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Hollywood, you are welcome in the Hudson Valley: The hidden opportunity for local aspiring film workers

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    Vinnie Velez, of Germantown, owns an antique shop on Warren Street, but on the side he is working his way up in the acting world. Velez recently acted in two Hollywood movies filmed in the local area — “Crypto,” a crime drama shot in Kingston, starring Kurt Russell, and “The Dead Don’t Die,” a zombie horror comedy starring Bill Murray, filmed at the Taghkanic Diner.
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    The poster for his new movie, “Highlighters,” a modern film-noir filmed in Averill Park, written and directed by Sean Cranston. The movie will premiere Oct. 28 at The Linda, 339 Central Ave., Albany.
August 31, 2018 11:30 pm

ALBANY — “Highlighters,” a new independent movie filmed in Rensselaer County, will premiere at The Linda on Oct. 28. It’s a modern film noir produced by and starring local names in the movie industry, including a Germantown native.

Vinnie Velez grew up in Germantown and now owns an antique shop, Antigo, at 337 Warren St. in Hudson, but he has an interesting side gig — acting in movies filmed in the Hudson Valley and Capital Region.

Velez acted in some commercials promoting New York State, but one day Mark Farrell, who produced the critically praised HBO comedy series “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” came into his shop and asked him to play a lead role in a short movie he was making for the Berkshire International Film Festival.

“It was kind of a big leap from commercials,” Velez said. “But Farrell made it a seamless process and it made me want to do it again.”

After that Velez acted in two major television productions this year: The crime drama “Big Dogs,” which premieres this season, and the new season of the Marvel Studios’ series “Luke Cage.”

Velez also appears in new movies filmed in the area that have not been released including a crime thriller filmed partially in Kingston, “Crypto,” starring Kurt Russell, in which Velez plays an FBI agent, and Jim Jarmusch’s new zombie comedy “The Dead Don’t Die,” featuring an A-list cast and filmed in local spots including the Taghkanic Diner on Route 82. Velez plays a zombie.

Velez plays a lead role in “Highlighters,” a modern noir filmed in Averill Park.

The movie concerns a retired detective named Hal Graves, played by Stephen Croce of Rhinebeck, who is seeking to get closer to his estranged daughter, played by Jamie Mazur, by helping her get out of trouble. Velez plays Mike Rutherford, the daughter’s boyfriend who locks horns with the detective, Velez said.

“I connected with a writer while filming a commercial who said I would be great for a tough guy role he had in a movie he is making.” Velez said.

The writer, who also directed the movie, is Averill Park native Sean Cranston, who has worked in movies for 12 years. In May, Cranston won an American Film Award for best short film, a horror drama entitled “The Last Trespass.” The movie is unreleased at this time, but should be soon, Cranston said.

Cranston said “Highlighters,” which was shot before his award-winning short film, touches on several important issues the state faces.

“There is no agenda in the movie,” Cranston said. “But it subtly presents the abandoned building crisis in New York, an issue no one really talks about. I think it is my job as a filmmaker to share these issues.”

The R-rated movie — Cranston said the movie contains harsh language and adult themes, but no nudity — will premiere at The Linda, WAMC radio’s performing arts center, at 339 Central Ave., Albany. The movie will be screened twice — 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. — with a question-and-answer session.

“I want everyone to have a good viewing experience and to come out excited and suspended,” Cranston said. “Then we will look to put the movie on Netflix or Hulu, but if that does not work, we will try the festivals to get more exposure.”

The local movie industry

When Velez heard “Crypto” was being filmed in Kingston he was surprised such a big-budget movie went into production in this area.

“I thought wow,” Velez said. “I got FBI training for that movie and there were these Hollywood stunts and cars peeling out.”

But Velez came to learn the area was attracting directors working with major stars in movies such as “The Dead Don’t Die,” with Adam Driver, Chloe Sevigny, Tilda Swinton, Steve Buscemi and Selena Gomez.

“A lot of A-list actors are coming to the area,” Velez said. “It’s great not to have to drive to New York City to be in a film. The number of big movies filmed in the area is in the double digits.”

The big films coming to the region help local actors who often fill in as extras, but it also helps the local economy, Velez said.

“With the tax breaks the state offers, it only makes sense for these production companies to film here,” Velez said. “To film in a beautiful area like this. You can use this area to represent all types of places around the country.”

The opportunity for local actors to get work is out there, Velez said. Velez works with Amy Hutchings with Hudson Valley Casting, LLC. and said there is also James Pentaudi of Albany Talent and Model Management, who also helps cast the area.

The opportunity presented itself to John Fiero, 70, born and raised in Hudson, who, at age 11, acted in the 1959 heist thriller “Odds Against Tomorrow,” directed by Robert Wise and starring Harry Belafonte, Ed Begley, Robert Ryan and Shelley Winters.

“I always wanted to be in a Hollywood movie,” Fiero said. “I am a movie bug. I knew what to do at 11 years old.”

Since that fateful day, Fiero has been cast as an extra in several films shot in the Twin Counties including Steven Spielberg’s reboot of “War of the Worlds,” which was filmed in Athens; “Ghosts of the Heartland,” starring Philip Moon, which was filmed in Hudson; and “Fighting for Freedom,” starring Bruce Dern, which was filmed at the Columbia County Courthouse.

“A lot of people don’t realize that there are a lot of opportunities here in Hudson,” Fiero said. “I am trying to get the city Common Council to erect plaques around Hudson at locations where movies have been filmed that say what movie was filmed there, when, and who was in it.”

Cranston plans to continue directing movies in the local area, using local talent, he said, saying there are benefits. Cranston said all but one person who worked on “Highlighters” were from upstate New York.

“The state is fruitful with talent,” Cranston said. “I think when you remove the ego in filmmaking, you hire the right people who care about doing the project right so they can use it in their resume, you get a good movie. Making a movie is very much a ‘we’ process, and you want people who are passionate and will take it seriously, even at an independent level.”

You can find those people at the local level, Cranston said.

“You really look hard enough, you can find underdogs anywhere, underground masters,” Cranston said. “You look hard enough and you can find what you are looking for.”