Jonathan Ehlers wasn’t about to let post-Sandy gas shortages and power outages get in the way of his dream.
The Carle Place native navigated those challenges — and classic filmmaking issues like getting his hands on expensive Cadillacs — in 2012 while in the opening stages of creating his first full-length feature film.
The final result was “Ink & Steel,” a reinvention of the New York Mafia drama genre. Ehlers and his co-director Patrick Ward-Perkins and co-writer Jason Radspinner shot the film in Utica and in Carle Place.
The movie's world premiere took place May 17 at the SoHo International Film Festival. Last Thursday, on the final night of the festival, the trio was surprised when they learned they had received the Audience Choice Award.
“My family’s house had no power, we slept in the cold and charged our camera batteries by running the car, careful not to run out of gas,” said Ehlers, 33, a native of Carle Place. “But if you’re gonna have a disaster it might as well be in New York. It was an amazing adventure and testament to the spirit of New Yorkers who helped us get through filming.”
The film tells a fish out-of-water story about an aging mob enforcer sent to a rural college town to protect his boss' artistic, drug-addict son in the wake of a violent turf war.
Ironically, Sandy may have helped their cause. The lead in their film, Richard Fiske, who played a mob enforcer, got into character by scaring off strange men hanging around damaged homes in Carle Place when he thought they were looking to loot them.
“Our lead looks and acts like he could be in the mob,” said Ward-Perkins, 31, of Los Angeles. “He’s a criminal defense lawyer in the city and has interviewed criminals, the Mafia and terrorists. Needless to say, he scared them out of the neighborhood.”
The SoHo win was just the first step of the filmmakers’ journey. The team is also heading to the Dances with Film Festival in Hollywood, California, next week and Emerge Film Festival in Maine in mid-June. They’ll then head to the Long Island International Film Expo in mid-July.
“I couldn’t believe it. It means a lot,” Ehlers said of the SoHo win. “It meant that out of over 70 films that screened at the festival, people liked ours the most. I kept asking myself, ‘Did I really hear them say our film’s name?’ When we told the audience it was our first time we even got a standing ovation.”
Ehlers’ mother, Jane Ehlers, said she had always known her son would achieve his dreams. He had always dreamed of becoming a filmmaker. When he was 14, Ehlers made his first short film — a modern rendition of “Lord of the Flies” at Jones Beach. Then, at age 26, he moved to Los Angeles and has been living there since 2007.
“From day one, I’ve been proud of him,” said Ehlers, of Carle Place. “I saw the film [“Ink & Steel”] and it’s perfection. He’s always been into storytelling since he was a child. His idea of playing was creating different scenarios. He’s talented and we’re so proud of him.”
Ehlers said his film is more of a character piece, rather than an over-the-top violent one. He believes it stands out from other mob movies because it takes the characters out of their elements.
“In a run-of-the-mill shoot-'em-up film, they’re doing a lot of killing, but here you see a man with lethal skills managing a situation that requires compassion, which he’s not really equipped for,” Ehlers said. “It’ll pull you in.”