Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following article, The Making of the Networker, by award-winning filmmaker JOHN ANDREW GALLAGHER
John Andrew Gallagher is an award-winning director, writer, producer, teacher, and author who has made substantial contributions to the entertainment industry. Two years ago, John was one of Pillow Talking’s first interviewees and helped launch the blog and gain exposure to the millions of readers we have had since that time. Since then, John has become a regular Guest Blogger to Pillow Talking. In his most recent article, John discusses the making of his independent film, THE NETWORKER, which is about to be released by the media distribution company, The Orchard, owned by Sony Music.
The Making of The “Networker”
by John Andrew Gallagher
NYPD cop-turned-stripper-turned-celebrity bodyguard-turned-actor-turned-producer Steve Stanulis is one of my best friends and has been for 20 years. I cast him in his first starring role in my award-winning improv feature Cupidity, as well as in the shorts The Introduction, Black Sunday, and I Love You, and the features Mother’s Day Massacre, Sam, and American Fango. In November 2013, I joined him to celebrate the one-year anniversary of his company Stanulis Productions at the DL in downtown Manhattan.
He introduced me to three guys – Victor Ribaudo, Rich Buyer, and Bill Brady – and to a terrific screenplay called Seven Fishes, a comedy-drama in an Italian-American neighborhood in Brooklyn (my heritage on my mom’s side). Set on Christmas Eve when friends and family gather and partake in seven different kinds of fish, an age-old Italian tradition. We all got along like gangbusters and looked forward to continuing the conversation.
One week later I came home from a day of auditions for the long-in-gestation feature comedy Sam, which I had written with Nicholas Brooks. It was Nick’s feature directing debut; I brought on my friend Sibyl Santiago to produce with Nick and me, and with Nick’s dad, Mel Brooks, as executive producer. That night, November 30, 2013, I fell asleep on my couch only to awaken six weeks later from a coma in a hospital burn unit. I almost died in an apartment fire: I endured three surgeries, kidney failure, and massive smoke inhalation. The fire truck had been involved in an accident on the way to rescue me, and had to call another firehouse, delaying my rescue by nearly thirty minutes. The doctors gave me a 10% chance of survival, and predicted a life on an oxygen tank.
Six weeks in a coma, six months in the hospital, and I had lost the ability to walk. I was a professional filmmaker for 35 years, with 20 features and 20 shorts to my credit, and now it looked like I might never be able to work again in my chosen profession. My buddy Steve Stanulis came to my rescue. While I was still in the hospital he asked me to direct another Ribaudo/Buyer/Brady story, scripted by Victor, a comedy-drama with a lot of heart called The Networker. Vic and Rich had researched and participated in various business networking events in New York and crafted the story of John Mangano, to be played by Steve, a middle-aged party animal who’s never grown up. He works for the family business with his hard-nosed father and tight-ass brother. My cry of “Yes!” resounded down the hospital hallway.
From a filmmaking standpoint, The Networker represented quite a challenge for me. In all my years of filmmaking. I’d cast and crewed every single movie I’d ever made. For this movie, Steve had already cast William Forsythe (Once Upon a Time in America), Sean Young (Blade Runner), Stephen Baldwin (The Usual Suspects), Jeremy Luke (Jersey Boys), Natalie Knepp (the star of Sam), Al Sapienza (House of Cards), Artie Pasquale (The Sopranos), Alysia Reiner (Orange is the New Black’s “Fig”), Lisa Hammer (The Sisters Plotz), and John Bianco (The Sopranos).
Casting director Donna McKenna brought Sean on board; Sean and I had been trying to work together for years; she had seen my film Blue Moon with Ben Gazzara, Rita Moreno, and a young actor named Zach Braff at the Sedona Film Festival in 2000 and after the screening stood up and yelled, “John Gallagher you’re a genius! We must work together!” Donna also brought on Bollywood star Shenaz Treasury (currently on screens in The Big Sick) and outstanding Asian–American actors Shing Ka (an acquaintance from the 2012 Soho International Film Festival), Phil Nee, Fenton Li, and hilarious Yan Xi, while Steve also hired a number of actors he had met through me (Phil Moon, Deborah Twiss, Brian Kelly, Victor Colicchio), along with talented Kim Parshley, Danny O’Shea, John Thomassen, Toni Vitale, David Calderazzo, Michael McFadden, Daniel Cambria, Liz DeGennaro, Danny Doherty, and Danielle Harper.
I added some of my favorites, Samantha Scaffidi, Lo Freidenstine, Maggie Wagner, and for some improv scenes, Kelsey O’Brien and Sarah Seeds. Vic Ribaudo cast Donna Ross as a promiscuous networker, and casting associate John Thomas delivered Renoly Santiago (Con Air), so casting on The Networker was truly a group effort spearheaded by Steve. All in all, it was quite an impressive cast for a super low-budget indie, and proof once again that New York City boasts some of the best actors on the planet.
