There's no business like show business (in Rochester)

The cast and crew of After Image, a movie written by Robert Manganelli '83, set up camp in the area, using city locations as a film backdrop. Chris Nakis '83 co-produced the film; Kurt Brabbée '75 was film cinematographer. Manganelli and Brabbée both live in the Los Angeles area; Nakis lives in Rochester.

The film stars Louise Fletcher, Oscar-winning Nurse Ratchett in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and rocker John Mellencamp in a non-singing role. (Mellencamp and his family lived in Pittsford during filming; savvy residents were hankering for Mellencamp sightings at the local plaza.) Terrylene, a deaf actress with credits in such films as Natural Born Killers and City of Angels, also stars in the film. She is married to Manganelli. Actor Michael Zelnicker, whose credits include Clint Eastwood's Bird, also has a part in the film.

After Image is a psychological thriller about a clairvoyant deaf woman (Terrylene) who enables a crime scene photographer (Mellencamp) to confront a serial killer (Zelniker). The photographer has returned to Rochester and temporarily stays with his aunt (Fletcher). Manganelli admits to choosing Rochester for its cloud cover, to give scenes a certain ominous quality. A local resident, used as an extra in the film, reports that, in true modern film fashion, the story is "a mite grisly."

Manganelli, originally a still photographer, scratched his filmmaking itch in graduate school at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He was invited to Robert Redford's Sundance Institute in 1992, based on an early draft of After Image, then called Seeing in the Dark. Only a half-dozen or so directors are invited to the institute each year.

The institute provides a cabin on the scenic Redford ranch for each director (with a hot tub in each, Manganelli reports). Actors and crewmembers are also provided and each director uses the resources to shoot three or four scenes of his or her film. "It was a great and intense experience," Manganelli says. At the end of a week, "You're on the hot seat," he says. "Several advisors, each with an Oscar in his or her respective discipline, critique your work." Redford himself, along with various other luminaries, tear the work apart, in order to help improve the product. After rewrites, revisions and more rewrites, the group pronounced After Image "good to go," Manganelli says. (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle film critic Jack Garner considers After Image to have mainstream-movie potential.)

Not all good scripts, though, no matter who has critiqued them, become movies, and Manganelli credits Nakis and co-producer John Cocca as instrumental in raising the $1.4 million needed for the project. Nakis pounded the pavement to secure financing, Manganelli says, becoming a fixture on city streets and at hockey games, handing out fliers and soliciting investors. "Chris is the true unsung hero of this film," Manganelli says. "His commitment is unbelievable. This movie wouldn't be without him." According to Jerry Stoeffhaas, former director of the Rochester/Finger Lakes Film and Video office, After Image is the largest independent film to be done primarily in Rochester.

Nakis and Cocca's company, Whitetail Images Inc., is headquartered at the back of the Nakis family's auto shop on Brighton-Henrietta Town Line Road. "Chris fixes transmissions on one side and raises money on the other," laughs Manganelli. The comment is not far from the truth: Katie Pappas, a local graduate student who also managed the After Image production office in the Sheraton Four Points Hotel, says she met Nakis when he was working on her car; he then got her hooked on the film project.

How difficult is it to attract big-name actors to the Great White North? "Not hard at all," Manganelli says. "Everyone was on board with the project. Louise truly enjoyed Rochester. John likes to work and keep busy; he has a certain passion for acting and performing. Filmmaking lacks a certain immediate gratification, though, which he found frustrating. He prefers to see results right away."

The out-of-towners — Fletcher, Mellencamp, et al. — had the opportunity to work in some unique Rochester spots. After Image was filmed at the Public Market and Monroe Community Hospital, as well as at a Victorian-style Rowley Street home and on a rural egg farm. St. Michael's Church on Clinton Avenue offered some rococo religious scenery and the High Falls area put the Genesee River into the spotlight. Some scenes also were shot earlier in the drained Erie Canal.

RIT students worked as production assistants alongside the cast and crew, for the unique opportunity to work on film without traveling to New York City or Los Angeles. RIT student Dave Adam showed up at the Sheraton Production office, in response to a flier he saw on campus. He was willing to do anything, he said on arrival. "I just want the experience of working on a real film," he said. "I'm planning on going to Hollywood after I graduate."

Filming finished in late June 2000. By January 2001, the film was screened at the Sundance Film Festival. The film was first developed as a script at a Sundance workshop.

Making a film is a risky business, but one that Manganelli, Nakis, Brabbée and crew are willing, no, happy, to take on again. Nakis and Cocca are hoping to produce more films in Rochester, a location they think could become serious competition in the film market. Manganelli has another script finished and is working on more.

What's next? "We'll see," says Bob Manganelli.

Spring 2001 update to story in The University Magazine, Fall 2000