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AO’s Romantic Road Drama Starlit Premieres At The New Jersey Film Festival On Sunday, February 11, 2018!

By Al Nigrin

originally published: 02/07/2018

AO’s Romantic Road Drama Starlit Premieres At The New Jersey Film Festival On Sunday, February 11, 2018!

AO’s Romantic Road Drama Starlit Premieres At The New Jersey Film Festival On Sunday, February 11, 2018!

Here are the responses to my interview questions as crafted by Starlit Screenwriter Adam Bertocci:

Nigrin: Your charming romantic road drama Starlit is about Jessica Alvarez -- a bored 24 year old MBA who is looking for adventure. Please tell us more about this film and why it was made?

Bertocci:  As with many films, Starlit began as a synthesis of a lifetime's worth of interests and experiences.  Kerry Borchardt, the story writer and producer of Starlit, always liked doing creative things, going back to making 8mm home movies when he was 12. Kerry has a mild case of ADHD and has to struggle to stay focused enough to function in life. But when his mind wanders, he thinks of all sort of weird creative ideas - "without using drugs," he adds.  An avid hiker, Borchardt really enjoys outdoor activities and is a volunteer trail maintainer of the Appalachian Trail in the Hudson Valley.  He strongly believes in women's rights and independence, in taking (non-life-threatening!) risks to feel alive and in following one's passions.  It's no wonder that Jessica Alvarez, the protagonist of Starlit, ended up taking on so many of these characteristics, except perhaps a little more struggle involved in maintaining her independence.  A long time ago-far predating the long-overdue renewal of focus on films with female protagonists or the #MeToo movement whose tenets are coincidentally echoed in the script - Borchardt took a course in screenwriting at the School of Visual Arts and started developing the story that became Starlit.   Around the same time, director AO was in junior high and found a dusty old camcorder in her parents' closet and started pretend-directing her family with scripts she copied off of TV shows.  Eventually, Borchardt and AO met--in January 2014, while taking Movie Making 101 at the School of Visual Arts.  When AO mentioned that she was also taking a course in Directing, Borchardt asked if she would like to direct his 4-minute student film. While on set, Borchardt was impressed at her ability in interacting with the actors.  As the Starlit project developed, AO felt that the stars were aligned for her to be involved because of her passion for stories with strong female leads and her empathy for the need for escapism in these tense times.

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Nigrin:  There are a number of twists and turns in your film to keep the viewer guessing. Was this the plan all along?

Bertocci: Starlit is intended to reflect its protagonist's emotional landscape, hyperactive, prone to distraction and seeking the calm of nature. What begins as a domestic coming-of-age story turns into a road movie and a romance and hits a few other genres along the way. The music reflects the same fractured approach.  It is not until very late in the film that the film departs from Jessica's point of view for more than a few seconds.   

Nigrin:  Valentina Corbella who plays Jessica is sensational. She carries the film in so many ways. Where did you discover her?

Bertocci:  Keenly aware that the film would not be worth making without a strong lead performance, producer Kerry Borchardt chose to begin casting in April 2014, before undertaking anything else. AO, who at the time was not directing the film (no selection had been made yet) volunteered to be the casting director, helping pick the actors who would play Jessica, Roger and Mom.  Borchardt made sure to specify in his casting announcement that Jessica would be required to hike up a trail with a 4000-foot elevation gain on a hot summer day. Actors who enjoyed adventurous activities were strongly encouraged to apply. In addition, potential Jessicas had to understand going in that the role would require some nudity.  In order to cast as wide a net as possible, Borchardt decided not to limit his search for Jessica (whose last name was Parsons at the time) to any one race or ethnic background.  After many auditions, Valentina Corbella walks in: "beautiful, bright eyed, and she exuded this sort of innocent wonder," as AO recalls. During her audition she was playful, daring and serious when called for.  AO knew that Corbella was the one, but was not sure if Borchardt would agree because of her accent. Borchardt showed the best auditions to friends and was particularly amused by positive reaction to Corbella by a friend who liked classic movies.  In the end, Borchardt and AO agreed that the script could be modified to explain the character's accent, and anyway, any young woman who moves from Argentina to act in New York had to be suitably adventurous.  

Nigrin: Tell us more about the rest of the main cast too. They are equally compelling.  How you did you choose them?

Bertocci:  Mark:  Mark had to do almost as much hiking as Jessica, so once again the need arose for an actor who enjoyed outdoor activities. Anthony Tether fit the bill, and, as a plus, happens to be an amateur astronomer. 

Roger: A character who was both a good person at heart and a bad fit for Jessica required an actor who could walk a certain line. Borchardt often likened this character to Ward Cleaver from "Leave it to Beaver".  Cory Cannataro came off as such a nice guy that as the film developed, the filmmakers wrote him a new scene at the end to let him exit the movie with some dignity. 

