The Garden State has served as the setting and backdrop for a number of movies, from the earliest use of the Jersey Shore on screen (in the first cinematic adaptation of Ben Hur in 1907) to lending its nickname to a 2004 film starring Natalie Portman. Going back 10 years earlier was the independent landmark Clerks, which launched the career of Kevin Smith and put New Jersey on the map as the home of the View Askewniverse. But it also encouraged countless filmmakers not to need a visual-effects-laden story to make a name for themselves. They only need to look to the mundane, everyday life to make a well-told story that audiences can relate to.
Enter up-and-coming filmmakers Rocco Petrullo and GianCarlo Fernandez, who live in Edison — a short distance from Smith’s hometown. Edison will be the backdrop of their new film, 28 Minute Epic. They’re preparing a Kickstarter campaign to launch in January.
Fernandez and Petrullo met while attending film school at Montclair State University and shared a love of superhero epics, particularly the Christopher Nolan Batman franchise, which transformed the comic book movie genre as well as nostalgia for the earliest efforts of Warner Bros. to bring superheroes to life on the big screen.
28 Minute Epic originated as the script for a short class project in 2007. Fernandez has since directed music videos for indie bands like Royalty Family’s “I Stay Fly” and Pee J’s “Wide Awake at 4 am.” Petrullo has worked for Standup New York and as a freelance video editor. They plan to shoot 28 Minute Epic on a Red Epic camera — the current star of digital cinema.
If you’re wondering about the film’s unusual title – which is poised to go viral on Twitter and Facebook – it references a pact between a prominent superhero and his sidekick. Everyone, as Andy Warhol once said, is given their 15 minutes of fame. “When a professional superhero recruits a sidekick,” explains Fernandez, “both are given an extra 13 minutes – resulting in a total 28 minutes of glory. This movie is about how the characters spend their minutes of fame.”
“I always like when filmmakers are able to pull off movies that happen over 24 hours, like telling a complete story in one day,” says Petrullo. When writing, they combined this technique along with satirizing the conventions of the superhero genre: It’s the story of two friends who, over the course of the day, become superheroes, with some unexpected results.
Dave and Jim are two everyday slackers with dead-end jobs as clerks at the local adult video store. (For its trailer, Fernandez got permission to shoot at Playtime Boutique in Edison.) Jim manages to get them both fired after stealing Dave’s alarm clock batteries for his video game console. Desperate and looking for work, they stumble across a superhero registry with a New Jersey chapter. After recently clothes-lining a mugger by accident, the two decide they can become superheroes, and so they join up, with Jim moonlighting as the Masked Avenger and Dave forced into the role of the hapless Spanky. (Sidekicks are usually given names inferior to the heroes they work for, according the superhero rulebook).
Unfortunately, the registry is not all it’s cracked up to be. Not exactly the avengers, Dave and Jim meet characters like Captain Wow, known for his ability to wonder at the universe; Random Man, who mutters random things to himself; and one superhero they inadvertently out as a man in a robot costume. They team up with the Dark Rider, who seems to be a natural-born superhero, but it lands them in real trouble when they pursue a gang of drug dealers.
Ultimately, says Petrullo, “The movie escalates into a more intense epic by the minute. Deep down, it’s about how crazy it is to follow your dreams. But at the same time, there’s the possibility of just being a failure in life — and nobody wants that.” Many might say the same about film-making – but for Fernandez and Petrullo, it’s a high-stakes adventure they’re willing to embark on.