This is my neighborhood
Schechter’s slice of urban life stays close to home
BY SCOTT STIFFLER
Decades after “Taxi Driver” and “Annie Hall” left indelible marks on the silver screen, audiences continue to eagerly consume and digest their iconic visions of NYC.
The result? Many who’ve never been to the island (and don’t plan to visit) will forever regard it as a land of foreboding urban decay or whimsical neurosis — or, worse yet, the place where Carrie Bradshaw clones shop, sleep around, sip cocktails and dish, dish, dish.
Filmmaker Daniel Schechter — whose “Supporting Characters” takes place in modern day Manhattan — set out to create a film that would give audiences a more realistic, and equally enduring, vision of Gotham.
It’s a daunting task to change the popular notions so firmly established by Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen. Even Queens-born Schechter finds it difficult to escape their gravitational pull.
When I see New York films,” he notes, “I see a very wealthy, polished ‘Sex and the City’ New York or gritty ’70s urban dramas.” But, the Manhattan resident maintains, “I live a very ordinary, almost middle class life in New York City. These guys,” says Schechter of the two main characters, “don’t make a fortune. They barely get by. They don’t go to the hottest clubs or the trendiest restaurants. There’s none of that in the film.”
What “Supporting Characters” does have to offer is a casual, practically mundane rendering of life’s everyday epic struggles — set against a million dollar backdrop that the filmmaker found right outside his doorstep. “My first goal,” he says, “was making a high production value-looking film for practically no money. Shooting in New York affords you skylines and views you couldn’t do in a rural area. We made the movie for fifty thousand dollars in twelve days…and I don’t think there’s been a [New York] film that looks as good as this.”
From park bench conversations to restaurant brainstorming sessions to a striking shot of two friends standing in the middle of a street framed by tall apartment buildings (as a yellow cab whizzes past and clouds hang low in the sky), the film’s title could be as much a reference to the city itself as the characters who find themselves at personal and professional crossroads.
Film editing duo Nick (Alex Karpovsky) and Darryl (Tarik Lowe) are thinly veiled versions of real life friends — and “Supporting Characters” screenwriters — Lowe and Schechter. Their bromance is tested when Nick is offered a gig sans his longtime partner — while, unbeknownst to him, Darryl is planting seeds of dissent with the director of their current project. As that project’s flirtatious starlet injects some temptation into Nick’s stable relationship with his girlfriend, Darryl falls for a pop star who may have a hidden agenda of her own.
Life’s never-ending editing process soon makes the splicing being applied to the film-within-a-film pale in comparison — as all the characters contemplate the costs and benefits to changes to their own narrative.
Schechter’s decision to favor wry realism over the punchlines and pratfalls usually associated with such comedies of error pays off — as does the casual, understated way he portrays the city. “Whenever I make a film,” Schechter asserts, “I want to ground it as much in reality as possible so my audience can see what it would be like to live in New York City. It’s a really personal story. I wanted to reflect my life, my friendships and my career…so we shot in the actual locations where these [real life] events took place.”
By the time the script was done, Schechter’s own personal trials and tribulations weren’t the only things that served as fodder for what would end up on the screen. “It seemed like every location was written for some place I go, or work at or live,” he recalls. His own apartment ( and those of friends) served as the main characters’ Brooklyn and Union Square domiciles. Shooting a scene at the restaurant he frequents for soup dumplings (China Fun, on the Upper West Side) was an easy sell, Schechter recalls. “One day, I was sitting there thinking, why not ask them if we could shoot a scene there.” Soon after, the scene was in the can — and Schechter found his real and cinematic life blurring. While that may be enough to freak some people out or push them over the edge (see another Tribeca Film Fest entry, “Francophrenia,” for an extreme example), Schechter notes, “I thought it would be more surreal to see a doppelganger of myself [and my life] than it turned out to be.” After awhile, he says, the shoot for “Supporting Characters,” became like that of every other movie.
The filmmaker’s casual disregard for synchronicity will be put to the test when he begins his next project this summer. He’s been tapped to write and direct “Switch.” Based on the Elmore Leonard novel, it’s a prequel to “Jackie Brown” that stars another veteran of Manhattan friendships — Jennifer Aniston.
Runtime: 87 Minutes
Directed by Daniel Schechter
Screenplay by Tarik Lowe & Daniel Schechter
Fri. 4/20, 10pm & Fri. 4/27, 10pm at AMC Loews Village. Sun. 4/22, 6pm at Clearview Cinemas Chelsea.