The year was 2010, the month, August. On the East Side, horses were on the loose and screaming matches ensued on a front porch that was otherwise quiet. Filmmaker Laura Colella, 42, was in the midst of it all, unabashedly egging on the chaos.
“I had been trying to get a larger budgeted project off the ground for a few years, and after going many rounds with it, I realized I was capable of making a film immediately if I went about it the right way,” Colella says of the reason she chose to shoot her feature-length Breakfast With Curtis right in her own backyard… literally.
Colella filmed at her home, employing neighbors as actors. “The
main actors are the five residents of the three-family house I live in, and the family of four who live next door,” she says, noting that all but one had no professional acting experience at all. “It was a completely charmed shoot, mostly outdoors in our unusual backyards and gardens.” Colella says that the neighbors barely batted an eye, even through scenes involving “an angry tirade, or a horse walking down the sidewalk, or drunken singing on the porch.”
After writing the screenplay in June of 2010 and filming mostly in August of that year, Colella spent the next year editing in preparation for her big reveal. “We had our world premiere this June at the Los Angeles Film Festival,” she says.
The movie was chosen from over 5,200 entries as one of 10 films from around the world to be presented in the festival’s Narrative Feature competition. “We had two great screenings,and nearly the whole cast came out for them. The audience laughed a lot and responded very warmly… one critic from MSN Movies liked the film so much that he invited us all his house for brunch.”
It’s hard not to fall in love with the coming-of-age tale, which focuses not on teenaged Curtis (Jonah Parker), but on the “odd collection of adults around him, and how their antics spark a change in him.” The movie starts off when Syd (Theo Green), a bookseller with “delusions of grandeur” meets nine-year-old Curtis. It then skips ahead five years to when Syd tries to persuade the teen to work with him on a creative project. “Now a troubled adolescent, Curtis is reluctant at first, but soon grows to relish working with Syd,” she explains.
As the plot unfolds and the characters develop, the bad blood between residents of their houses begins to dissipate, “replacing old grudges and repressed secrets with fresh possibility. Past connections are revealed, and new ones sparked, as young Curtis’s seminal summer brings a season of change for every everyone.” It’s a feel-good film with an artistic (and local) twist, and it’s sure to have you rushing to learn more about the filmmaker.
Colella is no stranger to the scene: Breakfast With Curtis is her third feature-length narrative film, in addition to numerous shorts she’s turned out over the years. Colella’s other two feature-length films, Tax Day (1998) and Stay Until Tomorrow (2004) were also filmed mainly in Providence and are available at Acme Video, on Netflix, for purchase online and at local libraries. In addition to her movie making, Colella teaches at RISD, and is also currently an MFA candidate in Brown University’s Writing for Performance program.
“Making a film is like putting together a ridiculously complicated puzzle that has infinitely more pieces and dimensions than you ever imagined,” Colella states. “So far, this feature has been the easiest one yet, despite the enormous amount of work that has gone into it.” Even as an undergrad film student at Harvard, she would come home to Providence to shoot her projects: “I have always loved filming here,” she says, noting that her movies aren’t just stories but time capsules, documenting the everchanging Providence landscape.
Be sure to check out Breakfast With Curtis at the Rhode Island International Film Festival at 6:45pm on Friday, August 10 at the Veterans Memorial Auditorium (1 Avenue of the Arts). The festival itself wil be in town from August 7-12. “The most rewarding part has been the reactions to the film,” Colella says with pride. “A very serious veteran screenwriter who saw it in Los Angeles told me it made him really happy, and that he never feels happy after seeing a movie.” This is a “feel good film” at its best.