Alameda serves as backdrop for "Chance Reunion"

Alameda serves as backdrop for "Chance Reunion"

Liz Barrett
Chance Reunion still

What do a couple of guys from Alameda do when they want to make a movie about a faked murder and an insurance scam? Put an ad on Craigslist, of course.

A few months ago, retired software engineer Paul Manley (producer) and public relations pro Joe Graceffo (writer/director) were looking for actors for “Chance Reunion,” a dark, film noir love triangle. Altarena Playhouse box office manager Liz Moore joined the project as casting director and had a couple of people in mind, but the filmmakers figured an ad might attract a few more character actors to the auditions. They soon discovered there is no shortage of characters on Craigslist.

One man responded to the ad with a headshot that showed off his heavily tattooed bald head. He was in prison, but hoped he’d get out in time to shoot the film. He didn’t get the part. Three auditions later, the film was cast. All of the principal and supporting roles were filled, along with a number of extra parts for locals.

“The actors vary in terms of their professional experience, but all of them are topnotch,” Graceffo said. “They all really shine.”

“Chance Reunion” is about a woman named June (Megan Gordon) who is married to an abusive husband, Harvey (Tony Sommers). Their lifelong friend Bobby (Michael Young) pledges to help June escape by murdering Harvey. Caught between his promise to June and his loyalty to her husband, Bobby hatches an alternative plan with a creative insurance agent (Dorian Lockett).

“We’re aiming to create a fast-paced, entertaining film,” Graceffo said. “It’s a dark love story about a hero caught in the middle, faced with betraying the friend he’s always admired or honoring a promise to the girl he’s always loved.”

Graceffo trimmed the film to 22 minutes in order to enter it in the LA Shorts Fest. He also hopes to enter it in the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival.

“We don’t expect to make any money on it,” Manley said. “We’re doing it to enter it in competition. Our goal is to achieve that level of quality.”

The film, which is shot entirely in Alameda—except for one scene at Nikko’s Cafe on the Oakland side of the Park Street Bridge—is a labor of love. All of the cast and crew are volunteering their time. Graceffo works full-time at his PR job and then puts in another 15 to 20 hours a week on the film. Most of the cast and crew work other jobs, like Graceffo, so the shooting is all done at night and on weekends.

“Scheduling can be a challenge,” Graceffo said. “You have to be flexible.”

Locations can be a bit iffy as well. You have to be willing to change plans on a moment’s notice. Graceffo calls it “guerilla filmmaking.” On a weekend evening in late May, for example, he planned to shoot a scene at the Neptune Court Apartments, where a tenant had volunteered the use of her space with the caveat that the crew had to be out by 8 o’clock at night. The problem was, the scene was supposed to be taking place at night, and in May it is still light until past 8:30. There was no way to block the light from the windows without a leak, which would ruin the scene. Award-winning director of photography, Unni, suggested that the crew switch gears and shoot a getaway scene on the estuary instead. With less than a day to make arrangements, Graceffo started making phone calls.

“The Grand Street boat landing location is tremendous,” Graceffo wrote on his Chance Reunion the Movie blog. “And at night it’s even better. The lights on the Coast Guard boats across the estuary shine across the water, the pier lights are on, and you can see the Oakland skyline and the buildings along the San Leandro coastline in the distance.”

Grand Marina harbormaster Andy McKinley helped Manley and Graceffo get everything they needed, including a speedboat piloted by its owner, Anthony Cirillo. Unni shot at night with a Canon high-definition digital video camera that is ultra-sensitive to light.

“Unni’s camera captures natural light so realistically that only a small bicycle light was needed to bring focus to our actors’ faces, allowing the glowing reds and greens of the harbor lights to set the scene,” Graceffo wrote.

There are many other Alameda locations, some more scenic than others. One scene was shot in an Alameda Taxi cab. Others were shot at The Academy of Alameda Middle School, the Neptune Court Apartments, and Jim’s Homestyle Diner, to name a few.

Although “Chance Reunion” is not headed for mass distribution, there will be public screenings here in Alameda in the fall. For more information, you can visit the blog (Chance Reunion the Movie) or follow Graceffo (@writerofmovies) on Twitter.