Film Producer PJ Leonard Rolls out Red Carpet for Little Curly Top at NYC Premier of “The Fallen Faithful”
By Sally Deering
Film producer PJ Leonard grew up in Jersey City at a time when mothers taught sons to do the right thing with a smack in the back of the head. He’s one of those tough-talking types with the heart of a marshmallow, like when Bogart says bye-bye to Bergman in “Casablanca.” Bogey, too, had to do the right thing and maybe his mama cracked him good because he ended up sacrificing his only crack at freedom for the woman he loved.
“The Fallen Faithful” is Leonard’s second crack at filmmaking as Executive Producer doing what producers do best – making a movie from script-reading to film screening. As Executive Producer of Other Side of the River Productions Leonard raises money, puts creative teams together, hires actors, negotiates contracts and scouts locations – the bim, bam, boom of movie-making. It’s also his job to get his new film seen, which is exactly what Leonard put in place for Monday, October 25th at the Director’s Guild Theater in New York City where “The Fallen Faithful” makes it’s NYC premiere. It promises to be a glitzy night with the film’s stars Sonny Marinelli and Obba Babatunde attending and one special name on the guest list that isn’t in the credits.
Meghan “Maggie” Elizabeth Russo, a curly-topped two year-old from Staten Island was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer that forms in the eye. Currently in treatment at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, little Meghan has a tough road ahead as she prepares for a bone-marrow transplant and a series of chemo. Her dad, Mike is a NYC Firefighter and mom, Mary Beth, left her full-time job to care for Maggie, her older brother Michael and baby sister Mary Kate. Keeping the family healthy and happy are Mike and Mary Beth’s number one priority, and according to Leonard, “they look like the happiest people in the world, always doing things together,” but they can use a helping hand paying for necessities like Pampers and babysitters. That’s where Leonard plays a part.
A friend of the family through his niece Jacqueline Lux, Leonard feels for the Russo family. Jacqueline has lived with Cystic Fibrosis most of her life and Leonard knows firsthand what his brother had to go through doing right by his little girl. That’s why, at “The Fallen Faithful” premier Leonard will donate the screening’s net proceeds ($75 ticket price) to help the family pay those much-needed expenses as they do right by little Meghan.
“What people don’t realize is there are other expenses they have to worry about like childcare,” Leonard says. “Medical insurance doesn’t cover that. They have two other children so obviously it’s hard. Their clock ticks a lot quicker.”
The Russos, especially Meghan, will be guests of honor at “The Fallen Faithful” screening on the 25th and Leonard members of the cast who live in L.A. will also be attending the premier.
“It’s going to be a red carpet event,” Leonard says.
Making a Film that Questions Destiny vs. Free Will
“The Fallen Faithful” follows the journey of Moran Douglas (Sonny Marinelli) a ruthless killer churning with inner turmoil as the confusion of his early childhood begin bubbling to the surface. Orphaned as a boy, Moran turned to surrogate fathers for guidance, a power-hungry psychopath Asa (Mark Margolis) and the priest Father Emanual (Obba Babatunde.) Riddled with conflict, Moran questions whether his life was molded by decisions that were made for him or by him. Was Moran destined to be a murderer because that was his fate or did he choose to be a killer of his own free will?
Sonny Marinelli, who plays Moran has appeared in the films “Noel” and “Dot.Kill” and several TV shows, He says his role in “The Fallen Faithful” connected on a personal level – he lost his mother when he was 9 – and like most people, has gone a few rounds with some personal demons. Formerly a longshoreman, Marinelli took night classes at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and his passion turned to acting. He was originally cast in a different role in “The Fallen Faithful,” but a couple days before shooting started in Tampa the lead actor dropped out and Marinelli landed the role.
“I understood the character’s story,” Marinelli says. “It wasn’t a huge stretch. The father is beating up his mom, and he kills his father and soon after his mom accidentally gets killed in the crossfire of shootout. He’s raised by two guys – a priest and a psychopath – and he chooses a life of violence. As the movie opens, I’m filled with guilt and shame over the life I’ve led and try to cross over the spiritual side.”
Playing Father Emanual, Obba Babatunde has more than 100 film and TV credits listed on his IMDB.com page. On Broadway, he starred in the original “Dreamgirls” and earned amn Emmy nomination for his role in HBO’s “Miss Evers’ Boys.” He starred with Halle Berry in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge,” and appeared in the films, “That Thing You Do” and “Philadelphia.” Babatunde’s TV appearances include roles in “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Criminal Minds,” “Boston Legal” and “Cold Case.”
Veteran character actor Mark Margolis rounds out the cast as the power-hungry psychopath (Asa) and his previous roles include Al Moody in “Californication,” Tip on “Breaking Bad,” and the films “Gone Baby Gone,” “The Wrestler” and “Defiance.”
Elizabeth Regen penned the script to “The Fallen Faithful;” Csaba Bereczky directed and Executive Producer Leonard watched over every minute detail that comes with making a good independent film on a million-dollar budget. He landed a deal with Stuart Hall of Media 8 Entertainment to distribute the film and after the NYC premiere Leonard and Media 8 take “The Fallen Faithful” to the American Film Market in Los Angeles to get the movie to the next level.
Producing Movies from a Jersey Perspective
A relatively new player on the movie-making field, Leonard formed Other Side of the River Productions in 2006 with his first film, “Immaculate Misconception” that cost $175,000 to make and according to Leonard “looks like a million bucks.”
“Right now, the production team that produced ‘Monster,’ they have it now,” Leonard says. “I was offered deals previously, but I didn’t want to give it to just anybody, so I flew to Los Angeles, met with Stewart Hall of Media 8 Entertainment, and they’re going to rep both ‘The Immaculate Misconception’ and ‘The Fallen Faithful.’ They’re a major company. I’m not a small game no more.”
“The Fallen Faithful” was made for $1 million, a small budget compared to blockbusters in the double-digit range. Leonard doesn’t expect to see it in movie theaters, he says. The budget’s too small for the big screen, but Leonard is convinced the film will do well in distribution and venues like cable-TV and Netflix.
“It’s not like the old days,” Leonard says. “Unless you’re doing $24 million out of the gate, it’s not going to benefit people to get it into the movie theater.”
Although his work takes him to Los Angeles and other film locations, Leonard prefers to stay on the East Coast and make Jersey City his home.
“I’ll never be West Coast,” Leonard says. “My persona never fits out there. They look at me like I’m crazy. I’m not a phony. I speak my mind.”
Leonard, who once considered becoming an actor, doesn’t try to be something he’s not. He doesn’t write, direct or act, and he sees himself as the person who puts all the pieces of the puzzle together and, he says, he gets great satisfaction completing the puzzle.
Leonard is already putting the puzzle pieces together for his next film, “Three-Way Split,” written by Glenn Taranto who worked on several projects with Academy Award winning writer Paul Haggis (“Million Dollar Baby.”) Scheduled to shoot in Mississippi in 2011, Leonard is thrilled to have Taranto on the project and is already looking to sign an A-List cast on the caliber of Kathy Bates, Ed Harris and William H. Macy.
“I’m not Spielberg,” Leonard says, “but I love the camaraderie of the people and the satisfaction of seeing something you created up on the screen.”
.For more information on “The Fallen Faithful” contact:
Other Side of the River Productions
If you’d like to help Meghan and her family,
go to www.maggiesfund.net