By Jackson miles Evans
Executive produced by Spike Lee, Cronies premiered to raves at the Sundance Film Festival and has also screened at festivals both domestically and internationally, including Tribeca Film Fest, Next Fest, and BFI London.
New Yorkers ranging from college students, to professionals, to folks who simply enjoy independent films, crowded into SVA Theater to watch a screening of Mr. Larnell’s St. Louis-based fictional documentary Cronies, hosted by The Center for Communication. Many in the audience were aspiring filmmakers and creative producers, hoping to learn from, either, the screening or the conversation that followed, how to find a path that leads to a fulfilling creative career.
The film follows a day-in-the-life of Louis and Jack, childhood friends confronting the pressures of adulthood, new relationships and family, as they move through St. Louis with Louis’ new friend and colleague, Andrew. The film centered on a compelling theme that likely resonated with many in the audience at one point: “what am I doing with my life?”
Mr. Larnell began the panel with a relatable post-undergrad dilemma that touched on the confusing place of achieving the milestone of an undergraduate degree, where one graduates with a stronger desire to pursue your dreams while also feeling inexperienced, under-qualified, or prematurely pigeonholed, while lacking the resources to jump to the next big step. “I went to undergrad in St. Louis and majored in business. I went through four years of college and four years after college just trying to find myself. It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do.”
Mr. Larnell solved this problem by enrolling in graduate school at New York University. But, while he acknowledged the benefits and opportunities NYU offered, he stressed that grad school isn’t the only option.
“Going to school you’re able to learn stuff faster then you’re able to learn on your own, so that was the benefit of going to film school. But you know, you don’t need a crazy education in film.”
Mr. Larnell insisted, adding with emphasis, “the more you shoot the more you learn.” And, this relates to all aspects of media production and potentially any kind of creative career one might pursue. The more you produce, the better you get, and more opportunities will come your way.
Making a movie, however, is easier said than done, and most feature length films rely on an enormous team to take an idea and turn it into a polished product that can be screened for audiences in theaters. Mr. Larnell put tremendous effort into making his film, wearing as many hats as needed. “Some jobs didn’t get filled,” Mr. Larnell admitted, “so I had to do it.” Perhaps most importantly, Mr. Larnell chose to set his film in his hometown, where everything was familiar.
“We shot in my uncle’s store, we shot at my dad’s house, we shot at my friend’s house. I was able to get locations and just move faster—it’s my hometown, so I knew the landscape.”
Despite the creative measures taken to ensure the movie could be produced on a realistic budget, Mr. Larnell acknowledged that the two biggest obstacles were “money and time.” While certainly important considerations, the two are almost always unavoidable, and the need to budget ambitions to match available resources is an important factor, as moderator Caitlin Robinson added, “true in filmmaking, and in life.”
Ro Reddick, the Marketing & Distribution Specialist on Cronies, offered valuable insight into how the film was launched into theaters across the country after it was finished. “The initial goal was 400 screenings across North America using Tug, an online platform that allows people within a community to bring a film to that community.” Ms. Reddick and her team developed a creative marketing strategy, that, rather than relying on traditional means for advertising the film, focused on more recently developed distributions tactics, like Tug, that allows an audience to, “harness their personal networks, tap into that, and create a screening that they otherwise wouldn’t have been able to see.”
Ms. Reddick made it clear that different films have different goals with regards to distribution. For some, traditional theatrical deals are the best option, and easily available. For most, these types of opportunities are rare, often unavailable to young or new filmmakers. But in Ms. Reddick’s words, “maybe having a traditional theatrical distribution doesn’t match what your personal goals are. If you’re just trying to make a calling card, or you just want a certain type of person to connect with your film, then that’s a good starting point.” Ultimately, what’s most important for a filmmaker is to determine who needs to be reached, and ask themselves as Ms. Reddick puts it, “with the budget that I have, or no budget, how do I find those people?”
Like Mr. Larnell, Ms. Reddick’s path to where she is now was relatively indirect. In retrospect she’s realized, “when you’re young, the most visible roles are the ones that you gravitate towards. And as you do a little soul searching and try to understand what it is that’s driving you and what your purpose is, that opens up an array of different options for you career-wise.”
Today it looks like the soul searching both panelists have accomplished has lead them to a rewarding and creative place. Not only was the film itself inspiring, but the words Mr. Larnell and Ms. Reddick had to offer helped the audience better understand what it took for them to get there. As everyone left the theater at the end of the night, Cesar Fajardo, 23, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College, have some final thoughts regarding Cronies and the determination shared by Mr. Larnell and his team: “it’s inspiring, is what it is. You take that, you look at it and say, well, he did it, I can do it too.”