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Damian Fitzsimmons’s sexy and raunchy comedy Off The Rails screens at the New Jersey Film Festival on Sunday, September 22, 2019!


By Al Nigrin

originally published: 09/18/2019

Damian Fitzsimmons’s sexy and raunchy comedy Off The Rails screens at the New Jersey Film Festival on Sunday, September 22, 2019!

Here is my interview with Off The Rails Director Damian Fitzsimmons:

Nigrin: Your coming-of-age comedy story set in the early 1970s centers on three young men -- Chris, Liam, and Manny -- who are floating aimlessly in this youth-fueled counter culture. Equally lovable as they are inept, they decide to open a bar without any concrete idea of what it will take to make a success of their joint venture. Please tell us more about your film and what motivated you to make it?

Fitzsimmons: So, the film is actually based on a true story.  The Executive Producer and one of the writers, Mark Ford, was involved with opening up a bar in 1972 with the film's other writer, Steve Cabrera and a friend of theirs who has since passed away.  In many ways, the film is a tribute to their friend who would tell them after late night drinks that one day they should make a movie about their bar.

The real bar was the RIGHT TRACK INN in Freeport, Long Island that was actually quite famous in it's day.  They really were 20 something and inept, they really did steal steak, water down beer on nickel beer night, used a microwave.  Mark (Liam in the movie) really did join the Peace Core with his girlfriend who he subsequently married in Chad were they were posted.  Steve (Manny) eventually became an engineer and married his longtime sweetheart Belle (Anna in the movie) - he did not however get her pregnant in the back of a VW!

Nigrin: The actors who play Chris, Liam, and Manny and their girlfriends are a perfect fit. Their chemistry is really great. Please tell us more about them and how you ended up working with them. 



 
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Fitzsimmons: All the "kids" had some acting experience but none of them (except Kelly) had ever been in a movie before.  We really wanted Chris and the others to 'gel' before we started filming.  Budget was tight but we came up with the idea of housing them all in the same apartment a week before the shoot so they could hang out together.  We rehearsed every morning for a couple of hours and then they would spend the day hanging out.  Originally, it was just the boys we put up but the girls came and said they wanted to stay with them too - it was super cramped but they had a blast.  The scene in the hospital when everyone is crying was the last day of shooting - they were all crying because they were sad that the movie was over. 

Nigrin: Your film is really beautiful and extremely well shot. And the intercut shots of the sex scene and the bathroom cleaning scene in the film underscores the raunchy and sexy aspect of the film. Was this the intended look? Tell us more about the editing and cinematographic style you chose to use in your film.

Fitzsimmons: It helps when your best friend is a cutting edge cinematographer in LA :)   Our DP, Colin Watkinson, is my childhood best friend, and still my best friend for that matter.  He liked the script and told me he wanted to shoot it.  I was hesitant only because we didn't have the budget to pay someone of his caliber but he informed me he'd spoke to his agent and was taking six weeks off if we could fly him out and put him up.  Colin has since gone on to win an EMMY for Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale - he used the same lenses, Canon K35's which have now achieved cult status because of Handmaid's.

Colin and I grew up going to the cinema together in our hometown of Liverpool in England.  We have similar tastes in film and having known each other for almost 40 years we can finish each others' sentences.  Colin knew what I wanted but I also wanted Colin to have the space to experiment without having a studio producer breathing down his neck.  We had some solid ideas going in what we wanted to achieve and the rest of it we made up on the day - our storyboards were scribbled on the back of my script in late night sessions - occasionally we'd look at a frame I'd penciled and be like "what the hell is that?  It looks like a hippo driving a go cart" or whatever.

The intercut scenes was very deliberate – I love the playful editing of Jeunet and Caro, especially in Delicatessen, so this is a nod to them.  My biggest regret is that I didn't follow up with another scene like this towards the end of the film.

Nigrin: Having Palm Beach County in Florida as the location of the film is perfect too. How did you end up shooting the film there.

