After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Jacob Halpren was more than prepared to direct his first feature. He just wasn’t quite ready to make a pitch for it. Fortunately, when he tried, his co-writer Alexandra Stergiou needed to use the restroom.
“We were at dinner with some friends and Brian [Streem, one of the producers] had asked me to pitch the film to his friends,” said Halpren, who recalled scrambling for words at the Congee Village in New York's Chinatown. “So I did. But apparently he thought I did a terrible job, so he asked Alex to pitch it when she returned. It was really interesting just how different her pitch was and how she told it from her character's perspective.”
Thanks to that perfectly timed bathroom break, Halpren finally had the idea for the first frames of footage to be shot for “Laying Over,” a relationship drama currently raising funds on Kickstarter before a September 17th deadline with the intentions of wrapping production later this fall.
Cameras hadn’t yet started to roll on the film itself, but that conversation gave way to Halpren’s rather brilliant teaser for the crowdsourcing site, presenting himself and Stergiou in character as Grayson and Rachel, former high school sweethearts who haven’t seen each other in five years when Grayson’s trip to Florida unexpectedly deplanes in New York and leaves him with no one else to call but his ex. With both stuck on career paths they didn’t exactly envision for themselves and enduring post-collegiate malaise, the two spend the weekend together, realizing they have much in common, though not necessarily the same things or feelings they once had for each other back in high school.
Of course, chronicles of tenuous relationships between twentysomethings played out over the course of an evening or two have become a tried-and-true refuge for many low-budget productions, but it’s evident from the teaser, beautifully conveyed with split-screen, that “Laying Over” promises something different. Certainly, it will be unique to his own personal experience.
“I was watching a lot of micro-budget contemporary films about twentysomethings, so naturally, I wanted to make my own film about my experience living in Brooklyn and the anxieties of entering an unsure world with an art degree, student loans, and little to no concept of who or what you really are,” said Halpren, who’s been working on the film for the past two years. “That inspiration eventually took shape into something tangible, a little less juvenile, and more relatable when I decided to forego making a senior thesis short film.”
Instead, Halpren turned his attention to a feature-length documentary about the underground DIY punk scene called “US of DIY,” which he co-directed with Pete Azen and is bound for the festival circuit as soon as it’s finished in the months ahead. Spending last summer on Greyhound buses visiting and filming DIY proponents of all different stripes — gallery and bookstore owners, musicians, zine publishers, Halpren began to think of his narrative debut “Laying Over” in less defined terms.
“One of the things that initially drew me to documentary was how you can really just go for it,” said Halpren. “You don't necessarily have to have your process of getting from point A to B figured out.”
That fast-and-loose style has helped inform what the filmmaker calls a “more DIT [Do It Together]” approach to “Laying Over,” which counts many of his fellow NYU grads amongst its cast and crew. Using the script he’s worked on with Stergiou as “more of a guide if anything,” Halpren says he’s already pleased with the results as the cast “add[s] much more to what's been written on the page and take[s] the character somewhere I couldn't possibly go.”
Then again, it's all uncharted territory for the actor/writer/director, who likes it that way.
"From it's early stages up until now, it's been a process of exploration – throwing stuff at a wall and seeing what sticks," said Halpren, who added that what he's most excited about is "that process of exploring and figuring out as we go."