by director Kevin Asch
I have always been fascinated by factual components in movies. Whether a story is inspired by real people, true events, or reflective of a certain period, that "reality" grounds the narrative. Danny A. Abeckaser (co-star and producer) approached me with a newspaper clipping reporting crimes involving Hassidic Jews smuggling ecstasy from Europe into the United States, and we were instantly drawn to the concept and possibility of sharing this unique story with the world.
The challenge, however, was not to let the actual events restrain the narrative. I was adamant in not wanting the criminal or drug elements to be the headline, nor did I want to present Jews in a negative light. It took years of working with the masterful writer, Antonio Macia, to hone in on our theme and carve out the characters "Sam Gold" (Jesse Eisenberg) meets on his journey.
Once the script had a soul and deliberate voice, I could envision the look, scene by scene, which resulted in what I called a "look book" or a visual topography to the movie. I was able to share storyboards, photographs with side notes with actors, key crew, and potential investors. This became my Bible or blueprint for our movie.
My research and understanding into the Hassidic community and Orthodox Judaism grew ten fold with Jesse Eisenberg in the leading role. We visited the insular Brooklyn communities, prayed in Mitzvah buses, talked with anyone who could educate us. Jesse and I worked endless hours developing Sam’s emotional core and tone. Sam was never going to be a "bad" kid. Rather, he is slowly influenced and compromised by Yosef (Justin Bartha), his cunning neighbor. Sam would stray from his righteous path and question his short sighted choice, but the audience would sympathize with Sam’s shortcomings.
Justin Bartha delivers "irreverent" like no one else could. His uncanny ability to produce a funny, evil, and insecure performance at the same time is a testament to his tireless collaboration with Jesse to get their on-screen twisted friendship perfect.
We could not have found a more intelligent and seductive temptress than Ari Graynor (Rachael), who plays on Sam's naivete, and in a whispering breath, draws him into her dangerous world. Rachael leads him over the edge without even meaning harm to him. We trust her, as did Sam, because she is Jewish.
This experience was so fulfilling because our talented cast remained committed to the project for years prior to production. They anchored the film, and, once we went into physical production, they knew their roles cold (no pun intended on the below zero weather in NYC during production).
As a first time feature director, I couldn't be prouder of my cast and crew, writer, cinematographer, editor and composers. Please enjoy the visuals, the music, the wonderful performances, and most of all, the journey. We made the film we wanted to see and I hope you all feel the same.