Tag Archives: boardwalk empire

Jackson Heights filmmaker turns to Kickstarter for new flick

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Photos Courtesy of Alex Webb

Actor Alex Webb has gone behind the camera to write, direct and produce award-winning films. Now, he is turning to Kickstarter to get his new film rolling.

The Jackson Heights resident has worked with actors such Meryl Streep, Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck and has appeared in the Netflix series “House of Cards” and HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.”

Aside from acting, Webb began working on film production with his first picture “The Girl in 2C,” which received a silver medal at WorldFest, an international indie film festival in Houston. His most recent short film “Hove (The Wind)” received the Panavision New Filmmaker Award and was selected for several international film festivals.

“The interesting thing I didn’t realize is that all along I had writing and directing right in my pocket,” Webb said. “I was much happier when those times came to be creative and start creating your own work.”

Webb decided the next step in his production career would be to create a full-length feature and came up with his newest thriller and dark comedy flick called “To The Flame.”

“[I wanted to] try to make a story that is super intriguing, weird and surprising and — on the production end — simple,” Webb said. “Make [a film] that would really lend itself to a micro-budget.”

On May 7, Webb created a 30-day Kickstarter project to help raise $25,000 in funds to make his feature film a reality. The money raised would go toward production equipment and hiring the remaining cast and crew members, as well as helping to keep location and travel needs to a minimum.

“The great thing about Kickstarter is you are raising awareness about your project before even starting it,” Webb said. “You get these people already hooked on the project and you’re getting an audience before it even starts.”

The film, which already has Oscar-winning actress Olympia Dukakis and actor Bob Balaban slotted for cameos, was inspired by the works of directors Alfred Hitchcock and David Lynch. It follows two college students, Kyle and Penny, and their interaction with two neighbors, played by Webb and his wife Shirleyann Kaladjian, for a school assignment. The project then takes the students into the couple’s “dark and twisted world,” Webb said.

Shooting for the film is expected to begin in early July, with some scenes possibly shot in Queens, and a release date is slated for late this year or early 2015.

To watch a teaser for “To The Flame” and donate to the Kickstarter, which ends June 6, click here.



Former firefighter Steve Buscemi lends support to Rockaway first responders

| tcullen@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Terence M. Cullen

He’s played a mass murderer, a homeless man and one of the most powerful mob bosses in the country. But possibly his most famous, and proudest role, was as a real-life FDNY firefighter.

Actor Steve Buscemi visited Breezy Point the day before Thanksgiving to show his support for the city’s largest firefighting community.

The “Boardwalk Empire” star has been working with a firefighter advocacy group to get the needs and resources to firefighters who, despite continuing to save lives, have lost their homes or all their personal belongings.

Breezy Point has long been known to be the largest community of firefighters in the city. While many of them were out battling blazes, or responding to calls, many of their homes were damaged from the storm.

“They go to work; they go to their firehouse, they do a 24 [hour shift], then they come right back out then they’re volunteering,” Buscemi said. “They’re getting burned out. They need as many resources as they can.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo, while visiting first responders for Thanksgiving, also noted that the massive first responder community had continued to work through the devastating storm – while knowing their own homes were either under water or on fire.

It was notable and honorable, Cuomo said, “that people put their own well-being aside, literally, to help others. And that’s what the New York first responders are all about.”

Buscemi said that, although many will get a $30,000 grant from FEMA, many in the area did not have the proper insurance and Friends of Firefighters was leading an effort to give them any extra help.

“They need help and we have to keep shining a light on these areas,” he said. “Because they need as many resources and recovery as they can get.”


Vincent Piazza dishes on going from Queens to the ‘Boardwalk’

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Photo courtesy of HBO

Gangster lore permeates the streets of Queens: the land on which Juniper Valley Park in Queens now stands was seized from alleged World Series-fixer Arnold Rothstein’s estate over back taxes; “Goodfellas” was based on characters and events from Ozone Park; and dozens of gangsters’ graves pepper the city’s cemeteries — including Charles “Lucky” Luciano.

Mere miles separate the final resting place of Luciano at St. John Cemetery and the house where the man who now portrays him on “Boardwalk Empire” — whose season three premieres Sunday — grew up.

Vincent Piazza — born in Middle Village before moving to neighboring Maspeth shortly thereafter, where his family still lives — grew up watching the films of Martin Scorsese, never imagining he would one day be directed by the film giant.

Only what he described as luck and a “series of coincidences” led him to acting and the famed director.

