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'Hard Sell,' Gold Coast-set teen indie, brings Kristin Chenoweth, Katrina Bowden to Long Island
It's not every day an Emmy- and Tony-award winning actress tells an up-and-coming filmmaker she wants to star in his first full-length feature film before he even has the chance to ask her.
But that's how it happened for Oyster Bay native Sean Nalaboff with his forthcoming teen indie, "Hard Sell," that wraps Friday after 19 days of filming on Long Island. The movie, set on the North Shore, stars Kristin Chenoweth as Lorna Buchanan, an alcoholic, agoraphobic mother of teenage boy Hardy (played by Skyler Gisondo) who enlists the help of a stripper (Katrina Bowden of "30 Rock") to save his beloved family dog that needs costly surgery.
Chenoweth -- best known for TV's "Pushing Daisies" and "Glee," and for playing Glinda in "Wicked" on Broadway -- was so impressed with Nalaboff's work on a behind-the-scenes video of her 2012 concert tour that she told him to keep her in mind for future projects. Not long after, Chenoweth's manager brought her the "Hard Sell" script -- and the rest is history.
PHOTOS: Behind the scenes of 'Hard Sell'
"[Sean] said, 'I can’t believe you’re in my movie,' and I said, 'I can’t believe you picked me!'" she told Newsday. "I knew this guy was going to do great things, and this is a really good example of how one job can lead to another."
Chenoweth spent five days on Long Island in mid-October, shooting her scenes at a home in Bellmore that actually belongs to Nalaboff's grandparents. Though she didn't get the chance to experience much of the Island (save for some stops at Taco Bell, Burger King and Wendy's), she said one of the best parts was having the freedom to walk her dog in the quiet neighborhood during breaks. ("I don't get to do that in New York," she said. "And it probably helped that I was dressed like a homeless person.")
For Nalaboff, who turned 25 on Oct. 14, Chenoweth's first day of filming, her singing "Happy Birthday" to him was a real highlight. She also made cookies for the crew one day.
For "Hard Sell," the young writer/director/producer enlisted help from childhood friends, including a buddy from middle school, Jared Greenman, who is a producer and business developer for the film, as well as an extra. Wanting to pay an authentic homage to the area where he grew up, Nalaboff took cast and crew all over Nassau County, from Mill Neck Manor House (which provides the backdrop for a prep school where much of the movie takes place) and de Seversky Mansion in Old Westbury (for a country club scene), to Sea Cliff's Main Street and a bagel shop in Roslyn.
"We wanted to capture this theme of affluence, and we also knew we wanted to shoot in the fall, which is just beautiful out here," said Jimmy Seargeant, a producer. "But the biggest challenge was probably executing this grand vision on a small budget."
If they look closely, Long Islanders may recognize some familiar faces in the movie, which has a total of 43 characters, many of them locals hired for a single day. One extra, a friend-of-a-friend of Nalaboff's, came from Washington, D.C., on Monday to shoot his scenes, just to hop on a train home late that night and return to his day job the next morning. And "Hard Sell" may just jumpstart the career of its furriest lead actor, 8-year-old Keeper, a sheepdog mix making his film debut as Walter, the main character's dog.
To be clear, the movie isn't autobiographical, Nalaboff says, though the idea for the screenplay he began writing four years ago was inspired by a real event. Nalaboff, a dog lover, found an abandoned dog outside a church one day during college, named him Walter, and months later found out he needed expensive surgery to save his legs.
"That was sort of where the seed was planted, and it germinated from there," Nalaboff said. "I liked the idea of having this kid [Hardy] who's a scholarship student at a prep school, so he's kind of from the opposite side of the tracks, and he has this dilemma that seems trivial, of saving his dog, but it's not just about that -- it's about saving his family."
The producers say they hope to get distributors interested in the film to get it on as many screens as possible, and hopefully do the festival circuit next year -- possibly Sundance and Tribeca, and LI's own Hamptons and Gold Coast film festivals.
"It really is a story about identity," says Nalaboff, who was inspired in a broad sense by another indie, "Little Miss Sunshine," in which the characters have a seemingly mundane problem (in that case, getting their little girl to a beauty pageant on time) but to whom the dilemma is very real. He was also influenced by John Hughes' 1980s hits such as "The Breakfast Club," and older classics including the 1941 satire "Sullivan's Travels" and the 1934 Clark Gable film, "It Happened One Night."
Of what could end up being his breakout hit, Nalaboff says he "didn't set out to write my own 'Big Fat Greek Wedding' and make a killing -- I just wanted to write something honest that would excite me every time I worked on it."
Here's a sneak peek at "Hard Sell" (app users click here to watch: http://bit.ly/16sol5I):