"I'll take it all, I'll take any title that you can give me," said screenwriter, producer and actor Jeff Auer with a laugh as he discussed his latest venture; a film which he calls a "Rock 'n' roll comedy" titled "The Incoherents."
To better understand the concept and process behind its origin, one must get into the background of Auer, who is an actor and voice over artist by trade and especially since he has written, co-produced and starred in this feature film.
"I'm kind of a fake musician," he said with a laugh. "I'm like the drummer that keeps exploding but I'm an actor first and foremost. I've been working in TV, film, theater, commercials and voiceovers in New York for over 20 years and "The Incoherents" is the first feature length script I've ever written. I grew up loving rock 'n' roll, still loving rock 'n' roll and I've always wanted to make a movie about rock 'n' roll and "The Incoherents" is my version of a rock 'n' roll movie."
"I grew up in Island Heights; my family is originally from The Bronx. I was born in The Bronx and when I was four years old, we moved to Island Heights in Ocean County, NJ. So, all of my formative years were spent in Jersey, my parents still live there, all of my cousins who I'm very close to still live there and I have a lot of good friends, especially in the Belmar and Monmouth County area so I'm still very tied to what's going on down there even though I live in Brooklyn now."
Those Jersey ties led directly to the location choices for the production; famous clubs like Maxwell's (Tavern) in Hoboken and other northern New Jersey locales as well as Princeton were utilized to give the movie a feeling of authenticity.
"One of the co-producers Charles Kirby, his mother lives in Princeton and we needed a suburban house for my character and lo and behold his mom's house was perfect. So, we camped down there and shot there for three days. The only problem was, the day before we shot there was a humongous blizzard (laughs) so there was snow everywhere and the film was set in spring so we had to make sure the cameras never actually saw outside; all part of the magic that is film-making."
With the locations scouted and logistics in place, filming was set to begin: so what exactly is "The Incoherents" all about?
"The film is based on experience I had with some old college friends of mine; we started a band even though only one of us could play an instrument and we called that band The Incoherents. We, as sort of a fun side project, we would write songs over email. Guys would send lyrics and riffs and right when we started this kind of a fake band, one guy picked up the guitar and another bass; my friend Tim already knew how to play guitar and it just started from there. We just had a good time with it and we recorded songs with this guy in Chicago who had recorded John Lennon and Cher; it was probably the worst day of his life. The only reason we had went there was to have a few beers and a laugh and because this guy worked with John Lennon and Cher; so clearly him working with The Incoherents was not the top day of his professional career (laughs) but it was a fun creative outlet and we wrote more songs and recorded in New York and Boston and made an album. Then we had a disagreement with one song and that was the end of it. So, in the time-honored tradition of artistic differences, we decided not to do it anymore because we were friends and obviously the friendship was more important. Then a friend of mine suggested that I write a screenplay about it; I did and that band was called The Incoherents and so the film is called The Incoherents."
"In the film, my character broke the band up in the mid-nineties right as the band was starting to gain some traction because he got nervous about what the future might hold if they never made it and he decided that he wanted a more stable life with his then girlfriend now wife; a character named Liz who is played by Kate Arrington ("Ray Donovan," "Billions," "The Good Wife"). So, he's living this sort of drab suburban corporate existence as a paralegal and he doesn't have much going on other than work and married life and his marriage is a bit stagnant; he's got a couple of kids but he still has this burning desire to play music and "Make it" or whatever that might be and he decides to get the band back together."
Rounding out the experienced cast seemed to be an easy task given Auer's connections in the industry but in order to give it the proper vibe they had to choose the right musicians to compliment the script.
"Anette O'Toole who people may remember from her movies in the early 80's; she was in "48 Hours" and "Superman lll" and she was also in "Smallville" so she's had a long career in film, the stage and television; she plays the manager of the band's rehearsal studio, her character's name is Mrs. Graham. We also have Amy Carlson who is a long time regular on "Blue Bloods," we also have some cameo appearances by musicians like Chris Barron from The Spin Doctors, Richard Barone of The Bongos who were a well-known band that came out of Hoboken in the 80's; we also have Stew making a cameo. Stew is a guy who won a Tony Award for his musical "Passing Strange." We have Joe Hurley who plays in an Irish rock band called Rogues March, another guy named Jimmy Gnecco from another New Jersey band called Ours, he makes an appearance and plays in the film. There's also a great up and coming rock blues artist named Fiona Silver out of New York who also appears and performs in the film. Alex who is a co-star and co-producer and the guy who I wrote the songs with; he wrote all the music, produced and arranged all of the original music we made for the film and I wrote the lyrics. He wanted to cast as many musicians as possible in the film to create an authenticity to it and it seems to have worked. One of the compliments that we've been getting about the film is that it does feel authentic to the time and place of what we were trying to accomplish."
