It is said that the 20s are the new teens. So, it’s no surprise that today’s coming-of-age films are populated by characters with college degrees struggling to launch their careers in a sluggish economy while weathering rocky relationships in hopes of emerging as mature adults.
It’s a life that four graduates of Rutgers Mason Gross School of the Arts know well – so well that they decided to depict it in their first feature film collaboration, Leaving Circadia. The film will be shown at the New Jersey Film Festival on September 12. It is a romantic dramedy that follows the misadventures of three tenants of a Brooklyn brownstone apartment building and their superintendent: all on the cusp of 30, striving to balance their dreams with the growing responsibilities of life, love and career.
Evan Mathew Weinstein, Drew Seltzer, Regi Huc and Zack Griffiths graduated from Mason Gross School of the Arts in 2003 and kept in touch as they relocated, always hoping someday to work together. All had experienced some acting success – enough to survive – but none of them had reached the next level.
“In the industry, they say you make your own breaks,” says Seltzer. “We decided to do just that – by collaborating on our first feature-length film and giving ourselves a chance to play great roles.” And the critics have applauded their efforts. When Leaving Circadia premiered at the Emerge Film Festival in Maine, it swept the awards, winning “Best In Festival,” “Best Director” and the “Verizon People’s Choice Award.”
When deciding on the theme, the college friends decided to make the type of film they would want to watch: One about people 10 years after graduation who realize they need to start accepting responsibilities like buying a house, getting married and having children.
Attending Rutgers together gave the friends an advantage over some film teams: They knew how to collaborate creatively and work together to raise the funds. “The theater department at Mason Gross is so small, and we were together for four years,” says Weinstein, who wrote the screenplay and directed the film. “We became family.”
In developing the script, Weinstein concentrated on experiences he and his friends shared and then embellished them. “I wanted to tap into the vibe of people in their late 20s and create characters who are not quite where they thought they’d be in life,” he says. “For my character, ‘Tom,’ the slacker superintendent, I took qualities I don’t enjoy and accentuated them a thousand times.”
Leaving Circadia – which alludes to an individual’s natural wake/sleep cycle – underscores the discord in the characters’ lives. Each character needs to break out of his bad cycles in order to accept adult responsibilities, Seltzer explains.
Though the producers auditioned several actresses for “Collette,” the lead female role, they chose Larisa Polonsky, a 2004 Mason Gross graduate. “I loved the script, and the fact that I would get to work with these talented people made me jump at the part,” says Polonsky, who has a recurring role on Chicago Fire, a drama on NBC about firefighters and paramedics in Chicago. She received the “Best Actress” award for Leaving Circadia at the Long Beach Film Festival in New York.
During Q&A sessions after screenings, the producers discovered that the film – which also casts Mason Gross alumni Erin Cherry and Francesca Day in smaller roles – resonates with every generation. “People in their 70s tell us they can relate,” says Seltzer.
Weinstein is looking forward to showing the film at his alma mater and talking to students. “When I listened to speakers in college, I was interested in the trajectory of their careers because I thought they ‘made it,’” he says. “But I’ve since learned that no one really ‘makes it’ – there’s always the next level to reach.”