Shows will feature fictional reality similar to LAW & ORDER
By Sally Deering
Once upon a time in Hudson County, the splotch of towns across from Manhattan, some strange, brutal and even hilarious happenings seem to have taken place in the dog-eat-dog world of local politics. Just mention former Jersey City Mayor Frank “Boss” Hague, who ruled with iron fists in Kidd gloves from 1917-1947, and people’s ears perk up. Hague’s infamous political career paved the way for those who followed in his corruption-soaked footsteps. Their stories made front page headlines and to film producer PJ Leonard, they also make for good TV.
Leonard has assembled a creative team to launch a new TV series he’s creating, HUDSON COUNTY, which he says, will be fiction based on non-fiction similar to shows like “LAW & ORDER”. He recruited writer Raymond McAnally, whose play SIZE MATTERS earned critical acclaim, and who lived in Jersey City for several years; actors Obba Babatundé and Sonny Marinelli, and Robert S. Fingerman, CPA, founder of Independent Films Production Consultants.
Leonard came up with the idea for a series about Hudson from growing up the Marion section of Jersey City; his time as a bar manager, and the years he spent as a bookie. Then there’s his work on political campaigns. Meld that diverse background with a penchant for the entertainment industry and Leonard seems to have the right credentials to get a show like HUDSON COUNTY off the page and onto the screen.
Leonard’s production company Other Side of the River Productions has begun pre-production on HUDSON COUNTY with a $20,000 fundraising campaign on Indiegogo to produce the show’s pilot and development for the show’s first season. He formed Other Side of the River in 2005 with his first film, THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION. He followed that with the short films THE HIT and WAITING, and the feature, THE FALLEN FAITHFUL which won the 2010 International Beverly Hills Film Festival award for Best Story. His most recent feature, CHU & BLOSSOM stars Oscar and Tony Award winner Mercedes Ruehl (THE FISHER KING, LOST IN YONKERS) and Tony Award winner Alan Cumming (CABARET).
Leonard took time out of his busy schedule – with a phone that never stops ringing – and sat down to talk about what it’s like producing films and getting a show like HUDSON COUNTY off the ground.
RVO: Can you tell us a little about your background?
PJL: I was born in Jersey City in the Marion section; nine people in a 3-bedroom apartment; that was Jersey City. I went to Mt. Carmel School and then we moved to Bayonne and I attended Our Lady of Assumption grammar school, and Hudson Catholic high school. My mother’s from Hell’s Kitchen in New York; my father from Chelsea. I was a comedian as a kid. I always had a bubbly personality. I consider myself a funny guy.
RVO: How did you get into the movie business?
PJL: I worked at the Stock Exchange on Wall Street. I sold insurance. I was a bookie, and I was in the restaurant business. But I always wanted to be in the entertainment field. THE IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION, that started my career. THE HIT, a short film I produced, was at the Cannes Film Festival.
RVO: Did you ever want to be an actor?
PJL: I took acting at the Three of Us Studios in New York.
RVO: Why a series about Hudson County and not, say, Bergen County?
PJL: I think the grittiness of Hudson County, there’s a certain vibe here that’s not in other parts of the U.S. I’ve been to other cities and towns for film festivals and I became the main attraction just by the way I talk. When this series gets picked up (by a network like HBO or Showtime) we’ll have a five-year run because of the subject matter. Hudson County is the county that keeps on giving.
RVO: Can you tell us about the Indiegogo campaign?
PJL: It is our goal to raise capital to help support the development stage; writers, research and interviews are all needed to develop a series of this caliber. There are different perks for donations. For instance, for $2000 you can have a character named after you in the pilot script. You’ll even get to talk with the writer about whether or not your namesake is on the up and up. For $4000, you will be included as a Development Associate. We need to raise $50,000 for development. We don’t need to fund the whole project. It’s not like we’re looking for a lot.
RVO: Isn’t film producing a tough go? What does it take to succeed as a producer?
PJL: You have to have a big personality. You’ve got to make some true connections. I’m not a big believer in destiny. I know where I’m going. I don’t have a filter; the truth is the truth. Filters are for people who have something to hide. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. I have no vices. When I do something, it will get done.
For more info on HUDSON COUNTY’s Indiegogo campaign, go to www.indiegogo.com/projects/hudson-county-tv-series-development#/story