“Almost Paris” may sound like an unusual title for a film about the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, but even more unusual is the film’s connection to the North Fork.
Cynthia and Tom Rosicki, owners of Sparkling Pointe Winery in Southold, are the film’s executive producers.
“Almost Paris” is about Max, a former banker who returns to his hometown after the crisis to face his family and friends and see the impact of his actions.
The film was conceived and written by Wally Marzano-Lesnevich, a native of Tenafly, N.J., who plays Max.
“I was curious about how the financial crisis impacted people in the real world, not just what you saw on TV, but how people dealt with it in relationships,” he said.
Marzano-Lesnevich showed the script to childhood friend and classmate Michael Sorvino, son of actor Paul Sorvino, with whom he’d also studied acting at Rutgers University.
“I was stunned and honored,” said Sorvino. “This was the best thing I’d read in the past 10 to 15 years.”
At the time, Sorvino was working in Sparkling Pointe’s tasting room and trying to convince the Rosickis to finance a play. But after reading “Almost Paris,” he showed them the script instead, which he’d decided to co-produce with Marzano-Lesnevich.
“We read the script and really liked it,” said Tom Rosicki. “We said, yes, we will executive produce, as long as we are the only ones. We don’t want to share that control with anyone else.”
The first thing the couple did was convince the filmmakers to move the shooting location from Tenafly to Oyster Bay. In fact, that was their only production directive.
“I knew it would be better,” Cynthia Rosicki explained. “I’ve lived there my whole life, so I spent a good part of last summer being a location scout.”
Thanks to the couple’s connections with the town and its businesses, the filmmakers we able to shoot virtually anywhere they chose.
“All the restaurants, bars, supermarkets – they all know us so they were very gracious in giving us the venues to shoot in for free and staying open all night long,” she said. “I knew that was not going to happen in Tenafly.”
With the location decided, the Rosickis were thrilled to learn that Domenica Cameron-Scorsese, daughter of Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese, would direct.
“That was like manna from heaven,” Tom Rosicki exclaimed.
An actress who has also directed several short films, Cameron-Scorsese chose “Almost Paris” as her feature film directorial debut because it raises many challenging issues.
“Even though the film is Max’s journey, it’s really an ensemble piece,” she said. “I could explore a lot of themes that feel like pay dirt for me, like personal turning points, characters facing uncomfortable truths about themselves and their interaction with what makes them who they are.”
During shooting, the executive producers were careful to limit their time on the set.
“We’re not micro-managers,” said Cynthia Rosicki. “We wanted them to do what they do best.”
“What was fun,” her husband added, “was that a lot of people working on the film stayed at our house. Domenica stayed with us, other people stayed in our poolhouse, it was a lot of fun.”
Because the film was such a family affair, other Sparkling Pointe employees got a chance to appear in small roles.
Marketing and social media coordinator Kelsey Cheslock and wine educator Peter Nesi play a couple Max turns down for a loan. Cheslock has appeared in several productions with North Fork Community Theatre, but this was her debut in front of the camera.
“It was so different from working on the stage,” she said. “I loved it and it was great working with Domenica, Michael and Wally, who have become great friends.”
“There’s a lot of talent here at Sparkling Pointe,” said Sorvino. “They have become like a second family to me.”
“Almost Paris” will premiere April 24 at the Tribeca Film Festival — and tickets reportedly sold out in five minutes.”
“I’ve been in the business for 20 years,” said Sorvino. “I’ve made 15 films and produced several, but this is my biggest opening. Tribeca is my hometown film festival. We shot in Oyster Bay and the city, so it’s like our backyard festival.”
The entire filmmaking process was such a great experience that the Rosickis are open to a repeat performance.
“This has been a real education to see what it takes to make a film,” Tom Rosicki said. “It’s spawned a real appreciation for the art.”
And the film’s connection to Paris? Marzano-Lesnevich is keeping that a secret until after the premiere.