SUICIDE AWARENESS FILM PREMIERES IN NEW YORK AND TEXAS
AWARD WINNING FILMMAKER RELEASES SOCIAL TOPIC ISSUE OF SUICIDE AND THE IMPORTANCE OF A PERSONS LIFE IN NEW GRIPPING DRAMA
At age 15, Trenton, New Jersey native, Fred Zara, was the drummer for the punk rock band, Prisoners of War, playing venues in the North East, including Manhattan's famed CBGB. By the late 1990s, Fred began shifting his focus from music to film production. He has since been involved in dozens of documentary and narrative films, both in front and behind the camera. As writer and director his films have screened at film festivals across the US.
His 2009 feature length documentary, Average Community, which chronicled his early days in Trenton, won awards at festivals in Philadelphia, Orlando, and NYC. In March of 2016, Fred's narrative feature film, Read Me, premiered in New York City at the Queens World Film Festival. The film was nominated for the festivals Best Feature Award and won the award for Best Lead Actor in a feature film.
The Suicide of James Rider How do you remember someone who takes his own life? That’s the question a small group of friends have to confront after the recent death of their free-spirited close friend James Rider—the heart and soul of the group—who abruptly took his own life at the age of 28. Can they just think fondly about all the things that made James worth remembering, or will the stain of suicide forever overshadow his legacy?
Set in the summer of 2001, The Suicide of James Rider, follows the coming-of-age journey of Richie Russo, the newest member of this circle of friends. Despite having never met James himself, Richie gets to know him in a real and intimate way through all the wild, hilarious, and poignant stories told by the friends James left behind. Soon, Richie’s idea of what it means to be alive is slowly transformed—ironically, by someone he will never actually meet in life.
The film made its New York premiere at New York City Independent Film Festival in May and made its Texas premiere this past weekend at the Fort Worth Indie Film Showcase.
NIE: Thank you for taking your time and having this interview with us. Congratulations on your films ‘A Suicide Of James Rider’ Texas premiere at the Fort Worth Indie Film Showcase. What can you tell us about the film?
Fred Zara: The film is about a group of friends dealing with the loss of one of their own, James Rider, to suicide. It stars Andrew Romano as Richie, a new member of the group that never got to meet James when he was alive. Richie gets to know James in a unique way through the stories he hears. The film premiered in March 2019 at the 10th annual New York City Independent Film Festival.
NIE: What originally attracted you to this project? And what made you begin writing such a heavy topic?
Fred Zara: The film is based on the suicide of one of my friends back in 2001. He was the kind of person that everyone in our group of friends had a different story about; usually something pretty crazy. I quickly realized after his death that he would only exist now in those stories, so I wanted to make a film in which the central character is not physically there, and the audience only gets to know him through these stories.
“Stop worrying so much or caring what people think of you. “
- Fred Zara
NIE: What message are you trying to get across to the world through your work?
Fred Zara: There are several themes in the film like friendship and living life to the fullest, however if there is one take away I hope people get from this film is that, as horrible as suicide may be, it shouldn’t define a person’s entire life.
NIE: What was your favorite part of the project? What have you learned specifically from each production that will help you in your continued profession?
Fred Zara: Picking a favorite project is like choosing a favorite child, it’s not so easy to do. However if I were to pick, I’d say my film Average Community still holds a pretty special place for me after 10 years. Watching how my work with a film like that could connect with so many people has helped me want to continue to make films.
NIE: Where did the desire to be a filmmaker stem from?
Fred Zara: I grew up in a pretty blue collar section of New Jersey. As a kid there was something special about going into a movie theater and being able to live in a different world for two hours. I thought that meant I wanted to be an actor, and as much as I do enjoy acting and will continue to do it, once I discovered filmmaking in my 20s, I realized that I could totally be in control of creating whatever world I wanted.
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NIE: What process do you use to write out the story and your characters? Does your techniques change depending on the project and if so, how and why?
Fred Zara: I think my writing process is a bit unique. I typically have a short version of the entire story in my head before I start putting it down on paper. I then write out the whole script from beginning to end, which usually takes a week, which gives me my first draft, however it’s only about a 30 to 40 page draft. I then slowing come up with new scenes that connect certain dots and add those in, and allow it to slowly build.
NIE: What aspect of filmmaking tends to be the most challenging for you, and why?
Fred Zara: Raising money is never easy and never fun, period. Also, I mostly shoot with pretty small budgets, so scheduling shoots and working around everyone’s schedule is super challenging as well. I shoot fast, sometimes close to 20 pages a day, so everything needs to be scheduled down to the minute.
NIE: What do you personally take out of a production when you are a part of it and what impact does it have on you?
Fred Zara: Connection, it’s all about the connection and collaboration of the cast and crew. Keeping a positive vibe on set is extremely important. One bad attitude can completely pull down the entire feeling of everyone on set.
NIE: What would you say is the biggest asset for any filmmaker in the industry to achieve?
Fred Zara: You need to be pretty stubborn for sure, however it is also very important to stay humble. As a director, you have the last word on every decision made. That doesn’t mean you are going to always have the best ideas, so stay humble and listen to everyone’s opinion because you just might be surprised at who can come up with a great idea on set.
“Stay humble, don’t burn bridges and be patient.”
- Fred Zara
NIE: What are some of your secret tips that help you in this industry to keep grounded and focused?
Fred Zara: I had some rough times growing up. I sometimes have to remind myself that there was a good chance that I shouldn’t even be here right now. I also have a wonderful family and support system. Oh and yoga.
NIE: Who inspires you to be a better filmmaker?
Fred Zara: Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg. Scorsese because of his overall understanding of filmmaking, his respect for actors and his ability to change his style depending on the material he is working on. And Spielberg to me is just a master craftsmen. He’s camera movement, his use of shadows and music are just brilliant.
NIE: What advice would you give to someone who wanted to pursue a career in the field?
Fred Zara: Stay humble, don’t burn bridges and be patient. It takes time. You really need to love the process and not be attached to the outcome.
NIE: What are three things you would say to your younger self that you know now?
Fred Zara: 1. Stop worrying so much or caring what people think of you.
2. Work with good actors. Stop putting your friends in films just because you think it’s fun.
3. Get out of Jersey sooner.
NIE: So what’s next for you?
Fred Zara: And could you tell us about your upcoming comedy ‘High Existence’? High Existence is an episode comedy pilot written by Erin Laine and starring Sara Humbert, where I am a producer, co-director (with Erin Laine) and I am now editing. It’s a fun comedy about a women who is a therapist and a yoga instructor and she is now going through a divorce. After tackling the subject of suicide it was a joy to work on something a little lighter and because Erin, Sara and I are such good friends, it was just so much fun working along side these two talented ladies on set.
NIE: Thank you for having this interview with us. Before we let you go, would you like to give a shoutout to anyone?
Fred Zara: I’d like to thank all of the supporters of my crowdfunding campaign for The Suicide of James Rider, without them, the film would not have been made. Also, everyone, and I mean everyone that worked on the film really gave 110% and I am extremely grateful to all of them. My wife Kris for putting up with me and all that comes with living with a filmmaker. And I’d like to thank James Ballard.