Talking to filmmaker Kevan Ali

| 29 Jan 2024 | 09:27

Stefani M.C. Janelli interviews Kevan Ali, a filmmaker from Newton, whose short film “Emerald Ties” will have its premiere Sunday, Feb. 4 at Sussex County Community College in Newton,.

Ali, who wrote, produced and directed “Emerald Ties,” will answer questions after the screening.

Question: What was the inspiration behind this story?

Answer: The inspiration started in the spring of 2023, when I was enjoying an evening at the local Sparta pub Krogh’s with some friends. It was there that I encountered an intriguing older gentleman named Bill, a renowned country musician in the area, easily recognizable by his distinctive hat.

Having discovered my involvement in the film industry through word of mouth, Bill approached me for a conversation. Despite the significant age gap, we quickly developed a rapport, and over time, I became acquainted with his fascinating life story.

Our friendship deepened during a summer brunch at the Lake House Cafe in Sparta, where an energetic Irish server named Terry caught our attention. Sensing his potential as an actor, I engaged Terry in conversation, only to discover that he was indeed looking for new roles.

In a serendipitous turn of events, it turned out that Bill and Terry, both originally from Ireland, had never met in person despite their local reputations. Intrigued by this connection, I invited Terry to join our conversation, and as we chatted, it became clear that their shared background could be the foundation for a compelling story.

Prompted by my intuition, I asked Bill and Terry to improvise a scene portraying estranged brothers, and the authenticity and emotion they infused into the moment left me astounded. Their chemistry and the believability of the scenario compelled me to develop this story.

Further delving into Bill’s personal journey, I discovered he was facing challenges, and his character, Brian, in the film became a cathartic outlet for him to explore redemption and new beginnings.

This film is not just a narrative about Bill’s character but a reflection of his own life. I feel incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to bring this compelling story to life.

Q: You wrote, produced and directed this film. Which part was your favorite? Did you find it challenging or more rewarding to wear so many hats for “Emerald Ties”?

A: Engaging in the creative process of writing, producing and directing has always been a profound passion of mine, dating back to the onset of my journey at the age of 12. Throughout the making of “Emerald Ties,” I approached the project with a commitment to delivering a cinematic experience synonymous with major film franchises and television shows.

To achieve this goal, I embraced the numerous roles that come with crafting a film, from meticulously shaping shot compositions with my cinematographer to donning the hat of a music director. Collaborating with a composer based in Poland, I guided the film’s score to embody a blend of traditional orchestral elements reminiscent of John Williams, infused with the soulful nuances of Celtic music and the contemporary flair of modern jazz, tailored to complement the essence of the narrative.

The multifaceted responsibilities did not pose a challenge for me, as my extensive experience in the industry has equipped me with the skills and insights necessary to seamlessly navigate various roles. Instead, the process was immensely rewarding, particularly in assembling a seasoned film crew scattered across Sussex.

Witnessing the synergy and dedication of the team further reinforced my conviction that the collaborative spirit is the driving force behind any successful cinematic endeavor.

Q: You filmed “Emerald Ties” in Sparta. Did you have the movie written first and then you chose the location to film or vice versa?

A: Indeed, the creative process for “Emerald Ties” commenced with the development of the script after the initial inspiration sparked by my encounters with Bill and Terry. Once the narrative began taking shape, Terry played a pivotal role in connecting me with the proprietors of the Lake House Cafe in Sparta.

Upon exploring the venue, it became evident that the cafe not only complemented the storyline but also added a unique and authentic charm to the film. Consequently, we mutually agreed that the picturesque setting of Sparta, particularly the Lake House Cafe, would serve as the perfect backdrop for bringing the script to life. This collaboration between script and location enhanced the overall cinematic experience, creating a seamless integration between narrative and environment.

Q: What about Sparta do you think stood out the most compared with other locations? What inspired you to film there?

A: Sparta, much like any town in Sussex County, exudes a welcoming and intimate small-town ambiance that aligns seamlessly with the overarching theme of the film. The choice of Sparta was less about a specific inspiration and more about the inherent charm and authenticity found within the locale.

In particular, the Lake House Cafe, being an authentic Irish-American restaurant nestled in the heart of Sparta, emerged as the perfect backdrop for our narrative. Its distinct atmosphere and genuine appeal provided a natural and compelling setting that enhanced the storytelling experience. The decision to film in Sparta was driven by a desire to capture not only the essence of the script but also to embrace the warm and inviting spirit that defines the town, making it an ideal canvas for bringing the story to life.

Q: Did growing up in Newton inspire any elements of the film?

A: Absolutely, my upbringing in Newton and the broader backdrop of Sussex County played pivotal roles in shaping elements of the film. In the close-knit community of Newton, where familiarity among residents is a hallmark, I sought to authentically capture that sense of interconnectedness in the narrative.

Moreover, the film’s portrayal of the customers and staff at the cafe extends beyond Newton to encapsulate the communal spirit found throughout Sussex County. This intentional portrayal was a nod to the shared connections and genuine bonds that characterize life in these tight-knit communities. The inclusion of Sussex County as a whole enriches the narrative, infusing the storyline with a warmth and authenticity reflective of the close relationships that define life in this region.

Q: What are you most excited about for the release of “Emerald Ties”?

A: My foremost excitement lies in the anticipation of the audience’s reception to the film. Witnessing the enthusiasm and anticipation building within the community, both on social media and throughout the local area, has been truly humbling. The prospect of people eagerly engaging with and enjoying the work is immensely gratifying.

The film’s journey from a small screening to becoming a noteworthy event for the county has been fascinating. It’s a testament to the community’s support and the impact a cinematic endeavor of this scale can have in an area where such screenings are rare. I look forward to the film becoming a cultural milestone for the county, fostering a sense of pride and excitement among its residents.

Q: You just began working with the mayor of Sparta and the town manager of Newton to help bring more productions to Sussex County. What does this level of support from your hometown and Sussex County mean to you?

A: The support from Sussex County holds immense significance for me. As a filmmaker constantly on the lookout for unique locations to shoot projects, the collaboration with Sussex has opened up exciting opportunities. While frequent trips to LA have been part of my routine, having the backing and cooperation of local authorities is instrumental in realizing my vision of bringing more television shows and films to the area.

The support extended by the county not only grants me access to diverse and picturesque settings within Sussex but also provides the flexibility necessary for the successful execution of future projects. I am genuinely grateful for the unwavering support of Sussex County, and I look forward to contributing to the growth and vibrancy of the local film and television production scene.

Q: What do you see for the future of filmmaking in the county with the support of the Sussex behind you?

A: With the robust support from Sussex County, I envision a flourishing future for filmmaking in the area. The groundwork laid by the collaboration with local authorities positions the county as an attractive destination for any production. The prospect of bringing renowned celebrities and music artists to Sussex County for upcoming projects adds a layer of excitement and prestige.

In the broader scope, I see Sussex County evolving into a sought-after destination for entertainment, offering not only picturesque landscapes but also welcoming communities for the industry. The early development of my next film, which has garnered interest from established stars, is a testament to the growing appeal of the region. My goal is to continue expanding opportunities for entertainment and filmmaking while ensuring Sussex County retains its unique charm and identity.