First-time director Hiram Martinez pushes a hand truck down Sixth Avenue, returning multiple VHS copies of his comedy “Four Dead Batteries” for re-dubbing after discovering the sound quality did not meet his expectations.
“You got a lot of press passes, Straka,” he says as he settles into a chair in my office at FOX News Channel.
On the same day director Andrew Rossi personally delivers me a DVD copy of his documentary “Eat This New York” (search) so that I have it for my piece airing on this weekend’s "FOX Magazine."
“I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle,” he says, referring to the time he messengered an earlier documentary without addressing it to my attention -- it got lost in the shuffle.
Such is the unglamorous world of striving toward a career in the highly competitive field of entertainment -- scatter-brained, amusing, frustrating, but always interesting.
“I’ve always been interested in films,” said Rossi, who earned a law degree from Harvard after studying history at Yale as an undergraduate. “I assumed I’d get into entertainment law and that would provide me a segue into films but I quickly realized if I wanted to do it, I needed to make a complete break,” he said.
That break led to “Eat This New York,” a documentary he and his wife, Kate Novack, shot on mini DV about The Big Apple’s restaurant industry. The movie chronicles the making of a new Brooklyn eatery, intercut with sound bites from world-famous restaurateurs like Sirio Maccioni (Le Cirque) (search) and Drew Nieporent (Nobu).
“For someone just starting out digital technology is an inexpensive and great way to cut your teeth,” he said.
Martinez agrees. “I bought a digital camera for six thousand bucks and off I went,” he said.
“Four Dead Batteries” (search) is a comedy about four guys who “just don’t get it,” and focuses on dysfunctional relationships with the women in their lives.
“Writing wouldn’t be so hard if it weren’t for the writing,” says Martinez, who wrote the movie in a Union City, N.J., apartment he shares with his girlfriend.
The two moviemakers are as different as their subject matter. Martinez was born in the Dominican Republic. His family emigrated to the U.S. for medical reasons. Rossi is a native New Yorker whose father owned the only New York City Italian restaurant awarded four stars by The New York Times.
But what they do have in common is the desire to entertain through the medium of moving pictures, and the guts to give it a shot.
“You know that corny line ‘I couldn’t do anything else?’" asks Martinez. “Well that’s me, I couldn’t do anything else. Although agents should know I can cook a mean taco,” he says.
Martinez and Rossi say they raised money through family and friends, and both say they will look to festivals like Robert De Niro’s Tribeca Film Festival (search) and Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival (search) to help put them on the map.
Rossi and Novack have been lucky in that they have not one but two distributors for their documentary. “Eat This” will be released on the Sundance Channel (search) this month and will then have a limited theatrical release in January.
For Martinez, he was offered a “service agreement” with Gotham Entertainment Group (search), a company run by a former Miramax executive. Service agreements are a good news/bad news arrangement for filmmakers. It means a company of note likes your film enough to want to be involved, but that involvement usually comes at a price to the filmmaker.
“Without stars and a low budget -- we have no action or nudity -- it's hard to push a movie like this without a substantial financial commitment from us -- which we can’t afford,” says Martinez, joking that all his relatives -- eh hum -- investors, are tapped out.
And while technology has made it a little easier for aspiring moguls to jumpstart a career with a small-budget production, that alone does not mean a thing when it comes to building a career.
“You have to be savvy enough to identify good story material,” says legendary producer David Brown (search) of "The Sting" and "Jaws" fame. “To be successful it takes a certain amount of naiveté and a failure to face reality,” he says.
With the trailer tagline “From the Guys Who Saw 'Rushmore' and 'American Beauty,'” Martinez, at least, has a sense of humor. That should come in handy as a director of comedies.
As for Rossi, his upbringing as a restaurant owner's son and his connection to the industry has helped him turn in a first-rate documentary on the business that he grew up around.
Perseverance, dedication and a little bit of luck will be their greatest allies along the way. Good luck gentlemen.
Mike Straka is the project manager for FOX News' Web operations and contributes as a features reporter and producer on FOX Magazine (Sundays 11 p.m. on FNC), a producer on Sunday Best (Sundays 9pm on FNC), and as a reporter and columnist for Foxnews.com.