Lewisburg Native Son Brings Hollywood Home
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By Erica L. Shames
LA- and NY-based film partners—casting directors Harley Kaplan and Brandon Powers, producer Nancy Degnan and executive producer Julio Lopez—introduced the idea of shooting indie feature film Buck Run in Lewisburg at a town meeting last September and were surprised at the welcoming reception they received.
“We’ve filmed all over the country; this is a rare place,” said Kaplan. “From the first minute, it’s been the most inviting, warm place. I’ve fallen in love with Lewisburg!”
Lewisburg native and film Nick Frangione knew his hometown would be the perfect setting. “As soon as I read the script,” he said, “I thought of Lewisburg.”
The story begins
Nick’s mother, Danna Frangione, a Georgia-based expert in modern dance and jazz forms, taught dance to students who included Michael Stipe (musical group R.E.M’s lead singer) and former NFL player Herschel Walker before she was hired as Bucknell University’s first tenure-track dance professor. In 1987 Nick and his parents, Danna and stay-at-home-dad Bob, moved to Lewisburg. When Danna passed away from cancer in 2002, Nick and his father Bob grew distant.
“My mother was the bond—she was gone and we were in so much pain we didn’t know how to come together,” assesses Nick.
Fast-forward to 2005. Nick graduated from Lewisburg Area High School and moved to Philadelphia to pursue a career in photography, before being bitten by the film bug. “I remember going to school and renting movies all the time. I was obsessing—watching trailers all the time—and wondering if only, if only I could do this somehow.”
At age 19 Nick moved to California with $500. “I had no idea what I was doing,” admits Nick. “My dad and I drove cross-country and he dropped me off in San Francisco.”
There Frangione attended The Meisner Technique Studio, where he studied acting under Jim Jarrett, and met Sundance filmmaker Eric Escobar, who took Frangione under his wing. “He mentored me; we became friends,” said Nick. “He helped produce some of my short films, including Hand Me Down, which toured the festival circuit.”
Frangione’s second short film, I’m a Liar Like You was followed by feature film Roxie, for which he wrote the script and directed. The film won Best Feature Film at The Bushwick International Film Festival in New York City, and was Official Selection for AMFM International Film Festival, as well as the prestigious Sonoma International Film Festival.
“It was by far the best film I saw during my stay at Sonoma,” said Tommy Cook, of Collider.com.
The success of Roxie encouraged Nick to move to LA and get involved behind the scenes and in front of the camera producing, assistant directing and acting. Nick secured a supporting role in Strapped (2010), earning a positive mention in The New York Times. He also is known for roles in The Toy Soldiers (2014), which played in AMC Theaters across the country, and Wolf Mother (2016), opposite Golden Globe nominee Tom Sizemore.
A turning point
And then the script for Buck Run came along. Written by David Hauslein, the author of four feature screenplays, the screenplay was one of the 40 semi-finalists for Final Draft’s Big Break Screenwriting competition. The story was inspired by David’s experiences growing up in rural Pennsylvania.
“I read it, and it really hit me hard, but I didn’t understand why,” recalls Frangione. “It was very emotional for me, and I just didn’t get it. I had repressed the pain from my mother’s death so deeply that I didn’t even realize the connection [to this story].”
It’s the story of Shaw Templeton, who’s forced to reunite with his estranged father, following his mother’s death due to cancer. A tragic lie, however, soon comes back to haunt the father. While the script conjures difficult memories from the past, it also is helping Nick work through painful issues.
“There’s a lot of tension,” said Nick. “Shaw and his father do come together at one point, but it’s rough. The script has helped me understand my father’s side of it. As I get older, I can start to see myself as a father and how I might act in similar ways.”
Nick met actress and producer Nancy Degnan and actor and financier Julio Lopez at The Meisner Studio. Together, they created Intuition Film Productions, the creative production company behind Buck Run. Lopez owns Tomorrowland Production Co., the financial backer of the film. Together, they have charted a strategic course for Buck Run, including hiring casting director of their dreams, Harley Kaplan.
Kaplan and Brandon Powers, top casting directors and the film’s executive producers, are partners in Kaplan-Powers Casting/PalmStar Entertainment. Their projects include Red Paint, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Tenement (starring Eva Longoria), Burning Blue, Fugly (starring John Leguizamo, Mary Louise Parker and Alfred Molina) and Contortionist Handbook. They worked on the feature films Bringing Up Bobby, Reflections, Jack and Diane, and Down and Dirty Pictures.
“I saw Harley’s film Blue Ruin a while back, and it’s an amazing movie,” said Nick. “There’s so many great films he’s done. Nancy, Julio and I all worked together on an email to him because we didn’t think he would reply; it was such a dream. We sent it, and Harley responded the same day!”
Harley’s life had paralleled events in the script, and he bonded with it immediately.
“My mom also died of cancer, and I also had an odd relationship afterwards with my father—very tense—so that jumped out right away,” he said. “I was a reader for New Line Cinema many years ago, and I still use those guidelines: Do I relate to the characters? Do I care what happens next? Is the story intriguing to me? This script had a great perspective on tough, emotional issues; I was blown away. Right away, I wanted to do it.”
Julio emigrated to the U.S. from Guatemala with his family at age 14. He recalls washing dishes to earn money, and eating hamburgers from the same gas station for six months because his family didn’t know what else to eat. His dream of a dance career came alive after seeing Michael Jackson. Julio took theatre classes and ballet and jazz dance lessons.
“I learned how to speak English listening to the song, Hello, by Lionel Richie,” says Julio. “It was a tough life, but I love that I went through that.”
After Julio formed Tomorrowland Production Co., Nancy acted in one of his first shorts. They have worked together on several films, including Rocket Ship Ice Cream and Wolf Mother. Julio funds movies with profits from his two other businesses: Formosa Hot Sauce and Global Group Realty.
“One thing we all have in common: we’re humble,” stresses Julio of his relationship with Nick and Nancy. “We get up at 3 a.m. sometimes and call each other to share ideas. We’re doing what we love, and no egos are involved; we’re living the dream—and we remind each other of that every day. ”
“I’ve worked with other production companies in LA,” adds Nancy. “This is the best energy—being with people you know, love and trust. LA has a lot of crazy people in this business, so it’s really cool to wake up every morning and not have to worry about any of the noise.”
Among the headlining actors appearing in Buck Run are: James Le Gros (Drugstore Cowboy, Point Break, Certain Women), as William Temple; Nolan Lyons (Bridge of Spies, Underdogs, The Harvest and Boardwalk Empire), as Shaw Temple; Amy Hargreaves (Homeland, Blue Ruin), as Shaw’s mother. Others include: Kevin J. O’Connor (There Will Be Blood), Jim Parrack (True Blood and Fury) and Angus Macfadyen (Braveheart).
All agree the involvement of Harley and Brandon is a critical component. “Harley and Brandon have raised the level of this film,” said Nancy. “They brought on this incredible talent that’s made this a different experience than we ever imagined it could or would be. We’re all so grateful.”
As a result of the many personal stories shared with the production team over the course of filming, Buck Run is dedicated not only to Nick’s mother, Danna, but to the many thousands of people who have lost their lives to cancer.
The production envisions debuting Buck Run at Cannes or Sundance film festival and then taking it to theatres nationwide. First on the agenda? A premiere at Lewisburg’s Campus Theatre.
“Everyone [here] will see their work on the big screen,” said Kaplan. “Everyone who contributed is important. There is something wonderful about being part of something so many people collaborated on.”
Erica L. Shames is founder and publisher of Susquehanna Life magazine, based in Lewisburg, PA.