Now you may think that garnering the concept and delving into writing an undertaking such as this; it may be based on one's own life, if even loosely but Auer says that is not necessarily the case.
"For me, very little of it actually; other than the fact that I did work as a paralegal and I am married with two kids but the main character's journey is much, much different from mine. This is a guy who is actually; I was a bit of a wayward soul when I was younger. I wasn't super focused; I didn't start acting until I was 27 and this is a guy who was focused in college, was a good musician, he met the woman that he was going to spend the rest of his life with in college; he was a very focused guy early on who unfortunately lost confidence in his artistic abilities in his early 20's; whereas I started my artistic journey when I was in my late 20's. I would say Alex who plays "Jimmy" gauges a little closer to what he went through because in the film we make a joke about how he played in 21 different bands and Alex did bounce around with quite a few bands in the Lower East Side scene in the late 80's, 90's, and the 00's; some of who got close but it's a tough, tough biz. Richard Barone talked about it in an article in New Jersey Stage about how hard it is to make it; whatever that might seem to be. Like I said, I'm not a musician, I can kind of carry a tune so I made myself the lead of this band but just like any artistic endeavor it is so hard. I live it every day with my career, every day it's a grind, everyday you've got to hustle, hustle, hustle and there's very few people in the arts who can kick back and relax and be OK with the living that they made; for most of us it's a constant grind but we love it, that's what we're here for."
Auer says that the movie, "Almost Famous" has been an absolute influence on this film" explained that they accomplished much with very little in the way of finances; hence the locations, cast and production team but that overall, they are very happy with the results and continue to be pleasantly surprised at how well the film has been received.
"We were the "Best Homegrown Feature" in the 2019 Garden State Film Festival, he stated proudly. "We played at The Paramount Theater which was a pretty incredible experience because I have seen concerts there and that is a beautiful, beautiful old theater. We had a great long weekend in Asbury Park; the festival went virtual this year but I would recommend that anybody go and check it out because Asbury Park is a great town. We also won "Best Feature" awards at several festivals throughout the country in 2019 and shortly after that we got a distribution deal with Gravitas Ventures and here we are! We're available all over, we're on Video On Demand, Apple TV, Amazon, Vimeo, Google Play; wherever you can get on demand movies we are there."
"We are a micro-budget; we are a small, small movie so it's not like Paramount or Warner Bros. was knocking down our doors looking for us to be the next big feature. It is a small budgeted independent film so the odds were against us right off the bat because we did make this thing on a shoestring and we shot about two thirds of it in New Jersey. We shot a lot of it in northern New Jersey and we're just very fortunate to get a deal because films of this size and budget; which believe me really was on a shoestring get distribution like this and we're really excited that it happened."
"We produced it together with Jared Barel who directed it and edited it and his brother Jordon who are originally from Wayne (NJ) and now live in Los Angeles. They have a production company called Loaded Barrel Studios with which they produce a lot of comic books, graphic novels and things like that; then Alex Emanuel who I mentioned before, we all came together and produced it as one."
Words such as "Authenticity" and "Authentic" as well as real have been thrown about when speaking of the film because to many, especially musicians, it mirrors their lives or triggers memories of the struggles any performer has been through or still may be going through. One day you're a young artist struggling to be heard as you reach for notoriety and the next, you're a middle-aged adult trying to recapture those moments. Auer says they've all heard the comparisons and are very glad that this work has struck a chord; so to speak.
"We'll get messages from people on Facebook who have seen the trailers or the movie and they'll say, "This is my life" and though it's a completely made up story; it's been pretty exciting that there are people and fans that do relate to what the story is. Part of what people like about the film is that it's about following your dreams; following that inner thing in you that you have to pursue or you'll be miserable. Quite honestly, it doesn't matter whether you're playing in front of five or 50,000 people, it's about the act. Some of the best acting I've ever done has been in these little plays in downtown New York in front of seven people. Some of my favorite memories are being in that moment where there might only be a few people in the theater but they're engaged and they are into what you're doing and that's just as exciting as a big crowd as well. You don't feel good about yourself if you don't put 100 percent into it either; every time you perform you want to learn and take something from it as well and if you're not giving it everything it doesn't mean as much."
With the success of "The Incoherents" escalating; are there plans for a sequel?
"Well, we have worked on the idea of a TV show because a lot of people have asked us; I won't spoil the movie if you're going to rent it but the ending is a bit open ended about what could happen next. We've had a bunch of people ask us; what happens next? Alex, Jared and I are starting to work on a TV series and I've written a pilot. We'll see where the movie takes us and if it's successful and there's interest; we'd love to have a TV show poppin'."
To find out more about "The Incoherents" or the cast and crew, please visit https://www.theincoherents.com/.
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!
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Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.