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Jacob Burns to screen the gritty “Zero in the System”

Posted By Peter D. Kramer On November 2, 2012 @ 2:02 pm In Faces & Places | Comments Disabled

Nyack filmmaker and cast to attend Monday event

[1]Mike Timmons plays Earl Coleman—an ex-convict who channels his guilt over his sister’s death into an effort to clean up his crime-ridden neighborhood—in Tim McCann’s drama “Zero in the System,” which will be screened at 7:30 p.m., Monday at Pleasantville’s Jacob Burns Film Center. Timmons, McCann, and other cast members will take part in a post-screening Q&A. Photo courtesy JBFC.

Tim McCann makes films. His latest effort, “Zero in the System,” was written, directed and produced by the Nyack resident, a graduate of Nyack High School.

more->It’s about Earl Coleman, an ex-convict whose sister dies of an overdose while he is in prison. He returns to his neighborhood with a chip on his shoulder and a mission to clean up the community, meting out justice¬† on those who prey on the weak.

It stars Mike Simmons.

The language is strong, the situations tense and the power undeniable, as those who attend Monday’s screening at the Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville will see.

McCann, Simmons and members of the cast will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

I got a chance to chat with McCann this morning:

Is guilt over his sister’s death what motivates Earl Coleman?

I think the film is basically about these feelings of anger and vengeance that are guided by our emotions and how even though there is a rational way out sometimes we’re taken down because emotionally we can’t escape what is going on.

There’s a scene where the kids throw a can at him and he can’t walk away from it.

This film is really a punch to the gut. It’s a really gritty world you portray here. Was that a hard thing to convey?

Sometimes movies are very written out, the screenplays are what you see on the screen and on TV they adhere very closely to the dialogue. It’s very much a writer’s medium. But I went in with a script I had written in a week and we shot it over two weeks, which is a quick shoot for a feature film. We used a lot of improvisation and ad-libbing.

When did you shoot it?

A year-and-a-half ago, over the summer.

Using improvisation, as a writer, means giving up some control. Was that hard to do?

No, because you have to be open to other people in this collaborative medium,¬† of them enriching the piece. There’s always a bit of guiding the material and, ultimately, when you’re editing it, giving it correct proportion. But it’s an exciting part of it to have people come in who are charismatic and have a vernacular and a way of interpreting things that enriches it.

How did you choose your cast?

Frank Olivier—who plays Derek, the bad boyfriend—was a childhood friend of mine. We went to Nyack High School and we’re still best friends. I’ve known Dominic Olivier, who had a small part in this, for a while. And Aaron Parker, I knew from about 10 years ago when I did a film called “Nowhere Man.” It was a small part, but I thought Aaron was amazing.

Ideally, I’m making films where I’m being paid to direct as opposed to financing the film myself, but if you go a year or two and want a creative outlet, you do whatever you can. And I really wanted to work with Aaron Parker and Frank again. Aaron and Frank got things going.

Then Frank introduced me to Mike Simmons, who lives in Nyack. ¬†Tabitha Holbert, who plays Keisha, graduated from SUNY Purchase’s acting conservatory. I knew her from there. I teach film at SUNY Purchase.

I gather that some of the people Frank brought in, or that you found, are former convicts.


How’d that come about?

Frank works for the Sheriff’s Department at the New City jail. But I guess the main thing is that we both grew up in Nyack. And those are some people that I knew from high school and that he was friends with. You know, you go through life and things happen. I do want to say that there were former convicts in the film but of all the films I’ve done, this was the most professional and the most fun to work with the cast. It was so exciting to work with a group of people who were focused and excited and professional about being involved in the project. It was surprising. I’d work with any one of them in a heartbeat.

It’s a slightly different process working with people who aren’t necessarily going to memorize a screenplay. You’re going to workshop in a different way. That’s not their process.

Were you doing the improvs on the set or working through it in rehearsal?

A mix. There were auditions and pretty soon I got the idea that it was going to be heavily ad-libbed.

Take me onto the set. There’s a scene where Earl Coleman, the hero, busts into a barbershop to warn one of the bad guys. How did you rehearse and shoot that? Was that largely ad-libbed?

Yeah. Everybody knew how they felt about the other person. They knew their character in the story so they knew what direction they would go in when they were reacting. And they would bring their own language into play.

Mike knew he was there to give a warning because they had been going into that apartment complex and swiping benefit cards. And he knew that Wesley was the main guy at the beginning of it. And he knew there might be another couple of other people in there. And that a gun might come out. And we might have rehearsed it for blocking. Then we did five takes and after each take we made some adjustments.

But pretty much it was having them go at it. They got it really quickly.

Sounds very fluid.

For a two-week shoot, you have to be on the ball and thank God they were. For the fight scene at the end, when you do a fight scene, you spend hours coordinating what’s going to happen. Mike and the other guys just kind of got into it. They acted it out and nobody got hurt and I was able to follow around with the cameras and cover it, so it went very quickly. We shot a big fight scene in half a day.

[2]Tabitha Holbert plays Keisha, a single mother scratching out a life and dreaming of becoming a nurse, in Tim McCann’s “Zero in the System.” Holbert plans to attend Monday’s screening at the Jacob Burns Film Center. Photo courtesy JBFC.

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