Making ‘Dungeon Dogs’ with Don Calabrese

Bayside-born filmmaker efforts directorial debut

'Dungeon Dogs' writer/director Don Calabrese talks with an actor on set
‘Dungeon Dogs’ writer/director Don Calabrese talks with an actor on set

The cameras were ready to role, the actors were in place. The director drew in a breath to yell action. Suddenly, the lights went out.

“What happened?” one of the crew said, on the darkened sidewalk of Bell Boulevard.

Lit by the streetlights, the crew of this no-budget film named “Dungeon Dogs” searched for the problem. The director/writer of the film, Don Calabrese, isn’t too upset. The first day of shooting of his short film has gone smoothly since it began at 6 p.m. The final shot of the day, a quick close of up actor Jimmy Vlachos, is all that’s needed to wrap for the night.

And the shoot is still right on schedule.

Making this film has been something of a smooth ride, said Calabrese, who began writing on anything he could get his hands on. A film based loosely on Calabrese’s own experiences, he wrote it on bar napkins in a few of his favorite watering holes. The film itself takes place in and around Bayside, in places like Uncle Jack’s, Brian Dempsey’s and the Golden Star Restaurant. A story of redemption, Calabrese is cautious about revealing details about the plot.

All he would say is, “The story’s about a man coming out of prison and basically trying to lead a normal life.

“It took about two months to write, it came real quick.”

Calabrese, whose from Newark, moved to New York to become an actor. With his most recent stint as a principal character in a film called “Murderland” — which appeared in the Long Island Film Festival — he came to the conclusion that entering the “business” was a slow process. Actors can spend years trying to get into films. So, Calabrese turned his attention to writing. He decided to build his own films, and cast himself in any part he liked.

This is not Calabrese’s first writing credit. He co-wrote the film “A Screw Driver is a Thief’s Tool,” and also acted in it. With plans to submit his 16mm film “Dungeon Dogs” to the Sundance Film Festival, Calabrese hopes he’ll be able to raise the money to make his feature length screenplay, titled “Even God’s Got A Dirty Mouth,” which he wrote two years ago.

With very little money, “Dungeons Dogs” is being shot with the help of its crew and actors, who are each lending time and equipment to the film. Almost everyone is a Queens local, having been friends for a long time.

'Dungeon Dogs' set
‘Dungeon Dogs’ set

“We all have faith in the film,” Lisa Foglio, associate producer, said. “We believe it’s worth not working for a while.”

A seven year veteran, Foglio has worked on numerous music videos, and recently on the Penny Marshall film, “The Preacher’s Wife” with Denzel Washington and Whitney Houston. Foglio made her film debut as an extra in “The Godfather PartII,” playing a little girl who witness’s Don Corleone — played by Robert DeNiro — make his first hit.

With accents flavored in New York, the cast is an assemblage of people from Queens. People like Ross Broder, Craig Cassano and Mark Love, all of whom had worked with Calabrese before on “Murderland.”

Character actor Jimmy Marricone, who plays Mr. Zazzo, has appeared in films like the recently released “Copland”, the HBO produced/Christopher Reeves directed “In the Gloaming,” along with “Donnie Brasco” and “A Bronx Tale.”

The film’s producer, Lauren Patrice Nadler, is another veteran who is lending both her managerial and acting skills to the film. She also recently directed a pilot for a show that might appear on HBO. Nadler, a native of Bayside, teaches acting privately — her first love. Like the others in this film, she was drawn to the picture by the story, and the talents of Don Calabrese.

When asked, “why film?” everyone gave the same response. After a shrug of the shoulders, they explained it was something of a love. Foglio, who’s first behind the scenes work came as a production assistant on “King of New York,” fell instantly in love with movie making.

“It excited me,” Foglio said. “I knew this was it.”

And, of course, she also wants to direct.

Back on the set, the lights are back on, but the final shot was held up again. A cop has pulled someone over right next to the set. After a few moments, the cops agree to move further down the street. Police and pedestrians have been greatly polite to the film makers, who hope to finish this Sunday.

Perhaps, with the influx of new film makers and the rise of independent film in New York, a new breed of directors will be discovered. With recent people like Tarantino and Rodrigez, who made small indie films that turned them into Hollywood players, you never know where the next new talent will come from.

Or maybe we do — just ask Don Calabrese, from Bayside.

Michael Sheridan

Michael Sheridan has written, directed and produced more than a dozen short films under the banner of Maynard Films, and has worked as a writer for more than a decade for websites, magazines and newspapers.

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