Wayne Gurman’s wife wants to leave Throgg’s Neck. The neighborhood is violent. It’s hectic. Gurman’s friends – hit men, deadbeats and drug dealers – are dragging him down.
But Gurman, writer, producer and star of Bronx Paradise, a low-budget, high-energy independent film, won’t run away.
“It’s just another day in the Bronx, baby!” Gurman screams.
Bronx Paradise has its borough premier Friday, November 28 at The Gallery Lounge. Based on Gurman’s award winning short, Bottom Feeder, the film has already shown in Manhattan to hearty applause.
“People I know and don’t know genuinely love it,” Gurman said. “A man who works for Ron Howard just gave us some pointers. He said we’d be crazy if we didn’t shop Bronx Paradise to Miramax.”
Gurman is expecting a crowd Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. New York’s self-proclaimed ‘#1 Elvis Impersonator,’ Gene DiNapoli, will perform Bronx jams by Bobby Darin and Dion & The Belmonts at 8pm. Then it’s Johnny Rizzo’s ‘Night of a Thousand Guidos’ comedy set. At 9:30pm, Bronx Paradise will begin, followed by an after-party.
“Rizzo can’t stand still,” Gurman said. “Always fixing his collar – he’s hilarious. Bronx music, Bronx comedy, a Bronx movie. If I saw this premier advertised, I’d go. It’s gonna be fun.”
Gurman’s Bottom Feeder, released in 2007, chronicles the daily rounds of a Bronx bruiser. Last year, it nabbed the New York Independent Film Festival’s ‘Best Screenplay’ award.
Encouraged by Bottom Feeder’s success, Gurman launched production on Bronx Paradise – a feature length film. Bronx Paradise expands on the short’s low-life theme. Gurman plays himself, a conflicted crook and frustrated family man.
“The film is about my struggle to find paradise in the Bronx,” Gurman said. “It’s me trying to balance my family life and criminal life. I’m walking a tightrope, trying to stay alive.”
Part black comedy, part street diary, Bronx Paradise rifles through an eccentric borough cast. There’s ‘Harry the Jew,’ ‘Little Mike,’ ‘Frankie Sunshine’ and a respirator-toting wannabe, ‘The Ghouls.’ Gurman went after local actors; most hail from New York City if not the Bronx.
All My Children’s Brea Cola and Arthur Nascarella of The Sopranos fame make cameos, as do Karen Lynn Gorney, John Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever girlfriend, and Spike Lee favorite Thomas Jefferson Byrd.
John Palumbo, a Little Italy-bred actor, is Gurman’s best friend John – a cruel bigot and Mafia killer.
“He’s the devil on my shoulder,” Gurman said.
Gurman’s real-life best friend, John Tancredi, passed away five years ago. According to Gurman, Bronx Paradise is 70 percent autobiography and 30 percent embellishment. After a 1999 arrest, Gurman the tough turned to acting. He’s since starred opposite Brittany Murphy in Uptown Girls and Heather Graham in The Guru.
Typecast a knucklehead, Gurman hopes Bronx Paradise will propel him into different roles.
“As you can tell, I’m a funny guy,” Gurman deadpanned. “I want out of the ‘bald file.’ I’ve got more to offer.”
Gurman’s Bronx Paradise character is emotionally torn – loyal to his childhood pals but opposed to murder. “If you take a human life, tragedy will befall you,” Gurman warns John.
Director William Lappe and producer James McSherry discovered Gurman while shooting their own film on Tremont Avenue. Lappe, a former police detective, grew up in the Bronx and lives around the corner from Gurman. McSherry is a Columbia University School of Fine Arts graduate and ex-New York Post ‘Teacher of the Year,’ He works at Lehman High School.
“Bronx Paradise looks like a five million dollar movie,” McSherry said.
But the film cost just over $100,000. Gurman raised the money privately. “I dipped into my own savings,” he said. “My parents chipped in.”
Bronxites will recognize Fordham Road, Third Avenue, Yankee Stadium and Orchard Beach in the film. Gurman dumps foul language throughout; Bronx Paradise doesn’t tap dance around sex or racism.
“We don’t spare anybody,” Gurman said. “This is the Bronx. People stop at a red light, look at each other the wrong way and fight. It’s stressful here.”
Johnny Tsang edited Bronx Paradise. The film is an hour forty-five minutes long.
“It’s destined to be a cult classic,” Lappe said.