Yalies will soon have a chance to be cast as extras in a film to be filmed in the Elm City.
Stephen Dest, owner of UpCrown Studios, a film production studio, is shooting a new film, “My Brother Jack” in New Haven.
In October, Dest opened, UpCrown Studios, a film and production studio that is part of the UpCrown Entertainment Group on the second floor of 216 Crown Street. He said he hopes the studio will become a resource for artists in the local community, including Yale students. The studio will be the site for film and drama workshops, open discussions of artistic ideas, as well as film production, Dest said. New Haven officials hope the studio will also help stimulate the New Haven economy.
He is planning to shoot “My Brother Jack”, a psychologically challenging murder-mystery, around New Haven between late January and early March, with the film going into distribution late Fall 2011.
The film broadly examines the disparate responses of two brothers after the death of their parents. One brother, Vincent, witnesses his parents’ murder, and twenty years later is suspected of actually killing them, while the other, Jack, is forced to confront the truth of all that transpired that night, Dest said.
“I lost my father at a very young age, and it’s always been a launching pad for a lot of my storytelling, which comes from child tragedy and how it affects us,” he explained. Dest’s film “Blind”, which screened at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival, also explored the same themes.
But the project has economic ramifications beyond the realm of film.
Dest said the film would be largely shot on-location around New Haven businesses, so that the city would be the framework for his characters’ lives and communities.
“I want this to do for New Haven what Woody Allen did for Manhattan,” he said, adding that he hoped to publicize and draw more artists to the city through his work.
“The entire aspect of the Elm City is really something that needs to be captured on film, and this is really the perfect project to do it.”
When asked about tensions between the Yale Police Department and students that have tarnished the public perception of New Haven, Dest said he felt his film would go some way towards improving the city’s image by giving people an alternative narrative to follow.
“We sympathize, we empathize, and then we create, and that’s what this city lacks a little bit,” Dest said. “There’s just not enough storytelling, we don’t have a narrative.”
The Department of Cultural Affairs for the City of New Haven has thrown its support behind “My Brother Jack.” Barbara Lamb, the director of the department of cultural affairs, said her office was proud to back Dest for representing the city.
“We’re supportive of the film in any way we can – short of a financial contribution,” Lamb said. She added that her department would arrange with other city departments the logistics of the film’s shooting, giving examples of possibly blocking-off roads and changing street signs.
But the New Haven Board of Aldermen is considering a proposal to create “entertainment districts”, which are designated under Connecticut law to allow municipalities to give tax breaks to business without foregoing all revenue. The proposal was designed to attract media companies – like UpCrown Studios – to New Haven, Lamb said. If the proposal is passed, media companies will receive 80 percent reductions in property and equipment taxes for five years.
“The city is giving me every opportunity to make a great film,” Dest said.
For Yale students, Dest is seeking to establish his studio as an accessible resource. “I know Yale has many students in film projects, and I’d love to open up my doors to them,” he said.
President of Bulldog Productions Jeanne Snow ’11 said while she had not heard about Dest or his new studio, she hoped Yale students would be able to get involved in his work.
“My Brother Jack” is currently casting extras, and Dest said he encouraged all Yale students, regardless of which department they were in, to reach out to him.
Dean of the School of Drama James Bundy said greater professional training opportunities for his students would be welcome.
“At the same time, our students tend to be very busy with assigned work so it is rare that they’re able to do professional work outside of the school during the academic year,” he added.
Dest and MacNiven said they were currently vetting ideas and would be writing a treatment for a TV show revolving around Yale students in the next month.
“This is something that has been of interest to the university and the city, and it’s just a matter of the right person doing it,” Dest said. “And I think I’m the right person to do it.”
Dest is also well-known in the New Haven community.
David MacNiven, who works in the Development Office as a Leadership Annual Giving Officer for the Yale Alumni Fund, is producing “My Brother Jack”. He said Dest has made a positive impact as a director, writer, and teacher for as long as he has known him.
Dest is head of the drama department at Neighborhood Music School, where he teaches teaches Shakespeare, play-writing and practical acting, and also runs three acting workshops open to the public at UpCrown Studios.
Lisa Novello, marketing and public relations manager at the Neighborhood Music School, said the school was lucky to have such a talented and ambitious artist as Dest on their faculty, adding that he connected particularly well with students.
According to Kickstarter.com, Dest has raised $20,300 toward the production of “My Brother Jack.”