Local filmmakers get Russo brothers backing to shoot feature in Sonoma
When two Sonoma Valley High School graduates found out their first feature film was accepted to screen at the Slamdance Film Festival in 2014, they had no idea that two of the hottest young Hollywood directors would be sitting in the Park City, Utah audience.
But Joe and Anthony Russo - the directors of “Avengers: End Game, the highest growing film of all time - had gotten their first big break at Slamdance and they were eager to check out the talent.
They were so impressed by fledgling writer/director Jay Alvarez, 32, and actor Will Hand, 30, that they offered to executive produce the pair’s second film, “Dizzy Pursuit,” which is now in post-production, as well as their third film, “Something’s More Than One Thing,” which will be shooting in Sonoma this summer.
Despite being only a year apart in school and living less than a mile from each other on the east side of town, Alvarez and Hand didn’t know each other at Prestwood Elementary or at Altimira Middle School.
And as teens, Alvarez was busy writing for the Sonoma Valley High newspaper while Hand starred in short films produced by Peter Hansen’s media arts students and various drama productions. Both cite English teacher Alison Manchester as the most formative teacher in their high school career, but they never shared a classroom.
“We had never spoken but seeing Will’s performance in ‘The Elephant Man’ at Sonoma High stuck with me,” said Alvarez. “When I wrote my first feature film script, it was in my mind that he would play the main character.”
Hand was attending San Francisco State University and Alvarez was living in Portland.
“Jay called me up out of the blue to see if I was still acting,” said Hand, who was indeed still acting as well as running a local theater company.
“I was reading a ton of scripts but when he sent over his script for ‘I Play with the Phrase Each Other,’ it was the best thing I’d ever read,” said Will. “So we started rehearsing over the phone together.”
In those days, both worked hospitality jobs on the side, but Hand now runs a theater company in New York and Alvarez works in Los Angeles on commissioned scripts and script polishes.
That first film, “I Play with the Phrase Each Other,” which was financed entirely on Alvarez’s credit card, ended up getting attention from film festivals all over the world. And when it played at Slamdance, which focuses on emerging artists, the Russo brothers saw it, loved it and have been championing Alvarez’s films ever since.
For their second film, the Russo brothers and their friend, actor Robert Downey Jr., helped them to secure financing in a matter of a weeks via Indiegogo.
“They rallied their global fan base around our film,” said Alvarez.
The third film, the one that will be filming both in Los Angeles and in Sonoma this summer, will be their highest budget film yet, “by several orders of magnitude,” laughed Hand.
Alvarez describes the plot as “timely.’
“It’s born of the radical shifts in the culture of relationships that the internet has spawned,” he explained. “It focuses on the hyper-connectivity of contemporary romantic participants and the manner in which it has affected the nature of courtship.”