A brash Hula Hanks sign, the relic of a closed business, disrupts the facade’s symmetry at 216 Crown St.—incongruent with not only the building’s formal structure, but also the forward-thinking plans underway at the location known as LoRicco Towers.
It is there that writer and director Stephen Dest is developing a film and video production studio called UpCrown Studios, part of a suite of three, second-floor studios at UpCrown Entertainment Group. Also included is the recently opened UpCrown Gallery (now showing photographs of artist/author Anthony Riccio), to be followed by a music rehearsal and recording studio in the next phase of development.
The new multi-media venture founded by company president Anthony LoRicco abuts Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School. LoRicco said his company is already in talks with high school personnel about ways to interface with school programs. Dest, who is a guest artist-instructor at Betsy Ross Performing Arts and Neighborhood Music School, said he has trained a number of Coop High students and alumni over the years through various theatrical programs in the city.
A native of New Haven, Dest has been an actor and director of stage and screen for more than 20 years and has worked with many significant actors and directors including Woody Allen, Spike Lee, Steve Martin, Christine Ebersole, and Brian Murray. Dest is perhaps best known for his extensive resume of stage achievements, whose work has been seen in major theater venues from coast to coast.
In 2008, Dest’s short film, “Blind,” was screened at the Cannes Film Festival and subsequently sold to Movieola, a Canadian film channel. But it is Dest’s new film project, “My Brother Jack” (working title) that has New Haven’s arts community buzzing. Dest has been developing the project for ten years and will begin production on the New Haven-based, full-length feature film this winter. A murder mystery, the film is a fictional account of two brothers who take disparate paths in dealing with the aftermath of their parent’s deaths after witnessing their murders. The killer’s own death on the day of his release from prison deepens the mystery, but it is the relationship between the two brothers that is at the core of the project.
Dest said that writing about parental loss was, in many ways, a means for coming to terms with his own sense of parental loss; a result of his father’s premature death at age 40, when he was a 13 year-old. It was a theme he also explored in the Cannes Film Festival short film, “Blind.” Jack and Vincent, protagonists in “My Brother Jack,” evolved from a composite of Dest’s own family relationships; he is one of four brothers (and a sister), the director said.
Of late, Dest has been busily meeting with supporters, city officials, and industry insiders as he navigates the complexities of establishing a home for locally produced film projects, as well bringing his own film project to fruition. Barbara Lamb, New Haven’s director of cultural affairs, said that her department, which is responsible for coordinating logistics when a big film comes to town, has been following Dest’s career and the department ”takes great interest in those trying to develop artistically—especially when they can help put the city’s name out there; we are proud of Mr. Dest’s achievements.”
“My Brother Jack,” according to Dest, will be the first full-length feature film to come out of the UpCrown Studio. Kickstarter.com, a fundraising website for film projects, is presently receiving donations on behalf of the film project. The monies will help defray the hard dollar costs of pre-production if the fund-raising goals are met before Oct. 29. Meanwhile, Dest continues the hard work of raising awareness of the film while also working to attract a talented cast and crew. He is committed to seeing that New Haven not only serves as the backdrop for the film, but that the project itself is a product of New Haven talent and teamwork.
When completed, Dest’s projects will complement initiatives undertaken by Connecticut’s legislature in 2007 to boost the state’s movie/media infrastructure through tax credits. While the industry remains underserved, Dest said he expects that his studio and the City of New Haven will become a significant resource for growing the number of digital and film projects in the region. At a recent fundraising event, the energetic director explained the role that New Haven will play in his projects and underscored the potential benefit to the city: “I want this [film] experience to do for New Haven what Woody Allen did for Manhattan.” Stay tuned.