Fitzsimmons: So as stated, the real story took place in Freeport Long Island.  Mark, the executive producer and I both live in South Florida.  Based on our budget we could have either shot in Long Island during the present day or South Florida in 1972.  I'm really happy we chose 1972 and South Florida.  So much of the 70's architecture still exists down here and the sun and swaying palm trees I think really added to the care free nature of the movie.  Plus July in South Florida and December in South Florida look exactly the same so it was much easier to shoot a story that takes place over a year in the same three week period.  There's a scene where Kelly wears a turtle neck because it's supposed to be Christmas Day -  that's pretty realistic for December in South Florida but we shot that scene in July - it was 90 degrees with almost 100 per cent humidity!

I have made my home in South Florida for the last twenty years.  I love living here.  I'm intimately aware with the light and how it changes, when you are going to get the best clouds to shoot, unknown locations that you only get by spending years in a place.  I have two more feature films I want to shoot in South Florida that all take place in this mythical beach town.

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



 
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Fitzsimmons: Budget was tight and vintage cars were expensive.  We thought about how could we get more production value without a ton of cars.  So it turns out vintage bicycles are way cheaper which is why there are as many bicycles as cars in the movie.  It kind of made sense anyway.  The movie is set in a beach town so it made sense - there's a certain innocence about putting your characters on bicycles.  We also couldn't afford Harley Davidsons for our biker gang so you never see them on bikes or in cars.  The name of their gang was an in joke - we called them The Walkers, because they walked everywhere -  it was also the name of a neighborhood gang where Colin and I grew up, they weren't a real gang but they used to hang out in some playing fields called "Walkers" so that was their name.  They were kind of pathetic, like the gang in our film.

The film almost didn't get made, or at least would have been radically different because of location.  Trying to find a bar turned out to be practically impossible - certainly anything we could afford.  I mentioned my lament to a friend of mine who said I had to meet her friend, JP, who owned a bar literally around the corner from where my studio is.  I met with JP, told him what I was doing and he said "I like it.  Tell you what, I was gonna close for three weeks to do some remodeling, why don't I close for six and you can have the first three weeks?"  The rest is history.  Sadly JP passed away not long after filming.  He plays the angry chef in one of the opening scenes and is one of four people remembered at the end of the film.

Off The Rails Trailer:  https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6098154/videoplayer/vi3610491417

Three great experimental short films will precede the screening of Off The Rails. Here is more info on this screening:

I Am He Who Created Himself Emma Penaz Eisner (San Francisco, California) This surrealistic film intermixes stop motion animation, time lapse photography, and live action sequences to re-imagine one of the paradigmatic creation myths recorded in antiquity.  The first god, joining with his shadow, creates himself, the progenitor of humanity. 2019; 4 min.

The Hearing of the Eye Alessia Cecchet (Santa Cruz, California)  This experimental film explores death through a post-humanist lens. Our understanding of an animal changes once it has died. We look away, no longer in awe and the wonder becomes abject. The film centers on the animal in its passing, compelling the viewer to reconsider its value and, thereby, to open the possibility for empathy. 2018; 6 min.

Babasha– Pol Rebaque (Barcelona, Spain)  Inspired by the latest album from underground artist Marina Herlop, Babasha is defined by reminiscences of classical contemporary music and hints of electronic influences.  Foregoing a conventional narrative, the film unfolds as a journey through several moods and inner experiences. 2019; 15 min.

Off The Rails - Damian Fitzsimmons  (Del Ray Beach, Florida)  This coming-of-age story centers on three young men. Set in the early 70s, it chronicles what came to be known as the Age of Aquarius, a period of social growth, political awareness, and unrest.  Freedom is the byword of existence for Chris, Liam, and Manny, who are floating aimlessly in this youth-fueled counter culture. Equally lovable as they are inept, they decide to open a bar without any concrete idea of what it will take to make a success of their joint venture. Through trials and tribulations, they come to discover who they are as individuals and what they really want in life. 2018; 92 min.

Sunday, September 22, 2019 at 7:00 PM
 in Voorhees Hall #105/Rutgers University, 71 Hamilton Street, New Brunswick, New Jersey



$14= Advance; $12=General; $10=Students+Seniors

Information: (848) 932-8482;
www.njfilmfest.com



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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