“Jersey Boys” may have played its final Broadway performance in January — but for these Jersey boys, their stars are just beginning to rise.
Wally Marzano-Lesnevich and Michael Sorvino — the 30-something filmmakers behind the comedy-drama “Almost Paris” — screened their film among more than 215 others from 24 different countries at the 15th annual Garden State Film Festival in Atlantic City this past weekend.
“We love being back in our home state, and the people who run the festival are simply the best,” Marzano-Lesnevich, writer, actor and producer of “Almost Paris,” said.
However, while much of the story surrounding “Almost Paris” was inspired by Marzano-Lesnevich’s adolescence in Tenafly, the filmmakers were unable to film there.
“Thanks in large part to the tax incentives offered by New York state and the welcoming, supportive community, we filmed in the town of Oyster Bay, New York,” Marzano-Lesnevich said.
It’s a factor both Marzano-Lesnevich and Sorvino, actor and producer of “Almost Paris,” want to change moving forward.
But first, a look back.
Marzano-Lesnevich and Sorvino’s friendship began more than 20 years ago in Tenafly, where they attended high school together before becoming college roommates studying acting at the Mason Gross School of the Arts at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.
Upon graduation, the pair sought acting and film careers in both New York and Los Angeles before returning home to New Jersey.
“This project all started a few years ago when I drove cross-country from Los Angeles in search of a change of scenery and the chance to clear my head,” Sorvino said.
Unsure which project he was going to pursue next, Marzano-Lesnevich shared with Sorvino a script that he had been writing for more than two years about a former banker who moves back in with his parents after losing his job amid the financial collapse of 2008.
“I thought it was the best thing I had read in more than 15 years,” Sorvino said. “Plus, to be able to work with good friends on something that is such a personal and vulnerable experience, I mean, how cool is that?”
Sorvino said both he and Marzano-Lesnevich went to high school with people who went into finance prior to the major recession.
“They weren’t bad people; rather, they were part of a large group of decent people who made bad decisions,” Marzano-Lesnevich said. “Fundamentally, ‘Almost Paris’ was created on the thought of empathizing with the people involved rather than judging them.”
In the film, Marzano-Lesnevich’s character, Max, returns home to see how his actions working for a bank leading up to the financial crisis had real-world implications for his family and friends living in the small town from which he came from, including Sorvino’s character, Mikey-Mike, a former baseball player who barely made it to the pros.
“It is a story of resilience and redemption,” Marzano-Lesnevich said of the film.
That factor alone interested director Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, daughter of Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, who came aboard the project at Sorvino’s request.
“Michael had worked with Domenica before on a short film,” Marzano-Lesnevich said. “She had never before directed a feature, but she was intrigued by the script.”
Between Sorvino, son of Paul Sorvino (who worked with Scorsese on “Goodfellas”) and brother of Oscar winner Mira Sorvino, and Cameron-Scorsese, “Almost Paris” is an incredible representation of the next generation of Hollywood.
With the help of executive producers Cynthia and Tom Rosicki, co-producers Garry Pastore and Lisa G. Black, Emmy award-winning casting director Judy Henderson and a crew of more than 30, “Almost Paris” — a SAG-indie film made for less than $1 million — premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last year.
“It was our No. 1 goal to premiere at Tribeca, one of the Top 10 film festivals in the country,” Marzano-Lesnevich said. “It is a little shocking still that it actually happened.”
Since then, “Almost Paris” also was named the Best Directorial Debut at the Big River Film Festival in Savannah, Georgia, and earned the Audience Choice Award at this year’s Beaufort International Film Festival in Beaufort, South Carolina.
The film will next be screened April 27 at the Hill Country Film Festival in Fredericksburg, Texas. It will be seeking a distribution deal shortly afterwards.
“Being able to go on this journey with a friend whom I’ve known for more than twenty years is incredibly rewarding,” Marzano-Lesnevich said.
He and Sorvino can also be seen together in “The Depths,” an independent film shot in New Jersey that is set to premiere at the Manhattan Film Festival this month.
“We’d like to work with other Jersey filmmakers going forward,” Sorvino said.
Sorvino is currently developing a film about the opioid epidemic in New Jersey, while Marzano-Lesnevich is working on several future scripts, including a romantic comedy written with his fiancé and published poet Lindsay Adkins.
Marzano-Lesnevich said he would very much like to speak with the next governor of New Jersey about just how lucrative filmmaking in this state could be.
“If New Jersey wants to get in the game, so to speak, of courting film production, the next governor is going to have to review the state’s policies toward tax incentives,” he said. “Even if it’s only a few thousand dollars or so, that is a tremendous deal when making an independent film.”
For more information on “Almost Paris,” click here.