Director Matthew Bonifacio and his wife Julianna Gelinas Bonifacio discovered the hard way that simultaneously planning a wedding and shooting a movie can be a demanding proposition.
One day tensions ran so high on the set of “The Quitter” that the pair nearly quit each other — professionally and personally.
It all started when Matthew, the film’s director and star, decided to shuffle the shooting schedule around and spring a particularly demanding scene on Julianna, who co-stars in the film.
“I had been thinking about how to get into the headspace for this moment, and then Matthew said he switched the scenes around and we’d be doing [the highly emotional scene] next,” recalls Julianna. “I’m pretty sure I said some not nice things to him. I didn’t think I’d be able to deliver because I wasn’t ready for it.
“But I think my frustration actually helped my performance. So, it all worked out.”
Another source of assistance came from Julianna’s mom, who from her home in Phoenixville, helped her daughter iron out some nagging wedding details.
“Thank God for our moms,” recalls Julianna, who was born and raised in Bethlehem, Pa. “Matt’s mom was so helpful, and my mom stayed calm and was understanding about everything.”
After putting the tension-filled day behind them, Matthew and Julianna wound up getting married in Phoenixville in 2012. And now about two years later, they will be back in Chester County to debut their film “The Quitter” at the Colonial Theatre for a six-day run, beginning Dec. 12.
The couple’s relationship with the theater dates back a few years. In 2008, they entered a short film of theirs in the venue’s annual Blobfest and won top prize. Then, Matthew’s debut feature “Lbs” played at the theater following its Sundance debut. And last year, the pair took “The Quitter” to the Colonial for a focus group screening.
Matthew got the idea for “The Quitter” about 10 years ago and, after considering writing it as a play, wound up hiring a screenwriter (Bill Gullo) to pen the script. With help from producer — and former King of Prussia resident — Neil Jain, the film went before the cameras in 2013.
“The Quitter” was shot in the Bonifacios’ Brooklyn neighborhood of Midwood and the pair did a lot of the behind-the-scenes work themselves, including directing, producing and starring in the feature.
Partly based on Matthew’s decision not to pursue a career in big-league baseball, “The Quitter” tells the story of a Brooklyn batting-cage manager named Jonathan (played by Bonifacio) who leaves his pregnant girlfriend Georgie (Gelinas Bonifacio) behind to pursue a career in professional sports, which he winds up quitting as well.
It’s a chance encounter with Georgie and his now-7-year-old daughter (Destiny Monet Cruz) that convinces Jonathan that he needs to straighten up and fly right. (For the record, Bonifacio did give up on baseball after being scouted by the Mets and serving as the captain of the CUNY baseball team, but he never abandoned a girlfriend, pregnant or otherwise).
At the heart of the movie, says Julianna, is a tale of second chances. “I also think it is about [how] families can come in all shapes and sizes. Jonathan, Georgie and their daughter create a family over the course of the movie, and even though things don’t work out in a conventional way, they’re still a family by the end.”
When “The Quitter” opened up in New York in September, it received largely positive reviews. In the New York Times, Anita Gates called the film “a textured, heartfelt drama that achieves its modest goals” while the New York Daily News raved about Bonifacio’s “Cassavetes-influenced style … [Bonifacio] doesn’t make in-your-face, Hollywood-knockoff indies, but stories about everyday people. “Quitter” is assured and offhandedly sweet.”
Bonifacio was already an established filmmaker when he first met Gelinas, who had just come off a seven-year run playing various roles in “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding.”
Gelinas’s introduction to performing came through ballet, which she studied from a young age at the Lehigh Valley Ballet Guild. By the time she arrived at Bethlehem’s Freedom High School, she was interested in acting as well and, with encouragement from an instructor named Joseph Shosh, she decided to switch her focus from ballet to theater.
“I remember I did a monologue in a showcase and a scene from `Butterflies Are Free,’ and it just felt really natural,” says Gelinas who graduated in 2000. “It ignited something in me.”
While she was attending New Jersey’s Drew University, Gelinas received an offer from a touring company of “Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” to join the production for a run at the State Theatre in Easton.
