense.
"My whole philosophy was: Be prepared as hell," Pasyanos said. "Every minute that camera is running itís $35."
Despite the toll "Boxed Man" took on Pasyanos Ė microwaved meals, almost no sleep, never a day off Ė he wants to continue chasing his Hollywood dream.
"Iím just dying to get in another picture," he said.