For everyone that knows about this event, there’s probably ten who don’t. On Thursday, May 9th at 7:30 p.m. at The Palace Theatre, don’t miss the first ever public screening of the made in Syracuse feature film King Lee. This film was inspired by 1970s Syracuse and Mayor Lee Alexander’s controversial 16 year tenure. As anyone with a taste for history knows, the New Jersey-born Lee Alexander became famous (or infamous) for his corruption. It’s unbelievable to me that a Syracuse mayor once pleaded guilty to rackteering and extortion and conspiracy to obstruct the Government’s investigation AND income-tax evasion to the count of $1.2 million, but it happened. Enter King Lee, a comical, dramatic re-telling of this crazy story. It was produced and shot 100% in ‘Cuse and utilized crowd source founding via Kickstarter.com to make it happen. After a year of work, it’s finally almost ready and this Guru can’t wait to see it.
King Lee’s executive producer/co-writer Timothy Ferlito and I had a great chat about the film and I found out so many interesting details. King Lee, while certainly inspired by 1970s Syracuse and Mayor Lee Alexander, is by no means an accurate telling. It employs the sort of narrative that doesn’t follow historical facts, which allows King Lee to ask a much broader question about Syracuse while trying to fill in the answer. Go see this movie! You can BUY TICKETS NOW! Only $10. Purchasing online will get your name on the list at The Palace Theatre. Here’s my exclusive Q&A session with Mr. Ferlito. I think you’ll be really interested in what he had to say!
How does the movie relate to real story of Lee Alexander?
It’s based on the real Lee Alexander loosely. The story we were interested in telling wasn’t so much about who Lee Alexander was. When we were writing it we went by years of Post Standard articles. We’re not worried about the real life of this man, but what effect this sort of ego–this sort of personality–had on the city once he was gone. By no means is this any sort of an accurate telling of the life of Lee Alexander, we don’t even name him as Lee Alexander in the film–we call him “Mayor Lee”. We’re trying to tell the story of what happens when a person with good intentions becomes corrupted by power and the desire for more.
King Lee co-writer Tim Ferlito examines the City of Syracuse:
When did the tone change from this being the best place to live to the worst? Where did that attitude come from? We think it came from the fall of Lee Alexander. He was incredibly popular; he was the first democratic mayor that the city had since World War II. Elected in 1970, he served four full terms and he’s the specific reason there’s a two-term limit now. Everyone loved him; he was great for the city. Even the people who say he was a despicable rat say he was good for the city. He did a lot of good, but he was flawed. His flaws made him an interesting character and his flaws really had the most lasting effect on the city. When he left and people found out that this person they believed in, who in turn, believed in Syracuse was crooked, on the take, and dishonest–that was a turning point. That’s when people stopped believing in their city. There are really two facets to this story: this incredibly interesting personality driven by ego, driven by an incredible desire to make a positive impact in Syracuse ended up having an incredibly negative lasting impact.
How long was it in production?
The film was conceived and writing began in March 2012. In May and June we started scouting locations and doing auditions and we started shooting in July and August. We finished principal photography in early January and it’s been in post-production since then. From conception to completion, it took a year and a week. I met with Jonathan (director/writer) one night and told him my wife and I we’re expecting a baby. He said, “Hey, I have an idea for a movie–do you want to try and finish a movie before you and your wife have a baby?” I was like what the hell, so that’s what we did.
Any specific challenges to shooting in Syracuse?
I gotta tell you, not very many. We started shooting before we had the money with the belief that the money would come once we put it on Kickstarter. We hoped that people would be interested and they were. We had 119 backers. When it comes to production we had the most amazing cooperation from locals. Everyone was happy to accommodate. One place gave us free office space for three weeks and the owner of the Hotel Syracuse let us shoot through the whole place for free–it was tremendous.
Why do you think locals were so supportive during production?
Because people wanted to see a film about Lee Alexander. Our biggest donors gave us their cash for specifically that reason. They said, “I gotta see a movie inspired by Lee Alexander!” Others were interested just to have a film production happening, regardless of content but our biggest supporters did so because of the content.
Talk about crowd source funding and what it means for King Lee.
When it’s working I couldn’t see a better way of funding a project. It motivates you to do a much better job then you would if it was self-funded. When you see that you’ve got almost 120 people giving you their money or 500 Facebook fans ready to buy a ticket when the film’s released, it motivates you to do as good of a job as possible.
What was your funding target and was it met?
$10,000 but we raised just under $11,000. We still went over budget.
After the May 9th screening at The Palace Theatre, what’s the future for King Lee?
Definitely to put it out on the festival circuit. We’ve already submitted to the Boston Underground Film Festival where it’s been accepted. We’re definitely submitting it to the Syracuse International Film Festival, and we’ll keep submitting it around. For me, the actual end goal was to finish the film.
What’s can people expect?
People can expect an historical fiction that’s more fiction than history. It’s about Syracuse in the 1970s but by no means is it an accurate telling. King Lee is a very dark comedy that while not being factually accurate is a truthful telling of what we perceive to be the reason Syracuse is the way it is today. It’s fun, doesn’t take itself seriously and has a Blaxploitation and kung fu film flavor.
Mayor Lee – Nathan Faudree
City Council President Erwin Freeman – Al Marshall
Caroline Jones – Caly Givens
Sal Pugulli – David Minikhiem
Police Chief James O’Feenoway – Tom Minion
Laura – Vanessa Rose
Claire Renaud – Marguerite Mitchell
Bob Gentry – Adam Sukert
Carlos Pantangelo – Robb Sharpe
Director/Editor – Jonathan Case
Executive Producer – Timothy Ferlito
Written by – Jonathan Case and Tim Ferlito
Producers – Jason Kohlbrenner, Jamil Munoz, Vinny Spina
Director of Photography – David Fulkerson
Lighting Director – Andy Wolf
Art Director – Theresa Barry
Constuming/Styling – Meredith Graves
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