The show’s producers were so impressed by Gelinas that they asked her back to play various roles including a nun, a bridesmaid, a caterer and, finally, Tina in an Atlantic City production.
“I had to ask the college if they’d let me take time off to do the show,” recalls Gelinas. “It ended up being the right choice because when I graduated from college, I wound up joining the New York production.
“And between the tour, the Atlantic City production and the New York production, I was in `Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding” for almost seven years.”
Gelinas never co-starred in the play at the same time as her husband, who toplined different productions, but they met at a funeral for an actor they both had worked with.
“She hit on me,” says Bonifacio.
“He’s right,” says Gelinas with a laugh.
Not long afterward they became a couple, and began working together on a number of short films and features, including “Americano” and “Delivering The Goods” which starred Thomas Ian Nichols and “Nurse Jackie’s” Dominic Fumusa.
After toiling primarily as Boniface’s producing partner, Julianna found it “terrifying” to step in front of the camera for the starring role in “The Quitter.”
“I felt the pressure,” she says. “I’m not a single mom but I wanted to represent single moms in a way that was realistic and relatable…and I have to say it’s been great hearing from single moms who’ve seen the movie and feel like I did the role justice.”
In addition to acting, Gelinas was involved in nearly every behind-the-scenes decision from casting to editing to determining the right look for the poster and trailer.
“Matthew and I decide which things each of us is going to take the lead on,” says Gelinas. “I tend to handle permitting, contracts, deal memos … I helped scout locations. I met with new crew members. I was giving script feedback. I was in the editing room… Every day, I feel like I was putting out fires.
“While I was acting, I tried to delegate some things so I could focus more. But as soon as the day would end, I’d go home and submit payroll, and pull out the costumes for continuity purposes…and pack the bags and coolers.”
Bonifacio directed the movie in less than 30 days. Inspired by “Kramer Vs. Kramer,” the filmmaker wanted to shoot “The Quitter” in widescreen, an unusual choice for a low-budget indie.
“I thought this story really deserved that visual language,” says Bonifacio. “When you shoot in widescreen, it gives you so much information in the frame. We’re not shooting `Armageddon,’ but we are shooting these faces, and the hallways of apartment buildings and the streets of Brooklyn. And I felt like that deserved [to be seen].”
Even though “The Quitter” takes off from a potentially explosive premise, Bonifacio never allows the action to tip over into melodrama. He also resists the temptation to provide all of the reasons why Jonathan and Georgie wound up back in their old neighborhood of Brooklyn.
“It would have been easy to spell out [the themes],” says Matthew. “But audiences are very smart…you have to treat them with respect. I’ve discovered that audiences like to fill in the blanks. And I think this movie leads to some interesting conversations.”
While the Bonifacios can’t discuss details, “The Quitter” is likely to receive additional distribution in 2015. Afterwards, they’ll move on to their next project, which Matthew will write and direct and Julianna will produce.
“I think it’s the coolest thing making movies for posterity,” she says. “It’s like a time capsule. I love the idea that we’ve created something that will still be there around in 100 years, and hopefully it will still be inspiring to people.”
From the Colonial TheatreAfter a successful run at the Regal Cinemas in Times Square, NYC and positive reviews in several publications including The New York Times, New York Daily News, Huffington Post, and Film Journal International, the filmmakers are thrilled to be bringing “The Quitter” to The Colonial Theatre. The first and only Focus Group rough cut screening of “The Quitter” was held at The Colonial Theatre in September 2013. “The Quitter” is the second film from director Matthew Bonifacio to screen at The Colonial Theatre, after his film “Lbs.” screened in 2010. There will be a brief Q & A with director/producer/actor Matthew Bonifacio, producer/actress Julianna Gelinas Bonifacio, producer/actor Neil Jain, and additional cast and crew after the 7:30 p.m. screening on Friday, Dec. 12; and for an in-depth discussion after the 7 p.m. screening on Saturday, Dec. 13.
For more information, go to http://thecolonialtheatre.com/programs/the-quitter/#sthash.0gaUlMuC.dpuf.