His childhood was a typical Maspeth upbringing: he attended Our Lady of Hope, played 104th Precinct roller hockey, loved Rosa’s Pizza and graduated from Archbishop Molloy High School.

At Molloy, Piazza did not partake in plays or acting, or even harbor thoughts of one day making it a career — he considered himself a hockey player.

Upon graduating, Piazza found himself at Villanova University to pursue the sport, but a recurring shoulder injury forced him to hang up the skates.

Returning to Maspeth, Piazza’s future was still uncertain.

“I was just picking up the pieces of what in my eyes was a broken dream,” he said.

He worked construction with his father and played men’s league hockey. It was there, through happenstance, he met someone who worked in finance and invited him to take a shot on Wall Street.

Wearing his Molloy clothes — khakis, a collared shirt and tie — Piazza headed to the financial district to try his hand.

He became a licensed broker and traveled through Europe and the Middle East.

“It was an eye opening experience,” the 35-year-old said of the globe-trotting. “I really learned a lot about the world outside of Maspeth.”

Still not knowing if this was where he wanted to end up — he loved traveling, but wasn’t happy wasting away in a cubicle — Piazza questioned his future.

One thing he did have a knack for was impersonations and being the office clown — even calling office mates as the boss to fire them.

“Man, you’re wasting your time, you have to be an actor,” he was told.

The death of his mentor and the man who helped him break into the field pushed him in that direction.

“Is it about money, or is it about being happy,” Piazza asked himself. “So I decided to look into acting.”

Standing in line ahead of Piazza as he awaited his head shot was Alice Spivak, a well-known acting coach. When Piazza returned home, a book he was reading surreptitiously mentioned the acting coach’s name, convincing him to call the photographer for her number.

This led to a meeting.

“I sat down, she was like, ‘Look, if you’re interested in trying to be famous, don’t waste my time. If you want to learn a craft, then we’ll talk.’”

Twenty or 30 no- to low-paying jobs later, Piazza took $30 he had in his pocket to perform in front of casting director Nadia Lubbe.

This led to him reading for a role in the independent film “Rocket Science.”

Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky

Photo Courtesy of Macall B. Polay/HBO

He made a tape he called “brave” or possibly “naïve,” that generated a meeting with the film’s director, Jeff Blitz.

“He said, ‘I had to meet you because I wasn’t sure if you were insane or you just took a really big chance [on the tape].’”

The job was his.

Jobs begot jobs and the work ethic formed in Maspeth continued as he broke into Hollywood.

“Too often you see people abusing the privilege of acting or show business,” he said.

Working on indie films — “Stephanie Daley,” “Assassination of a High School President” — Piazza had an itch to create a new character, a classic gangster.

Walking around Chelsea, he happened upon someone selling old books.

Leafing through the collection, he found one titled “On Our Block,” an old, unpublished collection of Christian-infused children’s stories.

“They were very heavy handed. Children should be seen and not heard,” he said.

This inspired him to write one of the stories into a monologue of himself fathering a child and disciplining the child as a gangster.

He put it on film and sent it to his agent who was unsure what to do with it.

The video was filed away.

More than a year later, the breakdown for “Boardwalk Empire” came out.

“[My agent] calls me up and says, “You’re not going to believe this, remember that tape that you gave me? Martin Scorsese’s looking for a young Al Capone, a young Luciano. I’m sending his office your tape.’”

After growing up quoting his films with his friends, Piazza was about to meet Scorsese, who directed the pilot and is the executive director of the popular show.

“So what are we going to do Lucky,” Piazza remembers in a nearly spot-on Scorsese impression of their first encounter.

Stuttering and stammering, the two discussed Scorsese’s take on the role.

Coincidence led to this point; now Piazza was Lucky.

He watched films, read biographies and pored over court documents about the criminal.

“There’s been so many glamorizations of him as this omnipotent, very grand gangster,” Piazza said. “But underneath all the silk is a thug.”

Filming in the city allows Piazza to walk the streets and frequent places Luciano did 80 years prior.

Piazza remembered one scene at John’s Italian Restaurant in the East Village with himself, Joe Masseria, Arnold Rothstein and Meyer Lansky.

“We’re filming a scene of these four historical characters and they once inhabited the exact same space.”

Viewers will be introduced to these characters more than a year after last season’s shocking conclusion (Piazza was only made aware of the ending days before it aired, he said. He too was floored).

“I have to credit the writers, because you would think after the climax of last season there would be a falling off, but this show manages to one up itself.”

Season three of the popular HBO period drama picks up as America is entering 1923, when the 20s began to roar, Piazza said.

