By Sally Deering
Anthony Cupo grew up in Jersey City a few blocks from Journal Square and thousands of miles from the Sundance Resort in Park City, Utah, a small ski village that Robert Redford turned into a famous film festival location back in 1978. The 2013 Sundance Film Festival was in full-swing the week of Jan. 17 and Cupo, who is the Executive Producer and Editor of his first feature film “Concussion” saw his dream come true when he received a seven-figure offer from RADIUS-TWC to distribute “Concussion” in the fall. Of course, Cupo said yes.
The Sundance Film Festival attracts thousands of producers, directors, writers, actors, critics and studio ‘heads’ who turn the small ski village into a Hollywood event where films are screened in theaters and other venues and prizes are given out to the top contenders. Cupo’s film, “Concussion,” written and directed by his friend Stacie Passon tells the story of what happens when a suburban wife and mother gets a concussion that fractures her perspective on her marriage and more importantly, her life. Critics like Jim Dobson, President of Indie PR in Studio City, California, who attended a screening, gave “Concussion” 3-1/2 stars.
“There is a real concussion at the beginning of the antiseptically beautiful “Concussion,” but it’s also a metaphor that’s no less jarring. When Abby (Robin Weigert), a suburban lesbian married to Kay (Julie Fain Lawrence), gets hit by a baseball thrown by one of their children, it sets off a need for change in her routine existence. She works on renovating a downtown loft with a contractor, Justin (Jonathan Tchaikovsky), who also pimps on the side — and Abby decides to take female clients as a high-end hooker, using the professional name Eleanor. Writer-director Stacie Passion’s sexually charged premise becomes a vehicle for an emotional exploration of a stagnant relationship and the struggle between desire and stability. Weigert (best known for her work on “Deadwood”) gives a performance that’s revelatory in more ways than one, as Abby sheds inhibitions and clothes. The slick look (by production designer Lisa Myers and art director Kevin P. O’Donnell) highlights the split between Abby’s suburban oppression and her urban freedom.”
Terrific reviews like that keep pouring in for “Concussion” and Cupo, 42, is thrilled about his Sundance experience. An alumnus of the School of Visual Arts in New York, Cupo has been involved in film since he was a kid playing hooky to catch the movies playing in the Journal Square movie theaters close to home. He has worked on commercials and videos with all the major networks and in 2006 Cupo partnered with friend and colleague R. Jamie Mamalis to open The Rust Company in Manhattan, a lab, of sorts, that offers the latest cutting-edge technology for filmmakers to edit film and video and perform other creative tasks to see their films and videos realized.
At Sundance, Cupo took a break before his film’s screening on Thursday to share with Riverview Observer what it’s like showing his film at the Sundance Film Festival and making a deal that may change the course of his life and career.
RVO: Congratulations on the success of “Concussion” at Sundance.
AC: Thank you. People here are digging it. It all goes to Stacie Passon, the writer and director.
RVO: Can you describe the film for our readers?
AC: “Concussion” is about a lesbian housewife who lives in an upscale neighborhood in New Jersey. She is playing with her kids and her son beans her with a baseball and she has a concussion. When she comes to, she has that 40-something realization – where am I and where’s my passion? When you’re 25 everything makes sense, when you’re 40 it goes gray. That’s the heart of the film that people are relating to most: there’s a clock ticking for everybody for different reasons.
RVO: Were you nervous about showing your film at Sundance?
AC: This is my first feature film, this is Stacie’s first feature film, and the first time we’re here at Sundance. I feel this is the little film that could.
RVO: Is the film up for a top prize?
AC: What happened this year, 16 films were selected, 8 by men directors; eight by women directors. The top prizes are ‘Best Director’, ‘Best Film’ and there’s an audience award. One of the rules, the film has to be a premier. It can’t be out in theaters. It has to be the first time the world has seen any one of these films.
RVO: How did your collaboration with Stacie happen?
AC: Stacie and I started working together making industrials for Warner Brothers Records, Sony music. We’ve made music videos together and all sorts of promotional pieces for the music industry. Stacie hails from Detroit and now she resides in Montclair where the story takes place.
I’m still a Jersey City guy. In February of 2011, Stacie told me she had an idea for a film and my response was ‘Good, don’t tell me about it, write it.’ Two months later she came back with a first draft and it knocked my socks off.
RVO: Did you shoot the film in Jersey?
AC: We shot a good portion in Montclair and in Hoboken at the old Levelor building. They were very nice to us there. We shot on location for exteriors in Brooklyn and Soho.
RVO: For those of us who have never been, can you describe what Sundance is like?
AC: Sure. When you first go to Newark and fly out, you want to question why Redford chose this place for a film festival. You have to fly to Salt Lake and take an hour drive to get here. But once you get here and you’re surrounded by snow-capped mountains, you realize everybody here has the same love for film you do and it makes sense. You’re cut off from the world for a week just seeing other people’s films and supporting them. It becomes a weird bonding between all the filmmakers. (Regarding the layout), it has one main road in and out of the city and from what I understand when the festival comes around the price of everything doubles. When Redford gave the commencement speech, he said the festival generates $80 million in 8 days for the territory. All the shuttles that take you from one theater to the next are free and I believe there are 8 theaters, but when I say theater, the local high school auditorium is turned into a theater, a Jewish temple is turned into a theater, all of this adds to the charm. Meanwhile big companies like Dolby will spec out the theater and make sure the sound quality is top notch. The high school auditorium, the Jewish temple, they become professional theaters in a matter of days.
RVO: And after the first screening, “Concussion” was picked up by a distributor. Can you share how that came about?
AC: The Weinsteins have a company called RADIUS-TWC and they picked up our film. It screened Saturday and sold two days later. I’m saying this in a very humble way, it’s a big deal, a 7-figure deal and more than half of that will go back to the investors.
RVO: How will this change things for you and your career?
AC: It lets us play in the sandbox and gives us the chance to do this again. I have now 50 business cards and keep track of all the people I’m meeting. I’m part of the Class of 2013. I’m hoping in 20 years that will have grown.