For Paul Zimmerman, a corporate filmmaker and Woodcliff Lake native, what started out as an idea for a single scene transformed into the feature-length thriller film, North of the City. The film was an official selection for the Hoboken International Film Festival, a showcase dedicated to promoting non-studio films, screenplays and TV pilots from filmmakers throughout the United States and internationally.
The festival took place in Greenwood Lake, N.Y. from May 19-25, and happened to be the first festival to which Zimmerman had submitted his film.
“It was a very organic process,” Zimmerman said. “The scene didn’t really mean anything. It was just something that was kind of from a story point of view and from a visual point of view. I thought, ‘Wow, that’s kind of neat… What could happen from there? And, how do [the characters] get to that spot where the scene happens?’ And from there, it just sort of grew.”
Zimmerman’s interest in putting on a production was sparked at a young age when he participated in theatre in both middle and high school. However, once he began college, Zimmerman saw an opportunity to not only be a performer, but also a filmmaker.
Fueled by his passion for television and movies, Zimmerman majored in film at the American University in Washington D.C. After college, Zimmerman became a corporate filmmaker, creating short films for companies like BMW, Mercedes Benz and Volvo Cars.
Having over 20 years of experience in the field, Zimmerman felt the need to tell a story through the creation of a feature film – a thriller.
“I always like a particular theme of … the good guy on the run because the bad guys are trying to get him. The good guy, you know, on the lam, like a Jason Bourne,” Zimmerman said. “And, I also like taking two strangers and putting them in an extreme situation where they have to work together to get out of it.”
While Zimmerman directed, produced, edited and starred in North of the City, he said the most rewarding role for him was director because of its heavy emphasis on telling a story.
According to the film’s official website, North of the City follows Joanna Tuft, a chief financial officer for a large corporation, who gets attacked by a man on the street on her way home from work. She escapes with the help of a stranger, and together with a news editor and a reporter, they try to figure out who is after them and why they are being hunted.
As a Bergen County resident, Zimmerman shot his scenes in several places that he was well acquainted with – sites that were all “north of the city.”
Some locations include Threads, Jack’s Café and L.N. Grand 5&10 Cent Store, all in Westwood, and the Woodcliff Lake Police Department.
“…it will be really fun to watch the film just because you’ll see so many familiar locations,” Zimmerman said. “I would just encourage everyone to rent the movie… and see how many of those locations you can recognize and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been there. That’s so cool.’ It’s kind of fun to watch a movie and see your community up there on screen.”
Having a cast and crew predominantly from Bergen County was what Zimmerman described as being “mostly coincidental.” When he began looking for his actors and actresses, Zimmerman found two soap opera stars from Park Ridge – Terri Conn and Austin Peck. Conn won best supporting actress for the film at the Hoboken International Film Festival.
While Zimmerman said time and money posed challenges because North of the City was a “micro-budget film,” the movie came together rather quickly.
“The film industry is an interesting thing. People want to get involved. And, people want to work in this industry even if there’s not much financial gain for them,” he said.
When it came time to hiring a crew, Zimmerman relied on the connections he made from working in the film business for over two decades. Between making calls and placing advertisements online, Zimmerman’s vision became a reality.
With the rise of the independent filmmaker, the moviemaking process has drastically changed.
What was once a tedious process consisting of cutting and taping physical pieces of film together is now an activity that anyone can partake in, especially with the evolution of technology and the development of moviemaking venues. This includes Reelhouse, Vimeo, Google Play, Amazon Instant Video and YouTube.
“The only thing that hasn’t changed is really the need for talented, dedicated people to work their craft. Other than that, it’s a whole new ballgame, which is great because it doesn’t just translate to film,” Zimmerman said. “You can write a book [and] self-publish, paint a beautiful masterpiece, and again, sell it online and expose people to your artwork. Music – you can write a song, put your band together, record it, put it up on YouTube and end up getting a recording contract.”
Despite the new, more efficient ways to create a movie, the amount of dedication that a project like this entails does not get reduced.
Zimmerman said, “It’s a monumental task. You set out to say, ‘Alright, I’m going to write, star [in], edit a feature film. It is a huge, huge task and responsibility. Until you start doing it, you don’t realize what a big deal it is.”
Zimmerman is currently working with one of the actors from North of the City, and is brainstorming ideas for another feature film or a television pilot.
North of the City can be rented on either Reelhouse or Vimeo.
By Brianna Ruback