A lot of people picked up new skills during the pandemic lockdown — chess, knitting, collage, whatever was within grasp to pass the time at home. Maxx Starr, co-owner of the East Village tattoo parlor Fun City, taught himself how to make movies.
“I had a schedule,” he explained. “I would spend the day reading about how to make movies, then in the early evening I would watch how-to YouTube videos. And at night I would watch movies.”
“I ordered books about film history and screenwriting,” he recounts. “The Big Goodbye” (about the movie “Chinatown”) and Roger Corman’s “How I Made A Hundred Movies In Hollywood and Never Lost a Dime” were two pieces of his research that led Starr to spend eight months writing a 21-page script.
“I watched a lot of Truffaut and crime movies like ‘Heat’ and ‘Pulp Fiction,’” Starr notes. “I had put so much time and effort into this, I had to try and make a film.”
The result of his crash course in cinema is a 24 minute caper that is an “often absurdist look at life, love and crime in the city” (according to the press release) entitled “The Crusaders” and will be premiered at the Village East theatre on April 7.
It has probably been awhile — maybe since the 80’s — that a filmmaker living in the East Village has shot a film entirely in the neighborhood with a cast drawn from local downtown streets. After enlisting Brendan Brulon to produce the venture, Starr filled the small cast with names like Peter Greene (“Pulp Fiction,” “The Mask”), Sophia Lamar (a veteran club kid) and newcomers Frederick Rusak and Tessa Gourin — the latter two being on Starr’s mind when he wrote the screenplay.
“It was bizarre – I had no acting experience when Maxx brought it to me,” Rusak admits. “I was a Fashion Design student at FIT and now I’m designing furniture. But I didn’t even think about it, I just said yes.”
Gourin, a method actor, had taken a two-year break from acting and “was doing what everyone else was doing – a whole lot of nothing!” when Starr approached her about the role he had written with her in mind.
“It’s very unique – very Maxx,” she muses. “It’s a Noir for this day and age. Making it made me remember why I love acting.”
Greene, the most seasoned cast member, knew Starr through a friend and was intrigued by the script. Starr mentions that when Greene took the role the actor proclaimed that “this is either going to be really good or f—ing terrible.”
Starr, a painter as well as a tattoo artist, left the actual inking at the shop — when they were able to reopen — to his partner Big Steve and their six employees as he concentrated on his new career. While Fun City, the oldest tattoo shop in NYC, has seen its share of bold-face names come through — Miley Cyrus, Action Bronson, Evan Rachel Wood and Cedric the Entertainer, for example — the joint itself didn’t rate a closeup in the flick.
“We shot at the International Bar, NuBlu Classic, local apartments and streets, but the shop just didn’t fit,” Starr admits.
The shoot itself moved along without incident, wrapping in just seven days. But it didn’t start out as well as Starr would have liked.
“I was hoping for movie magic,” he says, but the first thing he had to do was fire the director of photography who wasn’t quite up to the director’s vision. Nevertheless, with Hunter Zimny stepping in that role, and producer Brulon on top of the scheduling and logistics, the project wrapped spending somewhat less than one might expect.
Brulon, who has known Starr since they were teenage hardcore punk fans in Richmond, VA, admits that the whole thing went pretty smoothly. Much of the shooting was done at night and other than occasionally having to beg a construction worker to stop his jackhammer, there weren’t any problems to speak of.
“I had a feeling that Brendan would be perfect for the job, and I was right, ” says Starr.
As for the result, Starr feels that he accomplished what he set out to do.
“I’ve watched a lot of crime movies that are serious all the way through,” he muses. “But my angle is that there are funny moments in everyone’s day. I’m trying to mix in light moments – some levity in dark times.”
“I’m confident that I’ve done something good,” he concludes. “But I know that I can do it better next time.”
Tickets for the upcoming free screening are sold out, but you can get on the waiting list at eventbrite.com/e/maxx-starrs-the-crusaders-village-east-by-angelika-tickets-291547274747.
More screenings will be announced on Instagram @thecrusadersnyc.
Ex-Brit turned Manhattan resident since 2008.