“It’s the ‘Year of the Gangster’ on the show,” Piazza teased of the show that will film debut on Sunday, September 16 at 9 p.m. “It’s a bit less political and a lot more street.”

Vincent Piazza, ‘Lucky Luciano’ from ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ celebrates Basil’s grand opening

| brennison@queenscourier.com


Vincent Piazza, who portrays Lucky Luciano on HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire,” joined family and friends to cut the ribbon at Basil’s grand opening in Astoria last night.

The actor, raised in Maspeth, sat down with The Courier to discuss his Queens upbringing and the upcoming season of Boardwalk Empire at the opening of his relative’s new pizzeria.

“It manages to one up last season,” said Piazza, who graduated from Archbishop Molloy. “It’s the ‘Year of the Gangster.’”


NYC’s Filming Boom

| brennison@queenscourier.com

Silvercup sign

Bollywood produces the most movies in the world. Hollywood is known as the planet’s entertainment capital. But there is a sleeping giant in the entertainment industry — New York City.

Being the biggest city in the world, New York was the setting of a multitude of shows, but not their home: Seinfeld, Friends and Everybody Loves Raymond all shot 3,000 miles away from where they were located. Even now How I Met Your Mother, Mad Men and CSI: New York film in California.

But within the last decade, there has been a New York renaissance in production not seen in a century.

The television boom over the past 10 years has seen the number of series filmed here more than triple. Twenty-three series filmed in New York City throughout the 2011-12 television season, including, Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife and Law & Order: SVU.

Besides the shows that film in NYC exclusively, more than 100 television shows and movies have used the beautiful backdrop of New York City over the past year and the city revels in a entertainment production revival.

“With our beautiful city, talented workforce and the assistance offered by our ‘Made in NY’ program, New York City has surpassed all previous records for film and television production,” said Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

New York is now becoming a first choice when deciding where to film, according to insiders, and at the center of the record boom is western Queens’ Silvercup Studios and

Kaufman Astoria Studios and Brooklyn’s Steiner Studios.

Kaufman originally opened in 1920 as Astoria Studios, and quickly became the mecca of the silent film era. Upon America’s entrance into World War II, the studio was taken over by the U.S. Signal Corps. and became known as the Army Pictorial Center where armed forces training films were shot.

The building eventually fell into disuse and disrepair until 1977’s production of The Wiz featuring Michael Jackson. It was fully renovated and revived in 1980 after the sale of the lot to George S. Kaufman. Since its rebirth, some of the biggest stars have passed through the studios doors. Al Pacino, Meryl Streep and Big Bird have called Kaufman Astoria Studio home, while Glengarry Glen Ross, Scent of a Woman and The Cosby Show were filmed there.

Out of a former flour silo rose the next great NYC studio, Silvercup Studios. The Long Island City studio opened in 1983 and quickly established itself as the largest independent, full-service film and television production facility in the Northeast. It has shot such classics as When Harry Met Sally, The Sopranos and City Hall. Currently, the stars of Gossip Girl, 30 Rock and Person of Interest call it home.
The “largest and most sophisticated studio complex outside of Hollywood,” Steiner Studios opened in the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2004. It has played host to Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and Angelina Jolie. The studio’s lot has been used by Sex and the City, American Gangster and Spiderman 3.

The shows may use the studios to shoot much of the show, but filming in the city allows them to use it as a backdrop whenever they see fit. And it’s not just a quick exterior establishing shot of NYC, You no longer have to watch a “New York” show like Seinfeld and see the characters walk down the same fake city street in every episode. Instead, you have Alec Baldwin in Rockefeller Center, or Blake Lively in Central Park, or Zach Galifianakis exploring Manhattan, it gives the show an authenticity that is impossible to reproduce on a set.

Seeing the characters outside a pizzeria that you’ve gone into, brings realism to the show. It’s not Central Perk on Friends, it’s New Roma Pizza on How to Make It in America.
New York isn’t resting on its record breaking laurels, either.

“New York City is a television town, and we’re thrilled that we broke records for television production in 2011,” said Office of Media & Entertainment commissioner Katherine Oliver. “The mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment is committed to working hard to make sure that the industry continues to grow and expand in 2012.”
And it’s not just the sheer number of shows being produced, it’s good television. Last year, city productions earned 110 Emmy nominations, winning 23 awards.
It’s exciting to recognize the locales used during the shows, but even more exciting could be recognizing yourself or one of your friends in the background. In 2011, more than 11,000 extras were hired on the television shows shot in the city.

So, with the productions multiplying exponentially, it may be only a matter of time before you find yourself watching yourself on the screen.