THE RIGHT STEPS
By Sally Deering
Eddie Harris grew up in Jersey City and as a writer and filmmaker he sometimes looks to his neighborhood for inspiration. Harris found it one day when he noticed a young man in a wheelchair, who had become partially paralyzed from an altercation after years of hustling on the streets. When Harris wondered how a person could rise above that kind of life-changing experience, he took to his computer and began writing STEPS, his new movie now being filmed on locations throughout Jersey City.
“The movie is about redemption, recovery, forgiveness and love,” Harris says, as he heads to a baseball field in the Lafayette section of Jersey City where the crew is filming. “It’s about a guy who sets out to be the next Johnny Cochran but his life takes a terrible turn. He spirals downward into alcohol and loses everything until a street pastor reaches out to him. It’s a Jersey City story anybody can relate to, an uplifting story.”
Filming an indie in the dead of winter is no easy task. Braving frigid temperatures, everyone has a job to do, and the work off-camera is as important as the work on camera. On a recent Monday morning, the crew including the directors, cameramen, soundman, boom operator, line producer, stage manager, board-clapper, still photographer, script supervisor, production designer, make-up staff and security personnel all came together to collaborate, their creative juices fueled by the love of making movies, and lots of doughnuts and coffee.
COLLABORATING WITH CAST AND CREW
STEPS’ cast and crew are mostly from Jersey City and neighboring towns on this and the other side of the Hudson. The film’s directors are Jay Rodriguez and Rock Davis of Itchy House Productions based in New Jersey, and producer Michael Baumgartner who is funding the project, is Harris’s long-time Jersey City friend. Additional producers are Michael Parris, Greg Ferguson and basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, who will be instrumental when it comes to distributing the film to theaters nation-wide.
Harris and directors Rodriguez and Davis and associate producer Penwah chose actor Walter Fauntleroy to play Taj, the film’s protagonist; Tia D. Hodge plays Wendy, the leading female role, and Rob Morgan plays Brian, whose life takes a downward turn after an incident in his old neighborhood.
“Rob has the range and attitude to bring Brian’s character to life,” Harris says. “We want the audience to feel for him, to root for him.”
Waiting for his close-up, actor Bill Sorvino – who is also head of the Golden Door International Film Festival that takes place every year at the Loew’s Jersey City movie palace, plays Roger, an attorney in the film. A friend of Harris’s, Sorvino – whose uncle is the legendary actor Paul Sorvino – says that after he saw a trailer of Harris’ movie ZOO, he was hooked.
“Eddie Harris and I have been friends for a while; we’re both from Jersey City,” Bill Sorvino says just before getting in the make-up chair. “Eddie’s script is amazing. We did the read-through in his office on Newark Avenue. To hear it out loud was inspiring. Anything Eddie does, I want to be a part of.”
Getting actors to the set is part of Line Producer Frances Lozada’s job, and involves a lot of organization.
“If an actor needs to be on set, I make sure they get there,” Lozada says. “If any problems arise, they come to me.”
Actor Jose Alvarez plays the role of Arturo, a man who fell on hard times, “and accepted the hand he was dealt,” and Louis Scarano plays Chuck, another down-on-his-luck character. Scarano learned of the role from an open call audition held by NY Castings in New York.
“I saw 500 people ahead of me,” Scarano says of the audition. “I was the last SAG actor they saw that day.”
(According to the Screen Actors Guild rules, all SAG actors must be seen before the non-Sag actors.)
All film sets, whether they’re Indies or big movie studio blockbusters have what is known as the craft services table run by a caterer who brings in food for the cast and crew. For STEPS, Arelius Ingram of Unique Catering of Jersey City runs the craft services table.
“Today, we’re serving angus steak with mushroom sauce, fried whiting, stuffed shells with marinara sauce, rice, baby cabbages and garden salad,” Ingram says.
Script Supervisor Laura Bailey and Production Designer Yoko Morishita both say they enjoy working on the film. Al Thomas of Jersey City, who is in charge of security, says he’s having a blast.
“It’s been great,” Thomas says. “A lot of fun.”
HIS DAD’S INFLUENCE
A former actor, Harris’s father, Eddie Harris, Sr, was a consummate storyteller and the person Harris credits for nurturing his early appreciation of the arts. After studying drama at Trenton State College, Harris went to work for a video production company. A random meeting with Ray Murphy, President of Eddie Murphy Productions, helped Harris change focus from directing to screenwriting after he read the script to NUTTY PROFESSOR 2.
Harris’s previous film, HOUSE OF BODIES, stars Queen Latifah who was also executive producer, Terrence Howard and Peter Fonda, who starred in the cult classic EASY RIDER. Harris’s film ZOO was his first attempt as a screenwriter. He now runs his own production company EBH Productions from his Indiegogo offices on Newark Avenue in Jersey City.
“Because of my relationships and contacts, I’m doing three films this year and all with major stars,” Harris says.
One of those relationships helped Harris make STEPS. Producer Michael Baumgartner, who has known Harris for many years, decided to back Harris’s film because, frankly, he recognized Harris’s talents.
“I believe in Eddie and everybody around him believes in him,” Baumgartner says. “I’ve been so impressed with his work over the years, I couldn’t understand why a guy like this isn’t in Hollywood. STEPS is a fantastic story, and an excellent opportunity for Eddie and me. We know it’s going to do very well; it’s going to build a lot of people’s careers.”
There’s no doubt Harris’s filmmaking career is on the rise, motivated by his desire to affect people through storytelling.
“I make movies because I want to create good stories,” he says.
For more info, visit Eddie Harris’s page on Facebook: