Midnight had passed in the penthouse suite where director Derek Cianfrance was meeting with representatives from Focus Films.
“The Place Beyond the Pines” had just debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival and the subsidiary of NBC Universal was on the verge of purchasing its rights. But Cianfrance had a stipulation before any deal was formalized, the director recalled of his early-morning meeting with Focus in September.
“One of the things that was crucial to us in selling the film was that we had to do a premiere in Schenectady,” he said during a phone interview Sunday.
After all, Schenectady is intricately linked to the film: Cianfrance drew parts of the film’s narrative from the city’s modern history; he incorporated buildings, streetscapes and thousands of residents into the action. Even the film’s title is derived from a loose translation of the Mohawk nation word that became the city’s name centuries ago.
Forgetting about Schenectady wasn’t going to happen, Cianfrance said. And certainly not during the film’s debut in the Capital Region.
“It was always going to be there,” he said.
With the limited release in late March less than two months away, Cianfrance and representatives from Focus are close to announcing a special premiere in Schenectady. Cianfrance said he’s trying to schedule a time when both the production crew and a number of the film’s Hollywood stars can return to pay homage to the city that hosted them during filming in 2011.
Cianfrance said the hope is to do something about a week before the anticipated Capital Region theater release on April 12. The details, however, will largely depend on coordinating the crew’s arrival in Schenectady and a venue to host them.
“As a team, we’ve been trying to arrange this premiere since September when we were selling it to Focus,” he said. “Schenectady made this film and we will be there when it opens.”
A spokeswoman from Focus confirmed the company is trying to land a date at Proctors downtown. It’s unclear, however, whether the venue will be able to host it due to prior commitments.
“Focus is certainly planning to host a local premiere in Schenectady, where ‘The Place Beyond the Pines’ was shot, in advance of the film’s commercial release there,” spokeswoman Adriene Bowles said in a statement. “The filmmakers look forward to screening for cast, crew and friends and family in the community as a way to thank everyone for their hospitality and hard work during production.”
Joe Masher, the chief operating officer from Bow Tie Cinemas, confirmed his company’s downtown theater will be showing “Pines” in April. He said Focus has also been in touch with him about getting together a local premiere in advance of the film showing in other theaters in the region.
“We’ve been diligently working on this for some time,” he said Sunday.
Described as “an epic crime drama,” the 140-minute film is a three-part serial about how one misstep can lead to a generation of turmoil. Ryan Gosling plays Luke Glanton, a carnival stunt motorcycle rider who unexpectedly learns he has fathered a son with Romina, a Latino diner waitress played by Eva Mendes. Learning about the child brings new meaning to the life of Gosling’s character, but also drives him to start robbing banks to support his son.
His string of robberies causes him to intersect with Avery Cross — a rookie Schenectady cop played by Bradley Cooper — touching off a decades-long conflict between the two families.
The film also includes performances by major Hollywood names such as Ray Liotta, Ben Mendelsohn, Rose Byrne and Dane DeHaan.
Cianfrance’s connections to Schenectady played a major role in his choosing the city as the gritty backdrop for his film. His wife, Shannon Plumb, grew up in the Schenectady area and lobbied him to use the Electric City; Ben Coccio, a former Niskayuna resident who wrote the screenplay, also urged the director to shoot in the city.
Originally a documentarian, Cianfrance aims for realism in his films and thus relied on dozens of local residents for speaking roles. The film features Schenectady police officers, a city school district guidance counselor, a local pharmacy owner and an area banker for credited roles in the film. Even longtime state Sen. Hugh Farley was given a few lines toward the end of the movie.
An assurance of a local premiere was well-received in the city. Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city will work with Focus and Cianfrance in any way to ensure a special reception for the film, even if it’s on short notice.
“There’s enough flexibility in the arts and entertainment district we’ll make something happen,” he said. “[The film] creates a buzz that’s hard to replicate any other way.”
Don Rittner, the head of the Schenectady Film Commission, wasn’t surprised to learn of a local debut in the works. Rittner, who was instrumental in bringing the film to Schenectady, said Cianfrance always told him they’d do something special for the local debut.
“They told me from day one they’d do something here,” he said. “I had no reason not to believe it.”
Proctors has a busy spring schedule, but Philip Morris, the theater’s chief executive officer, said he’ll work with Focus to coordinate a premiere. Though he hasn’t talked with anyone from the company, he remains eager to get something worked out.
“Well go out of our way to make it happen if they’re serious,” he said.