The Last Day of August
“The screenplay — by Mr. DiFolco and Sara Rempe — is intriguing, with expertly handled exposition…nice performances and nice work by Mr. DiFolco (making his directorial debut)..” – Anita Gates, The New York Times
“…strong performances… dramatic power.” – Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter
“…fascinating…charismatic…” – Zachary Wigon, The Village Voice
What reviewers are saying on IMDB:
“The pace, the dialogue and acting are all very natural, and flow very well. There are moments of unexpected humor; this is not a “dark” film, considering the subject matter, and what I really like is that no one character is absolutely right or wrong. There are several subtle plot twists that keep you from judging certain characters and relationships. This is a debut feature film from the director and the writers, and very well done.”
“With essentially nothing to lose, Avers and company hit a note of playful confidence. The Weekend has a vibe of real-life controlled chaos, the sort that comes when those who have just begun to call themselves “adults” take over a small domain. It’s an enjoyable, though light, glimpse at a social circle years after its forging.” – Andrew Lapin, TheDissolve.com
What reviewers are saying on IMDB:
“Perhaps the most remarkable thing about “The Weekend” is that it manages to portray an unseen past, a chaotic present, and an uncertain future all at once; and despite being everywhere, the movie works. It is warm, hope-filled, and brought nostalgia back in me that I didn’t even realize I still had. I recommend it when with or when thinking about old friends. Perhaps even with the possibility of new ones.”
“The actors have a really good amount of comfort towards each other which makes this really lovable. This movie makes you want to call up your childhood sweetheart and runaway to a cottage with them. When you watch this, you’ll feel happiness, hunger, and an urge to hangout with your friends. Also, the acting in this movie is phenomenal! You really feel for the characters which is what makes this film so effective!”
“You can tell that this movie was done with love from the cast and crew. There are moments of raw emotion and other moments of hilarity. This movie reminded me of so many moments of my past with great friends. If you love movies like the Breakfast Club, The Big Chill and Wet Hot American Summer, you will love this movie. Definitely will recommend The Weekend to my friends.”
Independent Sunnyside Films Blends Ensemble with Lean Start Up to Produce Quality Content
“It’s so weird to think that this is what we do for fun,” the filmmaker, director Craig DiFolco, remarked to his moviemaking partner, the actor and producer Michael Izquierdo, as they wrapped a heartwrenching scene on their feature The Last Day of August back in 2011.
The film chronicles waning summer days in upstate New York as a reclusive Dan (Michael) struggles to recover emotionally from a car accident that left him paralyzed – and he’s drinking. His friends from the city show up as unwanted saviors and Dan is confronted by his former fiancé, played by Vanessa Ray.
“It struck me, because we’re friends, and many of the people that we work with in front of and behind the camera are friends,” says Michael in hindsight, of this latest Sunnyside Films release. “That somehow, we enjoy uncovering the deep inner emotions of characters, and are able and willing to draw lines separating our professional lives from our friendships.”
The balance has worked so far – the New York Times noted recently that, “The screenplay is intriguing, with expertly handled exposition…nice performances and nice work by Mr. DiFolco,” and Variety said it had, “…strong performances,” and “dramatic power.”
That Last Day of August was so well received came as a surprise to the guys a humble duo by nature who are also confident enough to welcome the validation for their process. Ultimately they went up against the double-edged sword of short resources and a lot of motivation to stretch the pieces to fit, but it’s these limitations that may be their secret sauce.
Each production is a puzzle that is writing, budgeting, scheduling, casting, acting that leads to producing a finished product for the screen, and Craig and Michael have boiled down their process to maximum efficiency after three features and a web series. Craig says his favorite part of it all is the casting, something he never thought would be the case. They have picked up skills along the way to round out their creative talents and have turned around and shared that knowledge on their website with helpful articles that contribute to the hivemind thought process of the filmmaker movement to produce relatable commercially-unmediated content that is going to ring true for their audience.
“What’s nice about Sunnyside Films and independent film is that it can truly be independent,” says Michael. “You can keep creative control and make decisions based on collaborative conversations with directors and writers and artists, as well as your own tastes. In a perfect world, that freedom and independence leads to a strong voice, and there is a commercial market for strong voices.
So far, they’ve been right. They have distributed all three feature films, one having a theatrical release, and have tapped in to a new efficient and successful way of making independent films.
“It’s funny to think that a little film that you made with your great friends can make it all the way to that level, and that people like it,” added Michael. “It feels very special.”
The duo, who have been pals since childhood when they attended Manhattan’s Regis High School together, have worked together since 2006, and in 2010 Michael founded Sunnyside Films. Along with The Last Day of August the company has also made the enjoyable summer camp reunion comedy The Weekend, directed by Brian Avers, starring a huge company of twelve actors, led by Carson Elrod, Julie Sharbutt and Heather Lind. Most recently they worked with Craig’s brother Pete on the feature length Viscera, a cerebral horror flick – if there was one – which just premiered at the New York City Horror Film Festival and is garnering serious attention. Their range in genres reflects their collaboration and ease with a few different groupings of family and friends according to their interests, and many of the actors overlap on the films, as if an emerging modern film ensemble.
