Debra Markowitz on the Long Island International Film Expo, movies made in Nassau County and more
As a member of the NYWIFT, AFCI, LIFTF, LaGuardia Arts CTE Advisory Board and the Nassau County Film Commission, few people are as involved within Long Island's film industry as Debra Markowitz. Beyond her roles within all of those aforementioned organizations -- she is the Director of the Nassau County Film Commission -- Debra not only works actively as a writer, producer, director and casting director, but is the driving force behind the Long Island International Film Expo; she founded the festival alongside Anne and Henry Stampfel of the Malverne Cinema. This year's LIIFE runs from July 13 through 21, taking place at the Bellmore Movies.
Debra answered some questions for No Place Like Long Island about what's ahead for both her and the festival. Let's just say that there's a lot of excitement out there, and beyond what's written below, more info can be found at www.longislandfilmexpo.com and on Twitter at @debramarkowitz.
How would you describe the Long Island International Film Expo to someone who's never attended it?
DM: Eight days of nonstop independent movies, informative and entertaining panels, celebrity sightings, and networking with filmmakers all over the world. LIIFE is the Island's most accessible independent film festival.
Who are some of the people appearing this year? Films exhibiting?
DM: So far we have TV icon Ed Asner accepting a Lifetime Achievement Award, Robert Clohessy [Blue Bloods] accepting an Creative Achievement Award, Angela Anton of Anton News receiving a Humanitarian Award, and actor Sal Rendino [Netflix's The Get Down, Billions] accepting a Rising Star Award. Other honorees to be announced. Attendees – who may end up being presenters, depending on their schedules – include Phyllis Somerville [Outsiders, Benjamin Button], Yvonne Jung [Third Watch] and Kevin Brown [30 Rock]. So many great films.
Yvonne Jung, Phyllis Somerville and Kevin Brown are all in our official opening night feature, Stuff, from Long Island filmmaker Suzanne Guacci. Stuff will be the first LGBTQ film to open the LIIFE.
Immunity starring Rena Sofer. Written and produced by Bellmore filmmaker and writer Shari Goldstein Umansky...
Festival aside, what's ahead for you as a creative person?
DM: When I'm not in the office, I'm pretty much 24/7 a filmmaker in many respects. Writer, director, producer, casting director. My film By Blood, which I wrote, directed and produced and cast will be screening at LIIFE as well. It will be screening out of competition. It stars Joseph A. Halsey [Law & Order], Long Island actor Russ Camarda, Florida's Diana Durango, and features Jackie "The Joke Man" Martling, also from Long Island.
I'm directing a short film with Cathy Moriarty which was written by Shari Goldstein Umansky called Chosen, a web series written by Anthony Labriola called Life's Calling, and am developing a web series called Couple Of Guys starring Sean Young [Blade Runner], Brian O'Halloran [Clerks], Kevin Brown [30 Rock], and two of my favorite actors I use as much as I can, Joe Halsey and Sal Rendino. Also a few actors I've been itching to work with, Ciaran Sheehan [Broadway's Phantom Of The Opera], Lukas Hassel, and Joslyn DeFreece.
I'm also the casting director for a Amazon pilot. Plus all my writing. I'm in the middle of writing two features that I fluctuate between...
What was the first production you worked on?
DM: A short film called My Cross To Bear for director Peter Bongiorno. Peter brought me in as casting director and producer, and I learned so much. The crew included a lot of Academy Award and Emmy Award nominees and winners. Couldn't ask for a better training ground!
Did studying at Hofstra play a role in your development as a writer or creative-type?
DM: I was a business management major at Hofstra, so that definitely helped me a lot with the producing angle of filmmaking. But I've been writing novels, novellas and scripts since I was about six years old.
Is there a movie or show that you think people would be surprised to know was filmed on Long Island, even if just for a few seconds of footage?
DM: So many films and TV programs were filmed on Long Island. It's hard to pick out just a few, but maybe The Godfather I and II.
What's your favorite film that was ever filmed on Long Island?
DM: World According To Garp was filmed in Roslyn. I love that movie.
What can an everyday Long Islander do to help our local film industry?
DM: Be film-friendly. Learn about the industry, maybe allow your house or business location as a filming location, and convince your local governments to be film-friendly. If they must have a filming fee, keep it very reasonable for independent filmmakers.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
DM: I have almost no free time. But I love walking in the wonderful parks and preserves that Nassau County has. I also love yoga and meditation. And those few times my fiancee and I have free together, we love to dance.
Do you have a favorite restaurant on Long Island?
DM: My favorite restaurants are Piccolo Ristorante in Bellmore, Chennai Dosas in Hicksville, and Koban in Merrick.
Considering that Hollywood is often thought of as where the film industry is based, what is it that keeps you based out here?
DM: Our variety of locations, our proximity to New York City and the New York State tax credits.
Finally, what do you wish more people knew about Long Island?
DM: How versatile it is. Not only the wonderful beaches, but our really great parks and preserves. And our diversity -- we don't all live in mansions.