Angie Bullaro, like Samantha, Sarah, Natalie, and Lo, was a former student of mine. She was originally set to be my personal assistant, a great opportunity for her to get some first-hand filmmaking experience before branching into her own feature effort, a biopic on NHL hockey great Manon Rhéaume. While I was in the hospital, she and her husband Mike Musco would visit, and pick my brain about indie filmmaking. When Angie and Mike brought some additional financing to The Networker, they became producer and exec producer, respectively, along with their friend, exec producer Michael Wenger. Angie also acted in the movie as a blissed-out networking administrator; in fact, my favorite shot in the film is when she pops into frame from screen right, welcoming Steve to his first networking event. It was a difficult shot to get, tough to maintain focus, but our cinematographer, Nick Wise, pulled it off with just a few takes. Kelsey O’Brien and Kimmy Foskett took turns replacing Angie as my personal assistant, feeding and watering me.
The Networker’s ultra-low budget only afforded us fifteen days to shoot the entire feature-length movie, not a cent for overtime, and required a different location every day, shooting in all of New York’s five boroughs. We were blessed to have a wonderful location for the Mangano family scenes at the Ribaudo residence in Dyker Heights, where Victor’s mom, Mae, dad, Philip, and sister, Santa, offered us beautiful hospitality as we took over their lovely home. Other locations were also donated by the producers’ friends – Steve’s pal Joey Guli gave us his sprawling South Shore Bar and Grill in Tottenville Staten Island; Rich Buyer offered his Upper East Side apartment; Sibyl provided Percy’s Bar on the Lower East Side; and Angie and Mike called in favors for friends’ apartments in Astoria and The Bronx. We also shot in Manhattan’s Tompkins Square Park, Brooklyn’s Sunset Park, and one of the world’s most over-used but still picturesque locations, the Brooklyn Heights Promenade.
The short schedule meant using every trick I’d learned in four decades of making movies – cutting in the camera, minimal takes, but making sure I got enough coverage. Adding to the challenge was the fact that I did not have my usual prep. Of course I had carefully prepared my crucial shot list, but it became clear on set that some scenes were simply not necessary and would end up on the cutting floor, a luxury we just didn’t have. I explained to writer/producer Vic Ribaudo that certain scenes simply had the characters discussing something we had already shown in the previous scene, and fortunately Vic, a reasonable gentleman, was in complete agreement. Consequently he and I cut 20 script pages on set.
A film director must be devoted to detail – Robert De Niro has said many times, “It’s all in the details.” That means making sure you get all the shots you need to edit a scene, make sure actors match action, make sure an actor speaks without slurring lines, make sure an actor is giving a naturalistic performance and not “acting.” I felt it was imperative to keep the picture moving quickly, slowing down only for poignant scenes between Forsythe and Steve, and Deb Twiss and Lo Freidenstine. And of course there are the things you can’t prepare for in advance — on several occasions Steve would introduce me to an actor and tell me to come up with an improv bit for them. Fortunately I’ve been teaching film improvisation for 20 years at Shetler Studios (where Steve had been my student) and One on One NYC, and all the last-minute actors did a great job.
We only had a 20-person crew, and the real stars were Director of Photography Nick Wise and Production Designer Frank Nicolella, workhorses who made it possible to make the insane schedule. It helped that I had worked with my Assistant Director Sibyl before (and had introduced her to filmmakers Gabriele Altobelli, Nick Brooks, and Sylvia Caminer, with whom she’s subsequently done multiple projects, and helped put her Soho International Film Festival on the map; she’s another good friend who helped me when I was in the hospital). Despite the small crew, we were blessed to have six producers on set – Steve, Vic Ribaudo, Rich Buyer, Bill Brady, Angie Bullaro, and Mike Musco – handling myriad production details. Steve certainly had his hands full starring and producing, and he had some added stress – his wife Lisa was expecting a baby any day! Incredibly the same thing happened on Steve’s previous effort, Long Shot Louie, only this time Lisa and Steve were having twins!
In between takes, Steve would race to his phone and check for the latest news, including handling a few false alarms. Finally word came, the babies were on the way. Steve raced home to Staten Island from the Brooklyn location, leaving his shirt for producer Bill Brady to don and stand-in for an over-the-shoulder of Steve’s character. With three days left on the 15-day shoot, it was decided that we should take a 10-day hiatus so Steve could spend time with his family before wrapping up.
