BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield will be well-represented in the upcoming 16th annual Garden State Film Festival as two township residents have entered the competition and will have their work screened before a wide audience. The two filmmakers — Francesco Nuzzi and Tom Ryan — are both young, ambitious, and still learning their trade, hoping to someday get that big break in a tough and crowded business. The men are not acquainted with one another and they were interviewed separately.
Nuzzi’s main entry in the festival is “4:44 AM,” a suspense/thriller about a little girl who mysteriously wakes up terrified each morning at the same time. Nuzzi was both writer and director of the film.
“My theme was if someone would recognize a monster if they saw it and would they recognize when they became a monster themselves,” he said during a recent interview.
In the movie, a 10-year-old girl wakes up on three successive mornings. Every night, the parents come in. The girl is having night terrors. First the parents worry about the child, but then their own relationship begins to intrude. The ending has a surprise.
“When it’s finally revealed, the audience will think, ‘oh my god,’ what was that?” Nuzzi said. “And they’ll think it’s a fun, creepy, little film.”
Bloomfield enters the supernatural realm again in resident Ryan’s “The Gift. While Nuzzi tried to make the running time of his movie four minutes and 44 seconds — but the credits got in the way — Ryan’s movie is 20 minutes in length. It was shot locally and, from his description, “The Gift” is less about theme and more about plot than “4:44 AM.”
“The story is about a prostitute involved in a manslaughter,” he said recently. “She goes into an antiques store and pours her heart out and the store owner helps her out of her predicament. It’s a ‘Twilight Zone’-type story.”
Both men are basically self-taught and both picked up movie making by observing.
Nuzzi, 35, now co-owner of a small film and TV production company, began his career on the stage.
He acted in college and afterward, worked briefly as a professional at a Shakespeare repertoire company in Budd Lake. He had a small part in an off-Broadway show and then decided to head for Los Angeles to try his luck. He landed a small recurring role in “General Hospital” and occasionally worked as an extra. But more importantly, while on a production set, he watched what the crew was doing to create the show.
“It was like a free film class,” he said.
With that knowledge under his belt, Nuzzi returned to NJ, reconnected with his high school sweetheart and found employment in a video production company.
Ryan, 46, picked up his movie-making basics in college, but really got involved after a friend, who was making a horror movie, asked for his help. This was in 2010. Once on the set, like Nuzzi, he saw what was being done and thought he could do it, too.
So he decided to try and get into filmmaking like he had wanted to do when he was in college.
And like Nuzzi, Ryan is a performer. But in music. With several college buddies, they began a heavy metal band called “Vlad the Inhaler” which continues to play at events and makes Internet recordings.
In 2012, Ryan made a 30-minute movie titled “Day 9.”
“‘Day 9’ was filmed on Birch Street,” Ryan said. “It’s about the zombie apocalypse. It got some attention.”
He sold it to a company that shows it on Halloween.
“I basically sold my first movie,” he said.
But in the movie, his band also provided a song which Ryan wrote: “No Way Out.”
“The band promoted the film and the film promoted the band,” he said. “Our music is very good for horror movies. Some have been used in horror movies. My band mates have been in my movies, but not as musicians.”
Nuzzi got into filmmaking through his acting.
He returned to the Budd Lake repertoire and played Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet.”
This got him thinking about making a feature-length movie, an updated version of the play. With some friends, they did it. It was titled, “Star-Crossed Lovers.” Pressed for funding to make the movie, Nuzzi said, importantly, that someone was able to borrow the camera to shoot the film.
“We shot 60 hours of footage,” he said. “A lot of long takes. It was an experience.”
Although Nuzzi directs, edits and produces movie projects for his production company, Open Iris Entertainment, a friend directed “Star-Crossed Lovers.”
“It’s nearly impossible to act and direct in a film,” Nuzzi said. “On stage, if it feels right, it is right. But in a film, it depends on how the person looks.”
That movie won two festival awards. The upcoming Garden State Film Festival will have, in addition to “4:44 AM,” two other films produced by Open Iris Entertainment, which also produces industrial and training movies for clients, including UPS.
The other two films Open Iris Productions has in the festival are “Therapy Bro,” 20 minutes running time, and “Flare,” 14 minutes running time. Cast in “Therapy Bro” is Garry Pastore, who has been cast in a Martin Scorsese film, “The Irishman.”
Nuzzi’s production company has four principals. Freelancers are hired for assistant director, sound and makeup. They are part of the family, Nuzzi said, and he calls them back for work. Being a small outfit producing its own festival-calibre movies while courting paying clients, he said two considerations must be balanced: What can we do? What will give us a return?
“We have a good relationship with the Garden State Film Festival,” he said. “There is no tax credit for film production in New Jersey. There is in New York. The festival supports the fact that Iris is trying to establish itself.”
Ryan, who works as a salesman for a trucking company, has three friends who help him with his productions and he hires cast and crew members. He and his friends are currently producing an anthology of four films.
“‘The Gift’ is the first,” he said. “They will all have a ‘Twilight Zone’ feel.”
All four have been written by Ryan. “The Bookworm” was filmed at the Glen Ridge Public Library and Oakeside Cultural Center. The third film, “Abducted,” has also been made. The fourth, “Endangered,” has not yet been made. Funding the movies has come from an Internet contribution website and his own pocket. But Internet contributions provided $5,600.
“I want to make a feature-length anthology with a different kind of feel,” Ryan said. “I’m trying to put something together that will showcase our talent. I just want to get the right eyes on our work. Maybe we can get funding to put something out on the Sci-fi Channel or Netflix.”
For Nuzzi, while working to make Open Iris Productions a full-fledged film and TV company is his ultimate goal, getting there is good, too, because he gets to spend time around a group of people who love to tell stories.
“Entertainment is great,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the thing that wakes people up. Most stories come from a place where people have had experience. That’s one thing you can’t teach — experience.”
For Ryan, the feeling is similar.
“I grew up on the ‘Twilight Zone,’ the ‘Night Gallery’ and films from the late ‘70s — icons of horror,” he said. “I really appreciated the creativity of those films. But as much as I like ‘The Thing,’ I love more watching the making of ‘The Thing.’”
For his anthology, he said the goal is draw the audience into relatable characters and subject matter.
“And then throw them for a loop,” he said.