None of this could have been foreseen in 2006 when the duo embarked on their first major project together, and that’s what makes it all so exciting for them – the adventure of where their process has taken them. That project was a web series called iChannel – an interactive surveillance documentary style web series based elements from Michael’s real life creatively re-imagined. Craig’s storylines and cameras invaded Michael’s apartment, his relationships with co-stars Kristen Connolly and Sebastian Arcelus, and the storylines that arose from real lives lived in Sunnyside, Queens. As his life rolled by in digital spurts, so did text messages from his audience, telling Michael what to do, how to do it and where to do it, throughout each episode. Though it was comedic, the series in hindsight seems almost satirically predictive about the kind of surveillance culture that the media came to develop a few years later, making it still totally relevant despite the immense changes in the digital landscape since 2006.
“When we were first launching iChannel, and I kept thinking to myself, ‘Wait, I’m about to broadcast so much of my own life, within a fictional narrative, that is interactive with its audience, this is scary!’” says Michael. “It was – but I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
The guys sold that series to Fox International Channels in Italy and reinvested back into what would become the umbrella of Sunnyside Films. “Calculated risk is such a big part of this business – I learned that.”
“It’s tricky, but I have always felt that half of me is a passionate-artsy-type, and the other half loves spreadsheets and good font choices,” says Michael. “You have to be able to know when to turn which side of it on and when – but I feel like they tend to balance each other.”
Michael, the New York University MFA graduate, is the actor, Craig, the Columbia MFA graduate in producing, is the screenwriter, and between them they meld the talents required of modern filmmakers, while also pursuing their day jobs – what they don’t know, they Google.
“When people ask what we do, I won’t really say that I’m a director or writer or producer, I just say we make movies, ” says Craig. “Even though each step along the way requires different skill sets, I really enjoy every step for different reasons, and though I definitely identify myself as a filmmaker I don’t necessarily identify strongly with one role or the other. I really enjoy the experience of seeing a story through completely, from concept all the way to exporting the final output.”
By day Craig teaches speech and drama at The Marymount School in Manhattan – his summers are often planned around a location scouting, writing timeline or production schedule, or all of the above. He says, “Ultimately, we are the ones that are creating and developing the content and steering the ship along the way, and we’re making these at the right price point where we’re not subject to pressure from others. But we’re willing to give up control in situations if someone’s going to make strong, informed decisions that are best for the project and help us get the films out to audiences.”
Thinking strategically and finding synchronicity with their community of talented actors slash production team are skills that Craig and Michael are expert in – which they know doesn’t necessarily make them experts, but more importantly flexible and oriented towards achieving their goals.
“I’m always thinking up and jotting down broad concepts that amuse or intrigue me and my friends, and the first thing I do is figure whether the concept is of a scale that we can handle ourselves, or whether it requires a greater budget and so should instead be written to sell,” says Craig. “I try to make sure I’m always developing one of each variety at any given time – one screenplay where I’m free to make any creative choices entirely based on story, and one where even though there might be some restrictions, we’re at least certain we’ll make it.”
A writer by nature, Craig brings the hybrid talents of sense and cents – or when to spend time and when to spend money. “At Columbia I decided to focus on producing rather than writing/directing so I could understand the business of filmmaking and the logistics of putting together movies from start to finish. I of course wanted to write and direct, but I wanted us to have the ability to make things ourselves without relying on someone else to say yes,” he says.
By day Michael auditions for film and television, and has a role in Martin Scorsese’s blockbuster The Wolf of Wall Street. He is also an accomplished stage and voiceover actor, having shared the stage with legends like Sam Waterston, and Meryl Streep, and Kevin Kline, been directed by James MacDonald, Ang Lee, Scorsese, and Leigh Silverman, while also maintaining an active voiceover schedule, most recently as the voice of Doomsday Preppers on the National Geographic Channel and many commercials.
Native New Yorkers born and raised, Craig and Michael bring together a close-knit group of family – like Craig’s brother Pete, co-writer and director on Viscera – and friends collected along the way. All of the Sunnyside Films projects feature actors like Heather Lind, whom Michael met at NYU, along with The Weekend director Brian Avers. While studying acting at his undergraduate alma mater Williams College, Craig and Michael became great friends with the actor Sebastian Arcelus, of House of Cards fame, who co-starred in and co-produced The Last Day of August with Arcelus Entertainment, as well as their collaborative project together, iChannel.
“The world keeps making it easier and easier to make your own work, and make it look good,” says Michael. “I think each actor has an independent spirit that is truly his or her own, and being able to be proactive about creating content for yourself to give that spirit a medium and a voice, like the internet, is a no-brainer. You also learn so much about yourself as an artist when you do that, which is the real value – the value is not the project’s ultimately success or failure – that doesn’t really matter. I firmly believe you learn by doing. And by doing again and again.”
Again and again the duo has found that risk is a big part of this industry, and as a business, Sunnyside Films seems to have taken just the right ones so far, investing carefully and strategically with their time, skills, and resources. Their feature film trifecta was born in fits and spurts over three years and though the pace can be daunting – shifting back and forth as projects stall or move forward full steam at a moment’s notice – this is a group that thinks it’s worth it for the fun of it all.
“That’s what’s lovely about the business, you never know what may happen next, and each is enervating in it’s own way. All of a sudden you may be shooting a Scorsese movie for six weeks and have to put everything aside, and then a week later, you’re trying to put together pre-pro for a horror film, while doing voiceovers during the day,” says Michael, adding, “It ‘s fun.”
“Like everything in this business, you never know what kettle is going to boil when, so you have to have them all on the stove at the same time, and have one heat up the others. I feel like there is a lovely flow to the various things that I’ve been lucky enough to be part of.”
Craig chimed in, “And really there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing than making a movie with friends and family. So that allows me to invest a lot of time and energy, not only because I love the work but because I enjoy spending time with the team.”
-Nicole Brydson, Misfit Media