Along with Ben Gazzara and Rita Moreno (Blue Moon), Stacy Keach (The Aristofrogs), John Leguizamo (Street Hunter) and Frank Vincent (six features and a play), William Forsythe proved to be one of the greatest actors I’ve ever had the privilege of directing. He got cranky once, but I couldn’t blame him, so was I – one of his locations was a working office with a busy (and loud) elevator. Ah, the joys of indie filmmaking! I was super impressed by Sean Young, who came to set sporting an impeccable Italian-American New York accent and a fully self-developed character; she is truly an underrated and fantastic actor. In his single scene as a speed networker, with flawless comedic timing, Stephen Baldwin, playing opposite the stoically beautiful Renee Wood, channeled brother Alec, delivering in my opinion, his best work in some time. My old pal Phil Moon was a joy playing the difficult role of a Hebrew-speaking Asian-American, and I’m always proud of Samantha Scaffidi’s work (we’ve done seven projects together since she took my acting class five years ago). It was also wonderful to get to work with Natalie Knepp, another former student; while she starred in the title role in Sam, I had been in a coma during the entire shoot after having worked on the project for five years. Big things are already happening for both Samantha and Natalie.
Joey D’Onofrio, Brian Kelly, Vic Colicchio, Kelsey O’Brien, and Maggie Wagner are part of my “stock” company – I’ve forgotten how many movies we’ve done together, and after enduring my near-tragedy, it was great to have them on set as I warmed up the director’s chair once again. Knowing that my brother-from-another-mother, Steve Stanulis, labored under the pressures of producing, starring, and expecting twins while carrying the movie on his shoulders, I paid special attention to his performance, and have been told by many that it is his best work to date. I’ll take the compliment!
We were blessed to have the brilliantly talented young editor Alexander Yew with us, who went above and beyond the call of duty in post. Alex is my current editor of choice; we’ve worked on five films together, and he’s also cut movies and trailers I’ve recommended him for. I learned long ago you can save a month of post by having the editor start cutting on day two of the shoot; Alex and I have done enough work by now that we’ve developed a beautiful director/editor telepathy, the same kind of anticipatory creative understanding you get when you work repeatedly with the same actors. Like all my directing heroes (Ford, Wellman, Scorsese, and Tarantino), I’ve found great advantages to working with the same cast and crew, most importantly that you won’t get any unwelcome surprises on set! Our composer, Ernie Mannix, also comes in for praise for his jaunty and evocative score; Ernie’s scored almost everything I’ve done since 1994, and we too enjoy that same kind of rare creative ESP.
The Networker is a sweet, good-natured, feel-good movie, not exactly the dark, edgy, gritty fare favored by most film festivals. Consequently we only played three film fests – Soho (thank you Sibyl Santiago), Hoboken (thanks Ken Del Vecchio), and Jersey City’s Golden Door (thanks Bill and Michele Sorvino). All screenings were well-received, with two sold-out shows at Soho, but a major problem arose when we started to seek distribution.
With only 15 shooting days, the final cut – the best possible cut in my estimation – ran only 71 minutes, ten minutes short of the generally accepted 80-minute running time for distribution. There was nothing we could put back into the film without hurting the movie, we had no money to shoot additional scenes, so what to do? The solution came to me one sleepless night at 3 a. m. – in the end credits, intersperse ten minutes of bloopers and outtakes! Alex got to work, and behold, The Networker was now an 82-minute movie with audience-pleasing end credits – I mean, who doesn’t love bloopers, and we have some good ones!
The next hurdle for any indie – the reviews. The first critical responses couldn’t have been better if my mother wrote them. Jessica Mazo (Martini Productions) called it “a likeable and engaging film. Perfectly cast and directed.” Comedy guru Jeffrey Gurian (Comedy Matters) said The Networker is “a well-crafted, well-cast film with outstanding direction by John A. Gallagher, and great work by stars Steve Stanulis, William Forsythe, Sean Young, Philip Moon and Deborah Twiss.” For Cindy Mich, it is “delightful drama and clever comedy with a dash of romantic role play…evidence of Gallagher’s propensity to pull passion straight from the souls of all his actors…Stanulis brings to his role an equal amount of sex appeal and sass…(The Networker) will leave a smile on your soul.” (Cin’s Chat Corner/BlogTalkRadio)
In this very blog, Wayne Keeley honored me by writing “John Gallagher is like a master chess player when it comes to directing, navigating his actors through the scenes with strategy and purpose…The charismatic Stanulis gave John Mangano’s character both strength and warmth. William Forsythe can read a phone book and make it sound dramatic…The screenplay by Victor Ribaudo captures the quintessence of an Italian-American family.” (http://somedayprods.com/talking/review-of-the-networker/)
We made the movie, we cut the movie, we screened at some festivals, we got our first reviews. Our goal was to make a dramedy with heart, a movie about family, career, and second chances; now comes the real test. On September 12, 2017 The Orchard (a Sony company) launches The Networker on all platforms. If this article has piqued your interest, please check it out and see what you think – you’ll be entertained while supporting indie film! www.thenetworkermovie.com
More about John:
John Andrew Gallagher’s directing credits include the features The Deli, Blue Moon, Men Lie, Street Hunter, Cupidity, with producing credits on American Fango, Sam, Enchantments, Mango Tango, The Insurgents, and Animal Room; his next feature as writer/director/producer is the serio-comic Sarah Q. John is the author of Film Directors on Directing and Nothing Sacred: The Cinema of William Wellman (with Frank Thompson).