Mom:  Liz Chuday has a daughter in real life about the same age as Valentina Corbella. Chuday was, by her own admission, "a little overly protective" and very much a smart-ass. 

Sarah:  When Jessica became a Latina, her sister had to follow suit. Lara Alcantara is also a photographer. 

Aunt Viva and the Biker Babe:  Nancy Rubel joined the film as an actor but ended up becoming an invaluable friend to the production on all fronts, everything from offering her house as a location to helping round up extras.  She appears in her own home as Aunt Viva, but also (along her real-life husband Bill) plays the "biker babe"; she was so convincing in the dual role that editor Seth Reuben Jacobson did not know until late in proceedings that they were played by the same actor. 

Nigrin:  The location of the film is also a star. Where was the film shot and why did you decide to shoot the film there?

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Bertocci:   Starlit was shot primarily in the Hudson Valley in locations producer Kerry Borchardt was familiar with, plus one day in Maine and four days in Argentina.  The story of the film's arrival in Argentina is perhaps indicative of the process by which Starlit took shape.  Protagonist Jessica became Argentinean when Valentina Corbella from Argentina was cast. After shooting she had to return to Argentina, just as her character does in one memorable sequence. When the filmmakers decided that their scenes in "Argentina" - really Garrison, New York - were not fully panning out, there was only one thing to do.  Borchardt and director AO packed a camera and a drone and hopped a flight for a road trip.  Among the first stops was a small town close to the Chilean border called Barreal. The marked change in landscape from urban to green country was striking, and they enjoyed the sight of a niandu (ostrich family) running across the road in the desert.  The Casleo observatory is about an hour's drive from Barreal. A highlight for AO was arriving at the Observatory on her birthday, during the observatory team's Sunday barbecue! "Argentine steak on the grill... amazing and delicious," she recalls. "The observatory team was so friendly, knowledgeable and helpful with the shoot." They made Corbella feel like a real part of the team.  At night, Corbella, AO and Borchardt got a chance to view the stars from one of their small telescopes. They saw the Southern Cross, a double star and the rings of Saturn.  (Just in case there was not sufficient Argentine spirit in the film, an earlier scene was shot at Rincon Argentino, a cafe located in Cold Spring, NY, owned by a couple from Argentina.)

Nigrin: Are there any memorable stories while you made this film or any other info about your film you can relay to our readers?

Bertocci: Starlit is the result of a long-term collaborative process where the filmmakers embraced input from anyone and everyone, not to mention the odd twists and turns of life itself.  The film's star, Valentina Corbella, was involved with the script from the day she was cast and actively participated in developing the character. A joint suggestion from Corbella and makeup artist Arielle Williams influenced the character's final romantic decision. Actors and crew in positions big and small were invited to view cuts and offer feedback at various stages.  There were plenty of opportunities for levity and bonding among the close-knit Starlit family. On the night of shooting a meteor shower in August 2016, cast and crew took the opportunity to camp out and sleep on top of the RV featured in the film.  While filming the skinny-dipping scene, AO wanted to get the mood right and to help Corbella and Anthony Tether feel at ease. So guess what she did. And the producer and most of the crew followed suit - or suitless :)

Here is the trailer for Starlit:



Tianyang Cong's touching short A River will precede Starlit. Here is more info on this screening:

A River - Tianyang Cong (Jersey City, New Jersey)

Wang and her long-lost daughter, Jiang, meet again and are instantly at odds over the past, the future, and the ashes of the daughter's dead father. 2017; 13 min.

Starlit – AO  (Fishkill, New York)

Starlit is a romantic road drama with any number of twists.  Jessica Alvarez is twenty-four and bored. What she has is an MBA, a safe corporate gig, a bland boyfriend, a steady supply of pills for her ADHD, and a room at home with a suffocating mother. She craves independence and adventure; she needs to feel alive. She wants to assert her rights, but all that remains of her independence is a stargazing hobby and a BMW roadster. Then one summer morning she meets a bad-boy car mechanic who cons her into going on-the-lam with him for a short spell... that becomes a long spell, from the Hudson Valley up to Maine. They hike the Appalachian Trail by day and enjoy the stars at night. But is he too good to be true? 2017; 94 min. With a Q+A session with Director AO, Producer Kerry Borchardt and members of the Cast and Crew!

Sunday, February 11, 2018 at 7:00 p.m.

Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University

71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey

$12=General; $10=Students+Seniors; $9=Rutgers Film Co-op Friends

Information: (848) 932-8482;

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Jimmy John’s of New Brunswick will be providing free food prior to this New Jersey Film Festival Screening!





Albert Gabriel Nigrin is an award-winning experimental media artist whose work has been screened on all five continents. He is also a Cinema Studies Lecturer at Rutgers University, and the Executive Director/Curator of the Rutgers Film Co-op/New Jersey Media Arts Center, Inc.



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