Main Street Bistro in New Paltz welcomed a group of filmmakers and local extras to its cozy environs last Wednesday, Feb. 12. They were there to shoot scenes for Spooner, a short film produced by and starring New Paltz-based actor and musician Sara Jecko, who will also provide the original music for the soundtrack.
The story in Spooner is about a pivotal day in the life of Jecko’s character, June, a musician in a three-piece band, who finds herself at the crossroads of her personal and professional life. Throughout the film, which takes place on a single day, June is writing a song.
“We used that as a thread throughout the whole thing,” says director Jon Russell Cring. “As the song is building, so is [June’s] frustration.”
Jecko’s soundtrack traces the character’s internal thought process to the point where it ends with the song, says Cring, revealing the realization that June comes to about her life.
This is the second collaboration for the two. The first was Cring’s feature film, Little Bi Peep (2013), which won awards for Best Director, Best Comedy, Best Actor and Best Supporting Actor at the Atlantic City Film Festival. Following that successful partnership, says Cring, he was looking for a chance to feature more of Jecko’s talents. “Sara has a lot of talents in music, too,” he says, “so we just wanted to pull all of this together.”
The film was written by Daniel Scot Kadin, a friend of Jecko’s from New York City. “We were talking one day, and he said, ‘let me write a script for you,'” Jecko says. “We had people come over and we just improvised this down-and-out character and a relationship for her.”
“It’s very human,” says Cring. “You know how people have a tendency to stay in relationships because they’re comfortable, even though they’re not satisfied. So this starts with the day beginning with this woman, who really is never getting what she needs from the relationship that she has, all the way to the end of the night when she’s standing on stage. It’s kind of about that quintessential moment when one decides that, ‘I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired’.”
Cring works alongside his wife, Tracy Nichole Cring, who acts as editor and cinematographer on their productions. “It’s really a team effort to bring a script to screen,” he says. “I do production and directing and we write together.” They’ve been pairing up in this way for some time now, he says, most recently in Nashville where they lived for a while until they moved up to New York about four years ago.
Originally from Ohio, Cring says he’s lived in about ten different states in his life, traveling the country making movies and making music. “New York is my favorite, though,” he says. “Especially upstate — there’s a lot more to it than just the Big Apple.”
Just prior to last year’s Little Bi Peep, the Crings produced Creeping Crawling (2012), a compilation of three dark short stories told by an eccentric entomologist. Next up will be Hobo Heyseus (2014), which is in the process of being edited now, says Cring. “It’s sort of a road movie about a hippie who comes into a town like New Paltz and trades his philanthropy for breakfast, lunch and dinner.” Raymond Turturro plays Heyseus. In August the filmmakers will shoot This is Nowhere, “a very dark movie about criminals who stay in motels after prison — outcasts who become family to each other,” he says.
The common thread in his film work, says Cring, is finding the humanity in people. “Even the despicable characters — there are no monsters; we’re all capable of evil and good.”
He says he was very impressed by Jecko’s talents when they met at her audition for Little Bi Peep. “She was sent in to audition for the part, and it was a very challenging role,” he says. “I was kind of flabbergasted when she said she didn’t have much acting experience. She has a real innate understanding of herself, which to me is really what acting is about. I can speak in a shorthand with her because I know she’s going to get it.”
In fact, Cring adds, “I’ve made 17 feature films and she’s one of the most in-tune actors I’ve met.”
Just as her character does in Spooner, Jecko plays music in real life in a three-piece band comprised of herself along with her husband, Dan Dzidba (“he’s a fantastic guitarist and a great drummer,” she says) and Jim Donica on bass. They haven’t played live lately because Donica has been away, says Jecko, but they’re in the midst of recording an album. They usually play under her name, although they’re toying with the idea of calling themselves “Sara Band,” she says.
Jecko was raised in downtown New York City. She came to the New Paltz area to study music at SUNY New Paltz. Like a lot of other graduates, she left but came back. “You know there’s a myth about it, right?” she says. “If you throw a rock in the river before you go, you’ll come back.”
Now she teaches “History of Rock” at SUNY New Paltz twice a week (“And she’s prettier than Jack Black,” jokes Jon Cring). They hope that Spooner will get a showing in New Paltz when it’s done — maybe even at a local bar, Jecko says, given that it’s a short film — but possibly even at Rosendale Theatre.
A second day of shooting for the film was planned for the following day at Oasis Cafe. No word at press time as to whether the big snow interfered with that. In the meantime, extras like Emily Stettner, 12, escorted to the location by her mom, Heidi, was just enjoying her first experience of being a part of a film.
Jon Russell Cring can be found on Facebook and Sara Jecko at www.sarajecko.com.