The Origin Story
Andrew K. Meyer // Co-Founder, StoneStreet Cinema
One Night, on stone street…
StoneStreet Cinema was conceived on a night of writer’s block and one too many gin & tonics, not the most uncommon cause of conception. Chris and myself met up at the Pier A Harbor House in Downtown Manhattan to celebrate our final draft of a 12-page script that we spent too many months working on. We were also there to come up with our next one.
Looking back in our notepads, our ideas were a bunch of incomplete premises that felt more like sketches than short films. Two of my favorite worst ideas were the parodies “Project Project Greenlight” and “Full Blown House”. You can probably figure them out by their title and I will sell the rights to either of those for a reasonable cost upwards of $1.00.
But as the drinks went down, the enthusiasm went up. After landing on one decent idea (I <3 NY), we conjured one much larger idea. Why not build an entire production company? We already got this far! We proceeded to Stone Street for some nightcaps to congratulate ourselves on our big idea.
Chris is a cinematographer, I am a director, and we both write. So all that we needed to convincingly tell people that we had a real company was a camera, and luckily one of us knew how to use one. But once we bought that camera (a SONY Fs7, or “Roger”), we quickly realized the need to share a bank account and form an LLC.
And just like that, we were married.
This was all in March of 2016, and we wouldn’t publicly announce our company until July 14, 2016. We wanted to wait until our first short film was finished. We wanted to prove immediately that we were more than just a Facebook page.
I <3 NY (July 14 2016)
So off we went to shoot I <3 NY, a seven minute short film starring my best friend of 20 years, Noah Levinson. The concept was simple and to be mostly improvised: a young man living across the river from The Big Apple finally decides to face his fear and venture over for his first time. After one short scripted scene, the rest of the film takes off into a narrative that we built along the road. We spent three days and one long night following Noah through every corner of Manhattan, interacting with strangers and slowly falling in love with New York City. Think the first 10-minutes of Up meets Billy on the Street. Should be easy!
Ma’m, it was not easy. Although we had a daily plan of where we would go and the narrative beats we needed to hit, engaging strangers to be on camera was no simple task. That being said, we met some of the most New York people in all of New York. Mary Jones read poetry to passerbys in the park. Lao performed in a small band in Chinatown’s Columbus Park when they weren’t doing the same in Lincoln Center. Paul was heading home from Wall St, drunk as a skunk and not as good at acting as he told us he was. We then got my old friend Melissa Folzenlogen (of Baethoven fame) to come in and write the theme music: a 6-minute violin and piano duet that she and Noah put together on an early summer afternoon.
On July 14, StoneStreet publicized its Facebook page, Instagram and website, blasting out I <3 NY on all of them. The views were surprisingly good. The reactions were even better. Four months since that fateful night at the Harbor House and we had a camera, a bank account, an LLC, a logo and a film that we loved. And we were already preparing for our second short.
Egg (October 12 2016)
We wanted to have three short films before the end of the year. Egg is an eight minute long surrealist dramedy about a woman coping with an egg she has laid. Chris and I teamed up with our old friend Rebi Paganini to write a full script and put together another 3-person shoot, this time with the opposite approach to I <3 NY. We cozied up in a bizarrely perfect AIRBNB in Bedstuy, Brooklyn. The living room had two large walls that were instead windows, a random egg-yolk yellow pillar in between them, and we were kept company by the owner’s cat, Pearl, the first feline I have ever loved. The three of us spent three days making a movie that was weirder than we were. It was very fun, and by October 2016 we had released our second film.
The Nativitree (December 25 2016)
We had one more short film to go before 2017, and I had nothing. I was still working full time in real estate finance and I was a bit spent. Chris and I lived a state apart, and our rent-free office was located in the backest corner of the Pilsener Haus & Biergarten in Hoboken, at least when no one else was already sitting there. We told ourselves it was the exact in-between of Astoria, Queens and Essex County, NJ. Plus, it had good wifi.
This is where we wrote The Nativitree, our first script to depend on substantial dialogue. The premise was initially conceived over two phone calls that Chris made to me.
First Call: Chris informed me that he wanted to film a sad man cutting down a Christmas tree on a Christmas tree farm.
Second Call: Chris informed me that he wanted to film the Christmas tree on fire. Standing vertically, of course.
We spent a day in Pennsylvania-esque New Jersey on a lonely tree farm and another day in Danburry, Connecticut. It was there where we lit the tree ablaze, the finale of our last short film for a long while.
The Gillis family is the bravest family I’ll ever know. They welcomed into their beautiful backyard a bushel of millenials with no firefighting experience, little paperwork, and two trees that they had no intention of leaving with.
“Wouldn’t it be a great idea to set the trees aflame at magic hour? This would look beautiful at sundown, and we will also accomplish it very quickly,” said us.
We wish us hasn’t said that. We began to light the first tree at around 4:00pm, a few weeks before Christmas. And it burned very, very slowly. We had dried out both of the trees in advance, but all the flaming newspaper in the world couldn’t get us to the great fire we were envisioning. The first tree was done for, slowly burnt bit by bit as the sun continued plummeting into evening. The ending of our story, 50% of the reason we set out to make it, was simply not going to exist. We were losing light. We were losing hope. And it was so cold.
Enter Mr. Gillis, the true hero of our film, armed with tequila in one hand and gasoline in the other. You can guess the rest from here.
It worked. It worked real good.
The calm between the storms
We released The Nativitree on Christmas Eve, which as it turns out is a very busy day for many people. The views were rather low, but our spirits were high. StoneStreet Cinema was in three films deep. Chris and I wished each other a merry holiday, and briefly dipped back into our personal lives of freelancing and real estate finance.
...Until 2017 struck, when the Stockholm kicked in and we began our expedition into the deep, dark and wonderous world of commercial filmmaking.
We were barely just getting started.