Questions For. . . Brett Portanova and Eric Poydar
Filmmakers Brett Portanova and Eric Poydar were two production assistants when they met on the set of State and Main. After they were recruited to play football games by Alec Baldwin, the two Massachusetts natives became friends. They then moved back home and started writing scripts together.
Their latest film, Larry (the Actor) will premiere at the Independent Film Festival Boston. The short film, which stars the late Lionel Mark Smith as a black actor who’s run out of patience with Los Angeles.
We talked to the filmmakers about the boom of moviemaking in the Bay State, why two white guys decided to write about a black actor, and why their movie isn’t like a Star Wars prequel.
BD: Are you guys excited about all the movie-making that’s going on around Boston now?
Brett Portanova: Part of our mission statement as a company [Bootleg Productions] was to increase the production in Boston and stick around for the long haul. We’ll use L.A., but shoot here as much as possible.
Eric Poydar: It’s nice to see that big productions are coming through town now. It’s nice to see the shop down in Weymouth might happen. But there’s still a need for guys to stick around. This is where our stories are, for the most part.
BD: Is that why you wrote Larry (the Actor) in Boston?
EP: It started as a feature-length project, and it was half based in Boston and half based in Los Angeles.
BP: We shot for about three weeks in Boston, and only a week in LA.
EP: So as we went and closed, we saw that this was worthy of its own movie.
BD: That’s the film you mentioned on your website as the surreal follow-up to Larry (the Actor)?
BP: Larry (the Actor) was the stuff with Lonnie out in Englewood. The two parts sort of speak to each other. That was our initial hope with the feature, but as we looked at them, we liked them so much separately that we decided to move into the 30-minute area.
EP: Film festivals are so big on saying that short films should be really short and features should be x length. We said we’re doing a character study, and it has to live and breathe as long as it needs to live and breathe. We can’t do it in a YouTube clip. We have enough stuff where we could have done a 60-minute film, but to keep it based on this one man show we felt it was best to use this 35-minute structure.
BD: So this won’t be like the Star Wars prequel? There won’t be any Jar-Jar Binks running around?
EP: No, no. But there is a pair of white pooches running around. They’re really the supporting cast.
BD: Can you give us a rundown of what the film’s about?
EP: It’s the struggle of a black actor at the end of his rope. It’s Tuesday, he’s gone to his last audition, and he’s decided that if he doesn’t get the part by Friday, he’s moving back to the South Side of Chicago. It’s about the crossroads we all come to at some point in our lives, and you’ve got to make a decision.
BP: The idea that it’s not necessarily about him being an actor. It’s more an example of what we all feel. Certainly when you look back in later life, you think back to all the decisions you made along the way. We’re looking in on this guy during the days when it’s all comes to a head.
BD: Why did you, two white guys from Massachusetts, decide to write about a struggling black actor?
EP: We met Lonnie on the set of State and Main. Actors will often say throwaway things like, ‘Yeah, if you ever have anything, give me a call.’ The dirty little secret is that there are a lot of fantastic actors out there who aren’t working, and Lonnie is one of those overlooked screen presences. So we sent him the script and he said, ‘Yeah, I love it.’
We sat down to break bread with him, and we found we had all these similar views on life. We loved all the same sports—football, basketball, we’d talk smack.
BP: He was a White Sox fan.
EP: And that was the year they won it all, so we heard a lot of smack.
BP: It touches on some of the thing about being a black actor in Hollywood, but again it’s not really just about that. He could be black, he could be white, he could be anybody. We did put a few hot-button issues in there about what it’s like. They call in 30 guys for the one part for a black man to play, and he’s always competing against the same guys.
But that’s just because that was specific to this guy. Larry could be any of us. That’s what we’re focusing in on in this moment in time. For his story, we’d have to talk about what it’s like to be a black actor, but the general philosophy of it all is all-encompassing. Hopefully.
BD: Was this the last film Lonnie did before he died?
EP: He did one other film, Stuck, which is also playing Boston. It’s playing in the same theater a few hours after Larry (the Actor). Apparently, he was really amazing in that film too. He’d come to a place where he was really going to let it all hang out. He was already a fantastic actor, and he took it to a higher level in his later work.
BD: How did you get involved with the festival?
EP: [IFFBoston Program director] Adam Roffman was great. He saw the duel version of the film last year and saw the same thing we were seeing, and suggested we focus on one performance we may have something.
BP: He felt each one was taking away from the other a little bit, which is something we had been feeling ourselves.
EP: Ultimately, it was what was best for the project. So when we came back to Adam a year later he was super-supportive and said yes. If you know anything about the festival circuit, you know that just getting a return phone call is one thing, getting the director of the festival to say this that or the other feels really good.
Larry (the Actor) screens at the Somerville Theater on Friday at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday at 5:00 p.m.