Commentary: Sticking with 'Superglue' got it made for Billy Duberstein

Short film is young director's calling card

"Superglue" short: Breaking into the filmmaking business isn't easy, but that certainly doesn't stop young would-be directors from trying.

Typically, the way in requires not just a great project you believe in passionately but also turning to family and friends for all sorts of favors and then dipping into your own or your family's funds or credit cards to self-finance production. And, of course, you've got to stick with it no matter how tough the challenges are. A case in point is Billy Duberstein, whose comedy short "Superglue" is showing next month at the Temecula Valley International Film & Music Festival.

Duberstein, who wrote, directed and executive produced "Superglue," had previously written and directed "The Reunion," a short shown at the NewFilmmaker's screening series in New York in 2006. With "Superglue" he was lucky enough to get some big help from his actress cousin Erin Cardillo (the NBC soap opera "Passions"), who stars in and produced the film with Marcus Kayne. Also starring are Adam Kulbersh ("The Hottie and the Nottie") and Dylan Fergus ("Passions").

The film's story revolves around Dave, a young guy (Kulbersh) who's invited to dinner at the apartment of his cousin Paul (Dylan) and his girlfriend Lauren (Cardillo). Unfortunately, Paul and Lauren are at each other's throats from the moment Dave arrives, but they insist that he not leave since the gourmet dinner Paul's been preparing for hours is almost ready to serve. When Dave tries to be helpful by fixing with superglue a lamp they've broken while fighting, some of that sticky stuff gets on the floor and ultimately traps Dave as the battle between Paul and Lauren heats up and they start trying to kill each other.

After enjoying a few good laughs seeing "Superglue" I caught up recently with Duberstein, who told me that although film school is a way into the business for many young filmmakers it wasn't the route he wanted to take. "It's not that I'm anti-film school," he explained. "Most of the people I've talked to have told me that you don't really need to go in terms of learning how to make a film. I'd already worked as a p.a. and I'd taken some film classes as an undergrad at the University of Virginia. Film school's great for contacts and certainly good technically, but I just kind of decided that I really didn't need to go and I really didn't feel like going back to school at this point -- maybe in the future. But with the means of production these days, it's not too difficult just to go out there and start making them yourself. I think learning by doing is a really good thing to do."

Asked what you do with a short film once you manage to get it made, Duberstein observed, "Well, that's the stage I'm at now. You submit it to film festivals. So far it's gotten into the Temecula (festival) in September and also the Strausberg (festival) in France, also in September. I'm still trying to get an agent and a manager out of it, which the festivals will certainly help with. I'm sending DVDs out to people I know in the industry and basically using it as a calling card."

Looking back at making "Superglue," Duberstein said he was under pressure from the get-go: "The first crisis that happened was I originally had a different producer and was going to use a different location. I had arranged for the actors. I had arranged for the crew. About two and a half weeks before we were to start shooting the (producer and the) location fell through. That was in April 2007. I was panicking because the whole film takes place pretty much in one apartment and I'd already made up a whole shot list for that apartment.

"Fortunately, my lovely cousin Erin Cardillo volunteered her apartment and that worked out great. We went in there and painted it and got it ready in two weeks.
And then her roommate Marc (Kayne), who is also an actor, writer, director and producer, stepped in to help produce at the last minute."

The idea for the film originated in an incident that actually happened to Duberstein. "I was new to Los Angeles and one of my friends from the East Coast who worked for a producer was also new," he said. "He invited me over for dinner one night. His girlfriend was still living in New York (but was visiting him). They were making some hamburgers or whatever. So I got over there and they were bickering as soon as I arrived. After about half an hour, just when the food was getting ready, she dropped a knife on his foot like it happens in the movie and he just blew up at her. She started crying and they went into the other room to sort of work it out and it was just really awkward the whole night. I was going to leave, but the food had just gotten ready so I quickly scarfed down some of the food and then, fortunately, I was able to leave right after that."

