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New York City club promoter-turned-actor Danny A. Abeckaser drew on his own experiences for his latest film, Club Life.
Abeckaser spent more than 15 years bringing models to Manhattan hotspots, planning parties for high-profile clients and later helping to open clubs like Marquee and Avenue. He co-wrote, produced and stars in Club Life, about a young limo driver (Jerry Ferrara) who’s hired to bring models to parties. But as Ferrara’s character, Johnny D., gets more involved in the scene, he makes connections and rises through the ranks to become a power player in the industry.
So how much of the schmoozing, models, bottles and betrayals from Club Life were inspired by Abeckaser’s real life working behind the velvet rope? He kept it vague when he spoke to The Hollywood Reporter at Tuesday night’s New York premiere.
“There’s a lot of things that happened to me in real life that are in the movie,” Abeckaser said. “I took little stories from here and there.”
In terms of specifics, he would only divulge that, like Ferrara’s character, his father was very sick, which motivated him to work and make money. But co-producer Per Melita teased that some more scandalous events may have ended up on the big screen.
“The names and characters were changed to protect the innocent, as they always say,” Melita told THR. “There were a number of things that he was able to bring to the story that were incidents that either he witnessed or were part of his growing up in the nightclub life.”
The film was a passion project for Abeckaser, and he spent a long time trying to get it right.
“I was in the club business for 15, 16 years, and once I transitioned to movies, I figured I can tell the story better than anyone else because I lived it for so long,” he said. “I [felt] like I [could] really add a lot of my personal stuff into it. So it took some time, and I figured out how I wanted to tell the story.”
Club Life‘s journey to the big screen was also delayed by the financing constraints of working on an independent film.
“We had a number of incarnations where we had to figure out how to do what Danny had in mind with the limited resources that we had,” Melita said.
Abeckaser recruited Melita, with whom he co-produced Holy Rollers, to help him put together Club Life.
That wasn’t the only former colleague Abeckaser called up. Both Jay Giannone and veteran actor Robert Davi worked with Abeckaser on The Iceman and were happy to reteam with their friend.
“I’ve been friends with Danny for about 15 years,” Giannone said, explaining that Abeckaser actually helped him get his part in The Iceman. “Danny invited me in to this film and said, ‘Look, I’ve got a great role for you.’ So I stepped in and I did my thing, and it was an honor.”
Davi has been friends with Abeckaser since The Iceman and was intrigued by the opportunity to explore an unfamiliar environment.
“I was never heavy into the club scene so it was another world,” Davi told THR. “Then to be the owner of one of these clubs seemed like it would be a lot of fun to get in the underbelly of that.”
Gossip Girl alum Jessica Szohr plays Ferrara’s character’s girlfriend in the film, more a part of his life in Brooklyn than his club life, but she still did her research on the industry.
“Jerry and I, a couple of weeks before we started filming, sat down with promoters that had been here for years … just [to understand] how it all works,” she explained. “I wasn’t really aware of that world where people are getting tables or bringing people out.”
Ferrara wasn’t able to make the scene Tuesday night, but those who did included Zach Braff, Constantine Maroulis and Jonathan Cheban.
Club Life, which is being distributed in the U.S. by The Orchard, is available on iTunes and on demand and hits select theaters on Friday.
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