However, while he was eating, Duberstein kept thinking that he was in a funny situation and began asking himself, "'Is this right? Should I be eating while they're yelling at each other in the other room?' I basically said, 'How can I turn this incident into something that's a movie?' So I exaggerated. I made the girlfriend extremely attractive and flirtatious, which was, of course, not true. I found myself stuck in a weird situation. I couldn't really leave while they were fighting initially. Then I said, 'What if I eventually got literally stuck in that situation?' And then what you do is take real life and exaggerate so that's when all the crazy over-the-top stuff comes in."

He also drew some inspiration from a movie he remembered seeing about a somewhat related situation. "A film I liked that sort of helped me with getting the idea," he recalled, "was a Martin Scorsese movie called 'After Hours' (the 1985 New York set comedy thriller starring Griffin Dunne and Rosanna Arquette) about a guy who was lured by the promise of a date down to Soho and he gets stuck in Soho and can't get out. I always loved that movie. When I had that incident happen to me, that movie sort of popped into my head."

Duberstein actually found some key members of his team on Craig's List -- including Marc Franklin, who did the film's sound design and edited it (with associate producer Ramin Rahmanpour and Duberstein), and composer Greg Nicolett. The actors in the film were cast through his well connected actress cousin Erin Cardillo. "They're all SAG and you probably wouldn't be able to get that level of acting normally for a short film with a first time director," he pointed out. "But they all read the script and loved it and signed up through her."

About a week before shooting, he told me, "There was another disaster. We were shooting on two consecutive weekends and what happened the week before we were shooting was that Adam Kulbersh's grandmother got sick in Atlanta. If we shot the first weekend and she passed away he would have had to go home for the funeral and it would have completely screwed things up. We would have had to cancel (shooting) or find another actor. We were contemplating getting another actor at the last second for the main part. We weighed our options, but Adam is such a great comedic actor the film probably would not have been half as good without him. So we decided to take the risk. We shot and she survived."

It helped that most of the action takes place in one location -- Paul and Lauren's apartment, Duberstein noted, "although it was still a struggle to get all the shots in (during the two weekends of filming). I had been planning the shots very carefully. We (Duberstein and cinematographer Matt Egan) would shoot against one wall all the scenes (with that background) and then turn around and shoot against another wall so we didn't have to move all the lights around."

Post-production, too, brought its own challenges to overcome. "I initially had an editor who had promised me a very reasonable rate," he said. "Then it turned out that the project got so big that his (computer editing) system would keep crashing. I guess it got too big for his system as he worked on it more and more and kept putting in effects. Eventually, the actual physical process was just taking so long that I had to get another editor. So I put an ad on Craig's List. We were editing on Adobe Premier Pro, which I guess not too many people have even though it's a good editing system. Marc (Franklin) answered the ad and my previous editor, who was real good about it actually, said he'd heard of Marc (whose Franklin Video Productions is based in Oak Park, Calif.) because Marc writes articles about software and hardware. He certainly seemed like a person who could rescue a project that kept on crashing and (that's what) happened and he was great."

Franklin told me that he saw Duberstein's ad on craigslist "for someone needing help from an Adobe Premiere Pro CS3 and Cineform expert (and) as Premiere Pro is my editing application of choice, and I had just written a post-production article on those very products for Event DV Magazine, I responded. I had Billy bring in the 'patient.'

"At that point the project (hadn't been) able to play for a month. Upon transferring the footage from his external drive to my internal one, I worked some of my 'computer magic' and had the project playing back in about 15 minutes. After getting some creative ideas from me and then speaking with his original editor, Billy decided it would be best for me to finish the post-production process." Indeed, all went so well, he added, that they're looking forward to working together again on future projects.

CraigsList also was where Duberstein found composer Greg Nicolett: "I realized I wanted a classic over-the-top dramatic score and (that wasn't available through inexpensive DVD music services). I especially wanted a composer who could score according to the action. So I went on Craig's List and put out an ad for a composer. You wouldn't believe the amount of responses you get in Los Angeles when you (run such an ad). I must have gotten over a hundred responses. Narrowing it down was a job in itself."

Martin Grove hosts movie coverage on the broadband television channel